P and T Trade Union Movement in India during II World War and thereafter (1939 – 1954) ( by B.N.Ghosh ) CHAPTER – 3
STRENGTH AGAINST WAR ECONOMY
Since the beginning of the war, the left wingers in the Congress has been carrying on by adopting different methods, propaganda against the masses against helping the war causes, which according to them was an imperialist war between Germany and Great Britain. Actually on 2nd October, 1939 as many as 90,000 Bombay workers had gone on political strike against the war and the repressive measures of the imperialism. Apart from the political unrest, the economic distress of the people due to war-time rise in cost of living index had created acute discontentment amongst the working class. The Post and Telegraph Unions, jointly and severally, had been agitating for increase of dearness allowance which was their main concern, and were practically unmindful of the political situation in the country. The declaration of war by Germany on Soviet Russia on the 22nd June 1941 by treating the non-aggression pact as a scrap of paper created a new chapter in the history of World War No. II. Just after declaration of war by Hitler’s Germany on Soviet Russia and conclusion of a British- Soviet pact, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru declared: “The progressive forces of the world are now aligned with the group represented by Russia, Britain, America and China to fight against the fascist –block.” All these factors completely changed the trend of thought of the working class in India. All India trade Union Congress and the Indian Federation of Labour of Mr. M.N.Roy which were the two bodies controlling the working class in India, issued their clarion call in favour of supporting the war, which they declared to be an anti-fascist war and which, according to many, for all practical purposes, was a people’s war. The call issued by those two trade union organisations had its tremendous effect on the general working class and their way of thinking took a different shape. During this period a large number of P and T workers volunteered for field service and did not hesitate to go to Egypt, Libya and late on to France, Italy and other countries abroad. The declaration of war by Japan did not only create a second front of war but for P and T workers and their unions in general and of Bengal and Assam in particular it created difficult task to manage things. Rangoon fell on the 8th March 1942. With the occupation of Burma, by the Japanese, the war spread at the very border of Assam thereby making entire Bengal and Assam an exposed area.
Visakhapatnam and Golconda were the two stations to be first bombed by the Japanese. I remember just on receipt of the news I sent two telegrams to the secretaries of Postal Unions of those two places enquiring about the safety of the P and T workers as well as encouraging them to maintain excellent morale and stick to their respective posts rendering efficient service to the Government and the public at this critical juncture. Later on Calcutta was extensively bombed on the night of the 24th December. Almost all the P and T buildings were more or less affected due to the bombing but all the P and T workers who were performing A.R.P. duties in different buildings played their part well and maintained excellent morale.
Port Blair and Andaman Islands were bombed on 2-3-42. On the 3rd instant, on behalf of the Provincial Union I sent them telegram assuring them full sympathy of P and T workers of India and as Japanese invasion of the island was believed to be imminent I sent wire to Mr. Shoobert the then DG P and T and Mr. Krishna Prasad, Postmaster General, Bengal and Assam, to recall the P and T workers of Port Blair to the mainland before invasion takes place and suggested that they should be allowed to get on board “S.S.Maharaja” of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company ship which would be leaving Port Blair on the 4th instant. The suggestion was accepted and most of the staff were able to come back to Calcutta before occupation. But the task became more and more difficult for the Union to manage on all sides. All the P and T Unions had, in the meantime, been able to arrange a number of joint deputations with the DG P and T where discussion round sanction of more dearness allowance to the staff and taking enough protective measures such as raising baffle walls round all P and T buildings in Bengal, Assam and in the sea coasts of Orissa, Andhra and Madras Presidency, equipping all the P and T Offices in those areas with fire fighting apparatus and sanctioning of additional special allowances for the workers.
In the first week of May 1942, reached the news in the Provincial office that as many as 19 P and T officials have deserted their work from Dinapur (Assam) as an after-effect of bombing of Imphal. The P and T workers of Chittagong and Silchar also became panicky as both the places were bombed. The Post Office at Derby near Silchar was totally destroyed but fortunately the staff could escape as they had left the Post Office building at the sight of the planes. Telegrams were pouring in from all parts of Assam and Eastern Bengal requesting me to visit those areas to give them courage and to arrange for their protective measures such as construction of baffle walls around all office, equipping them with firefighting apparatus and digging of underground shelters etc. I had approached the leaders of A.I.T.U., I.T.A., I.P.T.U., Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union and also the Postal and RMS Union but unfortunately I could not persuade any one of them to agree to proceed to those areas. I myself was hesitating to proceed – not because of fear but my second son and my wife were extremely sick. But still then I decided to leave them and started for an extensive tour in entire Eastern Bengal and Assam frontiers. It took me full nine weeks to complete the tour.
In the meanwhile the joint deputation of all the unions which awaited on the DG P and T in April 1942 had rejected the proposal for militarization of P and T Department but as the prices of commodities were going up and up specially in area which was under South Asia Command, the Government sanctioned Rs. 20/- as extra allowance for the P and T workers stationed in border areas situated in the sea coasts. This new concession was however confined to Bengal and Assam only including Calcutta. All the Unions agitated for extending the concessions to P and T workers working in the coastal areas of Orissa, Andhra and Madras, specially in view of the fact that Visakhapatnam and Golconda had already suffered from bombing. The Government however did not yield to pressure. (Chapter not over.To be continued.)