CHAPTER – 2
STATE OF P AND T UNIONS
As the P and T Unions were then functioning in large numbers, each having its own way of putting things and all of them believed in paper warfare – and that too not in collaboration with each other, – they could not consolidate and even there was wheels working within wheels – every union has its internal quarrels and difference not being based on policy, programme and ideology – but in most cases due to personal rivalry there was no end of it. In such environments, the All India Postal and RMS Union, which was one of the biggest organisations in India, met at its annual session of Conference during X-mas of 1939 at Lahore on an invitation from Rai Sahib Jayanti Prasad, the retired Manager, Dead Letter Office, Lahore, due to various reasons; this session had its special significance.
The Government of India had introduced the new scales of pay with effect from 18th July, 1931, totally disregarding the universally accepted principle of equal work. The All India Postal and RMS Union had at its annual session held at Delhi on the 30th and 31st October, 1931, singly made a bold attempt to counter-act the Government’s move for imposition of salary cut and introduction of new scales of pay but could not withstand long Government’s oppression and surrendered. Since then it had been passing resolutions in successive conferences urging grant of old scales of pay to the new entrants. Amongst the other recognized P and T Unions, the Indian Telegraph Association, the All India Telegraph Union and the All India Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union were the main functioning Unions and all these Unions had also been as usual, in their annual gatherings passing resolutions urging sanction of old scale of pay for the new entrants but the weak and quarrelling leadership failed to make plans and programmes for joint action in the matter. The Lahore session of the Conference had met just after the death of Sri N.C.Sen Gupta who had succeeded Sri Tarapada Mukherjee as General Secretary of the All India Postal and RMS Union at its session at Peshawar held in November, 1929. Mr. M.G.Swaberry who was one of the founders of the All India Postal and RMS Union and had started the Indian Post and Telegraph Union after severing connection with the mother Union, attended this session of the Conference, along with a large contingent of members of his own Union. I remember on my way to Lahore from Calcutta, I had halted at Delhi only to persuade him to attend the session and make a joint attempt to re-amalgamate the Unions. The All India Conference no doubt elected Sri Monmohal Lal Topa as General Secretary of All India Postal and RMS Union but took a bold step and elected Mr. Swaberry as Honorary Secretary of the All India Union in the hope that this will pave the path for unity.
The social, political and economic condition of the country during the period, reflected to a greater extent on the trade union movement, especially of the middle class employees. The rivalry between the Congress and the Muslim League, though in a milder form, reacted upon the activities of the Unions and Associations of the educated middle class employees specially those in Government service and influenced their decisions. The Unions which used to draw inspiration or were under the influence of sectional or of communal organisations, mostly devoted their energy to the cause of the employees belonging to the community or communities in relation to posting, transfer, promotion and recruitment etc. , and how to take the grater share in the cake, though the cake itself was too inadequate to serve all. To these institutions greater causes such as improvement of service conditions, better pay and prospects, etc. became secondary object. The foreign rulers having imperialistic and capitalist outlook with a view to perpetuate their exploitation of the country’s wealth had to depend much upon the divide and rule policy, through secret agencies, were favouring the growth of service associations on the communal and sectional lines. The progressive service Unions and Associations which were struggling hard for developing real trade union sense amongst their members and were fighting out for greater causes had to face insurmountable difficulties in making their way through.
The leftist political organisations which had just begun dealing with general labour welfare and were busy in organizing the ordinary labours and the working class could arrest the growth of communal feelings amongst them, but as they were quite unmindful of the middle class employees’ Unions, they continued to function under the care of the non-trade unionistic political leaders. It is significant that the Telegraph Workmen’s Union and the All India Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union, were not so much affected by the communal and sectional trend of feelings prevailing in the country, as was the case with the other Unions dominated by the Class III employees. The leadership of the All India Telegraph Union and the Indian Telegraph Association, All India Postal and RMS Union and the Indian Post and Telegraph Union though felt the necessity for greater unity amongst the P and T employees’ movement and although they were getting push from the youngsters, who were post 1931 employees, could not advance the cause. The internecine quarrel and rivalry amongst the leaders, not due to any ideological differences, but mostly on personal grounds and want of proper trade union consciousness amongst the mold of the employees, stood as barricades against united action being taken by the P and T Unions conjointly even on vital issues concerning the workers. The attempts for unity by the employees here and there on each occasion to their ill-luck, proved abortive. The undemocratic constitution of some of the unions also played no less important a part in delaying the growth and expansion of those organisations and their activities in right directions. As to how those undemocratic constitutions stood as a stony rock for years together to foil all attempts for unity move will be discussed later on. Some of the unions, no doubt, had democratic constitutions but due to circumstances already hinted above, could not do much headway towards bringing much needed unity. The gesture shown by the All India Postal and RMS Union conference at Lahore, with very good intention, was therefore, of no avail. Mr. M.G. Swaberry, in spite of his personal inclination as I could study him at the time, could not come forward to accept the offer so generously made to him.
Those who were ardent believers in unity however did not rest here. The war-time unrest which was already visible due to political and bad economic conditions brought about by steady increase in cost of living index, and the wide spread discontentment amongst the post – 1931 young P and T workers are the main factors which continued to strengthen the hands of those who were moving for unity. The records of the different unions will show that within a couple of months, all the unions had to think in terms of organizing joint deputation with the DG P and T, which move in actual sense could be called of laying of foundation stone for building greater unity at a later stage. (To be continued)