Sustained Struggles to save BSNL – An Introduction

BSNL was formed as part of the neo-liberalisation policy adopted by the government of India since the 1980s. It was a well-planned move. The P and T Budget was stopped, Department of Posts and Telegraphs was divided in to Department of Posts and Department of Telecommunications, private companies were given licence to provide telecom services which was the sole monopoly of the government, and New Telecom Policy was adopted all of which were intended with the same aim – hand over the telecom services to the corporates.
BSNL was formed on 1st October 2000. It was planned to be formed on 1st April 2001, in the new financial year, but the agreement, with certain safeguards, with the recognized Federations, made it possible for the government to start it earlier. The strong protest and struggles organized by some of the affiliated unions were not able to stop corporatization. BSNL became a reality.

The formation of new unions in BSNL changed the scenario. First two three years were full of united efforts and negotiations by the unions to finalise the conversion from CDA to IDA pay scale, absorption issue etc. etc.

In the first membership verification of the non-executive unions, NFTE won, but with small margin. The recognized union was not prepared to fight with the management on crucial issues, as can be seen from the fact that it agreed for VRS, when the management brought the agenda in the BSNL Joint Consultative Machinery. However, the tables turned in the next verification and BSNL Employees Union, with alliance, won with a thumbing majority and became the recognized union. It was in December 2004.
BSNLEU as the biggest and recognized union, without any delay, took the responsibility of co-coordinating all the unions of non-executives and associations of executives together for strengthening BSNL and defending the PSU from the government conspiracy to weaken it and privatize or close. Major issues of the workers, who numbered more than 3.5 lakhs, who were earlier central government employees, also had to be addressed.

Unity was most important to face the complicated situation with about more than 15 unions in the field with different ideologies and priorities. This was a Herculean task, but not impossible. As I was the Convener of the Joint Forum, Joint Action Committee, Forum of BSNL Unions and Associations etc. (names changed to suit certain unity requirements from time to time) from 2004 to 2015, I can state with satisfaction that all the Unions and associations and their leaders have done marvelous work in defending the interests of the PSU, that of the workers and the people as a whole in this noble task.

From the next installment, I will write about the major developments, struggles, negotiations etc. which had taken place during the period mentioned above. It will be inspiring and interesting to the old generation which participated in these struggles and also to the new generation of workers who have been recruited later and fighting the present battle for survival and revival of BSNL and its workers, especially after the Voluntary Retirement of 78, 569 workers from the PSU.

I will be posting it in my blog vannamboodiri.com, since long articles in Face-book may not be appreciated.