Unofficial strike by Air India workers against austerity

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Almost simultaneously with the British Airways workers' strike on 24th May 10, around 25,000 workers of Air-India throughout the country went on unofficial strike on 25th May 2010. The strike continued on 26th, but was called off after the Delhi High Court declared it illegal and an expression of irresponsibility of the workers. The strike was led by the two major unions, the ACEU and the AIAEA, the latter being the union of the engineers.  

The context of the movement

Since the merger of the two government-owned aviation sector companies, Indian Airlines and Air India, into a single national company NACIL, and in the face of the world economic crisis and a huge loss by the government owned companies in the aviation sector (Air India has a loss of 70,000 million rupees in the last fiscal year), attacks on the workers have been increased in many significant ways. Basically the aim of the merger is to reduce the work force and increase the work load to compensate for the loss. In a word it is the normal capitalist practice of imposing the burden of the crisis on the workers. But workers are not at all responsible for the crisis; none but capitalism it self is to blame. Workers are the main victim of it throughout the world.

The deliberately created shortage of 200-300 cabin crew is compensated by imposing excessive work-loads on the existing staff. The discontent of the cabin crews was growing day by day. Exhausting pressure of overwork, constant fear of being retrenched. The ground-handling policy of NACIL was also a point of discontent for the workers. Since last year delays in payment of monthly salary has also been a matter of great concern. We saw a hunger strike by the workers of AI in August 2009. This year as well management is deferring the date of payment of salary. So for all these reasons workers of all levels decided to go on a strike from 31st May.

However, the recent disastrous accident of an Air India flight at Mangalore added new discontent. The accident brought into the foreground the terrible infrastructural condition of the Indian air ports. In the mean time, on 25th May, when a union leader at Delhi Air Port was talking publicly about a particular mistake of management on the issue of fly out certificates , management issued a gagging order saying not to speak about the Mangalore issue to media (NDTV, 25th May). The workers of all unions suddenly and spontaneously united and stopped working. From Delhi to all over the country the strike spread immediately. All the demands are raised for a strike programme which was scheduled to be from 31st May.

Repressive role of state

The aviation authority NACIL, empowered by the aviation minister Mr. Patel, resorted to a very repressive measure towards the strikers. Delhi High court declared the strike as illegal and ordered the workers to call off the strike. The strike was withdrawn. There and then management de-recognized the two unions heading the strike movement, sealed the offices and sacked and suspended more than 100 employees of AI. Official sources said "There is no rethink on termination notices served to employees... our stance this time shows it is not just all bark and no bite," (dnaindia.com, 27th May 2010).

This stance of the state immediately exposes the utter reality of capitalism. Along with the world capitalist class, the Indian ruling class is also following the same practice: make the workers the ultimate victim of the crisis, force them to pay for it even though they are not responsible for it. In the name of defense of the national interest all the governments are imposing austerity measures, as we see in Greece, Portugal, Britain and all other countries in Europe. In recent movements of railway workers in Mumbai, in the movement of government employees of Kashmir, auto workers' struggle in Gurgaon in 2009[1] we see that the state is fiercely attacking the workers to crush the movement by physical, ideological and economic repression.

This general tendency of resorting to repression is not only confined to immediate measures of sacking and suspension but all the more on isolating the workers from their class brothers, increasing all sorts of discrimination amongst the workers. In the case of Airport workers we see the media focus on the inconvenience of passengers while putting no importance on the demands of the workers.  It is noteworthy that a good percentage of the passengers are workers who should understand the interest of their class brothers fighting against increasing exploitation. The media focus on the ‘irresponsible' behavior of the workers who are not willing to digest the effect of crisis. But no talk about the irresponsibility of the state in delaying payment of wages, not recruiting the necessary work force, or providing adequate infrastructure.

 

Perspective

 

We hope the workers will develop their struggle against the retrenchment and for all other demands. In this, their first step should be to base the fight on their own self initiative and self organization, on the active participation of all workers and not on any other legal institutions or organizations. Without extension of their struggle to the workers of other aviation companies and to workers in other sectors of the working class, there is no possibility of any sort of victory today. 

H, 1 June 2010

 



[1] http://en.internationalism.org/ci/2010/kashmir-struggle; http://en.internationalism.org/ci/2009/gurgaon