54 years are over after the historical One Day Token Strike of the Central Government employees which took place on 19th September 1968.
It was not a simple strike, but a strike which shook the foundations of the central government and ruling class. More than 30 lakhs CG employees participated in the strike putting the country to a standstill. The CG employees with their strategical position in the Communications, Defence, and Railways ensured that the entire machinery of the central government was paralysed.
It was a struggle for the dignity of labour and right of the workers for a reasonable wage. The 15th Indian Labour Conference had approved the Need Based Minimum Wage on the basis of Dr.Akroyd Formula in 1957, but the government did not implement it. Prices of essential commodities were rising sky high, but full neutralisation through Dearness Allowance was denied. The II Central Pay Commission was completely retrograde and the central government employees were compelled to go on an Indefinite Strike in July 1960 which continued for five days. Then Prime Minister Shri Jawaharlal Nehru suppressed the strike using Essential Service Maintenance Ordinance (ESMO) and other draconic measures. Tens of thousands were arrested jailed, suspended, terminated and punished mercilessly.
It took years to heal the wounds inflicted on the workers. The government introduced Joint Consultative Machinery (JCM) with the assurance that issues will be discussed and settled. There was a condition that the unions should abjure strike if JCM is to be introduced. The unions bluntly refused and the government was compelled to withdraw the anti-worker condition.
The JCM was a failure from the start. The Staff Side in the National Council raised the demands of need based minimum Wage and DA according to the cost of living index. The government not only did not agree to concede the demands, but refused to refer the issues to compulsory arbitration as per the JCM rules.
There was no other course before the workers, but to adopt the struggle path. The Confederation of Central Government Employees and Workers, National Federation of P and T Employees, All India Railwaymen’s Federation and All India Defence Employees Federation, Central Secretariat Association and other organisations met in a National Convention on 13th July 1968 and issued a call for a one day strike on 19th September 1968 on the following main demands;
- Need Based Minimum Wage.
- DA according to increase in cost of living
- Merger of DA in Pay.
- No Reduction in Retirement Age
- Vacationof Victimisation.
- End Casual and Contract Exploitive System
The leaders went on tour throughout the country for organising the strike successfully. The central government was not sitting idle. Not only no fruitful discussion was held, but all repressive machinery of the government was made ready to suppress the strike.
The strike started at the midnight of 18th / 19th of September 1968. The entire central services came to a halt. Trains did not run. Communications service stopped completely. The central secretariat, the nerve centre of the government, was deserted. Strike was a complete success.
Indira Gandhi Government used the hated Essential Service Maintenance Act and other such anti-worker ordinances to suppress the struggle, instead of conceding the just demands of the workers. The workers did not flinch; they had the bitter experience of the 1960 strike which was treated as ‘Civil Rebellion’ and tried to be suppressed by then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The workers had understood the real policy of the government, which was only to support the rich and ignore the justified demands of the workers
In Pathankot, 4 Railway workers and the son of a railway worker became martyrs in police firing. In Bikaner another railway worker was shot dead and 25 workers including family members seriously injured. In Assam, where the strike was almost 100%, police firing took place at Mariyani, Bongaigaon and Lumding and 2 railway workers killed on the spot. Many, including family members of railway workers were brutally lathicharged. Firing and lathi charge took place in many more places. In IndraprasthaBhawan, Delhi, a worker was beaten to death by police. Although it is reported that 17 persons have been killed.
The main demand of the Strike, Need based Minimum Wage ,still remains unresolved. Not only that, the attacks on workers , their wages and pension have become more severe in the current scenario of neo-liberal policies. We are facing a situation where the rights of the workers are curtailed , peasants are being subjected to utter exploitation by the corporates, national assets are handed over to the corporates. And it is time to raise to the occasion and fight against these onslaughts.
On this 54th Anniversary of the strike, the entire CG employees and pensioners salute these martyrs who gave their precious life on the altar of the workers’ demands .