IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF TARAPADA
By O P Gupta.
"Take it from me, Brothers, that petitions and memorials and supplications will count for nothing so long as you do not organize yourselves in a manner to convince the govt. that you will no longer stand nonsense". (Tarapada’s Lahore speech, 1921).
About 75 years ago, on 09.10.1921, Babu Tarapada Mukherjee in his presidential address at the Lahore(now in Pakistan) Conference of All India (including Burma) post office and RMS employees Union, delivered an outstanding speech reflecting not only the aspirations of the postal(including RMS) workers but also their anger and their disgust at the perpetuation of discrimination between the workers in the postal and telegraph department.
After the First World War under compulsions of the political situation, the Indian people intensified their struggle for freedom under the leadership of Gandhiji. Workers in the textile and various industries organized a central body--- All India Trade Union Congress. It is in this background that great Tarapada was able to link the sufferings of the workers with the political urges of the people of the country. The All India Conference was held in the background of the Hazeltine committee’s report which had based its recommendations on the theory that workers are beggars and stated: "all concessions is of the nature of gift, and this being so, it is for the donor to decide what the measure of the gift shall be."
Another committee under the chairmanship of Hazeltine had recommended much better scales for telegraphists. Tarapada said : "the telegraph committee, of which the president was the same Mr Hazeltine, who presided over the postal committee, recommended almost everything demanded by Mr Barton of the telegraph association and the govt accepted the recommendations without demure. They do not dare call the telegraphists beggars, or to characterize the witnesses as unreliable."
Apart from the fact that almost all workers in the telegraph department were either Englishmen or anglo-indians, Tarapada rightly pointed out that the discriminatory treatment was not because the postal services were not earning profits at that time but because of the bargaining strength of the telegraph association under its leader Henry Barton. Tarapada said: "The telegraph association is a very powerful body with strong financial backing, every member of which is alive with class consciousness ready to do in the concert whatever circumstances demanded."
Therefore, he gave the clarion call to the postal workers to effectively organize themselves into a strong union. He said: "Only one course is open to you, and that is summed up in the one word 'ORGANIZE'. Organize if you want real living wages, if you want to have your working hours reduced, Organize if you desire better treatment from your superior officers, Organize if you want that the authority should consult and consider your opinion on all administrative measures affecting you."
Two aspects, however, were not highlighted. The Indian telegraph association had organized a strike as early as in 1908 and its General Secretary Henry Barton was dismissed from service. Secondly, the telegraphs like the Railways were technology oriented with a potential to paralyse the services. Failure to take note of these aspects has resulted in perpetuating the discriminatory treatment being meted out to the postal services even today. The latest reflection is in the matter of less bonus.
During the last 95 years, responding to Tarapada’s advice, the postal trade union movement has made great strides. Tarapada laid great emphasis on reductions of long working hours. He pointed out that: "the reduction in the hours of duty is of equal importance. Under existing conditions one is required to work very long hours, generally from 10-12 hours, daily. The responsibility of post office duty is very heavy. Hard labour for inordinately long hours with considerable financial responsibilities reduces the staff to a state of mental and physical paralysis; and it should not be allowed to continue for even a day to the detriment of the service, if we can help it…"
This observation of Tarapada, decades ago, holds good even today due to wrong policies of the department with Finacle & McCamish and the unrealistic business targets.
Following in the footsteps of Tarapada in fulfilling the tasks outlined by him, should not be like performing a ritualistic ceremony or satisfying ourselves by raising slogans as the political upstarts are doing. In this process, as in the political parties, many corrupt and selfish leaders have come up who put their personal gains above the social obligations.
We have a much better organization today. After 68 years of Independence, worker’s political consciousness has grown. They have their own yardsticks for assessing the movement. But due to the political commitments of the leaders which they place above everything else, the organization is divided. Contrary to our political understanding, we can’t think of an effective action without a joint front of unions.
While Tarapada linked the political urge with the economic demands of the people to enable the workers to draw their conclusions from their own experience, we have created a gap with the result that even the slogans are not responded to fully.
Therefore when we remember Tarapada to pay our homage, let us understand him so that we motivate the movement, march forward and eliminate the stagnation which has set in. Let us move forward with courage by restoring the glorious unity that prevailed before the 1968 strike.