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The Magnificent Five days Strike of telecom workers from 19-051995.

The 4.5 lakh of telecom workers throughout the country by their magnificent response to the strike call given by the Federations, demonstrated their strong opposition the ill-motivated privatization of this vital telecom sector and their firm determination to defeat the same.

The National Telecom Policy (NTP- 1994) announced by the Government in the Parliament on 13th May 1994 envisaged that companies registered in India will be allowed to operate basic telecom services. Till now, only government was operating thee services being its monopoly. The condition that these companies should have experience of operating 5 lakh telephones made it compulsory for them to have collaboration with the MNCs, since no company in India had the experience, since telecom was the monopoly of the Department of Telecom.

The DOT violated all norms by giving Letter of Intent to a MNC, US WEST, to start pilot projects in four districts of T.Nadu, even before the tenders were opened.  By another order, the CGMs of Telecom Circles were asked to allot spaces in  offices/exchanges for private companies on request. The assurance given to the staff by former Communications Minister, Rajesh Pilot, that they will be consulted before any decision taken on privatization was violated.

The withdrawal of the strike to start from 17th April 1994 against privatization, by the three Federations was a set-back  in the fight against privatization and it helped the management to move ahead. However, the formation of the Door Sanchar Sangharsh Samiti at the initiative of the E.III Union with other like-minded unions, the All India Convention against telecom privatisation held in New Delhi on 20th April 1995  and the State level conventions and other campaign programmes organized by the DSS were able to educate the workers about the looming danger and  mobilize them for struggle. It compelled the 3 Federations to come to the struggle programme and decided for the Indefinite Sit-in-Strike from 19th May 1995.

The government as part of threatening the employees directed the State Governments to invoke the drastic Essential Service Maintenance Act (ESMA) to tackle and punish the striking works. But it did not have much result. The Central Government declared the strike as illegal on 17-05-1995. It also asked the state government to declare telecom services as Essential Services. The many state governments implemented the above directions. But the Left governments of Tripura and W.Bengal refused to implement the central directions and instead asked the centre to withdraw the NTP- 1994.

The strike was total from J&K to Kerala and from North East States to Gujarat. According to government it was 70%, but the fact is that it was almost 100%. The strike took place both in MTNL also effectively. The services were badly hit in all the places.

In Himachal Pradesh, army was called to maintain telecom services as per directions of the Communications Minister Sukh Ram. In Assam, the Punjab Police who were posted to tackle terrorist forces were diverted to deal with the telecom strike. 144 was declared in many places. Employees were not allowed to enter offices and they were kept out. Army was called in many places in North East states like Nagaland, Manipur. 144 was declared in Chandigarh. In the telecom factories strike was complete with industrial workers are also fully participating in the strike.

In short, the strike was unprecedented and complete all over the country.

Support and Solidarity

In Kerala, the Left Democratic Front fully supported the strike and organized demonstrations and rallies. All the organizations of the state/central government employees extended support. In Calcutta trade unions and service associations held massive demonstrations.

Central Trade unions, CITU and AITUC issued press statements extending support. CITU, AITUC, INTUC, BMS and HMS jointly addressed a letter to Prime Minister  seeking an interview to discuss the matter.

10 prominent Members of parliament belonging to different parties viz. Indrajit Gupta, E.Balanandan, G.G.Swell, Susanta Chakraborty, Ramdeo Bhandary, Neelotpal Basu, Amal data, Asin Bala, Shivaji Patnaik, Laljan Pahra, Dipanker Mukherjee and Anil Basu addressed a letter to the Prime Minister supporting the strike and demanding a review of the national Telecom Policy- 1994.

Com. Desararth Deb, Chief Minister of Tripura and CPI(M) leader demanded Communications Minister Sukh Ram to reconsider the New Telecom Policy and also stated that the Tripura Government will not use ESMA against the telecom strike.

The National Federation of Postal Employees (NFPE) gave strong support and called upon its members to strike work for 2 hours on 26th June in solidarity with the striking telecom workers.

The All India State Government Employees Federation, ITI Employees Union, ITI Officers Association and many other organizations throughout the country supported the strike against privatization and organized solidarity actions like demonstrations, jathas etc.

The workers morale was very high and they showed enthusiasm and energy to fight =against the menace of privatization(To be continued)