Condemn the attack on workers of Air India

On the evening of May 26, the CMD of Air India announced the termination of jobs of 17 union leaders of Air Corporation Employees Union (ACEU) and the All India Aircraft Engineers Association (AIAEA). He also announced the suspension of 15 engineers and threatened action against scores of other workers.

On the evening of May 26, the CMD of Air India announced the termination of jobs of 17 union leaders of Air Corporation Employees Union (ACEU) and the All India Aircraft Engineers Association (AIAEA). He also announced the suspension of 15 engineers and threatened action against scores of other workers.

The management has announced “derecognition” of the ACEU, the main union of Air India, and the AIAEA. By the evening of May 27, services of 58 union leaders and workers have been terminated, and 24 workers have been suspended. According to the Union leaders, their offices have been sealed all over the country, and union records have been taken away by the management.

The Unions have condemned these attacks of the management. They have declared that the Air India CMD and the Civil Aviation Minister have shown their utter incapability and unwillingness to address the grave problems facing the workers and the company by resorting to such anti democratic measures. They have accused the management of provoking the workers and preparing for a lock out. The Unions have issued a strike notice for June 12.

Earlier, over 20,000 engineers, ground staff and cabin crew of Air India went on a flash strike in the early hours of May 25. The strike was called by ACEU and the AIAEA. It brought the domestic services of Air India to a complete halt and also disrupted some international services. The ACEU and AIAEA leadership withdrew the strike on the evening of May 26 after a Delhi High Court Order declared the strike illegal responding to a case by the management and the government.

The AI management and the government have adopted a fascist attitude to the workers and declared that it will crush the workers organization at any cost. "Whatever action has to be taken, we have to go the whole hog. We do not want to compromise at any cost. We have to come (down) with a heavy hand," the Air India Chief told reporters immediately after the strike was called off. "We are grateful to the Government of India for backing us", he said. The Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, with full backing of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Cabinet declared “AI management is free to take appropriate action and I am sure they are going to adequately respond. The management needs to act adequately and firmly”.

ACEU and AIAEA are part of the Civil Aviation Joint Action Front (CAJAF), a joint platform of 11 recognised trade unions in National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL). The ACEU had issued a notice earlier for a strike from May 31, 2010. The Delhi High Court has asked for this proposed strike to be called off and initiated conciliation proceedings between the management and the unions.

National Aviation Company of India Ltd (NACIL) was formed through the merger of Air India and Indian a few years back. The brand is popularly called Air India. The merger has been used to retrench workers as well as increase the degree of exploitation of the workers in the name of being competitive with respect to private airlines and various international airlines of other countries. This has been consistently opposed by the unions.

What has provoked the present strike? The management has refused to discuss with the unions their demand for wage revision and better working conditions, for the ground staff, the engineers and the cabin crew. To add fuel to fire, it has announced delay in payment of the wages for the month of May. The Unions are agitated at the growing privatization and liberalization of air space in India, which is leading to handing over of profit making sectors to private Indian as well as foreign airlines and reducing the profitability of Air India. The management and government have refused to address these concerns.

Most importantly, following the crash of the Air India Express plane in Mangalore, the unions had spoken to the media about the possible causes of the crash and brought out the problems related to maintenance of airport systems, runways, planes, as well as the conditions under which pilots today are forced to fly by the NACIL – Air India Management in the name of profitability.  The NACIL management issued an order declaring that the Unions had no right to talk about the “internal problems” of the Company. "Employees concerned are advised to forthwith refrain from going public with their statements that have potential to harm the company's image and revenue prospects, failing which action as deemed appropriate will be taken," the circular said. The management followed this up by issuing show cause notice against two union leaders, precipitating the flash strike.

The problems raised by workers are not merely some problems of an internal nature to the functioning of the airlines. They have a direct impact on the safety of lakhs of passengers using these services. When it comes to crushing the strike, the management, government, as well as the courts portray how they are so concerned about the problems of the public. They paint the striking workers as ‘villains’ who ‘do not care for the passengers’, who are ‘holding the public to ransom’. They are quick to blame “pilot error” for the Mangalore crash, even before an investigation, to cover up the criminality of the management and the Civil Aviation Ministry in putting profits over safety. But when the workers expose the real problems, which threaten the lives of the lakhs of passengers, they are attacked!

Mazdoor Ekta Lehar extends full support to the workers of NACIL – Air India in their just struggle. MEL condemns the fascist attitude of the management of NACIL and the Union Government towards the workers of NACIL.

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