CHAPTER v – OLD VERSUS NEW
The All India Postal and RMs Union conference held in 1942 at Agra was a dull session. Sri.Lakshmi K Maitra who was elected President of the Union in 1939 was continuing and presided over this session as well. The conference passed a resolution reiterating its demand for sanction of same scales of pay for all stations. The delegates from Calcutta Postal Union opposed this and withdrew from the conference. Sri.R M Laheri was elected General Secretary of the All India Union. The All India Postal and RMS Union was losing grounds in the Punjab, NFW and in Madras Presidency due to lack good workers inside the union and the Indian Posts and Telegraph Union was flourishing. The financial position of the Central Union was going from bad to worse. For years together practically the Central Union was being mainly financed by Bombay and Bengal. Sri.Laheri could not continue as General Secretary for more than a year. The Union was unable to maintain him by paying him even a scanty sum of Rs. 150/- p.m. There was no session of the All India Postal and RMS conference in 1943. The conference of 1944 was held in Bombay however gave new impetus to the movement. I felt that the P&T Workers movement could only be advanced if a common front of pre-1931 and post -1931 employees is built on a common demand. In the Bombay conference we succeeded in framing such a demand.
Although the D.L.O Calcutta was functioning at Patna, I came back to Calcutta on 3.9.43 and joined duty in Calcutta G.P.O, and shortly afterward I was posted as Quartermaster, Defence of India Corps (P&T) and got Viceroy’s Commission and later joined the Provincial Union as Assistant Secretary to serve the Union under the direction of the Joint Secretary and General Secretary. On coming back to Calcutta G.P.O after 4 years, I came in contact with innumerable young Postal and RMS workers of Calcutta G.P.O. and its T.S.Os and Calcutta RMS. All the Unions since inception were recognised as Service Associations and they were functioning as such. These youngsters in a progressive outlook pointed out to us the defect in the unions and wanted to run them on trade union lines on a different method. As I fully concurred with their views I made up my mind to help these new bloods in the union in their efforts to re-organise the union on the trade union basis.
I attended the Bombay Session of the All India Postal and RMS conference in December 1944 with a new programme in hand and with a new mission. Sri. Govind Lal Moti Lal, a multimillionaire of Bombay presided over the Conference. His presidential address was not to the liking of majority of the delegates who wanted living wage and better service conditions. The presidential address was full of sermon and advice not to make any such demands. The younger groups in the conference held a special meeting at night after the open session of the conference, and they persuaded me to preside over the meeting and took a decision to place before the conference for adoption of a resolution demanding Rs. 80-250/- scales of pay for all the Postal and RMS Class III officials and Rs. 50- 120/- for all Postmen staff and the tussle began.
The All India Postal and RMS conference of 1944 at Bombay was in short a tug-of-war between the old leadership and the new comers in the field with progressive outlook, whose main object was to create a common front of post- and pre-1931 entrants in the department by formulating a demand which would be in the interest of both the categories of the employees in the department. The seasoned labour leaders like Jamna Das Mehta, R.S.Nimbakar, V.G.Dalvi and S.C Joshi the General Secretary, All India Postal and RMS Union, Bombay Provincial Branch, expressed opinion against putting any demand before the Government for revision of scales of pay when it was faced with a critical war situation. Sri.S.C.Joshi who had been connected with the All India Postal and RMS Union for more than twenty years and was tipped for the post of Chief Labour Commissioner of India was found to be determined to oppose the very idea of adopting any resolution by the conference demanding revision of scales of pay. After much discussion he modified his views to the extent that the new entrants should be given old scales of pay to which we disagreed. Sri. Joshi for whom we had every regard and who had done much for the P&T workers, could not keep balance and proposed that the pay scales of the clerk in the P&T department should be Rs. 500-100-1000-200-2000. This was too much to be brooked by the delegates present . I feel tempted to reproduce below the sharp reply I gave to Sri. Joshi ; “Shri Joshi should not think that this benign British Government is going to win the war with the aid of the Russian Government and a result of this, after successful termination of the war as its natural repercussion, the people of the country will be tending towards socialism , so we with our socialistic out look will refuse to accept such a scale of pay as proposed by Shri.Joshi, but we are determined to have a living wage commensurate with the cost of living index which was 320% higher than that of pre-war index. We do not want a motor car for each one of us but we are not prepared also to be run over by a multimillionaire’s motor car on the Hornby road of Bombay”.
The President, Shri. Govindlal Motilal, intervened and put a question – If a scale of pay such as Rs. 80 -250 is granted to all clerical staff in P&T department, it will require ten crores of rupees; where from would the money come? I replied, “It will come from the pockets of multi-millionaires like Shri.Govindalal Motilal”.
The resolution moved by me demanding revision of scales of pay was carried by over whelming majority of votes amidst cheers. Shri. Raghubans Sahai Srivastava (Uttarpradesh), Shri.B.K.Kamble (C.P), Shri.Suresh Chandra Day(Bengal), Shri.Natarajan(Madras), Shri.Deodhar (Bombay) and others took active part in the debate and discussion. Shri. Ganpat who hailed from Hyderabad, consolidated the younger group.
The conference did not elect any General secretary but kept the post vacant. Later on, Com.B.S. Kamble was selected as General Secretary of the All India union.
The proposal brought about by some of the delegates from Calcutta for demanding higher scale of pay for Calcutta, Bombay and Madras was rejected by the conference. A common front of the old and new was formed on the basis of the resolution for revision of scales of pay . The conference of Bombay was a great success in this respect. The resolution adopted by the conference inspired other unions like the India Post and Telegraph union, The Indian Telegraph Association The All India Telegraph Union and the Postman and Lower Grade Staff Union to demand of the Government for revision of scales of pay of all categories of staff.
Shortly after the conference, Shri. S.C,Joshi was appointed Chief Labour Commissioner of Government of India. Shri. Talpaade, an eminent lawyer of Bombay, replaced shri.Joshi in the Bombay Provincial Union.
The year 1944 was not only a year of great test and trial for me but also a year of revitalising my energy and for finding out a base to begin with work for creating a new set of active workers for the union. My coming back to Calcutta G.P.O and being incharge of Military section (D of 1, Corps P&T ) Calcutta City Postal Unit afforded me an opportunity to come in contact with hundreds of young workers of all categories in the Postal and RMS offices in Calcutta City. It was a year of trial because I was on deputation in Calcutta G.P.O unit but my posting as a Quarter Master of D. of I Corps in Selection grade was unjust and irregular. Any of the officials of Calcutta G.P.O. and its Town Sub offices should have been selected for the purpose. I declined and protested but the O.C LT Col E.N.J .C Byrne threatened me with court martial as the order was a military order. I had to agree but adopted a new method of passive protest against that unjust order of Col. Byrne. The entire extra amount I was getting by way of my working as Quarter Master in Selection Grade every month, I began contributing to the Calcutta G.P.O poor fund as” One-ana fund “ of which Col. Byrne was the Chairman. I used to tell him every month that this contribution was nothing but a passive protest against his unjust orders.
The P&T workers in Bengal and Assam were any how carrying on, as by joining the D.of I Corp P&T, they were getting military compensation allowance plus Ration Allowance which lessened their hardships to some extent but those working out side this area were in economic distress and unrest was visible amongst the P&T workers everywhere but there was no joint machinery to consolidate their activities.
The Krishna Prasad Committee, which was appointed earlier to examine the question as to how far the dearness allowance could be increased specially for those who belonged to the postmen and Lower Grade staff, submitted its report no doubt, but the findings of the report never saw the light of the day.
Discontentments were gradually increasing amongst all classes of Indians owing to the political and economic situation of the country. The congress, which was the main political organization of the country was driven underground by the Government. Mahatma Gandhi was released on the 6th may, 1944. All other congress leaders were still in detention. The P&T workers although in employment of Government, were anxiously awaiting for a settlement between the Government and the other political parties in the country because they were sincerely believing that transfer of power from the alien rulers to the national leaders will free them from economic distress. To a worker, liberation and freedom mean full socio-economic justice done to him for which all of us were longing for years together. But neither the political situation improved nor did our hardships lessen.
The resolution adopted by the All India Conference at Bombay demanding revision of scales of pay of both pre and post 1931 employees which should not be less than Rs. 80-250 for the clerical staff, created enthusiasm amongst the members of the Postal and RMS Union. The other P&T Unions also later on followed suit. The Indian Telegraph Association demanded a scale of pay of Rs. 100-280 for the Telegraphists while the the All India Telegraph Union asked for a scale of Rs.100-300 and so on. This move taken by the different unions paved the way for a common front not only of the pre and post employees but also brought about courage and enthusiasm amongst the P&T workers in general.
The All India Conference did not elect the General Secretary. It was, however, in informal discussion practically decided that the services of one of our active workers in employment of the department be requisitioned. It has now become easy to elect any official as General Secretary or Asst. General Secretary on foreign service but there was no such system in vogue during those days and hence it was practically impossible for any official outside Delhi to come over there to work.
Shri.B.S.Kamble who was sounded, agreed to undertake the responsibility though it would be enormous personal inconvenience to him. In the central Council meeting held in Delhi in March 1945 Shri. Kamble was elected General Secretary of the Central Union to which post he continued up to June, 1946. During the entire period of 15 months he exhausted his own leave. This was a sacrifice, no doubt. (To be continued)