The members of the All India Postal and RMS Union Calcutta Branch which had already served 14 days notice on the 14th July were vigorously preparing for the strike. The decision of the Calcutta Branch had its repercussion on the other P&T Unions in Calcutta. The All India Telegraph Union under the chairmanship of Sri. Mrinal Kanti Bose also took decision for serving strike notice mainly on the grievances of the Telephone workers of India and in support of the demand and also in sympathy towards the Postmen on strike.
On the twelfth July there was mass meeting of the P&T workers of Calcutta in the Calcutta University Institute in which three thousand workers participated and adopted resolution showing sympathy to Postmen and Lower Grade staff who were in the midst of struggle. Every P&T worker forgot the existence of separate union. All were found ready to come forward for the common cause. On the 16th evening there was another mass meeting of the P&T workers. More than five thousand workers attended the rally. It was held in Calcutta University Institute. I was the first to address the meeting and spoke for five minutes only. I issued a clarion call to all to join the struggle which was struggle for our very existence and stressed on the need of joining hands with the Postmen of India, who had already gone on direct action and explained to them that if the Postmen strike would fizzle out, it could bring disaster not only to the cause of entire P&T workers, but also to the cause of entire General Govt. Employees. The entire audience without a single dissenting voice responded to the call, and agreed to join the direct action. When I put the question to the house, “Comrades, are you ready for the struggle?” the entire house with thunderous cheers replied “Yes”. As the verdict was there the Provincial Council which met again the evening on the 17th, took unanimous decision in favour of launching a strike from zero hour of the 21st July and that a notice of 72 hours be served to the Circle heads. On the 17th evening I had addressed the council for 20 minutes and it gave unanimous verdict in favour of strike and elected as the” first dictator” for conducting the entire strike with power to appoint six of my successors to lead the struggle in my absence and in case I would be arrested.
The Council also elected a Provincial council of action to conduct the strike in Bengal and Assam. Coms. B.N.Ghosh (myself), R.K.Banerjee, Santi Mukherjee, Nato Narayan Bhattacharjee formed the personnel of the council which used to meet every day in close door at the provincial union office at 249-D, Bowbazaar Street, Calcutta-12.
The following notice of strike was accordingly served on the Post Master General Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and The Director Posts and Telegraphs Assam;
N O T I C E
From: The Honorary General Secretary
All India Postal and Railway Mail Service Union
Bengal and Assam Provincial Branch,
249-D, Bow Bazar Street, Calcutta.
The Post Master General
Bengal Circle , Calcutta.
Posts and Telegraphs,
Assam Circle Shillong.
The Post Master General,
Bihar and Orissa Circle, Patna.
In view of the fact that the Govt. of India had repeatedly rejected our demands either for giving adequate monetary relief according to rise in cost of living or for revision of scales of pay of all non gazetted employees of this department including the Extra Departmental staff in accordance with proposals contained in the Resolution No.2 passed at the All India Postal and RMS Conference held at Bombay in December 1944 and reiterated at Mymen Singh conference in December 1945 and that the Govt. have appointed a Pay Commission only with a view to delay in revising scales of pay and in view of the fact that the All India Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union, on reasonable and just demands have already gone on strike to achieve their objects and also as a mark of protest against repressive measures taken against the strikers, I Bhubendra Nath Ghosh in my capacity as Honorary General Secretary of the Bengal and Assam Provincial Branch of All India Postal and RMS Union according to the direction of the Executive Council hereby given notice of the determination of the members of the above mentioned union with all its branches including the RMS Union, Calcutta constituted of ‘C’, ‘E’ and ‘N’ Divisions to go on strike on the expiry of 72 hrs. from service of this notice viz. at 12 hours of 18th July, 1946 i.e. from 0.0. hours of Sunday the 21st July, 1946 unless in the meantime the demands as set forth below are fully met.
This supersedes the notice of strike served by the Hony. Secretary of the Calcutta Branch of the Union on the Presidency Postmaster, Calcutta and Postmaster, Howrah on the 14-7-46.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your most obedient servant
Honorary General Secretary
1. Fulfillment of demands of the Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union
2. Revision of Scales of pay of all non gazetted employees of Post Office and RMS (including D.L.O) working in Bengal and Assam.
3. Introduction of scale of pay for extra Departmental Agents, Extra Departmental Delivery Agents, etc.
4. Grant of dearness allowance at the rate of Rs.5/- for every 10 points in cost of living.
5. Acceptance of 36 hours duty a week in the Executive branch of the Posts and Telegraphs department and 27 hours in case of RMS.
6. Immediate relief by a lump payment of six months pay subject to minimum of 300/- to all the non- gazetted P&T employees in Bengal and Assam to enable them to liquidate at least a part of their indebtedness which they had to incur due to special conditions prevailing during the days of war.
7. Revision of appeal rules
8. Provision of suitable house accommodation or grant of house rent allowance in lieu thereof.
9. Restoration of old leave rules to new entrants.
10. Revision of pension rules.
11. Cancellation of suspension orders on the Postmen of Calcutta and Sylhet and certain other places.
12. Confirmation of all temporary staff.
13. Reinforcement of Dimapur staff and I.N.A (P&T) personnel.
14. Increase of out station and extra duty allowance.
Copy forwarded to the Presidency Postmaster, Calcutta, Postmaster Howrah and Superintendent , ‘C’ & ‘D’ Division for information.
Honorary General Secretary and first Dictator.
Shortly after the notice was served Shri.Niazatullah special envoy of Mr.Shoobert, Hon’ Member in charge for Communication had come down to Calcutta to discuss the strike notice. He called at Tarapada Memorial Hall to meet Shri. Jatin Banerjee and myself. He had three hours discussion with us but as he could not give any assurance regarding meeting the demands the negotiation broke.
The circumstances under which the session of the All India Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union conference at Poona had to take the momentous decision for going on strike will be clear from the strike notice served by Shri. V.G.Dalvi on the 24th June, 1946 which runs as follows:-
The All India Postmen and Lower Grade (including RMS) staff Union, Bombay.
No. A.S.81/46 dated the 24th June, 1946.
The Director General,
Posts and Telegraphs, New Delhi.
With reference to correspondence ending with your No. A-27-3/46 dated 15/17 the June 1946 I am directed in pursuance of a Resolution unanimously passed at a Special session of the All India Postmen and Lower Grade (including RMS) Staff conference held at Poona on the 23rd June, 46 to address you as follows:-
In the opinion of conference, your said letter dated 15/17th June 1946 is unsatisfactory, unconvincing and totally unacceptable. The conference has therefore resolved to resort to direct action and has directed me as the Honorary General Secretary to give you this 14 days clear notice, which I here by do, that unless the demands a list of which is annexed hereto , are conceded before the date of expiry of this notice, all the members of the Provincial , Divisional, District and Branch Unions, affiliated to this All india Union, will go strike from 11th July 1946.
I have etc.
Hon. General Secretary
List of Demands
1) The scales of pay all the officials in the P&T Department below the clerical cadre should be revised as shown below:-
i) Clerks promoted from Postmen Rs. 100-5-200
ii) Overseers, Readers, Sorting Postmen and Mailguards Rs. 90-5-130
iii) Postmen and Line men Rs. 40-2-80
iv) RMS and Hall Jamadars Rs. 45-2-55
v) Packers Porters and Van peons and telegraph
Messengers and Runners Rs. 30-1-45
vi) Boy peons Rs. 20-1-25
vii) Mail Drivers Rs.100-10-150
viii) Telegraph sun Inspectors Rs. 85-5-140
ix) Telegraph Line Inspectors Rs. 150-10-200
2. The existing leave rules for the Postmen and Lower Grade Staff should be abolished and substituted by those in existence prior to 1931.
3. All distinction in the matter of leave and pension rules between the superior and inferior servants of the P&T Department should be abolished and the term (inferior) servants should be abolished.
4. Officials of the P&T Department who have acted in higher grades satisfactorily for a year or more should be confirmed in those higher grade without any examination.
5. The percentage of posts in the clerical cadre reserved for candidates from the Postmen obtaining qualifying marks in the test should be raised from 20% to 50% as before the and posts be reserved for the departmental candidates in the same way as for the minority candidates.
6. There should be no retrenchment of any employee and who already been retrenched should be reinstated on the same terms.
7. The number of holidays in the Posts and Telegraphs Department should be the same as in the other Departments of the Central Government.
8. All work done on Sundays and Postal holidays should be compensated by the grant of overtime allowance.
9. A gratuity calculated at the rate of one month’s pay for one year of service, should be granted to the family of an employee who dies before earning pension.
10. All the distinction in the matter of pay, leave, dearness and other allowances, and privileges between A,B and C areas should be abolished and all areas should be treated A areas.
11. The practice recently introduced of compelling employees in permanent service of many years standing to undergo medical examination at the time of their confirmation in the higher grades in which they have been officiating be immediately stopped and all those who have suffered on account of this requirement should be confirmed without this examination.
12. Adequate leave reserve should be provided so as to ensure that departmental candidates who have served satisfactorily for one year or more should be confirmed and their temporary service should be counted towards pension.
The most of the demands, though legitimate, had been rejected by the Director General, Posts and Telegraphs and the Government times without number. Endless correspondence was carried on not only by the Postmen Union but also by other P&T unions with the authorities but to no effect. The Director General, Posts and Telegraphs vide his letter No. A-27-3/46 dated 17th June, 1946 for the last time rejected those demands and sent an evasive reply. It will appear from the list of demands annexed with the strike notice that most of them were of common interest. Therefore, the initiative taken by the Postmen Union in launching the struggle not only deserved appreciation but also active sympathy and co-operation, from all P&T Unions in existence.
The verdict given by the mass rally of P&T workers of the 16th July, 1946 held at the University Institute reacted quickly on the leadership of the All India Telegraphs Union. Shri P.C.Chatterjee served the following strike notice on the Director General Posts and Telegraphs.
N O T I C E
The Director General
Posts and Telegraphs, New Delhi.
Having failed to secure adequate monetary assistance for the employees who are living on starvation level in spite of representations, deputations etc., during the last several years and also having regard to the fact that repressive measures are being taken by you and or your subordinate officers against the officials already on strike, I, Pares Chandra Chatterjee , in my capacity as the General Secretary of the All India Telegraphs Union and on behalf of all members including employees of the Calcutta Telephone District demand of you immediate acceptance of the following demands:-
First, acceptance of all demands of Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union and withdrawal of all repressive measures against the strikers within seventy two hours. Second, immediate departmentalisation of ex-employees of Bengal Telephone Corporation serving Calcutta Telephone District, to stop summary dismissals and other acts of high handedness . Rupees three hundred which -ever is greater to all non gazatted employees including those of Calcutta Telephone District to enable them to tide over their difficulties. Fourth, payment of gratuity of one month’s pay for each year of service in addition to pension to all retiring employees or to heirs in case of earlier death. Fifth, monetary compensation equivalent to annual increments for each of stagnation to officials provisionally designated Old Lower Division Clerk for branch of service conditions.
In case of your failure to accept these demands you are hereby informed that the members of my union shall go on strike on and from date and time to be announced by Sreejut Mrinal kanti Bose, President of this Union.
The above notice did not mention any specific date and time for going on strike but it was left to be decided by the President of the Union, Sri.Mrinal Kanti Bose. On the 18th July, Shri. Bose sent the following telegram to the Director General, Posts and Telegraphs:-
“ I give you notice that the strike of the members of the All India Telegraph Union including the Calcutta Telephone District will commence on Sunday, 21st July, 1946, at midnight”.
As the All Postal and RMS Union, Bengal and Assam Provincial Union had taken decision for strike quite independent of its central Union, it encouraged other circle and branch unions in Bihar and Assam to take similar decision. Shri.D.R.Mukherjee, General Secretary of Bengal and Assam Branch of the All India Telegraph Workmen’s Union also served a similar strike notice to the circle heads. Shri. M.N.Talapada, Vice President of the All India Postal and RMS Union directed me to withdraw strike notice. I replied regretting my inability to withdraw. Shri. Gyan Chand Khanna, General Secretary, All India Telegraph Workmen’s Union directed from Delhi Shri.Mukherjee to with draw the notice, Shri. Mukherjee expressed his regret.
Shri. M.A Jabbar, General Secretary of the Indian Posts and Telegraph Union had already issued a directive urging numbers of his union in Calcutta not to be stamped or intimidated into joining the strike which he considered to be most ill-advised.
All though in pursuance of above directive the Calcutta Branch of the Indian Postal and Telegraphs Union had not served any strike notice earlier, it held a mass meeting of its members at the Islamia College Hall on the 20th July under the Presidentship of Dr.Ghulam Imam. Mr.S. M Osman Mayor of Calcutta, who addressed the rally emphasized that whatever decision they took, should be adhered to with firmness and strength.
The meeting commenced in a tense atmosphere.
The Zero hour of the announced postal strike was fast approaching. The unity of the Posts and Telegraphs employees, irrespective of the union they belonged to, was in evidence. The rally which was mainly of Muslim employees unanimously adopted the strike resolution and served the Government with 24 hour notice.
On the 20th July I got a telegram from Shri. Lahiri Choudhry, M.L.A who was President of All India Postal and RMS Union, to the following effect:
The telegram contained a veiled threat to me. However, the telegram had no effect on me. I sent the following telegram to Shri. Lahiri Choudry:
“Regret inability withdraw notice. Every ready face all consequences”.
At two pm on the 20th I got a trunk call from Shri. Lahiri Choudhry who again and again insisted that I should withdraw the notice’. He requested me also to talk to Dewan Chaman Lal, President of the Federation who was at that time by his side.
I declined to talk to him with following words:
“I refused to talk to Argentine Food Commissioner designate”.
Shri Lahiri Choudhry talked to me for full 43 minutes and on enquiry I came to know that the conversation was going on from the office room of the Director General, Posts and Telegraphs and on his phone free of cost.
The preparations for a Posts and Telegraph strike were complete by the evening of July 21st when a mammoth gathering of fifty thousand people including the P&T workers and members of the public assembled at the Willington square under the Presidentship of Shri. Mrinal Kanti Bose.
Twenty thousand leaflets under my signature containing the directives asking the Postal and RMS workers to join the struggle and to be prepared for “Korbani”. And to follow the directive of my successors to be appointed by me in case I would be arrested and sent behind the bars, were dispatched to every nook and corner of Bengal and Assam.
The majority of the Postmen and Lower Grade Staff of India were already on strike with effect from the 11th July and to give impetus to the struggle, nearly forty thousand Postal, Telegraph, Telephone, Railway Mail Service workers of all categories of Bengal and Assam struck work from the 21st midnight which completely cut off Bengal and Assam from the rest of India.
Later on, to fill the cup to the brink, the Calcutta Branch of the P&T Administrative Offices Association comprising of the staff of the Postmaster General’s office served 24 hour notice to the Postmaster General, Bengal and joined the strike with effect from the 23rd July and the strike assumed gigantic proportions on the 27th July when 800 men of Telegraph Store Yard, Workshops and Chief Accounts Office, deserted the Indian Posts and Telegraphs Union and joined the strike. Close upon the heels of these incidents several hundred members of the Indian Telegraph Association Ltd., whose head quarters was in Calcutta and had prepared to remain aloof from the struggle deserted the organization and joined the strike. The complete deadlock continued up to the 6th August, 1946.
The Council of Action which was formed with Shri. Mrinal Kanti Bose as Chairman assumed the charge of conducting the entire strike in Calcutta. The charge of conducting the strike at stations outside Calcutta however remained with the respective unions.
The workers of RMS ‘C” and ’ N’ Division which was under the control of the Postmaster General, Bihar and Orissa, but within the fold of the All India Postal and RMS Union, Bengal and Assam Provincial Union had already joined the strike on and from the 21st July midnight. The mail vans from Bombay, Madras Punjab and Delhi, Darjeeling and Shillong were running empty.
The strike later on spread amongst the P&T workers of Patna, Allahabad, Banaras Lucknow , Agra, Simla and also amongst the Telegraph workers of Bombay.
Shri. Guruswamy, General Secretary of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation in a press statement to the U.P.I DECLARED the P&T strike as the first National strike.
Shri. Krishna Prasad, I.C.S, Director General, Posts and Telegraphs, at a Press Conference on the 1st July, 1946 had already declared the strike, for which notice had been given by Shri. Dalvi, would be illegal. Since some of the demands embodied in the strike notice had already been referred to the Adjudication and in an open letter addressed to the Postmen, he further declared that the Postmen and Lower Grade Staff therefore cannot go on strike without making themselves liable for penal action. He further held a threat that if strike would take place, their action would definitely render them to the consequences of their action. In the same breath he did not forgot to make a passionate appeal to all not to create inconvenience to the public by going on strike.
Com. V G Dalvi General Secretary of the All India Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union, on the 3rd July in a Press statement referring to Shri.Krishna Prasad’s statement that the strike would be illegal, said “The Union has been advised and holds the view that the strike will be perfectly legal. If by reference to adjudication of only one or a few of the several demands of the employees, the latter are prevented from going on strike with regard to the remaining demands, the law would operate very hardly upon the employees. It would mean that by forcing an adjudication in respect of one demand at a time, Government be a just imposition of law”.
Dewan Chaman Lal, President of the Federation of Posts and Telegraphs Union in an interview to the association press at Simla on 3-7-46 held the views that “until the adjudication verdict and Posts and Telegraphs department’s reaction to it are known, no member of a powerful Federation can possibly join in any strike of which notice may have been given by the unions not affiliated to the Federation.”
Evidently, Dewan Chaman Lal Sahib by his statement meant the All India Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union which was a body not affiliated to the Federation. He wanted all General Secretaries and local secretaries of the Federation’s Branches of India to understand clearly the position and to wait for the call from the Federation.
None of us however, took Dewan Sahib seriously that he would give a call. The call actually never came.
The Govt. and Federation miscalculated that the strike would be restricted amongst the Postmen of Bombay only but the serving of strike notice by the All India Telegraph Union, All India Postal and RMS Union Bengal and Assam Branch, Indian P&T Union, Calcutta Branch, Postmaster General’s office Association Calcutta etc., disillusioned the authorities. Although the strike notice was served by Shri. Dalvi from his headquarters at Bombay, Calcutta became the storm centre from the 21st midnight.
It is noteworthy that the central leadership of the Indian Telegraph Association, the All India Postal and RMS Union, the All India Telegraph Workmen’s Union, The Indian Posts and Telegraph Union and the Federation had played the most inglorious part in this historic struggle by openly identifying themselves with the Department. Inspite of joint efforts of the Department and the Federation leadership to combat the move, the strike spread. In Bengal and Assam the members of the Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union were on strike from the 11th July to 6th August and of the other unions from the 21st July to 6th August. The special feature of the struggle was that from the beginning to the end, the strike was conducted in a peaceful way and the workers remained firm till their unions had asked them to resume duty. The Director General’s ultimatum dated the 11th July which runs as follows, was without any effect:
“I have today sent out instructions to all Heads of Posts and Telegraphs Circles that if those who have absented from duty rejoin within 72 hours, the orders of suspension against them will be cancelled and their absence condoned. Others who did not join will have to reap the consequences of their action.”
Inspite of this ultimatum, none of the men on strike returned to work on the expiry of 72hours.The workers rather preferred to be guided by the directive coming from the mightier force within, which was the hungry stomach, and continued to be on strike. The Joint Council of Action appointed Shri. Birendra Nath Ghosh , M.A.B.L., Hony secretary, All India Postal and RMS Union , Calcutta Branch as the convener of the council of action. In spite of unanimous request, I preferred to remain outside the joint council of action. Utmost courtesy was, however, shown to me by the Joint Council of Action to the extent that in all the meeting I was specially invited to take part and was allowed to participate like a full-fledged member of the council. I was, however daily taking proper council from the Provincial Council of Action of which was the proper body to guide me.
The Joint Council of Action was formed with the following persons representing various Unions: Coms. Birendra Nath Ghosh, Jitindra Nath Banerjee, representing All India Postal and RMs Union Calcutta Branch Coms. Rai Krishna Banerjee, Natanarayan Bhattacharyya, representing All India Postal and RMs Union Bengal and Assam Provincial Branch, Coms. P.C.Chatterjee, Shivani Basu , J.C.Shyam representing All India Telegraph Union , Shri.Sowjogi Ojha and Shri. Narasing Upadya, representing the Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union, Shri. Tokhan Singh resenting Telegraph Workmen’s Union, Bengal and Assam Circle Branch, Shri.K.D.Roy Choudhry and Shri. Basanto K.Chakravarthy, representing RMS Union Calcutta, Shri. Dwijen Ganguli, Postmaster General’s Office Association and Shri. Raza Hussain, Indian Post and Telegraph Union.
The Joint Council of Action from the very beginning ably conducted the strike. The strike which was considered as a National Movement, got the support from the public of all shades of opinion and of all ideologies. All the leftist political parties such as the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Forward Block, the Revolutionary Socialist Party etc. stood by the strikers and rendered them active support and help. The Indian National Congress which was still then a leftist organization, however, did not come forward with a helping hand. The Congress leadership was negotiating with the British Cabinet through the Government of India for partition of the country and for formation of Interim Government at the centre. So they naturally did not want any disturbances in the country. Both the Britishers and the Congress as it appears were eager to have smooth sailing. (To be continued)