MY LIFE AND STRUGGLES – 26
HISTORIC STRIKE OF 19THSEPTEMBER 1968
Staff Side raised in the first meeting of the National Council of newly formed Joint Consultative Machinery (JCM) itself, two most important demands of Central Government employees, viz. Need based minimum wage and grant of DA according to cost of living index. After discussion, both were rejected. As provided in bye law of JCM, Staff Side demanded arbitration, but surprisingly, it was also rejected. What progressive section in NFPTE warned earlier has become true. True colour of government stood exposed. There was no other go before unions, except to resort to agitational programmes.
It was in this situation that four major organisations of central government employees viz. Confederation, All India Railwaymens Federation (AIRF), All India Defence Employees Federation(AIDEF) and NFPTE met and formed Central Joint Council of Action (JCA) and gave call for One Day Token Strike on 19th September 1968. Leaders toured all states in preparation for strike and addressed hugely attended meetings.In Kerala Circle also, good preparations were made for strike. Office-bearers toured all stations. Leaders went to the houses of lady workers and convinced parents about importance of the strike. Action Committees as well as Strike Aid Committees were formed. Enlisted support of other trade unions and opposition political parties.
Though One Day Strike, Indira Gandhi government at the Centre took all steps to suppress it, including getting the draconic Essential Service Maintenance Ordinance (ESMO) promulgated by President. CRPF was put in all offices of central government. Com.E.M.S.Namboodiripad led Left Front Government in Kerala declared that it will not implement ESMA against workers. There were rumours that Centre will dismiss Kerala Government as in 1959, but nothing happened. Central Government put CRPF inside Central offices and Kerala government put state police outside office compound for security.
Outside Calicut telephone exchange, where I was working, hundreds of workers, supporters and ordinary people were crowded from evening of 18thitself. It was very difficult even to enter exchange. Union leaders were meeting each and every worker and intimating latest developments. Officers on the other hand, had called families of lady workers and brought some of them beforehand to stay in exchange to ensure that work is performed on strike day. Water, food etc. were also stored in sufficient quantities. Almost all top officers were present inside. They were forcing officials on duty not to leave exchange after duty. Something has got to be done. Except Trunk exchange, this problem was not there, as most of workers were on strike.By about 24.00 hours (midnight), four-five of us rushed to trunk exchange and brought most of those whose duty was over and those who have come to stay there, despite stiff opposition from officers. Shouting slogans in support of strike, workers marched out of the compound. CRPF tried to stop, but in vain. They were greeted with slogans from workers outside.
One day Token Strike started exactly at midnight of 18/19 September 1968 all over India. In Calicut also it was same. The strike started in RMS Office and Telegraph Office at midnight. In Post Offices, DET, SDO Offices as also SP Office, strike started according to morning duties of Postmen and other officials.
It was only a few months back that a unit of Telephone Revenue Account Office (TRAO) was started at Calicut. Almost all staff coming to about 40 or so was new lady recruits who were transferred from Trivandrum on bifurcation of office. Only less than half a dozen were men. Strike was 100% in TRAO.
Congress, ruling party at Centre was determined to crush the strike. Congress workers at local level also made efforts, but could not do anything as in 1960, since state government was not with them. However, one senior leader of Congress with a lady telephone operator through the crowd came to gate of exchange with intention to enter. They were determined to enter and there was no other way other than to picket. I lied down on the ground and blocked them. Police, who were there, removed me. Immediately, Com.Karayi Sreedharan picketed. When he was removed, I again picketed. Police threw both of us in police lorry and took to Police station. After some time we were released and reached exchange gate again.
In Kerala as well as in the country, strike of central government employees was a great success with massive participation. Leaders were arrested and jailed in large numbers. Terror was let loose in some centres by police and CRPF. Kerala was an exception, the Left government refusing to implement ESMA. More than 12,000 employees were arrested all over India. It is estimated that about 1.5 lakh P and T workers participated.
Martyrs of 1968 Strike
Eight railway employees sacrificed their valuable lives in 1968 strike. Com. Pareesh Sanyal was shot dead at Guwahati, Assam. Coms. Raman Achari and Kishan Gopal were shot dead at Bikaner, Rajasthan. Coms. Lakshman Singh, Raj Bahadur, Devi Raj, Gurdeep Singh and Gama were crushed by train when they picketed. One comrade of the central secretariat was killed when the police pushed him from the upper floor. Altogether 17 comrades became martyrs of the strike. (Names of other martyrs are not available in the records).
The recognition of all the unions which gave call for strike was immediately withdrawn. Dismissals, Termination, suspension and other victimisation were imposed on tens of thousands of leaders and workers. A terror situation existed in offices and workplaces. (to be continued).
(For details of strike and connected matters please refer to (1) History of P and T Trade Union Movement, written by V.A.N.Namboodiri. The book is available for purchase (Rs.100/) with Central Head Quarters, AIPE Union Group ‘C’, Dada Ghosh Bhawan, 2151/1, New Patel Road, New Delhi – 110008, who has published the book. (2) 19th September 1968 – Kendra jeevanakkarute ithihasika panimutakkam (Malayalam) by V.A.N.Namboodiri and P.V.Chandrasekharan . A few copies are available with me. Rs.80/-)