P and T Trade Union Movement in India during II World War and thereafter (1939 – 1954)
(This is the book written by Com. Bhupendra Nath Ghosh (Dada Ghosh), the first Secretary General of National Federation of P and T Employees (NFPTE) and one of the leaders of the historic 1946 P and T Strike. Com.N.J.Iyer, former General Secretary, R.III Union, entrusted me to type some copies from the original document during 1990s. I typed two copies and handed over the original and one copy to him, keeping one copy with me. While I was arranging my book shelf, this typed copy came to my notice. I think the book will be interesting and beneficial to the new generation. The book will be serially published by chapter in my blog vannamoodiri.com daily, if possible, since it has to be retyped. )
It was at 3 O’ clock on the first of September 1939, while I was passing under exuberance of sunshine being profusely in sweat, through the Dalhousie Square, Calcutta, I found men in their hundreds running towards the South West corner of the Square, each procuring a copy of the special issue Amrita Bazar Patrika with bold headlines, “Germany declares war on Poland”. This happened within a couple of days of signing the Russo-German non-aggression pact. In fact, the air was so much charged during those days with war possibilities, that every man in the street was awaiting receipt of such horrible tidings from the West. The Great Britain and France who were pledge bound to Poland to give her protection against all aggression on her, declared war on Germany and the Second World War began. India which was under the control and suzerainty of Great Britain became, as a matter of course, a party to this war. It is not my intention to discuss the political aspects of this war and I, therefore, cautiously refrain from discussing as to whether or not the war was a people’s war or as to whether the war ultimately did deliver the goods to India. As one connected to the Posts and Telegraphs trade union movement having in mind the well-being of the P & T workers and at the same time in employment of Government, my entire study and reading of this eventful period will be in that context only. As to how the average Indian with anti-British feelings received the news of the war between Germany and Great Britain in which Soviet Russia remaining neutral can be well imagined than described. I reached the office of the Provincial Union of the All India Postal and R.M.S.Union, Bengal and Assam Circle at the day’s end and as its General Secretary took it to be my bounden duty to send the following telegram to the Director General of Posts and Telegraphs: “On behalf of entire Postal and RMS employees Bengal and Assam Circle assure full co-operation and loyal service to the Government at the critical juncture and place my own services unreservedly at the disposal of the Govt”.
It can well be imagined than described as to with what feelings the news of a war between Germany and the British people who have been exploiting and ruling over India for nearly 200 years – Russia remaining silent – could be received by a Bengali born in pre-Bengal partition days of 1905 and had seen anti-partition movement, the intensive struggle of the Congress for independence, boycott of British goods and the Bengal youths going to gallows in large numbers for the sake of the country’s cause, could receive. Despite, as one belonging to the most essential service of P and T Department and being at the helm of the Postal and RMS organization of Bengal and Assam, I preferred to send the above telegram, copy of thereof being sent to the 40 branch unions, who in return endorsed my views. This is unique indeed! In sending the telegram my heart and brain refused to work together, but I must candidly confess that there was not an atom of insincerity in me while sending the telegram. Later on it came to light that I was not the singular person to send such assurance of co-operation and loyalty to the Government but the P and T Unions throughout the country had followed suit and within a couple of days of the beginning of the war, the P and T staff throughout the length and breadth of the country had showed their inclination to volunteer for field service. A full scale analysis of the back-ground of the stand we have taken is not possible due to various reasons. In short, we were loyal Government servants and as in duty bound preferred to remain loyal.
Three days after the declaration of war, by Great Britain on Germany, the Governments of Bombay and Bengal issued ordinance permitting 20% and 10% rise in prices of all commodities in their respective provinces so as to make it easy for the Government to make heavy purchases of food stuff and other raw materials necessary in war connection in Calcutta and Bombay markets. The Government of India had in circulation on the day of declaration of war 228 crores of currency notes against which there was a gold reserve of equivalent amount but it will be seen in September, 1945 on the day of closing of war, it had in circulation 1500 crores worth of currency notes against which there was no gold reserve in India but entire reserve had been transferred to British Treasury in London, what was later on known to be India’s Sterling Balance. This measure began to fluctuate the market and therefore the attention of the entire P and T workers specially those in the lower rank and in low pay were diverted from the theatre of war to the stomach problem. The situation, however, did not aggravate so much during the first two years of war but even then the cost of living index had gone up to the extent that the lower middle class workers within the P and T Department or anywhere else found it difficult to meet both ends. The Government of India finished its business by sanctioning dearness allowance at the rate of Rs.1/- for the Postman and Class IV employees only. An important Member of the Parliament connected with the Postal and RMS Union had declared the measure adopted to be unworthy on the part of the Government to sanction such meager allowance, viz. Rs.1/- and beneath the dignity on the part of the employees to accept it. (To be continued).