They came with their families and colleagues. They came with their children and spouses. They came with their neighbors and friends. Some of them had their ageing parents accompanying, some of who have themselves served the sector earlier. They are supposed to be in air, but now they have been grounded, just like the airline they have been serving with passion, dedication, and commitment, doing their best to ensure safety of the passengers. If you pass by them in a market place, you may not identify them, because there are just one of us, having the similar concerns of family, children’s education, and parent’s health, livelihood and career.
But here they stood out, as they were in their uniforms, which they refuse to give up. They are the pilots of Air India, who have been striking from May 7 2012, following refusal by the management and government to resolve their issues through discussion, reneging on promises made earlier, embarking on disinformation campaign, and pushing the pilots to the wall, so that they are forced to assert their issues by going on strike.
Instead of being in the cockpit, navigating their plane safely to its destination, they had “placards” in their hands, emphatically narrating their woes and rights, navigating the large gathering of colleagues, families, friends, children, supporters, and sympathizers around the India Gate circle, with equal aplomb. These were the pilots of Air India, holding a candle light vigil in support of their struggle for rights at the India Gate on 29 June 2012.
The government and management have declared their strike “illegal” and “derecognized” their Union – Indian Pilots Guild. Services of more than 100 pilots have been terminated illegally, without notice for raising questions and stating their problems. They are being threatened and victimized in various ways. They have been asked to keep away from their workplaces, the cockpit, their source of livelihood, a means for secure future for their children and families. They have been asked not to come as an organised body, but come as pleading individuals, giving up their dignity, their right, their pride, so that individually they can be terrorized, blackmailed and victimized. They have been asked to demand their dues not as a RIGHT, but as a FAVOUR from the management and the government. But even after more than 50 days of striking (and more than 2 years of not getting regular salary) they have refused to buckle under the pressure. They have refused to give up their rights – right to work, right to organise, right to strike, and right to secure livelihood.
What is their fault? That they are asking that they be paid their salaries regularly, so that they can fend for their families, educate their children; that they should be given a uniform policy for progression in service as per the norms of the company, agreed as per the contract. They haven’t asked for anything that they have not worked for. They have been serving the airline through thick and thin, when the Airline they serve has been going through distress, due to mismanagement. They kept working for more than 2 years despite salary disruption, and without any salary for the past 6 months. In some cases they were forced to give up their cars and homes since they could not make the due payments, but they did not abandon their duty and served the airline, maintaining highest safety standards to the best of their abilities. They fulfilled their duty and commitment, when they were called to fly evacuation flights from disaster affected areas – natural or manmade – like wars in Libya and Syria, epidemics, or the recent earth quake in Japan.
The candle light march was aimed at reaching out to the people of the country to come out in support of the entirely just demands of the pilots of Air India, which the management and government have been trying to misrepresent in the court and in the media, to isolate the pilots and defame their struggle.
Holding candles in their hands, children of pilots marched in front of the banner of IPG. Many retired pilots joined the vigil. Parents of pilots addressed the people and media gathered there, expressing their support and solidarity. One parent said “The government says, the place of a pilot is in the cockpit. But it is preventing my son and his colleagues to go anywhere near the workplace and work with dignity. The management has terminated their service”.
Members and supporters of Lok Raj Sangathan, software and management professionals , professors, teachers, students and workers from various parts of Delhi, joined hundreds of pilots and their families in the demonstration hailing their struggle and upholding their right to organise and strike. They walked shoulder to shoulder with their pilot brothers and sisters, around the India Gate, holding candles. They interacted with the pilots and their families. Declaring “An Attack on One, is an Attack on All”, they appealed to all people and organizations, including all airline staffs and workers, to support the struggle of Air India pilots. The pilots distributed an “Appeal” to the people gathered at India Gate, soliciting their sympathy and support for their struggle. The appeal began with a couplet that summed up the mood and spirit of the young pilots:
“I have dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If my destination makes it worth a while
Pushing through the darkness, still another mile…”