The Union Government has announced its clear intention to accelerate on the privatization program. The aviation and defence sector public sector enterprises are high on the list of its privatization program. State governments are withdrawing from their responsibility to ensure safe, reliable and affordable public transport system, by privatizing road transport.
This anti worker, anti social agenda of the government is being met with stepped up opposition from the workers employed in these sectors, as well as from the working class as a whole.
The NDA government is moving rapidly to privatise the defence sector. The decision taken by the Union Cabinet to privatise the profit making Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) in January 2017 has been taken as a clear warning signal by all the employees in the defence sector. BEML is a leading equipment manufacturer in the defense sector and is involved in manufacturing of mining equipment, railway and metro coaches. The government currently owns 54% of its shares. It plans to sell 26% of these shares to a private party.
Workers of BEML have been continuously opposing the privatization of this strategic asset, pointing to the anti-social and anti-national character of the move. Workers have pointed out that handing over the defence sector to private Indian and foreign capitalists compromises national security. At the same time, they point out that the experience of other countries wherein military-industrial complexes have been set up, show how the private monopolies that have come to dominate this sector deliberately encourage militarization and push their country into disastrous wars for the sake of maximizing their profits. Apart from BEML, there are eight other Public Sector Units in the Defence Sector, all faced with the threat of privatization.
Four lakh employees working with 41 ordinance factories, Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Labs, naval docks, and defence sector PSU's are readying themselves for a massive protest.
On Wednesday 24th May, workers of the All-India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF) and Indian National Defence Workers Federation (INDWF) organized gate meetings and staged demonstrations in front of Ordnance Factory Khamaria and Grey Iron Foundry; the latter was led by the Grey Iron Foundry Mazdoor Union. A day earlier, there were protests across all the 41 ordnance factories and DRDO's in the country, with workers distributing pamphlets among their colleagues.
The multiple protests are against the government's move to increase privatisation in defence production. The protests have been organized after several attempts by the trade unions to secure a meeting with Defence Minister Arun Jaitley failed and letters to more than 60 members of parliament (MPs) including those who are on the Defence Standing Committee, did not elicit any response.
According to representatives of employees of various defence units, the protests will spread across the country and a massive month-long hunger strike outside the Parliament building is also planned in July.
The Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently made a statement that the private sector is capable of handling 100% traffic in the aviation sector, indicating renewed plans of the government to privatise Air India. Earlier the Economic Survey 2017 has also suggested that the government should privatize Air India, pointing to the rise of Air India’s consolidated debt to Rs. 50,000 crore.
The Cabinet is expected to take a call on privatising Air India soon. The finance minister said that NITI Aayog has given its recommendations to the civil aviation ministry on the carrier’s divestment plans and the ministry will now explore all options and mechanism of divestment.
The employees of Air India have launched a campaign to oppose its privatization. The government’s plan to privatise Air India will be contrary to all its previous assurances, including in Parliament, the Air Corporations Employees’ Union (ACEU) said in a statement. "We are shocked and surprised to know from media reports that the government is on the verge of taking a unilateral and arbitrary decision to privatise Air India." ACEU comprises a majority of ground staff of Air India as well as its cabin crew.
The NDA government is following on the footsteps of its predecessor governments in this regard. Ever since the central government allowed private parties to set up airlines and begin operations within India as well as between India and foreign destinations, privatization of Air India has been on the agenda. Towards this end, successive governments deliberately carried out wrecking activity, to turn Air India and Indian Airlines from profit making enterprises into loss making ones.
The Congress-led UPA government pushed through the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines in 2007, claiming that this would lead to cost savings and improved financial performance of the combined entity. It ordered the purchase of 111 aircraft at one go, making air India massively indebted. It handed over profitable routes to private airlines. When the UPA government proposed privatization of Air India, pointing to the fact that it had become loss making, massive struggles of workers of Air India broke out. This forced the UPA government to put the privatization plans of Air India on hold temporarily.
In 2012 the Central government funded a financial restructuring and turnaround plan for Air India. Under the turnaround plan, Air India was to get equity infusion of Rs 42,182 crore over the period from 2011-12 to 2021-22, linked to a number of performance parameters. Till 2015-16, the Centre had infused equity worth Rs 22,280 crore. Air India has been in the red since the merger with Indian Airlines. However, it posted an operational profit of Rs 105 crore in 2015-16.
According to the union, Air India, which had been making profits till 2007, turned into a loss-making entity due to the “bungling and disastrous experiments by successive governments”.
Currently an investigation is being conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). to probe alleged irregularities in Air India-Indian Airlines merger and purchase of 111 aircraft, leasing of planes and giving-up of profit-making routes by Air India.
The ACEU has announced that it will launch a campaign to demand that the government drop its proposal and has also called for forming a platform of all stakeholders.
Employees of the Haryana Roadways staged a protest against the new policy of the state government of hiring private buses under kilometer scheme. The protests held under the banner of the Haryana Roadways Workers’ Union were state-wide - in Yamuna Nagar, Ambala, Jind, Sirsa, Fatebad and Sonepat.The workers held meetings at the Roadways workshops. They burnt copies of the new Transport Policy and the tender notices put out by the government to hire buses.
Haryana Roadways workers have been struggling for long to save the roadways from privatization since when the previous government was in power. Each time, promises were made but the government had no intention of fulfilling them. The new Transport Policy was first announced in November 2015 and provided for the award of 1600 permits to private transporters to ply over 250 routes. The Policy was notified on 17th February this year. Instead of hiring new workers to make up the shortage of drivers working in the Roadways, successive governments have been adamant about privatising the public transport system.
Earlier in April, the united actions of the workers forced government to reinstate 120 workers – union activists who had been suspended as a means to weaken the struggle. At that time, the government agreed to take back the Policy but refused to cancel the permits that had been previously granted to private operators.
The Policy was however not withdrawn and the tender notices put out by the government indicate the continuation of the move towards privatization of the Roadways. The workers have announced that they will continue their agitation till the Policy is fully withdrawn.