Bank Officers’ Movement over the years..

The Bank Managements’ general perception of trade unions in the past had been that they were meant for workers at lower levels and supervisory staff were a distinct lot to be considered part of the managements themselves. The managements’ perception would have been appreciable and acceptable, to some extent at least, had the service conditions and compensation to the supervisors been better than those of their subordinates The Indian Trade Union Act,1947,.prescribed certain broad guidelines for trade union formation by workers, provided protection and immunity to its leaders in normal trade union activities. But professionals including bank officers were ineligible to form trade unions and they were considered part of the management by the framers of the Act. This was the general perception till mid-20th century.

The Indian Banking Industry was not a developed one either in the pre-independent era or in the early years of Independence. The Government of the Free India realized that Banks could be an effective instrument of socio-economic transformation of the country. The industry was, however, in the Private Sector and vested interests opposed any move to bring them under Government control. However, the British-found Imperial Bank of India was nationalized by the Government in 1955 and State Bank of India, the first Public Sector Bank in the country, was formed. The Subsidiary Banks Regulation Act,1959, saw several princely owned banks being taken over by the Government and 7 Subsidiary Banks of State Bank of India being formed. The Subsidiary Banks had later expanded through amalgamation and takeover of several small regional and privately held banks.

The historic event was on the 19th of July 1969 when 14 major commercial banks in the country was nationalized in one go. Another 6 banks were also nationalized in the later years, taking the total number of nationalized banks into 20. Today, the country has 25 major banks in the Public Sector comprising 19 nationalised banks, State Bank of India and its 5 Associates.

The period till the mid-50’s was one during which there were hundreds of private banks operating in the country, indulging in continuous and inhuman exploitation of the bank workers. The anti-labour environment in the banks drove the bank workers to organize themselves and thus emerged a vibrant and militant movement of the Award Staff in the Banking Industry which subsequently played a major role in the emergence of a strong organized movement of bank officers.

The emergence of trade unions in banks in the 1960’s marked the beginning of a series of agitations, strikes, and disputes between the managements and the workers. The Award Staff Federation in the State Bank of India, after frequent agitations, strikes and struggles, launched a 21 day strike in 1960 which gave an excellent boost to the trade union movement in State Bank of India. The Government had to appoint a Tribunal to look into the grievances of the workers and several Awards were given by the Tribunals till 1965. In mid-60’s the leadership of workers’ unions decided to do away with the Tribunal system and wanted direct negotiations with the representatives of the management. Thus was born the Bipartite mechanism.

The officers who the managements claimed were their part were in a quite unenviable and really pathetic condition. The emergence of strong award staff trade unions in banks and the improvements in the working conditions that they were able to gain in terms of regulated working hours, payment of Dearness Allowance, Leave, Medical facilities etc. made their position far superior to that of their superiors. This led to widespread discontentment amongst the Officers fraternity all over the country. The management could not prevent officers dreaming of better compensation package and working conditions being gained. The result was emergence of Officers’ Organisations in almost all Banks. The management did everything possible to crush those organisations, but they managed to survive the threats and challenges before them.

The first major step towards formation of organization of officers was taken by State Bank of India, with All India State Bank Officers Federation being formed. Com. L V Subramaniam was the Founder General Secretary and Com. S K Mishra, the Founder President. They successfully tackled the big challenge of bringing the several splinter groups under one umbrella. AISBOF fought several struggles during the period 1965-69 including the historic 17 days strike in June 1969 which gave tremendous inspiration to organizations of officers in other banks, too. With the Nationalisation of 14 commercial banks, the Officers’ movement grew from strength to strength. The formation of All India Confederation of Bank Officers Organisations (AICOBOO) under the leadership of Com. L V Subramaniam and the formation of All India Bank Officers Confederation (AIBOC) later are milestones in the history of Bank Officers Movement in the country.

The history of Bank Officers Movement in the country is the history of innumerable struggles and sacrifices of thousands of dedicated officers.