MY LIFE AND STRUGGLES -23
QUILON CIRCLE CONFERENCE AND LOCAL STRUGGLES
Joint Circle Conference of P and T Unions held at Quilon (Kollam) in 1966 took many welcome decisions. There was change in office-bearers and radical change in how to settle problems. Com.N.P.Padmanabhan (Pappettan) was elected as Circle Secretary of Postal Class III Union. He was elected as Convenor of P and T Co-ordinating Committee also.Though Kerala P and T Circle was formed in 1961 and five years have passed, many urgent problems of the services as well as staff remained unattended by authorities, despite taking up by unions. Quilon Conference took decision to organise local struggles to settle local problems. This resulted in a series of local struggles all over the circle, in all arms of services. I am mentioning only about a few such struggles, which I was directly involved. (Com.P.V.Chandrasekharan, former Circle Secretary, E.III Union, Kerala in his book ‘P and T Trade Union Movement in Kerala’ has explained in detail about these many struggles, circle wise).
Kalpetta Trunk Board Agitation
Year 1967. After applying for telephone, people had to wait for months and years to get connection. It was difficult to get trunk calls quickly due to shortage of lines and equipment including switch boards. Kalpetta was the major exchange in Wynad hill ranges. Much delay in getting trunk calls, due to old T-32 Trunk Boards. Installation of improved T-43 boards was required. Divisional union took up the case. After much delay, three such boards were received at Kalpetta from Calcutta P and T Workshop (Telecom Factory). Union took up case for speedy installation of new boards.However, due to political and top level pressure, there was move to shift the new boards from Kalpetta to another exchange. Union intervened.
One day, Com.P.K.Sahasranamam, Branch Secretary of Union at Kapletta, contacted me and told that Sub-Divisional Officer, Telegraphs, has started from Calicut with some mazdoors in a vehicle to shift the trunk boards from there. I immediately proceeded to Kalpetta in bus.Tense situation prevailed in front of telephone exchange. As per SDO’s instructions, one T-43 Trunk Board has already been put in the vehicle. Second board was being carried to the vehicle. Entire telephone staff was outside exchange waiting for my arrival. Large numbers of local people, including subscribers have gathered. They were also agitated, as they understood that the board brought for Kalpetta was being taken away. No time to waste. I told SDO to stop shifting the boards. But he did not agree. I told our comrades to physically stop the shifting. Comrade Sahasranamam, P.R.Narayanan, P.M.Thomas and other workers blocked the mazdoors shifting boards. Local people, gathered in hundreds were in support and started shouting slogans against department officers. There was no other go for SDO. The board in the vehicle and another one being brought to the vehicle were returned to exchange room. People hailed and supported us raising slogans. SDO gave assurance that boards will not be shifted from Kalpetta. A confrontation was thus avoided. Success of the workers!
Agitation against termination from service
Com. Chandramathi, Telephone Operator, Calicut was terminated from service on 12th December 1966 under Rule 5(1) of Temporary Service Rules. She was attending duty when the order was handed over. She stood motionless and speechless. Colleagues were shocked at this unexpected development.
At that period, police verification was compulsory before any person was appointed in Central Services. It was mainly intended to deny job to those who were Communists or who were having any connection with communists; a legacy of British rule. Any adverse report will result in denial of job. After appointment, second verification also. In this case, it seems that the second verification stated that her father was a Communist. Hence the termination orders. No show cause notice. Such termination after appointment had taken place earlier also.
This injustice could not be allowed. As per decision of the union, Com.Chandramathi started indefinite dharna in front of the exchange. The entire staff supported and the dharna pandal was always full. Massive support was received from Unions of Central – State employees as also from other trade unions. Kerala P and T Unions also organised agitational programmes.
Com. A.K.Gopalan, M.P. brought the issue to the notice of central government and demanded reinstatement. CHQ, E.III Union raised the matter with department. Newspapers gave wide coverage to the agitation. This agitation exposed the political vendetta of the government.
At last, Department was compelled to issue orders reinstating Com. Chandramathi back in service. She joined duty on 21st August 1967 after long 8 months of continuous agitation. It was a big success. This was one very rare case where an employee terminated due to adverse police verification was reinstated.
One day in April 1968, a subscriber of Baliapattam (Valapattanam) trespassed to telephone exchange, shouted at, abused and manhandled telephone operator on duty Com.K.S.George. It was a small exchange and he was alone on duty. Reason for the outburst seemed to be some delay in answering a local call, due to extreme busy period. This subscriber has abused operators over phone earlier also.Union immediately took up the case and demanded higher officers to take action against the erring subscriber. But neither a complaint to the police was neither filed, nor any other action taken. Under the circumstances, union gave a call to the staff to boycott the particular subscriber, meaning that no outward or inward call of the subscriber will be attended. Since it was CB exchange, he could neither make nor receive any call. The Merchants Association made complaint to Departmental authorities.
Divisional Engineer Shri K.S.Thomas came from Calicut to Baliapattam and discussed the matter with the Union representatives, but no settlement was reached due to the adamant attitude of the DET. Situation became tense and DE left the place in a hurry; In fact, he ran away afraid of being gheraoed and fell down.
Charge sheets under Rule 14 of CCS (CCA) Rules were issued to Coms. K.Sreedharan, Divisional Secretary, P.V.Chandrasekharan, Branch Secretary, P.V.Unnikrishnan and some others on the charge that DET was gheraoed and obstructed from leaving the place. Certainly this was a well-planned attack on union and its leaders.
I was in Medical College Hospital under treatment. Hearing what happened at Baliapattam, I got discharge and returned. As Divisional President of the Union, discussed with all comrades. It was decided that serious agitation should take place against unjustified charge sheets and proposed disciplinary actions. Circle unions intervened. Dharnas, demonstrations and one day strike was organised against the victimisation. The strike was a grand success. Even the Steno, driver and peon of the DE participated to his utter shock. During all this period, boycott of the subscriber continued. This was a good lesson for those who were shouting and abusing the operators.
During discussions at all India level between union leaders and department, agreement was reached and disciplinary actions, except break-in- service were dropped. Union agreed to restore normalcy. (To be continued).