The Union of Posts and Telegraph Workers which came in to existence on the 13th August, 1947, during two and a half years of its functioning, was able to build itself up as a powerful fighting organization and did not remain as merely a petitioning body. The members of the U.P.T.W got a new way of thinking. The very functioning of Postal, R.M.S Telegraph and Telephone together as a compact body had created a force which was considered by the Government as a permanent menace to it. It must be admitted that even other P&T Unions which were functioning independently outside the U.P.T.W could not escape from its influence. Removal of Com.Gupta gave relief to those who had tabled the no-confidence motion against him but the action of the Supreme Council was deplored by many who were imbibed with real trade union spirit and did not like to confine the activities of the Union to petitioning only. Removal of Com.Gupta no doubt gave a temporary satisfaction to the P&T authorities, but this organization which sustained a set-back for the time being due to internal disunity and repression could shortly overcome it. The progressive elements once again with slow but steady pace began to be on the march. The U.P.T.W again as it seems found a place in the bad books of the Government.
While the U.P.T.W was passing through a crisis, the other P&T Unions such as the All India Postal & R.M.S Union, the PMG’s Office Staff Union, the All India Telegraph Workmen’s Union, the All India Telegraph Revenue Offices Staff Union, the All India Telegraph Line staff Union, the All India Telegraph and Telephone Engineering Union gradually got themselves affiliated to the Posts and Telegraph Federation of which Dewan Chaman Lal was the President. The All India Telegraph Union which was keeping away from the Federation also got itself affiliated to the Federation in 1952. As this Federation was a loose one the federating Unions were functioning not only independently but also were often putting contradictory demands, which gave the authorities an opportunity to reject them.
Com.K.Ramamurthi who succeeded Com.Om Prakash Gupta, on assuming charge of the Union of P&T Workers, found himself confronted with three problems. Firstly the situation created by introduction of two labour bills in the Parliament, viz, Labour Relations Bill 1950 and the Trade Unions Bill 1950. Secondly reinstatement of those who were still in custody. And thirdly, realignment proposal of the Government which was still before the Unions. All the Central Trade Unions and other Unions in private and public sectors rose as one body in their protest against these black bills. All the labour leaders and section of the members of Parliament belonging to opposition raised a country wide agitation against the bills. The P&T Unions which were then functioning in four groups, viz., the P&T Federation, the All India Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union, the U.P.T.W and the All India Telegraph Union played their part well and raised their voice of protest against the Bills which were aimed at isolating the civil servants from the field of labour and denying them the right of organizing as trade unions and the power of collective bargaining. The P&T Employees, the Railway Servants and a few other categories of staff of the Government services enjoyed certain concessions and privileges even under the alien administration. These rights were sought to be withdrawn. Had the Bills been passed, the civil servants and their organizations would have been reduced to the status of mere supplicants, functioning as petitioning bodies.
While the fundamental rights of organization were intended to be withdrawn, the Government did not think it prudent to formulate any measure to regulate labour relations with millions of their servants.
The Work Committees of the staff Councils as provided in the Bill were the most detestable instruments for breaking the solidarity of Unions. They could not solve the problem.
Sri.Guruswamy, the General Secretary of the Railwaymen’s Federation in one of his speeches said: “The more the shocks, the greater would be the resistance. And this would grow to formidable proportions, if not today, tomorrow and force the civil servants to seek political amelioration of service conditions.”
Shri.Ashok Mehta, who was then connected with the Hindu Mazdoor Sabha, issued a special call to the P&T workers and stressed the need to co-ordinate and centralize all their efforts to get the two black Labour Bills scrapped. The Union of Post and Telegraph Workers in fact observed an anti-black-bills day on the 29th January, 1951. All the P&T Trade Unions were more or less critical about the Bills. Everybody thought that unionism specially in the public sector was imperilled. The Railwaymen’s Federation under the leadership of Shri.Guruswamy was up and doing to counteract the Government’s attempt for the very passing of the Bills.
The agitation took such a turn that the Government had no other way but to withdraw the Bills. The P&T Unions in this respect played their part well.
The Negotiating Committee which was appointed by the Supreme Council meeting of the U.P.T.W held on the 24th February, 1949 met the Honb’le Minister, Shri. Rafi Ahmed Kidwai on the 7th February, 1950. This deputation amongst other items discussed the question relating to release and reinstatement of the P&T worker who were arrested in connection with the strike notice of the U.P.T.W.
The deputation consisted of
Offical side
The Honob’le Shri. Rafi Ahammed Kidwai
The Honble Shri. Kurshidlal
Mr.V.K.R.Mnon, Secretary to the Communications Ministry
Mr.H.L.Jerath, Sr.DDG
Mr. R.C.Vaish, D.D.G (SE)
Mr.S.R.Sud, Director (SE)
Union side
Mr.S.Guruswamy, leader
Mr. Thulasiram, President
Mr. V.P.Menon
Mr. K.V Rao
Mr. N.P.Subramaniam
Mr. M.Bhattacharjee
Mr. J.K.Maitra
The Hon’ble Minister said the P&T administration had nothing to do with the detention of the workers but however so far as reinstatement in service of those under suspension was concerned, expeditious action would be taken. Shortly after this on the 7th March, 1950 Coms. Tapan Mustafi, Rai Krishna Banerjee and Abhoy Mukherjee who were under suspension after release, were called to duty. Coms.Provat Ghosh , Gouri Datta and myself were reinstated on the 2nd June 1950. Reinstatement of Com . R.N.Saha took place in November 1950 while Com. R.P.Chatterjee was not reinstated before the 31st December, 1950. In fact, during 1950 most of the permanent workers in custody were released and reinstated. Com.V.S.Menon was not however released before 4-1-1950 and was later on reinstated on 25-5-1951. Com.K.G.Bose after his release on 31-5-49 was proceeded against under Conduct Rules and dismissed from service on 05-10-53. Com. Saroj Mohan Chatterjee who was released from jail on 31-5-49 was dismissed from service on 11-4-51. Com. Durgesh Banerjee who was reinstated was subsequently removed from service under S.N.S Rules. Misses Asim Banaerjee, Susil Chakravarthy, Sachin Banerjee of Telephones were reinstated during this period. The year 1950 was a very odd year for Bengal Circle and it was a tremendous burden on the U.P.T.W leadership to tackle the situation. It is not worthy that the P&T workers of Bengal in spite of harassment and continued oppression stood the test and maintained the dignity and tradition of the P&T trade union movement.
The U.P.T.W during 1951 once again took the initiative to give the realignment scheme a practical shape. An agreement was once again signed by the General Secretaries of U.P.T.W, All India Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union, All India Telegraph Workmen’s Union, All India Postal & R.M.S Union in regard to the revised scheme for bringing about realignment of Unions which would ensure a rational and scientific growth of the trade union movement in the P&T services.
The agreement provided for dissolution of all existing unions and establishment of sectional unions as well as the central Federation. The agreement was signed on the 15th March, 1951. The representatives had further agreed to confer again on the 30th March, 1951 to draft the constitution of the realigned unions and the central Federation. But it is a fact nothing happened on the 30th March. Shri. R.S.Srivastava , General Secretary of the All India Postal and R.M.S Union did not arrive. Com.Gianchand Khanna of the Telegraph Workmen’s Union was unwell and Com. P.C.Chatterjee of the All India Telegraph Union flatly refused to attend the meeting. He rather preferred to give a trial to the Government ‘s latest scheme which was to the effect that the Union of Post &Telegraph Workers should surrender the R.M.S membership to the All India Postal and R.M.S Union, its Telegraph membership to the All India Telegraph Union, its Engineering membership to the All India Telephone and Telegraph Engineering Union, its Line staff membership to the same engineering Union, its Class IV membership to the All India Telegraph Workmen’s Union and its Circle Office membership to the ALL India Administrative Offices Association and its Postmen and other Class IV membership to the All India Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union, retaining its structure the Postal (Class III) section only. The U.P.T.W did not agree to this. It is difficult to say as to whether the Government or the different unions were responsible for burying alive the realignment proposal for the time being.
Had the proposal for realignment of P&T Unions on trade basis with a strong central Federation which came from the Government side as early as in 1948 been accepted, the entire P&T trade union movement would have advanced on a different line. The leadership of various unions preferred to remain disunited and divided. The P&T workers took initiative in 1946 and through their struggle there came the Good Conduct Pay and the Pay Commission. The 1949 struggle of the P&T(U.P.T.W) brought about increase in dearness allowance but in 1951 the leadership of the trade union movement in the public sector passed into the hands of the Railwaymen’s Federation which served the Government with strike notice and as a result the Government came down and increased Rs.10/- as dearness allowance. The P&T Organisations which were then functioning under four groups viz. P&T Federation, U.P.T.W, Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union, A.I.T.U could not make a joint effort and take the lead. A section of the leadership of the P&T trade union movement keenly felt this and in right earnest began working out the scheme for bringing in to being one organization. The days were rapidly changing. During foreign rule the Government believed in ‘divide and rule’ policy. But in independent India, the position was not so. The Government had been trying to bring about one organization of the entire P&T workers through process of realignment. The workers were trying for it. A section of the reactionary leadership here and there had been putting all obstructions to it. The sincere element in the organization did not however stop. The Government poking was also there.
The alignment Conference which was to meet on the 30th March actually met on the 15th May, 1951, under the Chairmanship of the Hon’ble Minister for Communications. The Hon’ble Minister took great interest in bringing about unity in the P&T organizations. Almost all the unions took part in the conference and an Implementation Committee with the following persons was formed.
1. Shri. K.Ramamurthy(U.P.T.W)
2. Shri. P.S.Sreenivastava (A.I.P.R.M.S.U)
3. Shri. P.C.Chatterjee(A.I.T.U)
4. Shri.V.G. Dalvi (A.I.Postmen & Lower Grade Staff Union)
5. Shri. G.C.Khanna (A.I.T.W.U)
The display made by the leaders of some of the unions in the Minister’s meeting was not at all commendable but I refrain from giving the name of those reactionary leaders.
It was agreed that there will be 8 unions, one for Class III and one for Class IV for each of the four arms of the department, viz., Postal ,R.M.S, Telegraph Traffic and Telegraph Engineering. It was further agreed that it will be open to the Postal and R.M.S. wings to function as a joint union for Class III employees of the Postal and R.M.S . branches and that similar option would be provided on the Telegraph Traffic and Telegraph Engineering side as well. Since the All India Telephone Revenue Accounts Union and the All India Administrative Offices Association do not come within the purview of the workers’ unions, they will not be considered for the scheme of realignment. The question of reorganizing them into one union or association will be taken up separately.
The P&T Industrial Workers will continue to be represented by a separate union and will not be within the scheme of realignment.
The All India Postal Accountants Association, the All India R.M.S Inspectors’ Association and All India Postmasters’ Association would cease to exist as separate entities.
It was further agreed that the realignment of unions would be completed by the 31st October, 1951. The Committee as per decision was to meet again in the Minister’s room on 31st May, 1951.
The Implementation Committee which met on the 16th May, 1951 with Shri. H.L.Jerath in the Chair agreed to disagree on all points from one another. The Committee again met on the 17th in Shri.Jerath’s room. After some discussion, Messrs. Chatterjee, G.C.Khanna and R.S.Srivastava abruptly left the meeting. Com. Dalvi and K.Ramamurti remained inside. The withdrawal of three members of the Implementation Committee from the meeting created such an atmosphere that the proposed meeting with the Ho’ble Minister on the 31st May, 1951 also did not take place. Thus the curtain rung down on the second phase of realignment talks.
The P&T workers wanted unity. Therefore this walking out of a section of leadership was not enough to kill the unity move which was coming from the rank and file of the common workers of this great P&T department having a glorious past.
Consequent on the serving of strike notice by the All India Railwaymen’s Federation, the Government no doubt increased dearness allowance by Rs. 10/- but simultaneously the President promulgated on July 12,1951 an ordinance empowering the Government to prohibit strikes in essential services, which runs as follows:
“The ordinance, which is called Ordinance No.1 of 1951 gives power to the Government to issue notifications prohibiting strikes in any of the specified essential services for such areas and for such periods as may be deemed necessary.
“This notification will, in the first instance remain in force for six months but are renewable for a similar period. Penalties have been provided for persons who go or continue on strike in the notified services and also for the persons who instigate strikes in the notified services or render financial aid for these illegal strikes. The penalties includes imprisonment.”
A Press Note issued by Government stated:
“It has come to the notice of the Government that persons employed in various other essential services which are also connected with the movement of food, or other activities essential for the maintenance of the life of the
community are likely to go on strike either in sympathy with the Railwaymen or for other reasons.
“The Government have come to the conclusion that all measures should be taken to safeguard the welfare and the interests of the people at large against the consequences that may follow from sections of essential workers going on strike. They have, therefore, decided to take powers to prohibit strikes in certain essential services.”
It is noteworthy that while the strike movement launched by the Union of Post and Telegraph Workers was suppressed by the Government by applying the Preventive Detention Act, the strike movement launched by the Railwaymen’s Federation in 1951 was combated by the Government by promulgating an ordinance empowered to Government to prohibit strikes in essential services. On both the occasions, although the Government stopped the strike by using different methods, under the Trade Disputes Act, both the Railwaymen’s Federation and the P&T workers Union were entitled to go on strike after serving 14 days’ notice. The Government therefore went against their own act and suppressed the movement. It was therefore evident that in spite of provision in the Act entitling the Government servants in essential service to go on strike, the Government did not allow them to adopt the course. Even the Postal Strike in 1946 was declared by the Government to be illegal although the strikers were legitimately within their rights to go on such strike under the Defence of India Rules. And it took the workers six years to get the half of strike period pay.
With the abandonment of realignment proposals, the leadership of many of the two dozen unions heaved a sigh of relief and continued to function merrily throwing mud on each other. It is not that all the unions played the same game. There were exceptions to this. It is not my intention to name them but I may mention here that some of the big unions at least had most undemocratic constitutions which helped their leaders to function in a despotic manner. Suspension of branches and branch office-bearers was a daily occurrence. Evidently, such process was hindrance to the growth and expansion of the unions. The All India Postal & R.M.S Union, the Indian Posts and Telegraphs Union and the All India Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union had more or less constitutions on the same lines and democratic in nature. The constitution of the Indian Telegraph Association and the All India Telegraph Union were almost alike, undemocratic in nature. The Central Working Committee functioning at the headquarters could bring the entire organization into non existence with out consulting the membership and even the General Committee. After the merger had taken place the membership of the I.P.T.U and I.T.A joined the U.P.T.W. The A.I.T.U kept out of the merger with the belief that being the only union of the Telegraphists, all would gradually join it, but in fact such a calculation did not materialize. Although the telegraphists in general were favour by inclined to have a pure union of theirs, still the A.I.T.U did not flourish. Many remained with the U.P.T.W and many more preferred to remain non-members because of the undemocratic constitution of the A.I.T.U. The progressive section of telegraph members of the U.P.T.W left it and joined the A.I.T.U with a view to work within that Union, to democratize it and also to put pressure on the centre to join one organization through process of realignment.
Attempts were made at the Agra conference of the All India Telegraph Union in 1951 to change the constitution and to run the union on a more democratic basis. But this could not be achieved because the President of the Union gave a ruling that the Conference of delegates elected by the branch was merely an advisory body. According to him the All India Committee was the only competent and supreme body to do all such things. He held out that the earlier Conference was held in 1935 and during sixteen years from 1935 to 1951 the All India Committee was dealing with all constitutional questions and that system should continue even now. A large number of delegates disagreed and staged a walk-out and the Conference transacted its business as usual on the strength of the ruling by the Chair. But this Conference paved the way for better functioning of the union later on. The All India Committee once more met at Delhi from the 12th to 15th May, 1953 under the chairmanship of Dewan Chamenlal and changed the constitution to a certain extent keeping in view the pressure and the views expressed by the delegates at Agra Conference. At this meeting of the All India Committee, it has decided to setup the headquarters of the A.I.T.U at New Delhi and Shri. P.S.R. Anjeneyalu was elected as General Secretary. The Calcutta Central Headquarters also went on functioning with Shri.B.C.De as General Secretary for a few months. However there was a settlement. A joint All India Committee meeting of the Delhi group and also of Calcutta group was held in November, 1953. Shri.P.S.R Anjaneyalu was unanimously re-elected General Secretary of the All India Telegraph Union to function from New Delhi. From this time onwards, the A.I.T.U began to work with a changed outlook and began to support the realignment scheme.
The All India Postal & R.M.S Union after its revival at Allahabad in 1947 – 48 was functioning from there with Shri.Raghubhans Sahai Srivastava as its General Secretary. This Union had its branches in U.P., Bihar, Calcutta and later on branches were started at Bombay and Madras and the General Secretary-ship passed into the hands of Shri.Birendra Nath Ghosh, M.A.B.L, and began functioning from Calcutta. The R.M.S. Branch of the U.P.T.W consisting of members from “C”,”N”,”H” Divisions dissolved the branch and rejoined the All India Postal & R.M.S Union. The members of the All India Postal and R.M.S Union specially of Calcutta Postal Branch were deadly opposed to any realignment scheme which would not allow functioning of All India Postal and R.M.S Union, on sentimental grounds. They had a special fascination for the very name. The groups of R.M.S members who left the U.P.T.W and joined the R.M.S Union which was a branch of the All India Postal and R.M.S. Union in Calcutta had no such feelings. The group began working within the Union to bring about some sort of realignment through agreement. (To be continued)