42. TRIVANDRUM DAYS
Com.O.P.Gupta, General Secretary, nominated me as member of JCM Staff Side, Departmental Council, after election as Circle Secretary, Kerala. As stated earlier, JCM have three tiers – National Council, Departmental Councils and Regional Councils. All issues regarding concerned department will be discussed in Departmental Council. Though decisions are expected to be taken in meetings, issues were being dragged years without settlement.
First Class in train was eligible for attending JCM meetings. Used to travel from Trivandrum to Delhi by Kerala-Karnataka Express. AC Sleepers not introduced. Neither Kerala Express. Many M.P.s will be travelling in same compartment. Free flight tickets for M.P.s were limited. Got acqauainted with S/Shri M.N.Govindan Nair, M.P., Henry Austin M.P., J.Chitha Ranjan, M.P., Kadannappally Ramachandran and others during these train journeys.
In one JCM meeting, I raised issue of reinstatement of terminated employees in connection with 1974 Railway Strike, though the item was not in agenda. Secretary, Staff Side, OPG, tried to prevent me, but I continued presentation. Since OPG and group were against the strike and did not participate, they were averse to raising the issue. Secretary DOT agreed to favourably consider. But reinstatement took place only after Emergency was over.
Lot of local agitations took place in Kerala Circle during this period. Insufficient staff amenities including recreation club, canteen and dormitory, acute shortage of staff, unjustified victimisation by certain officers were some of the reasons for agitations. It was a long struggle that workers in Kottayam division organised against victimisation.
There were a few incidents ‘gherao’ of officers, who were corrupt, anti-worker and bureaucratic. Though administration complained that E.III was resorting to ‘wild cat’ struggles, Union was able to convince that such spontaneous agitations took place due to adamant and anti-worker attitude of certain officers. Arguments of union with full evidence could not be rejected by circle authorities.
There was acute shortage of staff. It was far below sanctioned strength, adversely affecting efficiency. Resulted in non-sanction of leave and imposing of heavy work-load. Issue was discussed with Shri D.R.Mahajan, General Manager, Kerala, demanding that overtime arrangements to the extent of shortage should be made. Agreed by GM after agitation and discussion. Accordingly orders were issued. This resulted in every official, especially telephone operators, mechanics, telegraphists etc. being ordered for 3 hours overtime every day. OT on weekly off days also. Most officials got OTA at least about half of salary and many about salary itself.
But this did not continue for long. After about two years, this arrangement reached notice of Director General P and T, who immediately directed to stop it. By the time, new recruitment has also taken place.
There were many special problems of women workers, with a large number employed in P and T Department. In earlier days, telephone operators were prohibited from marriage as in the case of nurses and air-hostesses. Later, one increment was granted for not marrying. Those days are over, but many other problems remained like getting necessary leave, provision of dormitory, frequency of night duties etc. These issues had to be sorted out. As also, it was necessary to bring women cadres more in union activities.
Considering all these, a Mahila Convention was organised along with Circle Conference of P and T Unions held at Calicut in May 1978. Was inaugurated by Com. Godavari Parulelkar, firebrand leader of Maharashtra, who fought many successful battles for the adivasis and women. Her speech was inspiring and influenced women workers.
In continuation, E.III Union, which had maximum number of women workers, decided to hold a Mahila Convention at Trichur. When I proposed holding of the convention in circle working committee, many comrades ridiculed stating that it will be difficult even to get three – four delegates from a division. Convention was held on 28th October 1978. More than 500 women workers participated beyond all expectations. Com.V.V.Prasanna Kumari participated with her twin daughters who were only less than six months old. (Coms. P.M.Athira and P.M.Arathi). General Manager, D.R.Mahajan attended along with his wife and daughter.
Convention was inaugurated by Com. Rosamma Punnose and addressed by Coms. Suseela Gopalan, N.P.Padmanabhan, D.R.Mahajan GM and other leaders. I presented objectives and outline for future activities. Many women workers participated in the discussion and gave valuable suggestions. A Mahila Committee with Com. Jyothi Parvathi as Convener was elected. Coms. K.P.Govindan Kutty, N.Madhavan Kutty, A.D.Padmalaya and other leaders from Trichur made all arrangements for successful conduct of the Convention.
Newly formed Mahila Committee met General Manager along with Circle Secretary and discussed Charter of Demands adopted by the convention. Many demands were accepted then and there. When met next day, GM expressed his surprise and satisfaction by telling that ‘ I am proud that there are many lady workers in my circle who can speak English fluently and present their demands in such a forceful and effective manner.’ P and T Mahila Committee was formed in next Circle Conference held at Quilon in May 1999 with Com.K.Leelamma as Convener.
I am not very sure, but it seems that a Mahila Committee in any union in Kerala was formed first in E.III Union in 1978. Com. Suseela Gopalan gave all support and guidance. Now all unions of employees usually organise Mahila Convention and have got Mahila Committees. (to be continued)