P and T Trade Union Movement in India during II World War and thereafter (1939 – 1954) ( by B.N.Ghosh ) CHAPTER – IV
GRIM DAYS (Contd.)
The government, however, finding no other way introduced rationing throughout India and opened grain shops for selling cereals at controlled prices. The Post and Telegraph workers through their joint efforts were able to have departmental grain shops opened at several stations. The system of rationing and selling of grains at controlled rates no doubt minimized the hardships to some extend, but the measure was not considered enough.
The American Army men were located at 36 big stations in India, where they were lavishly spending money causing also local inflation. They were appointing men in their offices on a much higher pay. The allurement was such that many in government services, including some P and T workers, resigned and undertook jobs in the American Army offices. This was too much for government to brook. With a view to arrest this type of desertion and with a view to pacify the growing unrest amongst the youngsters in the P and T Department, the unified scales of pay were introduced to give a little monetary benefit to this class of employees working at those 36 stations. This fact came to light only when P and T Unions challenged the DG P and T and wanted to know the reason for not extending the benefit of unified scales to the P and T workers working in a city like Agra – where there was no American Army stationed.
The condition of Bengal and Assam took a turn. The people became panicky at the news of surrounding of Imphal by the Japanese Army at the beginning of the year. The P and T workers who were working there were in good spirit. Though courtesy of Mr. Krishna Prasad, I was daily sending a message encouraging Shri Paresh Chandra Sen, Post Master General, Imphal and his assistants. The special plane which used to carry government communications was carrying my letters as well. With my going to Patna, I could not maintain this connection.
Entire Post and Telegraph service and railways and others in essential government service in Bengal and Assam was militarized with effect from 1-9-43. With the exception of a few, all P and T workers enrolled themselves as combatants in the Defence of India Corps (P and T) which enabled them to get free clothings, ration allowance and military compensatory allowance. So there was more inflation and hardships did not practically decrease.
The economic hardships of the working class in Bihar, which was border province of Bengal, had greatly increased due to prices of necessaries of life having gone up. The P and T service in Bihar had neither been militarized nor was the dearness allowance of the circle increased. The entire P and T staff of Bihar was getting dearness allowance at the rate of ‘C’ area. So it can better be imagined than described as to the extent, the pecuniary distress and inconvenience, the staff working throughout the circle was put to. Discontentments and dissatisfaction were there but as the P and T Unions were not properly organized in Bihar they could not raise an effective voice and went on suffering. During my stay at Patna I could manage to address two meetings of the P and T workers in the P and T Recreation Club but could not successfully rouse their feelings and awaken their consciousness. I am however happy that to keep on record here that later on in 1945the discontentments of the staff found their expression through launching of “ Hungry Badge Campaign” under the leadership of All India Postal and RMS Union, Bihar Provincial Union at Muzaffarpur. The initiative taken by the Circle Union was in a way the beginning of the militant action which the P and T Union in India resorted to during the war and post-war period.
The introduction of unified scales of pay for a limited number of towns created widespread discontentments and dissatisfaction amongst the P and T workers. Even the staff who got the benefit of the unified scales of pay did not consider the measure as enough compensation for the loss they had been sustaining due to introduction of new scales of pay with effect from the 16th July, 1931. The entire P and T workers were clamouring for getting the same scale of pay for them which were enjoyed by those who entered the department prior to the 16th July, 1931.
It may recorded here that the memorandum which was submitted by the All India Postal and RMS Union in 1925 to the Government demanded Rs. 60/120 as a universal scale of pay for the whole of India and this demand was considered by the Union as irreducible minimum demand. In every annual session of the conference of the All India Postal and RMS Union, the demand was being reiterated. The Government while introducing the new scales of pay from 16th July, 1931 failed to appreciate the spirit underlying the demand and divided the entire country in to three distinct areas a A, B and C to weaken the movement. The introduction of the unified scales of pay was but another attempt to create cleavage in the rank and file of the workers, but during the war period the government could realize their mistake. Due to existence of different scales of pay they found it difficult to mobilise the workers belonging to most essential service such as Railways, Postal and Telegraph etc. in war zones.
It is however worth mentioning here that after 1932 all the All India P and T Unions were demanding grant of old scales of pay for the post- 1931 entrants. The old scheme for sanctioning the same scales of pay for all areas on the basis of the irreducible minimum demand was side-tracked.
Every cloud has however its silver lining. The introduction of the unified scales of pay for a few stations intensified the general movement. The P and T workers working in all the stations other than those 36 stations held joint meetings and began submitting identical memorials, and the general demand for the introduction of the same scale of pay again came in the fore-front. The Government had to come down a little. The initial pay of all clerical staff working in C areas had to be raised from Rs. 35/- to Rs. 38/-. During 1942 onwards a large number of postal signallers and clerks and RMS sorters from different parts of Bengal were being transferred to Assam border which was actual war zone, to work in civil posts and Telegraph offices. No official from Calcutta could be transferred to those areas apparently owing difference in scale of pay. Even the Manager, Calcutta District Telephone found it difficult at the time of necessity to transfer operators to Barrackpore and Serampore Exchanges from Calcutta due to the difference in scale of pay. All these events served as an eye opener to the P and T staff as well as to the administration. The movement for introduction of the same scales of pay for all stations began to gain grounds. The Calcutta Postal Union, however in its conference demanded higher scales of pay for Calcutta and passed a resolution in successive conferences held in 1943 and 1944 for sanction of a scale of pay of Rs. 100 – 350 for all Postal and RMS clerical staff of Calcutta. (To be continued)