The VII All India Conference of the BSNL Employees Union at Kolkata is over successfully. On my own request, I have been allowed to relinquish the post of President, which I was holding for the last four years from 2010 Thiruvananthapuram All India Conference.
Earlier, I was the General Secretary of BSNLEU since its inception when the same was formed at the National Convention of Telecom Workers (treated as the Foundation Conference of BSNLEU) at Visakhapatnam on 21-22 March 2001.
I joined the then P & T Department on 2nd September 1958 and within 2 years became an active member of All India Telegraph Engineering Employees Union Class III, which was affiliated to the National Federation of P&T Employees (NFPTE), the united and only one organisation of the P&T workers. Coming from a poor landlord family, a job in the P&T was considered a good beginning. I had resigned a teacher’s job and joined P&T. My first salary was Rs. 60 pay and Rs. 50 allowance.
As any young man, I wanted to pass examinations and get better promotions. I prepared for the same. Then came the Indefinite Strike of 1960, which started from 11th July called by Confederation of Central Government Employees, AIRF (Railways) and AIDEF (Defence) which lasted five days. The strike was dealt with as a ‘Civil Rebellion’ by the Nehru Government. Lakhs of employees were arrested, jailed, suspended, terminated and punished. The All India leaders who were chained and put in jail had no other alternative but to call off the strike after five days unable to face the brutal onslaught of a vindictive government. I had not even completed two years of service when the strike took place. As an active worker of the union, I was kept out of service for months and punished heavily. Another Namboodiri with similar name working in the same telephone exchange and who had joined duty only weeks back was sentenced for six months rigorous imprisonment, mistaking him for me, for the participation in the strike. I was underground and was not caught.
The experience of the 5 Days Glorious Strike and the brutal suppression by the government changed my entire life. I could not even think that a government of a country which got independence recently through a non-violent struggle and preaching socialist pattern of society can be so ruthless to its hardworking low paid employees, who only wanted a need based minimum wage accepted by the 15th Indian Labour Conference of 1957 and DA to compensate for the increase in prices. I did not appear for the examination and took the firm decision that I will continue my entire life to fight against this kind of injustice and brutality. I was elected as the Branch Secretary of Cannanore (Kannur) after the strike.
I was transferred to Calicut and was elected as the Branch Secretary of the union there, which I continued for 4 years. I became the District Secretary, which again I continued for 3 or 4 years. I was elected as Circle Secretary in 1977, which also I continued for four years. In between I functioned as the Assistant Circle Secretary also. Many young and militant comrades were there to whom the responsibility was handed over each time. Com. P.V.Chandrasekharan took over the charge as the next Circle Secretary, Kerala, who did a wonderful job to strengthen the union and settle the workers’ issues. All of them have retired years back and are part of the Left movement and very active in their own areas.
It is during these years that I found out that the All India leadership of the E.III Union is in the habit of surrendering the rights of the workers and compromising with the government. They were not prepared to fight against the wrong policies of the government and were very critical of those leaders and workers who wanted militant struggles for improving the working conditions and wages but also for a progressive outlook. The inspiring leadership of Com. K.G.Bose, N.J.Iyer and K.Adinarayana united us all together. The revisionist leadership, led by O.P.Gupta not only compromised with the government for anti-workers policies, but also supported the government to victimise of the militant workers. The entire Kerala Union, from Circle to Branches, was derecognised for years together.
We had to fight both with the leadership as also the administration. Probably, there was not a single leader or worker in Kerala, who has not been victimised in the One Day Strike of 1968, the strike of 1974 and the continued local agitations that spread like wild fire throughout Kerala against brutal victimisation. The entire Circle union office-bearers were punished and transferred out of jurisdiction and I was transferred to Lakshadweep Islands in 1982. As per the decision of the Union, I refused to join there and was out of service for 35 months and issued dies-non for the period. I was taken back only after the High Court of Kerala quashed the unjustified transfer. After every major strike, I was kept out of service for one to three years. I was under suspension for three years after 1968 strike. I have accepted the same not as a punishment, but as an award granted to a union worker.
I was elected as the Assistant General Secretary of E.III Union in the 1970s. I was not called to work in CHQ, but came to Delhi on my own and worked there, fulfilling the responsibility entrusted to me by the AIC. The fight between the progressives and revisionists in the union came to an open clash after the revisionist leadership agreed for ban on creation of posts, surrendered promotional posts and so on.
Many of our comrades will be remembering the election contest in the 1991 Bhopal All India Conference of the All India Telecom Employees Union Class III, held in October 1991. The mighty leadership of revisionist O.P.Gupta was challenged for the first time and was defeated decisively in the elections. Com. Moni Bose became the General Secretary and I, as All India President. The victory of the progressives in the E.III, the biggest union in the telecom Sector, changed the entire equation till then.
Most of our comrades know what happened afterwards. Though elected, Moni Bose and Namboodiri were not allowed to work. Recognition was denied and Com. Moni Bose was not accepted as General Secretary by the DOT stating that he is a terminated employee. We had to approach Calcutta high Court to remove this injustice. The High Court directed the Government to recognise Com.Moni Bose. This was a slap on the face of the DOT and the revisionist leadership. In the next AIC at Thiruvananthapuram in 1994, Moni Bose was elected as President and myself as General Secretary. But O.P.Gupta leadership gave a parallel list of office-bearers and the government denied recognition to us.
Instead of accepting the democratically elected leadership, DOT supported the defeated leadership and recognised them. The next few years have been a virtual struggle for existence against the revisionists and the government facing an uphill task. But we did not give up. A large number of dedicated workers throughout the country supported and were prepared to defend the democratic rights as also the correct policies. During the period, change came in other telecom unions also. In both T.III and Administrative Unions, progressive leadership took over. These unions together formed the National Action Committee and organised a number of struggles and agitations on the demands of the workers. Our support base widened. Though we could not stop corporatisation of DOT/DTS in to BSNL, but we gave a tough fight.
The formation of BSNL resulted in the end of cadre / category wise unions. BSNL Employees Union was formed merging seven unions which came together at the National Convention held at Visakhapatnam in March 2001. Com. J.N.Mishra became the President and I General Secretary and another new chapter began. Within three years, in the second verification in 2004, BSNLEU became the majority and recognised union. Though not recognised, BSNLEU was in the pivotal role in the first wage revision from CDA to IDA scale. Once recognised, BSNLEU did not look back. One after another genuine demands of the workers were raised and got it achieved. Issues pending for years together could be settled. BSNLEU got 4 promotions to everybody from the earlier two promotions. Bonus was increased, Loans from Banks agreed. The biggest Group Insurance was signed with LIC for the employees. For the first time, all employees got a gift of HMT Watch. The crowning achievement was the excellent wage revision from 2007. All this could be achieved with the full support of the leaders and workers who stood firm with the union. In the continued membership verifications, BSNLEU always won. The membership increased despite the fact that thousands of workers were retiring every year and there was no recruitment.
But the anti-PSU policy of the government and the inefficient management resulted in BSNL posting loss from 2010. Now, the main struggle is to ensure that BSNL is strengthened and better service is provided to the customers. The Joint Action Committee of BSNL Unions/Associations which was formed after BSNLEU got recognition, organised many struggles and strikes for the revival of BSNL, procurement of equipment, against VRS, disinvestment, unbundling etc. We can be proud that despite the government taking decisions, neither VRS nor disinvestment could be implemented in BSNL due to the strong resistance of the workers under the leadership of the JAC. From the start, I am continuing as the Convener of the JAC / Forum and got full support from all the unions.
After a long tenure of more than 15 years as General Secretary of E.III, then E.III(N) and then BSNLEU, I handed over the same at Thiruvnanthapuram AIC to Com. P.Abhimanyu, who continues to be the GS till now. I became President. At Kolkata AIC held from 6-9 November 2014, I have relinquished this post also since I have been feeling for some time that it is time to hand over the charge to the young comrades who should take up more responsibility. Com. Balbir Singh is the new President. However the workers wanted me to continue and has gracefully elected me as Patron as an honour. I am much thankful for the love and affection that the workers have shown to me. BSNLEU is strong enough and is safe in the hands of the dedicated workers and leaders.
I am happy that I could help in forming the All India BSNL DOT Pensioners Association and BSNL Casual and Contract Workers Union. Both have become strengthened during the last 4-5 years. BSNLCCWF has been able to increase the benefits to the workers though the brutal exploitation still continues. AIBDPA has also grown and settled major issues. I am still connected with these organisations.
During the last 55 years of my life since joining in the P&T Department, except the first one year, I was completely engaged with the union activities. Nothing was happier to me than meeting the workers, taking up their issues and fight for the rights of workers. It is difficult to remember how many struggles have been organised during this long period. I could not do justice to my family, but I was never lacking in my service to the union. My wife and children fully supported my union activities and did not complain at any time that I could not attend to them. I am much thankful to them.
When I am leaving the top post of the union, I feel happy that I have done what I could do. The love, affection, comradeship given by the workers will always be a warm memory with me. I am still connected with the union and I always will be.
I am now engaging more time to strengthen BSNLCCWF and AIBDPA. I am also planning to write a detailed history of the P&T Trade Union Movement as also that of BSNL TU movement. I have, already collected some materials for the same. Many senior comrades have been putting pressure on me for writing the book. I shall do it.
The newly elected NDA/BJP government has started attacks one after another against the working class. The latter is also united to give a tough fight to the government by coming together under the banner of the 11 central trade unions. Efforts are being made by certain elements to divide the people on communal basis. This grave danger has to be averted at any cost. Communal harmony is most important for the progress of the country.
I will be part and parcel of this great struggle for the right to live and work. I have to be active to the cause of the toiling masses and the common people. I express my thanks to all our comrades associated at all levels, friends and well wishers for the great support given to me in union activities and also personally.
Red Salute to you all Comrades !