The Historic One Day Strike of 19th September 1968

52 years are over after the historical One Day Token Strike of the Central Government employees which took place on 19th September 1968.

It was not a simple strike, but a strike which shook the foundations of the central government and ruling class. More than 30 lakhs CG employees participated in the strike putting the country to a standstill. The CG employees with their strategical position in the Communications, Defence, and Railways ensured that the entire machinery of the central government was paralysed.

It was a struggle for the dignity of labour and right of the workers for a reasonable wage. The 15th Indian Labour Conference had approved the Need Based Minimum Wage on the basis of Dr.Akroyd Formula in 1957, but the government did not implement it. Prices of essential commodities were rising sky high, but full neutralisation through Dearness Allowance was denied. The II Central Pay Commission was completely retrograde and the central government employees were compelled to go on an Indefinite Strike in July 1960 which continued for five days. Then Prime Minister Shri Jawaharlal Nehru suppressed the strike using Essential Service Maintenance Ordinance (ESMO) and other draconic measures. Tens of thousands were arrested jailed, suspended, terminated and punished mercilessly.

It took years to heal the wounds inflicted on the workers. The government introduced Joint Consultative Machinery (JCM) with the assurance that issues will be discussed and settled. There was a condition that the unions should abjure strike if JCM is to be introduced. The unions bluntly refused and the government was compelled to withdraw the anti-worker condition.

The JCM was a failure from the start. The Staff Side in the National Council raised the demands of need based minimum Wage and DA according to the cost of living index. The government not only did not agree to concede the demands, but refused to refer the issues to compulsory arbitration as per the JCM rules.

There was no other course before the workers, but to adopt the struggle path. The Confederation of Central Government Employees and Workers, National Federation of  P and T Employees, All India Railwaymen’s Federation and All India Defence Employees Federation, Central Secretariat Association and other organisations met in a  National Convention on 13th July 1968 and issued a call for a one day strike on 19th September 1968 on the following main demands;

  1. Need Based Minimum Wage.
  2. DA according to increase in cost of living
  3. Merger of DA in Pay.
  4. No Reduction in Retirement Age
  5. Vacationof Victimisation.
  6. End Casual and Contract Exploitive System

The leaders went on tour throughout the country for organising the strike successfully. The central government was not sitting idle. Not only no fruitful discussion was held, but all repressive machinery of the government was made ready to suppress the strike.

The strike started at the midnight of 18th / 19th of September 1968. The entire central services came to a halt. Trains did not run. Communications service stopped completely. The central secretariat, the nerve centre of the government, was deserted. Strike was a complete success.

Indira Gandhi Government used the hated Essential Service Maintenance Act and other such anti-worker ordinances to suppress the struggle, instead of conceding the just demands of the workers. The workers did not flinch; they had the bitter experience of the 1960 strike which was treated as ‘Civil Rebellion’ and tried to be suppressed by then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The workers had understood the real policy of the government, which was only to support the rich and ignore the justified demands of the workers

In Pathankot, 4 Railway workers and the son of a railway worker became martyrs in police firing. In Bikaner another railway worker was shot dead and 25 workers including family members seriously injured. In Assam, where the strike was almost 100%, police firing took place at Mariyani, Bongaigaon and Lumding and 2 railway workers killed on the spot. Many, including family members of railway workers were brutally lathicharged. Firing and lathi  charge took place in many more places. In IndraprasthaBhawan, Delhi, a worker was beaten to death by police. Although it is reported that 17 persons have been killed, the names of the following martyrs are only known:

  1. Kishan Gopal, Pointsman, Bikaner.
  2. Lakshman Shah, Fitter Khalasi, Pathankot.
  3. Raj Bahadur, Khalasi, Pathankot
  4. Dev Raj, Khalasi, Pathankot
  5. Gurdeep Singh, Gangman, Pathankot
  6. Gama, son of Railway worker, Pathankot
  7. Raman Acharji, Fitter / Khalasi, Mariyani
  8. Paresh Sanyal, Khalasi,Bongaigaon.
  9. Arjun Singh, Peon, IndraprasthaBhawan, Delhi

On this 52nd Anniversary of the strike, the entire CG employees salute these martyrs who gave their precious life on the altar of the workers’ demands.

It is to the credit of the Communist Government in Kerala, headed by Com.E.M.S.Namboodiripad, who declared that his government will not use the ESMA against the striking government employees, despite the central government warning that failure to implement ESMA may result in dismissal of his government.

Thousands of workers were arrested, jailed, terminated, suspended, dismissed and heavily victimised. NFPTE and other CGE unions were derecognised. For the first time after the formation of the united organisation, NFPTE, in 1954, a fake union was floated. It was a one day token strike, but the victimisation continued for years.

According to the statement given in the Parliament on 6th May 1969, the following details were given with regard to the victimisation in Posts and Telegraphs department:

  1. Officials issued with termination notice : 28,488
  2. Officials suspended: 4,350
  3. Officials arrested : 3456
  4. EDAs terminated : 364

It is reported that in Railways 2,27,327 participated in the strike and 1158 terminated on the spot. In Audit and Accounts department according to the government 32,000 workers struck work. These are all far less than the actual numbers. In all departments large scale of victimisation took place.

 Continuous struggles were organised against victimisation. History was created when more than 50,000 workers along with family members marched to the residence of Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi on 17th October 1968 demanding vacation of victimisation.

Com.A.K.Gopalan and many other M.P.s raised the issue in the Parliament demanding vacation of victimisation.

At last, after 3-4 years, most of the workers were reinstated. The others, including Com.N.P.Padmanabhan, Convener, P and T Co-ordinating Committee Kerala, were reinstated after Janatha government came in to power.

Many years have passed since then. The workers are now getting DA automatically, whenever there is an increase in the cost of living. Strike victimisation has come down. Usually only dies-non is issued for participation in the strike, except in isolated cases. Recognition of the union is not withdrawn. But still we are yet to get Minimum Wage implemented as per Dr.Akroyd formula which is around Rs.27,000 at present and the VII CPC has recommended only Rs. 18,000. The struggle of the CG Employees will continue for justice.

More and more attacks are coming on the workers in general and CG employees and PSU employees as also pensioners in particular. Pay Revision / Pension Revision is not implemented for BSNL employees / pensioners. Medical Reimbursement/ allowance are not being paid. PSUs are being privatised. DA of Central Government Employees and Pensioners is freezed under the cover of Covid-19 pandemic.  Hard won labour rules are being trampled upon. An undeclared emergency is looming in the horizon. United struggle is the path shown by our leaders like Comrades K.G.Bose,S.K.Vyas and others.

On this 52nd anniversary, AIBDPA pays homage to the martyrs of the 19th September 1968 Strike! The great leaders who led the strike, the workers who implemented the call –they are all remembered, some still in the movement, all of them retired and some already no more with us.

Red salute to the 1968 Strike Martyrs! (From AIBDPA Website)