DISCONTENTMENT MOUNTS OR 1946 STRIKE
The all India Postman and Lower Grade staff Union being dissatisfied with the Adjudicator’s Award called a meeting of the Council on the 22nd of June, 1946, and took a decision for serving the Govt. with strike notice. Accordingly, Shri. V G Dalvi served the Govt. with a 14 days strike notice and members of the Postmen and Lower Grade Staff of India struck work with effect from the 11th July 1946.
The All India Postmen and Lower Grade staff Union from the organisational point of view, was weak. It had not within its fold at that time more than 30% of the total strength as its members. Of the remaining 70%, the All India Postal and RMS Union was commanding 35%, the Indian Posts and Telegraphs Union had barely 5% of the staff as members and the rest 30% were unorganized. Although the Postman Union was not very strong in 1946, yet I feel no hesitation to say that the decision of the Union to launch a strike was a timely one. As the bulk of the Postmen and Cl.IV employees in Bengal and Assam were members of the All India Postal and RMS Union, the others who were members of the Postmen Union in Calcutta became hesitant and could not take a decision to join the strike without getting an assurance help from the other unions. The Bengal Assam Postal and RMS Provincial Union had to give an assurance of active help and co-operation firstly to see that the strike does not fizzle out and secondly to arrest the desertion of the union by its Postmen members who were found to be restive at that time. As has already been stated above in the entire circle excepting in Calcutta, Dacca, Chittagong and Shillong most of the Postmen and Lower Grade staff were members of the All India Postal and RMS Union. Even in those cities, the membership was divided amongst the three unions, viz Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union, Postal and RMS Union and the Indian Posts and Telegraph Union. The Postmen Union in Calcutta arranged a meeting on the eve of strike to decide as to whether it should abide by the decision of its central union and join the strike. This meeting was held in the Arya samaj Hall and was attended not only by the Postmen and Class IV workers, but also by the clerks. The hall was fully packed. The organizers of the Postmen Union had invited the leaders of other P&T unions but I was not one of those fortunate invitees and so could not be on the dais. As an employee of the department I could not wait for an invitation specially at this critical hour. It was with great difficulty that I could take my stand in a corner of the packed hall and found Shri. Birendra Nath Ghosh, M.A.B.L Hony Secretary All India Postal RMS Union , Calcutta Branch and Shri. K.D.Roy Choudhary ,M.A.B.L Hon’y secretary, all India Postal and RMS Union, RMS Branch were already on the dais by the side of Shri. Rohini Ray, Bar-at-Law, the General Secretary of All India Postmen and Lower grade staff Union, Bengal Provincial Union. I could not guess as to what would be the stand of those seated on the dais. I was eagerly waiting for a chance to address the meeting. Shri.Ray and other leaders of Postmen Union addressed the meeting. Most of the speakers were found to be shaky and could not give a correct lead to the gathering. The whole house was found to be agitated and waiting a clarion call to join the strike. For the time being there was great pandemonium and the house became uncontrollable. It is strange enough for me that just at the time there was a demand from all corners of the house that B.N.Ghosh (myself) should be invited to address the gathering if I was present there. I made my way to the dais, addressed the gathering for an hour and issued a clarion call to join the struggle to a man. I do not boast it is a fact that I was able to carry the entire house with me. They cast cent per cent vote in favour of strike. The Chairman of the meeting declared the strike decision amidst loud cheers.
I on behalf of the Postal and RMS Union of Bengal and Assam held out an assurance to them that we would stand by them and would shortly follow suit. The result of this assurance was marvellous. The vast gathering at least for the moment forgot the difference between class III and Class IV employees and the house dispersed with slogans of “Postal Class III and Class IV Zindabad”.
As this was a strike in post war period when there was all round labour unrest due to higher cost of living and demobilization of war service workers and Britishers were showing reluctant to quit India, the public support and sympathy were with the strikers. All the leftist political parties and the trade unions stood by the workers but it has to be kept on record that shortly after the strike commenced, Dewan Chaman Lal , President of the Posts and Telegraph Federation began his anti-trade union activities and, if I remember it right, he issued the first press statement depreciating the strike launched by the Postmen Union and had the “goodness” to say that the Federation had no sympathy for the strike which had been declared illegal by the Govt. Shortly after this, Dr.Noronah General Secretary of the Indian Telegraph Association issued a similar press statement and Com. M A Jabbar , General Secretary, All India Posts and Telegraph Union , followed suit and issued a statement in the press against the strike.
Such anti trade union activities of three great leaders of the P&T movement upset me altogether and no other way but to call a press conference in Calcutta and issue a statement which runs as follows: “The strike launched by the Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union is quite legal and we have every sympathy for them and none of the members of the Postal and RMS Union should work as a strike breaker by working in place of the strikers”. This statement of mine created enthusiasm in the workers throughout India and our members also became jubilant and began showing their eagerness to fall in with those who were already on the march.
There were developments in quick succession. The Postmen of Shillong who were members of Postmen and Lower Grade staff Union had gone on strike. The Dy.Postmaster General , Shillong range issued order on twelve Postmen of Sylhet which is the neighbouring district of Shillong, to proceed there and work in place of strikers. On the strength of the directive issued by me, they refused to go to Shillong and boldly defied the order and told the authorities that they were not prepared to act as strike breakers. All these officials were placed under suspension. Order was thereafter issued on 12 Postmen of Dhubri to proceed to Shillong but they also refused to carry out the order and had to share the same fate. The matter did not rest here. The Postal authority of Shillong range in their zeal for keeping the work of Shillong in a smooth running condition, ordered another batch of 12 Postmen from Gauhati to proceed to Shillong. They not only refused to go but lay down in front of the office and took a vow not to move unless the orders were cancelled. This news spread like wild fire and the Posts and Telegraphs workers of Bengal and Assam became greatly agitated and strike minded. (To be continued)