Air Corporation Employees’ Strike:

Thwart the Government’s Attempts to Develop “No-TU Zones” in Public and Govt. Sectors
Rajiv Dimri

Air Corporation employees’ flash strike from 25th May starkly exposed the murky state of affairs in the aviation industry. Against the backdrop of the May 22 Mangalore air crash, the government, management and the media have all conspired to project the strike as an act of insensitivity on the part of the Air Corporation employees. But just one look at the sequence of events leading to the strike is sufficient for any rational observer to judge who is at fault.
In the wake of the May 22 air crash in Mangalore airport when the whole country was discussing the tragedy and trying to find out the reasons, one of the office bearers of the unions cited before the media the negligence of the management as the main reason behind the tragedy. This invited the wrath of the management and citing the gag order of the management that the employees cannot go public on anything that would cause potential damage to the revenue earning capacity of the organization, the management took action on the employee for breaking the gag order. Over 20,000 employees all over the country promptly resisted this move with their flash strike on May 25.
So more than any economic demand of the striking workers, what lay at the heart of the strike was the management’s obsession with its image and profits and its attempt to stifle the voice of reason and throttle trade union rights.
Instead of opting for dialogue with the unions, the management, working at the behest of the central government, chose to intensify attack on the unions and the striking employees. The management went to the court to get the strike declared illegal. Mumbai HC was hesitant to pass such an order, but Delhi HC acted promptly and declared the strike illegal.
Then, taking advantage of the order of Delhi High Court the management vindictively went for an all out attack on employees and their unions. In spite of the fact that the unions had withdrawn their strike immediately after the suggestion of Chief Labour Commissioner (Central) and the direction of Court, the management dismissed 58 employees including unions’ office bearers and suspended another 24 from their services and derecognized both unions involved in the strike- Air Corporation Employees Union and All India Aircraft Engineers Association- and sealed their office all over the country.
Around 100 Air India employees were dismissed and suspended for discharging their social responsibility, for pointing out the flaws that led to accidents in the air, for giving suggestions that would have avoided the killing of 158 human lives at Mangalore airport! The striking workers demanded withdrawal of the gag order. Is it not one of the tasks of the TUs to question the inefficiency or negligence of the management? And more so, when it is a PSU and interests of not just the organization concerned but the public at large which are at stake?
Even as workers from Gurgaon to Coimbatore are rising in struggles for TU recognition, the headlines read ‘recognition withdrawn for unions’ and ‘union offices sealed’.  Are the managements expecting the unions to act according to their wishes? Are the managements trying to throw away the union from their premises as they throw out temporary workers according to their whims and fancies? It is the task of the TUs to fight for the rights of the workers and definitely not to dance to the tunes of the managements.
The Reports of the Standing Committee of Parliament on Transport and Tourism as well as Committee on Public Sector Undertakings (COPU) have indicted both Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India management for the prevailing mess in Air India. However both of them have failed to take any action in the matter. The reports of the Standing Committee and COPU have also thrown some light on the question of the heavy losses being incurred by Air India following merger of Air India and Indian Airlines, but the Minister of Civil Aviation and the CMD of Air India have both chosen to ignore this issue. It is very clear that the policies pursued by Minister of Civil aviation as well as the Chairman of Air India are clearly directed to give advantage to the private sector companies and damaging the interest of Air India and finally close down the premier public undertaking in India.
Moreover, since 1 January 2007 no improvement in living conditions of the employees has taken place while the management has unilaterally withdrawn several existing benefits without even discussing with the trade unions. The employees were not even paid bonus last year.
The experiences have shown that managements, both in private and public sector- whether Satyam or BSNL- seldom worry about the well being of the organization and its work force. Corruption rules the roost and the interests of the organization and the workers are sacrificed at the altar of corruption, profit and bureaucracy.
Air India management, which has cancelled the recognition and sealed the offices of the fighting unions that enjoy the support of majority of the employees, has announced that it is negotiating with other unions in the organization. Aviation Minister Praful Patel has categorically said that there is no review on the action taken against the striking employees. He also said that the management was free to go on further actions on more employees if necessary. The subsequent developments have corroborated the statement of the Minister. The management is trying to break the unions which called the strike, and resorting to large-scale recruitment of contract workers to replace permanent workforce. The Minister also said that he was concerned only about the interests of the organization. Now, who will punish the minister who ran his ministry in such a way that more than 150 people were charred to death? Is this the way to protect the interests of the organization?
Maximization of profits is the ultimate mantra of globalization, and guided by this the ruling classes are crushing with iron fist the trade union rights of the workers and employees. The attack on Air India employees is the latest example. Last September employees of Jet Airways were given pink slips all of a sudden. Two pilots were dismissed for forming union. All workers promptly went on a strike but this heroic struggle ended with the striking workers eventually agreeing for reduced salary. In the tripartite meeting the representatives of the Jet employees were forced to agree to do away with their newly formed union. During last year struggle, the registration of National Aviation Guild, union of the pilots, was cancelled. They were even denied justice by Mumbai HC.

Non-recognition and de-recognition of TUs, cancelling their registration, preventing workers from forming any unions, in short creating No-trade union zones – this practice started by corporate houses of the land and MNCs with full support of governments is now becoming a reality in public and government sectors too. This trend must be nipped in the bud. So, it is the immediate duty of the Indian working class to take the challenge head-on to defend TU democracy and TU rights and rise in solidarity with the Air India employees in their forthcoming struggle. The ruling classes must be shown that the TU movement in the country will not tolerate their nefarious designs to develop “no-TU Zones” in the country, both in Private and Public/government sectors.