Thursday, February 02, 2006

Turbulent Weather

The state of India's airports is far below par compared to other international airports and coupled with the exponential air travel boom in India, modernization, upgradation and increased efficiency is a must. The government has approved modernization of the Mumbai and Delhi airports to private companies and most likely other airports will be added. The AAI union is on strike to protest the privatization decision and is worried about job loss, compensation etc. and there has been some disruption in air travel.

That is more or less the status and as always has its two factions:
1. A section of people who are pissed with the Left-supported unions and are of the opinion that the strike has no real reason. "The workers are only worried that they will now have to really work to earn their wages, instead of being totally unaccountable, steal, cheat, bribe etc", they reason, which to some extent maybe true. Also, the claim is that privatization will only improve services and if that is the case it should it be done by all means.
2. The other section is the Left, which is crying foul on the privatization mantra, which the government seems to be using as a panacea to all its problems. They are worried about private monopoly,loss of jobs, loss of government/people control etc.

In my opinion, both of them are on the extreme ends of the spectrum. No doubt, airports need to be modernized and upgraded, but is privatization the only answer? The more important question to be asked is, "Why are the airports and several other government initiatives in such a mess?". The administration/ministry/state officials are largely responsible for it. Otherwise, how can it be that the same set of workers (a minimum 60% of the current airport workers will be retained after 3 years) will increase the quality of service at airports after privatization? Not to say that all government initiatives follow this pattern; BHEL, SBI, NTPC, Delhi Metro, Bombay Local Trains, BSNL, GAIL and several other mini-navratnas are profit making government and largely efficient ventures! Addressing the question of inefficient/corrupt/lack-of-foresight administration is the prime task in my opinion. In some sense, this should also be on the agenda of the unions. The unions have no doubt lost their credibility due to their political tie ups, goondaism etc., but they are the essential component to keep a check on the employer responsibilities. If the unions widen their scope; actively support maintenance of high work standards and also keep a tab on administrative responsibilities towards these initiatives, I think they can better argue their case against privatization. Now where does privatization come in? Sure, privatization is very much part of the game--- it is essential for competition, for capital and for entrepreneur opportunities, but not as panacea to cover up the reason of government administrative shortcomings.

... will be glad to hear your comments on this.

Related posts:
From a Striker's point of view
Fasten your seat belts


Maruthi Ramesh Nallapati said...

I think what you expressed is a very balanced view.

I am also of the opinion that workers serving in essential services such as hospitals, airports, railways, roadways and postal services should avoid resorting to strikes as much as possible, considering the amount of inconvenience and suffering caused to the larger public. They may probably express their grievances through going to the press, meeting with higher officials etc. The strike in NYC is the latest example, where millions of commuters were subjected to untold misery, let alone loss of work and business in the whole city.

tejal said...

Ramesh... I disagree with you as usual... Striking is the most powerful tool available to workers who sell their labor, if not that.. they will hardly ever be heard. And this notion that if doctors are allowed to go on strike, they will always be on strike at the mercy of the ailing is absolutely wrong or else government workers would have always been on strike for no reason.(Right to strike for doctors etc. was not alwys banned in India)

Puru, I agree compeletely with your arguement that privatization is being pushed as an alternative to government inefficiency.
However what you say toward the end of your article "privatization is very much part of the game--- it is essential for competition, for capital and for entrepreneur opportunities" - I did not quite get it in the sense that are you saying that privatization for increase in capital is justified or acceptable?

Secondly, since we spoke abt this yesterday....
If the government does decide to spend its own money on the airports, many of us (including me) will be against it as I would think the government has better things it needs to spend on right now, but at the same time I think opening the ground for private players in one sector could lead to opening it up in other sectors, where do we draw the line? and then the issues of employees goes unaddressed, (many people join public sectors for a reason - pensions, long time benefits etc. which are promised - wht happens to all that?)
What do u think of this... is there a middle ground? or should privatization be opposed as a rule?

Purushottam said...

Tejal --- when I said privatization for capital, I meant private investments are essential as any government cannot invest all required amounts in all areas/sectors/intiatives. As you mention later, where and how much should the government invest is a difficult question and private investments can and have substantially covered such holes. I did not understand what you exactly meant by "privatization to increase capital".

On the question of where to draw the line for privatization,I do not have a clear answer. I would like to think that there is a middle ground for both ... will try to comment on that separately.

tejal said...

privatization to increase capital = privatization for private profit making (capitalism) which leads to use of labour to produce wealth (generate capital).
and yes... difficult question I know...but consider all the tax cuts/subsidies given to "private players"..... and all the huge loans that are scraped.....

Purushottam said...

Tejal--- ok, I get what you mean and that is another important point (discussion on private monopoly, capitilism, labor exploitation for private profit etc.)
I was refering to it more as private investment where scale of government investment is not possible, which also may have issues mentioned above.

Maruthi Ramesh Nallapati said...

tejal, coming back to the discussion on striking, I agree that it's an extremely powerful tool with the workers. But I am not convinced that it is a reasonable way to achieve your goals. Tell me, how different is it from bandhs and rasta-rokos that paralyze the entire city and are used and misused by political parties time and again to make their voices heard? Perhaps I am stretching it a little here, but I don't see too much of a difference in principle, between resorting to striking and holding some one to ransom! The only difference is that work is the hostage here. Kidnappers, by the way, have their own grievances too, but that does not justify kidnapping!

Is there no other way to highlight your grievances other than making others suffer? I am sure there are other ways such as organizing peaceful protest marches, raising awareness through public meetings, or even going to the court. I simply can't get to accept that striking is the right way to do it. You are only antagonizing the public by resorting to strikes and hardly earning any sympathy for your suffering!


tejal said...

Ramesh, i dont think strikes are held to get public sympathy... so opposing them because they antagonize the "consumers" is hardly a reason to discontinue them....
Secondy, a simple question...
Gandhi's concept of satyagraha and non co-operation....would u call that holding the British "to ransom" or "kidnapping"?
when u ask if there is a better way.... let me give u a few examples... before the new york strike happened there were endless talks about the contracts before the workers went to strike.... when there was the huge teachers strike in Bombay.... there were almost 50 different meeting held with different levels of officers in the govt..... the NBA asked for umpteen number of times for resettlement for all before Medha Patkar decided to go on a hunger strike....
so if these talks would have worked.... why would the workers risk job loss and death in some cases to just "hold the people at ransom"?....

Maruthi Ramesh Nallapati said...

Tejal, please let us not insult Gandhiji by equating the airport worker's strike with the non-cooperation movement. One was taken up to free millions of people from the clutches of slavery and foreign rule while the other was taken up to further personal ends -- perhaps legitimate personal ends. One involved sacrifising personal needs towards a greater cause, while the other involved sacrifising the greater good for a personal cause! One had the support of the entire nation, while the other had support of, well, only the people participating in it (and ofcourse, the left parties!).

Well, I am talking strictly about the airport strike here. As far as Medha's movement is concerned, I do find parallels with Mahatma Gandhi's struggle and I do not, for one moment, doubt her personal sacrifice, her moral integrity and her commitment to her cause.

And I do take your point that talks do not always succeed. I still maintain that strike should only be a last resort after all other means, including moving the court has been attempted, especially if it involves essential services. You talk of workers dying if they lose their jobs, how about people in critical conditions that require emergency transportation and medical assistance? Are they not dying?

I don't have my facts here to substatiate, but from my personal experience, I believe the low-level airport staff is bloated and many of them get paid for almost no work, so it's only good for the system if some of them are laid off. They are better off finding jobs where they are actually needed.