THE HISTORY OF P & T TRADE UNION MOVEMENT IN INDIA.
Postal Service - An Introduction
The Postal System in India was first introduced by Lord Clive in 1756 for official communication only. Bags used to be sent to the District Magistrates and Collectors. The first Post Office was opened in Calcutta during 1774, for sending communication by private persons. Postal Committee of 1852 recommended the introduction of postage stamps and also dropped the practice of charging the articles according to distance. During October, 1854 the postage stamp was introduced for use in Post offices, (i.e) quarter anna postcard and half anna envelope. The Railway system was first started in 1853 and thereafter expanded its linkage to all big Cities. Along with Railways, the Postal system was also expanded. Telegraph system was introduced in 1853.
Emerging Trade Unions
T. U. consciousness in India had first grown during the later half of 19th Century, amongst the textile workers of Bombay and Nagpur. The total strike observed by the workers of Empress Mill Nagpur in 1877 over wage rate was the first working class struggle in the country. Between 1882 and 1890 about 25 strikes took place in Madras & Bombay Presidencies. During 1905 to 1909 there were continuous strikes in Bombay textile mills as well as other factories due to economic distress, ever rising cost of living, without corresponding increase in wages to the workers and the economic crisis caused due to imports from Manchester, Sheffield which created the total down fall of textile mills and also created unemployment. T. U. consciousness was emerging in the country in the back ground of many workers struggle throughout the world.. The amalgamated society of Railway workers of India and Burma which was formed in 1897 by Anglo Indians and domiciled Europeans had also contributed in developing T. U. consciousness among the Govt. employees and workers.
Beginning of P & T Movement
The discontentment was growing amongst the P & T employees over their service conditions and ill treatment. During 1880, there was a sporadic strike by Postmen of Poona, over some grievances. The Strikers were helped to a great extent by Late Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Between 1886 to 1988 discontent was also simmering amongst the Postal and RMS employees due to the unhygenic working conditions, hard work, low wages, oven like RMS Vans, long and inconvenient hours of work and tyrannical discipline etc. as per the report published in Amrit Bazar Patrika dated 4th March, 1886.
Postal club incognito Trade Union
In 1905 the Postal Club was formed at 18. Ganesh Chandra Avenue, Calcutta 13 incognito to the Trade Union movement under the Leadership of Late Babu Tarapada Mukherji who entered the service on 01.02.1895 as a postal employee. After the recognition of Postal Club, it was organised 150 employees and started sending memorials to the Government. The Presidency Postmaster called the Secretary Com. Ashwini Kumar and told him' Look here, Aswini, if you do not give up your Secretaryship, I will transfer you to Port Blair. He replied "I will carry my banner of the union there too." One B. L. Advocate Sril Nirmal Sen Gupta had joined the Postal Club and his oratory and penmanship attracted everybody. Bombay Postal Club was also formed in 1905 but it had started its working in 1907, which also carried only the Trade union activities. Postal League of Dacca was first started in 1909 by Sarat Chandra Sen. He prepared many memorials and posted to all over India which had the impact of organizing T.U. activities throughout the nation. Resultantly, the PMG had threatened him to desist his activities or he will arrest him. But he never cared. Then he was transferred to Imphal and had worked till 1912. At the time of Bengal Bifurcation, he was again sent back to Dacca.
10 Days Strike In 1908 - Com. Henry Barton, the Pioneer.
Mr. Henry Barton, himself a telegraphist, working in Burma, started focussing attention of the authorities on the grievances of telegraph workers through the columns of various news papers under a pseudonym. In 1906 he started a Magazine called as Telegraph Recorder in name of a Chinese Gentleman. For the trade Union activities and for the publication of 'Telegraph Recorder', Com. Henry Barton was suspended from service. He was proceeded for the publication of the journal. But the Chinese gentlemen had accepted his authorship and pleaded for Com. Henry Barton. However the Department had transferred him from Burma to Berhampur (Orissa). He had availed two years leave and finally established the Indian Telegraph Association in 1908 with the head quarters at Calcutta and launched the first strike of telegraphists which lasted for 10 days. This successful strike had resulted in the revision of salaries to the telegraphists and defacto recognition ensured by the method of collective bargaining. Postal signalers who had worked in the place of telegraphists during the strike did not get the benefits. After the Strike, Com. Henry Barton was dismissed from the service and he become the full time worker of 'Indian Telegraph Association'.
Merger of Postal of Telecom & its first achievement
During 1912, the Government has consolidated the Postal & Telecom and brought under one Department and under the control of D. G P&T. Therefore Com. Henry Barton, Sen Gupta & Babu Tarapada joined together and led the mass of the P&T Workers. During the First World War (1914 to 1918), their united movement has brought the Dearness Allowance first to Govt. employees as Rs.3/- & Rs.5/-in the name of grain allowance.
Bihar Dhoti Strike
The Postal Clerk was paid Rs.20/- only as pay in the year 1916. Most of the officials retired with the maximum of Rs.30/- or Rs.40/- utmost. Their repeated representations yielded with no results. The staff of Muzzaffarpur H.O. had decided to come in Dhoti for duty from 2/2/1919 to record the protest and anger. It spread to other cities in Bihar. The Viceroy had no other alternative except to announce an increase of Rs.10/- per head and the Dhoti agitation had ended in 4 or 5 days with successful results.
Formation of Postal Union & others from 1920 to 1932
Babu Tarapada had gone to Simla to discuss about the selection grade problems in clerical cadre. A bogus telegram was issued in the name of Profulla (his nephew) that "Biren attacked with small fox. Come immediately," Biren was his elder son. Tarapada returned only after discussion of the issue. Babu Tarapada died on 20.09.1929 which gave a blow to the P&T movement. Com. N. C. Sengupta was elected as General Secretary and thereafter he led the movement. In 1931, Government has decided upon the policy of retrenchment and decided 10% cut in salaries. This could not be resisted effectively due to splinter groups of unions which had not come together to launch any struggle. This stalemate was continued upto 1934, In 1934 the Government appointed the Postal Enquiry Committee known as Pasricha Committee which recommended new scales of pay from July 31, 1934.
1939 to 1946 - 3 week Postmen strike
During 1939 to 1945, no significant movement took place due the Second World War. But the movement underwent a qualitative change. The membership in this year touched a new height of 51%. The discontentment amongst the employees increased by leaps and bounds as the Government did not implement the adjudicator's award (Justice Rajadhakaya). All these resulted in Postmen strike of 1946. This was also joined by A. I. Postal and R.M.S. Employees Union. This was called off after three weeks when the agreement was signed. As a result of implementation of the award, the P & T Employees were paid 15% of pay (i.e) Rs.3.75 as Grain Compensation Allowance and Good Conduct Pay was raised to Rs.10/-. This strike also shook the Government completely and to some extent helped the independence struggle of the country.
1947 to 1954
With the dawn of Independence the T.U. movement gained further momentum and U P T W (Union of P & T workers) was formed on 13th August 1947 by merger of All India Postal & RMS Union, the Indian P&T Union led by Com. M. A. Jabbar and the Indian Telegraph Association led by Dr. G. Noronha. The major union of the All India Postmen & L. G. Staff union (lead by com. G. Dalvi) however kept out. The membership swelled from 61% in 1947 to 67% in 1950. On the eve of Independence, 1st pay commission was appointed to set down some principles for wage determination and rationalization of pay scales. The recommendations of First pay commission acquired national significance as it replaced regional scales. Within 2 years of the acceptance of recommendation of the 1st pay commission Report, a dispute arose on the question of Dearness allowance as the Government refused to implement the recommendations of the Commission. The threat of strike in 1949 and later in 1951 brought some adhoc relief. The threatened strike of 1949 had resulted in long term imprisonment of Com. O. P. Gupta, then General Secretary U P T W and other leading comrades all over the country. Com. Khushal Singh, Postmen, Com. Janak Gupta T. O. and a few others were dismissed in the year 1949.
Realignment and Formation of NFPTE
The question of the Realignment of all the existing P&T Unions was mooted as early as 1948 and was even discussed in a conference. Again in 1952 the issue came to the fore but agreement was not arrived at. In 1954 a scheme of Realignment was circulated to elicit opinion from all those concerned. The Govt. approved scheme for the realignment of Unions in full was released through a special circular by the then Director General, Posts and Telegraphs Shri. H. L. Jerath (No. SPA- 351/20/47 dt. 2nd July, 1954)
The scheme envisaged nine All India Unions (for the Class - IV and allied cadres - 4 for the class III and allied cadre-4, one for the Class III and Class IV cadres). The unions will be formed section wise i.e. Postal, RMS Engineering and Traffic (two in each one for Class III and another for Class IV) and in the Administrative Offices the service Association will represent both the Class III and Class IV cadre. The nine unions will be federated as a body. These are the technical aspects.
The welcome feature was the right of sole representation of the P&T employees was vested with the Federation of these nine Unions. The special features are the nine unions will be compulsorily affiliated to the Federation and the Federation has also no right to expel its affiliates. The All India Unions will however, be autonomous so far as the questions relating only to its members are concerned. The All India Unions will also be separately recognized by the Government. The membership enrolment be through the respective All India Unions only.
After the coming into being of the Federation those unions/Associations which do not join the scheme of Realignment and opt for retaining their distinct recognition as a different body will not have the right to enroll any new members. They will be permitted to retain their original membership.
This scheme was accepted by the Unions of P&T Workers, All India P.M. & L.G. Staff Union, All India Postal & RMS Union, Telegraph Workmen's Union, Telegraph & Telephone Engineering Union and Telegraph Line Staff Union,
The Union which accepted the scheme established the All India Ad-hoc Committee of the respective unions (9) and issued instructions in September 1954 for implementing the scheme. The time schedule for holding the All India Conferences in 7-10 November, 1954 at Delhi was also drawn up. The joint session of the Nine All India unions were held at Vinaynagar New Delhi at 6 PM on Sunday the 24th November 1954. The nine All India conferences held their open sessions on the 22nd November, 1954 and continued up to 24th November 1954. The Federal Councilors of the nine All Indian Unions (realigned) who met at 4.30 P.M. on 24th November. 1954 adopted a resolution which stated inter alia that the National Federation of P&T Employees is established on this day the 24th November, 1954.
The elections were held in the most democratic manner. Contests did take place for the important posts including that of the Secretary General. Decisions on crucial issues were taken at different levels and stages by the representatives and in appropriate forums.
Since 1954 the NFPTE has chequered history and a glorious record of services to the membership and the Central Government Employees movement.
1957 Strike Call Led To Setting Up of Second Pay Commission
The economic conditions drifted from bad to worse and the inflation hit the employee’s worse. The NFPTE therefore demanded for setting up of a Second Pay Commission and immediate grant of interim Relief and served strike notice in August 1957. The other organizations of Central Government employees under the aegis of Confederation of Central Government Employees and workers also gave the strike notices. This resulted in announcement of 2nd Pay Commission appointment.
July 1960 Strike
The report of the Second Pay Commission caused deep disappointment and resentment amongst the employees. The norms of D.A. were slashed. Need based minimum wage as per the norms of 15th I.L.C. was denied on the plea of flexibility pay scales. The employees were depressed due to incremental rates which were either not improved or in some cases reduced. These retrograde recommendations of Second Pay Commission led to 5 days strike in Central Government Employees from 12th July 1960 spearheaded by NFPTE. The Government let loose a reign of terror and adopted severe repressive measures. Thousands of workers all over the country were arrested, suspended, removed from service and faced trials in the courts of law. 17780 P&T employees were arrested and put behind the bar. NFPTE was derecognized, which was subsequently restored in 1962. But in spite of derecognition, NFPTE continued to function and all the disabilities of 1960 strike were got nullified and none amongst the rank of NFPTE remained out of job.
Appointment of Das Body & Gajendragadkar Commission on D.A. Issue.
The employees were unable to accept the dying wage. The D.A. issue remained the main focal point of dispute. The Chinese aggression in 1962 and Pakistan aggression in 1965 delayed the settlement of the genuine issues of Government employees. However Government has appointed Das Body for consideration of D.A. in 1964. It had recommended to grant additional D.A. and also to revise the D.A. formula but the Government rejected its recommendations. The Government through mass pressure was again compelled to appoint another commission headed by justice P. B. Gajendrgadkar in 1967. This commission as well as National Commission on labour recommended the appointment of 3rd pay commission. But this was not done.
Introduction of the Scheme of Joint Consultative Machinery and compulsory arbitration scheme.
The 1960 glorious strike although failed but it forced the Government to concede many demands bit by bit later on. The Government in its anxiety to avert such catastrophe conceived the scheme of Joint Consultation and Arbitration Scheme in 1963. The scheme was finally accepted by the recognized unions in the year 1966 after seeking improvements in the scheme. The important feature got introduced in the scheme was that no new union in any department would be recognized where a union representing all the categories of staff broadly and adequately existed.
Under the leadership of NFPTE, the P & T workers acquired lot of gains and settled many of their long standing demands. The maximum settlement was reached in the year 1967. In 1968, the Staff side National Council of JCM raised the demand for need based minimum wage according to 15th I.L.C. norms. The Government refused to settle it and therefore a disagreement was signed. The Government thereafter refused to refer the demand to Board of Arbitration under the Scheme. This compelled the Central Government Employees to go on one day token strike on 19.09.68. In P & T, the strike was massive and very wide spread. The Government has adopted the same repressive measures, like mass scale arrests, termination, suspension and derecognition of Unions. There was human loss of strikers who had been shot by the police. Several leaders were arrested and put behind the bar. There was heavy victimizations throughout the nation. The NFPTE was derecognized immediately. The NFPTE could be recognized again in 1970 only through court order.
Formation of Rival Unions.
In the wake of one day token strike and derecognition of NFPTE w.e.f. 21.09.68, the P & T Department gave recognition to a rival federation on paper without membership throwing overboard all the norms of recognition of unions and unilaterally breaking the realignment scheme. The FNPO was formed and extended all patronage by the ruling Congress Government then.
Most of the disgruntled elements joined the rival unions. Lately the Janata Government has given recognition to a third Federation based on political consideration against the avowed principle of one union in one Industry as outlined in the manifesto of Janata Party. Thus the Bhartiya Postal Federation was formed on 17.11.78.
Historic & Glorious Strike of P4 - 19.09.1984.
The P4 Union under the leadership of Com. Adinarayana had called upon one day token strike on 19.09.1994 exclusively for the ED demands. Even though the strike was a great and historic success, the non participation of other wings under NFPTE and the role of the Federation has raised several debates aftermath of the strike. However, this strike has revived the strength of the movement and cut the ice in the long silence of strike action since 1968 in the P&T movement.
Bifurcation of P&T and Formation of NFPE.
The bifurcation of the P&T Department took place on 1.1.1985. Resultantly, there was no alternative except to bifurcate the NFPTE also and accordingly by in the 18th Federal council of NFPTE held at Kolkata from 17.03.86 to 21.03.86, the separate federation for Postal Unions was formed under the name of 'National Federation of Postal Employees’. Com. N. J. Iyer, Com. K. L. Moza and Com. Des Raj Sharma were duly elected as the first President. Secretary General and Treasurer respectively for the newly formed 'NFPE. Com. Adinarayana was elected as Deputy Secretary General of the Federation.
Even though an arrangement to continue the NFPTE as the coordinating body for Postal & Telecom was decided in the council, it was not implemented whole heartedly after the bifurcation. NFPE is nothing but the replica of NFPTE.
First Attack on RMS.
During the period between 1982-85, Sorting work in running trains in Railway Mail Service in about 285 sections all over India was abolished. This has rendered surplus of nearly 4500 posts of sorting Assistants and about 3000 van peons (Group D). Night sets have been abolished at many places.
Jabalpur conference of R3 union decided to organize one day token strike which took place on 06.06.1985 for the exclusive demands of R3.
Participation of mass movement.
Dharwar Federal Council held in 1992 has resolved to join all the workers movement of the nation whenever the mass platform organisation called upon for direct action. Since then, the NFPE is involving its all cadres for all such programs.
New Recognition Rules 1993.
The revised Recognition rules were notified by Government vide Mo 2/10/80-JCA (Vol. IV) dt. 05.11.93. NFPE protested the rules since Federations & GDS are not covered by this rules. Filed a case in Delhi High Court. The Court dismissed the petition. During the first verification held in 1995, NFPE boycotted. However no union could be recognized as no one had secured 35% in that verification. However, NFPE has made to participate the verification held in 1997 after the formation of separate set of rules for GDS as 'EDA (RS) Rules 1995 for the verification of membership.
Achievements & Gains.
The significant achievement of NFPTE is the agreement reached in 1974 with the P&T Board on 20% promotional avenue for the P & T workers. It has been successful in getting 16 holidays plus two restricted holidays for the P & T operative staff. The Bonus strike has compelled the Government to grant bonus to postal employees at par with Railway. The Two promotions (TBOP & BCR) was its achievement where no such provision of automatic promotion was available in any other Central Government Departments.
NFPE is still the premier organization of Postal workers even in the midst and emergence of rival federation and unions. It has today having 70% and more membership of Postal employees. It is an independent organization and not affiliated to any Central Trade Union or organization. It comprises of all shades of opinions.
There has been an unfortunate period of serious infighting for some years. But despite this and the serious attack on it by the Government during the black days of emergency, when the duly elected office bearers were not recognized, journals were burnt, leaders were arrested and put behind the bars and unleashed all forms of repressive measures to crush the organization, the NFPTE (NFPE) has survived and emerged more united and stronger.
Thus, the NFPE with its glorious history and tradition has committed and determined to serve the Postal Workers to improve their economic and service conditions and continue to serve as the vanguard of the Central Government employees movement as a whole.
The innate faith of the P&T works to the NFPTE/NFPE and their loyalty to the organsation cuts across all kinds of barriers primarily because the links and communion between the rank and file and the Central Leadership is continuous true and real.
The Postal workers by their own experience and wisdom thus acquired have identified and accepted the NFPE as the only organization which can spearhead the struggle body at the Centre. Its message and mandate are honoured by nearly five lakh employees who constitute the NFPE.
The NFPE is a movement and no power can halt this force on its onward March.