800 women and men, all pilots of Air India, the national carrier, have gone on strike since midnight of April 26-27.
These highly skilled women and men have two simple points they are fighting for. In the words of a leader of the Pilots association, these are — (1) We will fight for our dignity as pilots and workers and (2) we will fight the attempts of the present management and the government to liquidate Air India and privatise it. The Communist Ghadar Party of India fully supports the just struggle of the Air India pilots.
The women and men pilots of Air India have gone on strike on the same issues a number of times in the past two years. After every struggle, the management represented by MD Arvind Jadhav, after arrogantly provoking the strike, has come back to say the management would concede the demands of the pilots. However, he has gone back on his words. The pilots are convinced this is part of a plot to destroy Air India. This time around, they have decided, enough is enough. We do not mind being thrown out. We are pilots, we are workers, and we are not slaves. We will fight till victory. One of the key demands of the pilots is that the government immediately sacks the MD responsible for the crisis facing Air India.
The management and the government have reacted with vengeance. The management has issued termination notice to 8 pilots, and threatens to terminate all. It has sealed the office of the Pilots Association. The Delhi High Court, which takes years to hear cases, has quickly declared the strike as "illegal" at the instance of the government, showing how the management, the government, and the courts all work against the interests of workmen — whether Commanders of flights, or ordinary daily wage labourers. The Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Vyalar Ravi has contemptuously asked pilots why they are getting "high salaries" when they are just 10+2 pass. In a public meeting at the airport, the pilots expressed their horror and indignation at these comments. A young woman said — what is the minister's qualification other than being a minister in eating money? A senior pilot remarked — I will tell him I command a flight with zero tolerance and the lives of 200 like him are in my hand. I serve society. I may give him tea. I may give him food. But he should not forget what work I am doing!
Sitting on dharna in front of the Union office, the pilots, women and men, greying and young, are working people, just like all other working people. They are laughing and joking, but strike and sitting in the Sun is not their main occupation. Their main occupation is thousands of KM in the air, to fly people all across the country and world.
Salient points about liquidation of Air India
According to the pilots, there are several actions of the MD Arvind Jadhav which show that he is out to liquidate Air India as a prelude to privatization.
- 32 profitable routes have been withdrawn to benefit private airlines.
- Flight timings are changed frequently, so that the best timing slots are given to private airlines.
- Cabin crew were sent on 2 years leave. As a result, many cabin crew left work, resulting in shortage of staff. This has led to many cancellations.
- Saying there are excess of pilots in these conditions, pilots are asked to go on leave and work in a Private Airline, Paramount airlines, on deputation.
- Air India used to work profitably amongst other things because of in house operations. This includes the work of ground staff. The management and government has been leasing out this work to private contractors, with heavy kickbacks, attacking the 20,000 ground staff, including engineers. This has cost a lot of money for Air India. Last year, the strike of gorund staff and engineers was crushed, and 48 leaders of their unions are still suspended/terminated.
- The aircraft has been repainted three times in three years, each time with new insignias. This has cost thousands of crores. It has also meant that the brand value of Indian Airlines has been destroyed. The management has spent public money to the tune of 12 crores on crockery. It specialises in giving orders to the highest bidder on all items of purchase.
- The promotion of employees is done on basis of chamchagiri, leading to a lot of heart burns.
- The wages of the 40,000 workers of Air India are being delayed by two months. This has been going on for a long time.
Pilots, the target of attack
The dignity of pilots is under attack.
- Women and men pilots recall numerous personal instances of management people with no knowledge of aircraft arrogantly questioning them why they refused to fly an aircraft unworthy of flight. They recall several instances of officials forcing them to violate safety rules.
- Any pilot who questions orders is threatened with dismissal/suspension.
- When the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines took place, it was agreed that a common wage and working condition agreement would be worked out. Despite repeated promises, this has not taken place.
Over a hundred foreign pilots have been recruited through an overseas recruiting agency, said to be a personal set up of Arvind Jadhav and higher ups in the ministry. These pilots are paid more than the market rate of private airlines, and much more than the Air India pilots on strike. They also have special privileges. They are being used as strike breaking tools. The pilots are convinced that there is a kickback arrangement and want this investigated.