CHAPTER – 13
The student’s movement in Calcutta was very strong. Inspite of there being different student’s organizations, all of them such as Students Federation, All Bengal Students Association, Students Congress, Forward Block Students Bureau , Muslim Students League, and the Women Students Congress, stood by the strikers. The entire student committee not only of Calcutta but also of the entire Bengal and Assam made common cause with the P&T workers strike. Shri. Kanti Bose the Chairman of the Joint Council of Action Calcutta was also at that time the President of the All India Trade Union Congress, the only trade union centre in India. Its affiliated branch B.P.T.U.C. gave splendid support to the cause. The Congress leadership , Maulana Abdul kalam Azad, shri’ Sarat Chandra Bose, Shri. Surendra Mohan Ghosh, President of the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee kept close touch with the strike committee and helped the council from time to time with valuable advice.
Different leftist political parties excepting the Congress were found all the days the strike was on, arranging meetings in different perks and maidans in support of the struggle which it will not be too much to say took the shape of the national strike for liberation of the country. The historic strike was able practically to give the last kick to alien Rule in India. In fact, the negotiation between the Congress and the Muslim League on the issue of formation of interim Government on the one side and the Viceroy of India representing the British Cabinet on the other , which had broken only a week before the strike, became fruitful just after the successful termination of the strike. The P&T Strike was succeeded by the strike by the workers of Imperial Bank of India and so on. The care taker Govt. which due to post war political situation and labour unrest was naturally a weak Government, was practically preparing for departure with bag and baggage, and had to invite once again the Congress and the League to form the interim Government.
The Joint Council of Action was being arranging public meetings in the wellington Square. The rally was being attended every day by more than lakh of people. Besides the different political parties were arranging meetings in different parks. Just after the strike began I felt much relieved. During those days I had no other business but to address the meetings organized by the Joint Council of Action as well as by the different political parties. It is significant that excepting myself no other P&T worker had over addressed my public meeting organized by the different political parties. It is also noteworthy that the Congress Committee in Calcutta or elsewhere in Bengal and Assam did not organize any meeting either in Calcutta or in any part of the Bengal and Assam in support of the strikers but individual Congress workers and even leaders had taken part in addressing meetings and helping the strikers cause.
That the demands of the workers were legitimate and that the Congress also was taking some interest in their case is evident from the following statement issued to the press by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru , President of the Indian National Congress.
“Many people had heard of the coming postal strike, but this, but this morning all India suddenly became conscience of it, and if no specific stop is taken it is likely to be actually conscious of it for a considerable time. A Postal strike is always a calamity to the public and is to be avoided as far as possible. In labour disputes generally and more particularly in regard to essential services, a civilized Government and society provide other methods of settlement than that of the strike.
Unfortunately, our Government and social structure function differently. I am not in a position to express an opinion about the detailed demands of the postal employees although during the last five or six months the matter has come up before me on several occasions. “Prima facie the Postal employees are badly paid and live a hard life. Their service is known for its hones of integrity and hard work and inevitably one’s sympathy goes to them. One fact which is significant is that the Postal Enquiry Committee which functioned a year and a half ago under the Chairmanship of Mr. Krishnan Prasada, the present Director General, Posts and Telegraphs, presented a report in April 1945 which was suppressed. Why was it suppressed by Govt. although from all accounts it was a unanimous report? This suppression does not bring credit to Government nor does it incline one to its present argument in this dispute.
“As I have said, I am unable to express any specific opinion about the demands, but I am quite convinced that this matter as a whole ought to have been referred to adjudication or arbitration. One very small aspect of the question relating to interim relief to men on the scales of pay was referred to adjudication and the award is expected soon. But this does not cover the main points at issue. I would strongly urge both the Government and the All India Postal Union to accept a full adjudication of arbitration of the entire dispute. There can be a time limit fixed for this and any recommendations or decision made be made subject to the future findings of the Pay Commission which had begun considering the whole subject of official salaries etc. If this step is taken it will be fair and honourable to all concerned and will bring relief to the public also who are suffering from this strike.
“These same considerations also apply to the Telegraph Employees who have given notice of a strike. I could urge that their case also should be referred to adjudication or arbitration”
Inspite of the above sympathetic press statement issued by the Congress President, the official congress which was aiming at forming the Interim Government, was not wholly in favour of the strike, which is apparent from the following statement issued on the 19th July 1946 by Shri. Sathya Narayan Sinha, the Chief Whip of the Congress party in the Central Assembly, condemning the strike notice.
“I consider this move of the All India Telegraph Union is ill-advised, I advise, therefore, employees of the Posts and Telegraphs Department to be guided by the Federation of the Posts and Telegraph Unions.”
Referring to the strike of the Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Mr. Sinha said: “ My investigation on the spot has forced me to the conclusion that Mr.Dalvi has called his men out of thought by any means exhausting the possibility of an amicable settlement”. Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, however rebuked Shri. Sinha for his statement. The genuine feeling in the country was that the Congress opinion and views in strike were divided. The majority of the Congress leadership wanted peaceful atmosphere might go on unhampered and smoothly.
The All India Trade Union Congress, however, played their part splendidly. It stood by the workers and rendered every help to the P&T worker’s struggle. Madras observed one day general strike of all workers in the city on July 23 in sympathy with the Posts and Telegraphs workers strike, at the call of the Madras Provincial Trade Union Congress. There was complete stoppage of all trams, buses and other transport service including tongas and taxies and thousands of workers participated in the token strike. The Postmaster General had ordered the closure of all post offices in the city and mofussils. On the 22nd July, at the call of the Bombay Provincial Trade Union Congress and also on an appeal issued by 70 labour unions, there was complete one day token strike in Bombay to show sympathy to the Postmen on strike. In short, Bombay witnessed an unprecedented situation. The city was cut off from rest of India as the entire communication system had virtually been paralysed. One thousand Telegraphists and Telegraph Office Clerks and Telephone Operators who were already on strike in obedience to the strike notice of All India Telegraph Union felt encouraged by this public sympathy.
The enthusiasm of the P&T workers in Calcutta and the rest of Bengal and Assam reached its climax on the 29th July, 1946. Shri.Mrinal Kanti Bose, the President of the All India Trade Union Congress and also the President of the Joint Council of Action had issued the following statement to the press:
“The General Council calls upon all its affiliated Unions throughout the province to observe a one day strike on Monday the 29th July.”
“The council confidently looks to the industrial and transport workers, Govt and commercial Employees to come forward in response to this call and to conduct this strike in a peaceful and disciplined manner.”
“This council further appeals to all sections of public students, merchants, traders and shopkeepers to help in making the days strike success by observance of general “Hartal” and by participating alongside the workers in rallies, meetings, and demonstrations, thus itself sympathetic to the sorrows of Indian millions.
“The council of the opinion that the water works of the city should not be stopped on the day of general strike.
“The railway service is exempted from the operation of general strike.”
On the 29th July, Calcutta during 200 years of British Rule had the Biggest Strike involving nearly 15,00,000 workers. All vehicular traffic, transport, buses, motor cars, taxies, rikshaws etc had suspended work for the day. All the schools, colleges, the secretariat, mercantile firms, police courts, high courts and civil courts remained closed. Hundreds of labour organizations including the Dock and Jute Mill workers joined the demonstrations. The entire student community were in the maidan to join this unique demonstration. The twenty thousand P&T workers of Calcutta joined in a single procession and reached the Maidan meeting at the foot of the Oothorlony Monument. Various political organizations and public of all shades of opinions had joined the demonstration. The army men under south East Asia Command mostly from U.S.A stationed in Calcutta were found attending demonstration.
Shri.Mrinal Kanti Bose presided. The leaders of different political parties and news papers representatives addressed the meeting. I was the only P&T worker who was called upon by the president to address the meeting. It was the most glorious moment in my life that I got an opportunity to address a mammoth gathering of one and a half million people drawn from the student community, middle class wage earners and the working class. At the very outset of my speech I had congratulated the class III employees for their giving up false vanity and joining the struggle launched by the Postmen and Lower Grade Staff. I remember to have said “Mahatma Gandhi observes silence once a week to gain in strength. The P&T workers who have been observing silence for years together, must have acquired immense strength which is exhibited today in this Maidan and also through this historic struggle”. I closed by saying that a postal runner possessed the energy which is comparable to atomic energy.
Dr. A.M.Mallick, M.L.A moved the following resolution:
“This public rally expressing the will of all section of the Indian people throughout Bengal on this historic day of 29th July, congratulates the workers and employees of the Postal, Telegraph, Telephone and RMS workers on the exemplary spirit of solidarity and courage with which they have conducted their great India –wide strike.
“This rally whole heartedly supports the just demands of the Post and Telegraph, Telephone and RMS Staff, who are only asking for such wages and service conditions as every worker in India is determined to secure himself, in order to enjoy a human standard of living.”
“This rally therefore considers that the Postal and Telegraph strikers are fighting the battle of all workers and employees, and expresses its determination to render all out assistance to their struggle against the Govt, which is the largest and most powerful employer in the country.
“This rally strongly condemns the callous and bureaucratic attitude of the Govt., its obstinate refusal to concede the strikers’ demands and its malicious attempts to disrupt the strike. The rally warns the Govt that public opinion will no longer tolerate this treatment of its hardworking and ill paid employees, and demands immediate concessions for an early settlement of the strike.
“This rally greets the countless strikers who have responded to the call of the Bengal Provincial Trade Union Congress and have given a mighty demonstration of public feeling against the alien govt whose rules has brought poverty and starvation of our millions. This rally is confident that this historic general strike will open a new chapter of unity and militancy for the working class movement of the country,” which was adopted unanimously amidst thunderous cheers by a million and a half people gathered in the rally on the occasion.
A large number of American army men who were present in the rally later called at the post office of the Provincial Union and paid some dollars as contribution to the strike fund.
The Bengal Legislative Council at its meeting on the 26-7-46 adopted the following resolution urging upon the Govt. of Bengal to represent to the Govt. of India the urgent necessity of an immediate settlement of the strike of the province.
“In view of the grave inconvenience and hardships caused to the public of this province by the strike of the Postal, Telegraph and Telephone employees in the Province thereby causing serious dislocation in the communications, this council urges upon the Govt. of Bengal to represent to the Govt. of India the necessity of an immediate settlement of the strike and the restoration of the normal services.”.
The sponsor of the resolution, Mr. Hamidul Haq Choudary (Muslim League) addressed the council fully supporting the workers cause. Shri. K.K.Dutta(Congress), Mr.G Morgan (European) supported the motion.
Prof: Humayun Kabir said that the people had been suffering and not the Govt. The employees of the P&T department were poorly paid and any civilized Government should sympathies with the just demands of the labours and employees, he said.
Shri.Gopinath Bardolai, Chief Minister of Assam had sent wire to Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and the Govt. of India urging them to take immediate steps for solution of the postal disputes.
It is therefore an historical truth that the P&T strike in Bengal and Assam which got the support from one and all assumed the shape of a national struggle which practically gave the last blow to the British imperialism in India which was already shaken by the Naval uprising in Bombay, and earlier by liberation of Andaman Island and Manipur and Kohima by the Indian National Army.
It is not that the 29th July was observed in Calcutta alone. Complete hartal was observed throughout Bengal and Assam in all the district headquarters and all the sub-divisional towns in all business centres to show sympathy with the strikers. Everywhere, there was mass rallies in which all the people of the locality belonging to all caste creeds and of all political parties took part. It was a unique occasion. The P&T strike in Bengal and Assam at least will go down in history as one of the events having bearing with the national uprising for liberation of the country by paralysing the communication system though the P&T workers themselves had launched their struggle at the first instance mainly on economic grounds.
It will not be too much to say that the general strike of July, 1946 in Bengal will come to be recorded by the future historians along with the Naval uprising of Bombay as the greatest event of the year. Really, the unprecedented demonstrations of the 29th July had shaken the Britishers in Calcutta from where they had been ruling this vast sub-continent for 150 years, and created high hopes and enthusiasm in the middle end working classes who had been struggling heard to be free from socio-economic bandage. (To be continued)