By Com. V.V. Jacob Ex-Secretary, Class III Service Association,
Survey of India, Bangalore.
Sep 17, 2008
In the history of workers in struggle in India the nationwide strike of Central Govt. Employees on 19th. September, 1968 has a prominent place. As we observe 40th. Anniversary of that historic struggle, we pay our respectful homage to the martyrs who laid down their life in the struggle. The main demand of employees was “Need Based Minimum Wage” as recommended by 15th. Indian Labour Conference. When the Govt. refused to settle the demands through discussion and negotiation, the employees organisations under the auspicious of “Joint Action Council” decided to go on one day token strike on 19th. Sept.1968. Accordingly a strike notice was served on Government.
The response of government was unprecedented. An ordinance namely “Essential Service Maintenance Ordinance” (ESMO) was issued. The strike was banned under the ordinance. The ordinance contained many draconian provisions that could be evoked against the strikers or the so called instigators. As the day of strike approached, many leaders at different parts of the country were arrested and put behind bars. Many leaders had to remain underground to lead the strike. Demonstrations and rallies of employees in various places were dispersed by lathi charge and police firing. In places like Pathankot in Punjab scores of Railway workers fell victims to police bullets. Government unleashed misleading propaganda against the strike. Attempted to engineer rift in major organisations like NFPTE. Rival leaders were propped up.
In spite of such brutal suppression, misleading propaganda and attempt to divide, the employees at large struck work on 19th. Wherever the leaders wavered the strike was not successful. The lesson to be learnt was that an unwavering and committed leadership can galvanise into action the rank and file in most adverse situation.
Massive victimisation followed. More than 50,000 employees were dismissed or terminated. All those arrested were suspended and prosecution continued. Break in service (later converted to dies-non) and wage cut imposed on all strikers. It took a few years sustained agitations and legal battles to get most of these victimised employees re-instated. The dies-non remained.
At Bangalore the preparations for strike was well done under the dynamic leadership of Com. P. R. Chabaque who was the convenor of the Joint Action Committee here. Intensive campaigning was done through pamphlets and office centric meetings. A massive rally was held in Railway Institute ground behind City Railway station.
Some arrests under ESMO were made at Bangalore. Four of us in Survey of India were arrested and prosecuted. I was arrested on the 17th evening while coming out of office at Richmond road after office hours. Though surprised I was not shaken. I was a temporary employee then, having three years of service and an ordinary member of the Class III Service Association. On 17th, around noon our officer-in-charge called a staff meeting and exhorted the staff not to participate in the strike and threatened of severe consequences if any one does. Com. P. R. Chabaque, who was the Secretary of the Class III Service Association, spoke in justification of the strike and I supported him. This infuriated the O.C. And he abruptly ended the meeting. This may be the reason for my arrest. Police waited for Com. P.R.C. also, but he left the office in disguise and evaded the arrest till 20th. I was taken to Shoolay police station and kept there till the next day. Meanwhile the house I was staying at Sampangiramnagar was raided and searched. Com. K.P. Nair, President of our Association was arrested early morning on 18th from his house near Commercial street. Both of us were produced before the court in Mayo Hall and remanded and taken to Bangalore Central Jail. Com. A.K.P. Pillai was arrested on the 19th morning when moving on the road near the office. Com. Chabaque was arrested on 20th and took out bail immediately. We were in jail till 21st. We had a few comrades from Railway as inmates. Com. Jayaram, Kopeswar Rao and Namboothri are few names I could recollect. Though for few days in jail it was an experience in life.
We were bailed out on the 21st. The prosecution continued and charge-sheet under ESMO was filed against us. Renowned advocate K.S. Subbarao argued our case. We were suspended from service immediately after arrest. The case continued for more than 18 months. In the end we were all acquitted of charges and our suspensions revoked. Our colleagues supported us financially and morally during our suspension. Similar suspensions and persecutions took place in Railways, RMS etc.. I recollect a few names of leaders who were leading the movements then. Coms. Raghothaman, CV Ananda, N Bhaskaran, Muthu Subramanian (RMS), MM Farooqui (Telegraph), BN Prakash (Postal), Sastri, MS Nagaraj (AGS).There were others whose names I am not able to recollect. Strike in Bangalore was moderately successful. Some offices like RMS and Survey of India had near total strike.
Though the Central Govt. employees could not get the demand of need-based minimum wage conceded, the strike made an impact on future developments on their wage structure and service condtions. The III Pay Commission appointed after this strike had to seriously discuss this demand in their report. No struggle goes in vain. The long term impact of a struggle for a genuine cause should be understood properly. The benefits of past struggles often accrues to the present/future generation.
Let us salute the martyrs of past struggles.
Let us remember with gratitude all those who suffered immensely in the past struggles.
Let us carry forward the proud legacy left behind them.
Long live workers unity.