Statements of Radical Socialist
Published on Saturday, 30 April 2011 07:03
Written by Radical Socialist
Support the Pilots' Strike! Transport Workers Unite
Radical Socialist extends support to the strike called by the pilots of Air India. The merger of all the nationalised airlines has meant a new situation for pilots in the revamped Air India. While the old Air India pilots, i.e., those flying international sectors, used to get the major part of their salary as a fixed component, the same was not true of Indian Airlines, later renamed Indian in recent years. The former IA pilots received only a small part as fixed salary, with the bulk of their wages coming as piece work – in terms of hours flown. As a part of the privatisation drive, while private airline companies have been given ample opportunities, there has been a cut in the number of hours being flown within India by former IA pilots. The Indian Commercial Pilot's Association (ICPA) claims that the airlines had been curtailing the number of flights by 30 to 40 per cent.
The merged entity has about 1200 pilots, of whom about 800 belong to the ICPA. With negotiations failing, the ICPA served strike notice to the management. In response, the management instantly derecognised the union, and started putting in measures like introducing wide-body planes to carry greater numbers of passengers with fewer flights, and roping in executive pilots to fly the routes.
Vyalar Ravi, a minister in the UPA government, has suddenly issued a “socialist” sounding statement about how highly paid the pilots are. Mr Ravi should remember that this is gross obscenity, coming from a government whose economic policies have contributed massively to the polar opposites of on one hand the generation of a number of billionaires in India, and on the other hand the intensification of poverty, massive suicide by farmers affected by economic strangleholds of global and Indian big capital, the setting up of SEZs where no labour laws are observed. If Mr. Ravi was truly interested in reducing economic disparity he could have started by resigning from the cabinet and campaigning for an end to an economic policy which would include increasing income tax at the upper levels, cutting out subsidies to the wealthy corporate and restoring subsidies in food, health care, education for the unprivileged.
The strike and the way the management is seeking to handle it throw up several lessons for employees in modern sectors.
In the first place, it shows that building sectoral unions are steps that weaken the workers. Ideally, all transport workers should be in one union. Given the current state of India’s working class as well as the tremendous variety involved, that may not be an immediately practical proposal. But the experience of countries like the United States and Britain show that unions have been really strong only when such broad organisations have been built – like the Teamsters union in the early period, when class struggle militants were important components.
As of now, along with the ICPA calling on all pilots to extend solidarity, it must seek to build closer relations with all components of workers associations connected to the airports and airlines. It is the lack of unity among them that enables each owner/management team to defeat the workers piecemeal. At the moment, private airlines have jacked up the price of domestic tickets by up to 50%. This will appear a tempting thing to pilots linked to those airlines. Solidarity across the board is essential if the striking pilots are to achieve success.
The strike further shows unions that unless they are prepared to take on anti-union legislation that enables owners/management/government to derecognise or dissolve unions, mere unity for wages will not be enough. This is a lesson that the years of propaganda about India shining and the second fastest growing economy in the world have made many workers forget. But from the Bombay Industrial Relations Act, via the Essential Services Maintenance Act, to more recent efforts, union busting or not allowing the formation of strong unions has always been close to the heart of all governments of India. The government’s threat to use ESMA is evidence that unions must make it a condition of supporting any election campaign tghat unless the party involved is known to have moved, in the previous parliament, for the abolition of ESMA they will provide no support to such party or its candidates. Support the demands of the ICPA
Remove the ban on the ICPA
Scrap the Essential Services Maintenance Act
We call upon all airline workers to do nothing that will weaken the ICPA
We call upon the ICPA to go to all workers who are part of the airlines and of the airports and to initiate a process of unionising them under a common banner.