Telecom Trade Union Movement – A Saga of Struggles, Sacrifices and Achievements (1)
The Historical Bhopal All India Conference
More than 26 years are over after the All India Conference of All India Telecom Employees Union Class III (affiliated to NFPTE) held at Bhopal on 24th to 29th October 1991, which heralded a new progressive and militant leadership in the organisation.
The new leadership with Com. V.A.N.Namboodiri as President and Com. Moni Bose as General Secretary was elected defeating the four decades revisionist leader Com. O.P.Gupta and his camp, who were in the leadership of the union since 24th November 1954, when National Federation of P and T Employees (NFPTE) was formed merging all the existing unions in Telecom department with 9 affiliated All India Unions, including AITEE Union Class III. The change was heartily welcomed by the vast majority of the workers.
We have to go back a little to find out the importance of the AIC and the election. As already stated earlier, NFPTE was formed in 1954, but P and T unions existed from the first decade of 20th century and has a long and great tradition as one of the pioneers in the country. Postal service in India started in 1756 and the Telegraph service is 1854, both under the British rule. Telephone service started in the early 20th century, in a limited way which developed fast. The service conditions were very strict and offensive and the wages very meagre. Though there were some spontaneous agitations in the last decade of 19th century in Poona etc., the unions were formed only after 1900.
Formation of Unions
Indian Telegraph Association (ITA) was formed in 1908 under the leadership of Henry Barton, an Anglo-Indian Telegraphist, who was also called Harry Barton. Almost at the same time, Babu Tarapada Mukherjee formed the All India (including Burmah) Post Office and R.M.S. Union, although it functioned earlier as Calcutta Postal Club, since the Department did not allow unions to be formed. Both the unions were formed in Calcutta, the capital of India at that time. However, the All India Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union was formed in Bombay under the leadership of Shri V.G.Dalvi, Bar-at Law, a well-known Advocate. Another union, All India Telegraph Union (AITU), was formed in Calcutta. All these unions organised agitations for bettering their service conditions and wages.
The Postal Strike of 1946, which continued for 22 days, was withdrawn only after the British rulers accepted all the 12 most important demands raised by the union. It was a great victory for the workers. The appointment of the First Central Pay Commission, separate memorandums submitted which were contradictory and the unsatisfactory recommendations –all convinced the leadership of the various unions to join together in to one union. Accordingly, the Union of P and T Workers (UPTW) was formed on 13th August 1947, two days before India’s Independence, merging almost all unions.
NFPTE was formed on 24th November 1954, merging all the existing unions, including UPTW. Nine All India Unions were formed affiliated to NFPTE, two each in Postal, Telegraph, RMS and Telephone section, one for class III and another for class IV. One union for both the class III and Class IV in administrative offices was also formed. Unification or Realignment, as it was called, was a very important and favourable development. The first Secretary General was Com.B.N.Ghosh, respectfully called Dada Ghosh.
The 5days of strike of CG Employees from 11/12th July 1960 and the One Day Token Strike on 19th September 1968 were historical in all ways, including the number of participants, the brutal victimisation, the sustained fight against dismissals, termination, arrests etc. More than two dozen comrades became martyrs in these struggles shot dead by the police or run over by the trains during the strike period. Two persons committed suicide unable to bear dismissal/termination.
There have been serious differences in NFPTE on the policy and programme to be adopted. One section wanted to fight against the anti-worker policy of the government tooth and nail through militant struggles. The revisionist side did not want to fight against the policies of the government, but wanted to limit it to only on some benefits to the workers and no struggles. The crisis resulted in a hard fought election in the Federal Council in 1970 at Vijayawada where the revisionists lost and the leaders of the militant section were elected with Com. K.G.Bose as President and Com. A.S.Rajan as Secretary General. In the next Federal Council at Calcutta in 1971, the defeated section floated a parallel list of office-bearers, well knowing that they cannot win. The government utilised the opportunity and recognised the fake list. The result was that while the KG Bose section went on strike in the 1974 Bonus Strike, the section led by Com.O.P.Gupta opposed the strike and did not participate.
The impasse continued till the end of National Emergency declared in 1975 by Smt. Indira Gandhi. After sustained discussion and adjustment unity was restored in NFPTE by 1976.
NFPTE was bifurcated in to NFPE and NFTE in 1986 consequent to the bifurcation of the Department in to Postal and Telecom. There was no other alternative, though the workers wanted a united organisation.
In NFPE, the militant leaders Coms. K.Adinarayana, N.J.Iyer and others took the lead, while in Telecom, the leadership of the revisionists under Com.O.P.Gupta continued. The workers were not happy about the revisionist leadership and each and every opportunity, including the Circle and All India Conferences were utilised to fight for the correct policies.
It was in this context that the All India Conference of All India Telco Employees Union Class III was held at Bhopal was held from 24th to 29th October 1991. (to Be continued)
(NB: ‘The History of the P and T Trade Union Movement’, a book published by this author has described in detail all these developments till 1986.Copies of the book are available with Com. R.N.Parashar, General secretary, AIPEU Group ‘C’, Dada Ghosh Bhawan, 2151/1, New Patel Road, New Delhi – 110008, who published the same. The Price is Rs. 100/.)