55. STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE
Years after 1994 Thiruvananthapuram All India Conference were a period of disputes, disruptions, court cases and attacks from administration. It was a period of struggle for existence and advancement. In addition, it was a period of struggle against globalisation, privatisation and neo-liberal policies. All these were, in a way, indirectly connected.
First, organisational issues. As stated earlier, DOT did not give recognition to the newly and duly elected office-bearers on the flimsy plea that two lists of office-bearers have been received. Since recognition was not granted, E.III Union approached court, which directed for conduct of verification of membership. OPG group appealed against verification, which was dismissed. Department issued orders for membership verification in E.III Union under ‘check off’ system. Union demanded ‘secret ballot’, pointing out the malpractices inherent in the ‘check off’ system, but DOT did not agree.
Membership verification as per ‘check off’ was conducted. Malpractices, partiality of administration – everything was planned and executed. Many officers who were handing over the verification form, pressurised employees to vote for Vichare, General Secretary of OPG group. In the ballot paper, both the names of V.A.N.Namboodiri, GS E.III and M.B.Vichare GS of OPG group were there. Employees will have to mark ‘tick’ against the candidate they support and mark ‘cross’ against the other. In some circles like Maharashtra, Delhi etc., the ballot papers given were already having tick mark against Vichare and cross mark against Namboodiri. When employees protested, they were threatened by officers. In A.P.Circle, about 5,000- 10000 line staff employees, who belonged to E.IV union who were not eligible to vote, were allowed to vote in E.III Union verification. All kind of malpractices were done by collaboration between administration and OPG group.
As per DOT orders, Class III employees of both Telephones and Telegraphs were eligible to participate in the membership verification. While employees supporting OPG group voted for Vichare, members belonging to T.III Union, whose votes were to be given to E.III union did not vote and sent all their votes coming more than 8,000 to General Secretary of T.III Union, as directed by him.
The result was not unexpected. Despite all these malpractices, E.III Union got 36,646 votes, while OPG group got 39,985. DOT submitted to the court for permission to grant recognition to OPG group on the basis of this manipulated verification.
E.III union submitted their opposition to the court giving details and evidences of manipulation, favouritism etc. Considering all these complaints as well as the fact that neither has received 35% of total votes, recognition was not granted either to E.III Union or OPG group.
One more Membership Verification
In between, the central government finalised New Rules for Recognition of Unions in Central Government Departments. The process for verification in Telecom Unions as per the new rules started from 31st October 1996. Afraid of defeat, both NFTE and FNTO approached courts to stay verification, but failed to get any stay.
Both E.III Union with V.A.N. as General Secretary as well as OPG Group with M.B.Vichare as GS submitted applications for verification in the name of E.III Union. But without any principle or justice, Department accepted the application of Vichare and rejected that of duly elected GS VAN. Department was openly supporting OPG group.
There was strong protest amongst telecom workers against this injustice. Thousands of protest telegrams and resolutions were sent to DOT. Protest demonstrations were organised. But the department did not cancel its wrong decision.
Shri Deva Gouda government was at Centre, which had support of Left parties. Met General Secretary CPI(M) Com. Har Kishan Singh Surjeet and informed the situation. He spoke to Communications Minister on 1st January 1977 about the issue. Minister asked the union to meet him that day itself.
Met Communications Minister Shri Beni Prasad Verma in his office in the evening along with Coms. K.D.M.Tripathi and Treasurer K.M.Pillai. Chairman Shri A.V.Gokak and other members of the Telecom Commission were present in full strength. Presented our case and pointed out the unjustified stand of DOT. Chairman TC, without going in to the merits of the case said that ‘ Mr.Namboodiri is approaching court on every issue. Let him approach court on this issue also’. I could understand that he was unhappy of our approaching court against DOT decisions and getting favourable judgments. There was detailed discussion and Minister was convinced about justification of our stand. He asked, ‘why can’t you apply in another name?’. We said it is not possible since we were the duly elected office bearers of the union. He proposed another alternative that ‘you can apply in the name of E.III (Namboodiri) Union adding the name of the General Secretary’. He cited the example of Indian National Congress (Indira). We could understand his hint that INC(Indira) in fact was the real Congress. Discussed with the other two comrades and decided to accept the Minister’s proposal, since that would enable us to participate in membership verification.
Submitted application next day itself in the name of All India Telecom Employees Union Class (Namboodiri) (E.III(N) in short). But even after many days, DOT did not take any action on the application. They completely ignored it. There was a rumour that the Minister may not continue. That may be one reason that they did not take any action.
Met Com. Surjeet again, who contacted the Minister. He gave the assurance that immediate action will be taken. Within minutes I was asked by DOT to receive the orders from the DOT office. At last we were allowed to participate in the name of E.III(N) Union. But the verification was continuously postponed as demanded by OPG. At last, orders were issued for reverification from 11th July 1997.
It was clear that considering the effective dealing of the problems and correct stand taken on all matters, more workers will support E.III (N) with VAN as GS. The indications within few days of verification made it clear that E.III(N) was getting good support. Afraid of defeat, NFTE and FNTO filed cases in various courts one after another against the re-verification on flimsy grounds. Though Madras and Bombay High Courts did not issue stay orders as prayed, Sonipet Civil Court in Haryana issued stay order on case filed by Shri Swaroop Singh, GS of another union. Reverification was stayed.
A case was filed by FNTO in Ernakulam High Court praying that E.III(N) Union should not be allowed to participate in the verification, since it is a caste union as the name ‘Namboodiri’ denotes. We engaged Senior Advocate Shri M.R.Rajendran Nair, who was a former Branch Secretary of E.III Union at Ernakulam and dismissed in the 1968 strike. Justice Abdul Gafoor, in whose court the case came, was a former telecom employee and leader of OPG group. If I remember correct the advocate engaged by FNTO was also a former telecom employee. I raised my doubt with the advocate whether this situation will prejudice our case. He only laughed, meaning that the question was irrelevant. However, Justice Abdul Gafoor recused and the case transferred to the court of Justice Sankara Subban. Case was heard on and judgment delivered on 17th December 1999, and dismissed outright. Com.P.A.Kumaran, Asst. to Advocate M.R.Rajendran Nair and a former union leader of E.III Union and Com.P.V.Chandrasekharan, Circle Secretary, E.III Union helped very much in conducting the case.
By this time, there were some more stay orders from other courts obtained by NFTE. The postponed re-verification was never completed. E.III(N) Union continued functioning without recognition. (to be continued)