People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 38

September 18, 2011


Saga of Golden Rock & the Story of

Two Communist Leaders


Prakash Karat


I was in Tiruchirappalli (Trichy) in Tamilnadu to attend a public meeting which was unique in many ways.  The function had two purposes and both were equally significant.  The meeting was held on September 5 in the union ground of the Golden Rock railway colony which in Tamil is known as Ponmalai.  On this date in 1946, five railway workers were shot dead by the police in the very same ground.  Every year the martyrdom of these five workers is observed and this year was the 65th anniversary.  The second purpose of the meeting was to felicitate two outstanding leaders of the Communist movement who have both attained 90 years of age – R Umanath and N Sankariah.  I had the privilege of honouring these two veteran revolutionary leaders. 




There is little knowledge of the history of the working class movement among even the members of the Communist party today. Awareness of the heroic struggles of workers in the early period is confined to the area or state concerned and is not known to the activists of the working class and Communist movement in the rest of the country. The Golden Rock railway workshop workers movement which was well known around the country in the nineteen forties and fifties is a heroic chapter which should be made known to the post-independence generations.


At the September 5 rally, some of the glorious history of the railway workers movement was recalled. The Southern Railway Labour Union (SRLU) was formed in 1918.  The central workshop was first set-up in Nagapattinam and it became a centre for organising the workers in the southern railway.  Gandhiji laid the foundation stone for the union office in September 1927.  This workshop was shifted to Golden Rock in Trichy in 1928 as it was more central. Thousands of workers were retrenched all over the southern railway around this time.  This led to the first major strike action – the ten-day strike of the southern railway workers in 1928; an event noted by the international Communist movement.  Scores of workers were sentenced to prison for participating in the strike.  The Golden Rock Railway Union became the hub for unionising the southern railway workers.  Jeevanandam and P Ramamurthi, who later became prominent Communist leaders, helped in the organisation of the  railway workers. 


The history of the railway workers’ struggle was intertwined with the freedom struggle. The railway workers participated in all the major struggles launched by the Indian National Congress.  The pioneering leader of the SRLU was S Paramasivam, who led the reorganised union from 1932.  As a Congress man active in the independence movement, he worked with the Congress Socialist Party activists to organise the workers.  He faced severe repression and died in jail in early 1941.


Subsequently, the union was led by M Kalyanasundaram and K Anandan Nambiar, both Communists who later became prominent leaders of the CPI and CPI(M) respectively.  Anandan Nambiar  became the first Communist legislator to be elected in 1946 from the railway workers constituency just like Jyoti Basu in Bengal. 


In 1946, the workers of the southern railway went on a strike against the withdrawal of some rights.  The workers of the Golden Rock workshop were at the centre of the strike activities. On September 5, the police led by an officer, Harrison, attacked the workers.  Anandan Nambiar was brutally beaten up and the police fired on the protesting workers which led to the deaths of Thangavelu, Thyagarajan, Raju, Ramachandran and Krishnamoorthy.  A memorial for the martyrs stands in the ground next to the union office.  The historic strike of the railway workers in 1946 should be seen in the context of the post-war upsurge sweeping the country when there was a wave of working class struggles along with the militant peasant struggles against feudalism. 


The railway workers of Golden Rock became the vanguard for a series of struggles of different sections of the people on the eve of independence and the years subsequently.  Both Kalyanasundaram and Anandan Nambiar were elected to the state assembly. Nambiar was elected to the parliament in 1952, 1957 and for the last time in 1967. A number of leaders of the Communist party emerged from the struggle at Golden Rock.  Pappa Umanath was one such who as a young girl participated in all the struggles of the workers. When she died last year, she was buried in this ground, where the ashes of the five martyrs and Anandan Nambiar are also interred. 


The Dakshin Railway Employees Union (DREU) became the successor to the SRLU. It has become a major force in the southern railway and won recognition as a union in a ballot held in 2007.


The September 5 rally brought out vividly the heroic history of the railway workers movement of Trichy. 




This meeting also was the occasion for felicitating two leaders who have spent seven decades of their lives in organising the working class movement and building the Communist party.  Both Umanath and Sankariah are 90 years old with the former being a few months older.  Both joined the student movement against imperialism.  The former in Annamalai University and the latter in Madurai.  Both joined the Communist party at a very young age – Umanath in 1939 and Sankariah in 1940.   Since then, they devoted their energies to building the working class and the kisan movement. Umanath became an important trade union leader while Sankariah became a leader of the Kisan Sabha. Umanath spent over nine years in jail while Sankariah was imprisoned for eight years.   Between them, they spent more than 17 years in jail. 


Sankariah was among the 32 members of the National Council of the CPI who walked out and later formed the CPI(M). Of them, only he and V S Achuthanandan are alive today.  He was also a member of the first Central Committee of the CPI(M) formed in 1964. He is at present the chairman of the Central Control Commission of the Party. 


Umanath became an important leader of the CITU of which he was the all India vice president. He represented the Party both in parliament and the state assembly. In parliament and outside, he stood out for his brilliant speeches that put forth the Communist standpoint with great clarity. He was a member of the Polit Bureau from 1995 to 2008 and played an important role in formulating the Party’s policies and guiding its trade union work. 


Both these leaders had their association with the events surrounding the railway workers movement and in organising the Communist party amongst them.  Both these comrades are unable to actively work as before, but their spirit and the commitment to the cause is strong and enduring. 


It gave me great pleasure to felicitate these two veteran comrades of ours on behalf of the Central Committee and the entire Party.  A biography on Sankariah written by N Ramakrishnan in Tamil was released on the occasion. The lives of these leaders are replete with the saga and the experience of the Communist movement in Tamilnadu. Much of this rich history of the working class struggles and the role of the Communist leaders needs to be made available and popularised.  This is a precious legacy which the new generations have to learn about.