2. P & T STRIKE OF 1946
The global economic crisis of 1929 -30 did not spare British India. In fact, it was much more severe. The recommendations of the Jahangir Committee, which was appointed to suggest remedial measures utterly failed in its task. The recommendations were completely anti-worker. Ban on recruitment, reduction of existing wages and posts, abolition of ED posts, denial of trade unions rights – all were part of the recommendations. The Emergency Reduction Rules – 1931 was issued on 8th December 1931.
½ Anna ( One Rupee = 16 anna) per rupee was reduced from the salary of those drawing up to Rs. 30/- . For those drawing from Rs. 30 to Rs. 83, one anna per rupee was reduced. Government snatched away more than Rs. 2.75 crore through this method. The pay scales of new entrants were also reduced.
Then existing unions organized agitational programmes against this attack, but government did not relent. Instead, it started victimization of workers. The Second World War (1939 – 45) worsened the situation. During 1943-44, more than 35 lakh people perished in Bengal alone due to famine. When the Director General P & T called the unions and sought support to the government’s war efforts, the unions demanded that Dearness Allowance should be granted to meet the heavy increase in prices of essential commodities. Rationing system was introduced for the first time in the country.
The increase of Rs. 5 to 15 relief to employees recommended by the Adjudication Committee headed by High Court Judge Justice Rajyadhaksha was completely inadequate and did not satisfy the workers.
The II World War ended after Red Army of the USSR marched to Berlin defeating Hitler’s invasion and Japan cities Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombed by USA killing lakhs of people, devastating both the cities through atom explosion. The axis allies Germany-Japan-Italy who started the war were utterly defeated. USA-USSR-British alliance won decisively. The world never has seen so much loss of lives and devastation as in II World War. The United Nations was formed on 24th October 1945 to maintain world peace and to avoid another world war.
It was at this stage that the (First) Pay Commission was appointed by Government of India with Federal Court Judge Sreenivas Baradacharya as Chairman. The intention was to temporarily satisfy the employees and delay settlement of the demands raised by the unions.
Appointment of Pay Commission was not sufficient to satisfy the meagerly paid Postmen & Class IV employees. The All India Postmen & Lower Grade Staff Union headed by V.G.Dalvi served notice to the government for going on indefinite strike w.e.f. 11th July 1946 with the following most important demands:
1. Pay of all officials in P & T should be revised
2. Existing leave rules should be abolished and pre-31 orders restored
3. All distinction on Leave and Pension Rules between superior and inferior servants in P & T should be abolished
4. Officials who acted in higher grade for one year should be confirmed in those grades
5. Posts reserved for promotion for Postmen should be increased from 20% to 50%
6. No retrenchment – Retrenched officials should be reinstated
7. P & T Holidays should be as in other central government departments
8. Work done on Sundays and Postal Holidays should be compensated by Over Time Allowance
9. Gratuity @ one month’s pay for one year service should be granted to family of official dying before earning pension.
10. All distinction in the matter of pay, leave, DA & other allowances between A,B,C, areas should be abolished and all areas should be treated as A area
11. Medical examination for promotion should be abolished
12. Adequate leave reserve should be provided; temporary services should be counted for pension.
Other All India Unions did not serve strike notice on the ground that since Pay Commission has been appointed, there is no need for immediate strike.
The strike started on 11th July itself as given notice of. There was tremendous support for the strike from the people. The pitiable condition of the Postmen, who were delivering letters to them were known to all. Solidarity demonstrations were held with massive participation in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras etc.as per the call of AITUC. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru demanded the British government to accept the genuine demands of the postal workers.
As the news of the strike reached beyond the big cities, postmen in rural areas also participated. At the initiative of leaders like B.N.Ghosh (Dada Ghosh) and K.G.Bose, the Postmen strike was converted to P & T Strike in Bengal with all the P &T unions giving call for strike. In many circles, this was repeated. The P & T services were at a standstill.
Government was compelled to discuss with V.G.Dalvi and other leaders. All the major 12 demands were agreed and the strike was called off on 3rd August 1946 after 23 days. It was a complete success for the workers.
Dada Ghosh, one of the leaders of the strike in Bengal ( who later became the first Secretary General of NFPTE), assessed the strike as follows:
“The strike was not any superimposed movement, but it was a natural outburst of the genuine hardship of the employees. In no civilized country could anyone think of stoppage of Postal, Telegraph and Telephone services for two or three weeks. The strike was a long drawn one because of the callous and unsympathetic attitude of the government. But even then, the public sympathy was a parting kick to the British imperialism in India. Just after a week of the withdrawal of the strike, the Congress formed the Interim Government with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the Prime Minister of India. Future historians, I am sure, will have to admit it.”
Like the Revolt of the Indian Navy ( Navy Mutiny) at the same time, the P & T Strike also is considered as part of the Independence Movement.
Although the Railway Unions had given strike notice earlier, they were withdrawn on the assurance that Pay Commission will be appointed. But the Railway Unions in South India went on Strike. They were severely punished. (To be continued).