There seems to be no solution to the deadlock over the Air India strike except what was proposed in these columns over a year ago on May 1, 2011. It was pointed out then that the pilots did have genuine grievances even though their methods to seek redress may be criticized. Within five years from 2005-2006 to 2010 Air India from making profit started losing annually Rs 8,500 crore! It required subsidy by tax payers to the tune of Rs 2000 crore. It stood at the fourth position among airlines but had a market share of only 15 percent even while owning the largest fleet of aircraft. Voices were raised demanding privatization of the airline. Pilots alleged deliberate mismanagement to allow privatization and the raking in of huge bribes by officials.
A simple solution was suggested in these columns. Since a year has passed without reaching accord on the dispute that solution bears repetition. I wrote:
“The AI pilots Union … must put its muscle where its mouth is. It should throw a challenge to the government… Quite simply the Union should offer to take over the airline in the name of all its employees and run the airline itself. The controlling share of the company’s equity may be given to the workers in adjustment against their bonus spread over the years. Air India in that event would be run as a cooperative or as Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of trusteeship or as the Workers’ Sector that was proposed by this scribe in 1982. May one remind readers that in 1982 the Ekatrit Kamgar Tabdili Andolan (EKTA) had been formed to propagate the Workers’ Sector of industry to radicalize the system?
The EKTA approach paper proposed a share of the ownership, profit and floor level participation in the management by all workers. In the event strikes would become superfluous. Professional CEOs from outside could be elected democratically by the workers. The CEO would not be accountable to ministers or tycoon families but to employees. It would usher industrial democracy.
Enlightened self-interest helps citizens elect governments. Would not similar self-interest help employees elect top management? Investment would be raised by the unit like any private corporation from all available sources domestic and foreign. The Workers’ Sector unit would compete with its private business counterparts. In this concept market economy would continue at the macro level, but allow units in the open market to establish direct ownership by workers at the micro level. Big business and Workers’ Sector would compete in the open market.
While this scribe was the Convener of EKTA its distinguished committee members who signed approval of its approach paper comprised of Atal Behari Vajpayee, Chandrashekhar, Madhu Dandavate, Devraj Urs, George Fernandes, Karpuri Thakur, Dr Bhai Mahavir and LK Advani. Alas, these leaders lacked sufficient commitment. The proposal fell by the wayside. Now the AI crisis offers a new opportunity.”
It is not too late. Unless the nation is willing to see its flagship airline disappear this is the only solution. The pilots should get together and create an apex body of all the different unions of the airline. They should make the offer to the government of running the airline themselves on the lines suggested above. They might consider inviting Mr. Ratan Tata or any other senior executive of Tata industries to become the elected Chairman for reviving the airline founded by the company. It does not involve only profit but national pride. This is the best way forward. No other solution has surfaced in the last one year. No other solution is likely to emerge in the future. Enough time has been wasted. The government and the pilots should not waste more time.