NSC Bose Airport gears up for hyper trade unionism

By bappaditya paul

The Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International (NSCBI) Airport in Kolkata is set to witness hyper trade unionism over the next few months as the workers’ unions of varied political hues are gearing up for the November referendum that will elect one single union to represent the Airports Authority workers for the next five years.

Nine months into the state power, the Trinamul Congress is desperate to get the official trade union at the NSCBI Airport in its kitty; making the referendum all the more interesting.

That the party is taking the referendum very seriously is evident from the fact that it has deputed senior leader and Union minister Mr Sougata Roy as the president of its Airports Authority Staff and Workers’ Union (AASWU).

The pan-India referendum, this time scheduled for November, is conducted by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) every five years. This is to grant one union from among several, the official status to negotiate with the management in all airports in the country for a five-year term.

Since 2002, it is the Left-leaning Airports Authority Employees’ Union (AAEU), which is enjoying the official status for consecutive two terms. But with the change in the power-equations at the Centre and the change of guard in West Bengal, the AAEU this time is surely heading for a tough time.

At the NSCBI Airport in Kolkata, the Trinamul Congress-affiliated AASWU is making a strong pitch to capture the union power. With this in target, it has already started taking up “causes that concern the workers” and are mobilising its support base.

“Prior to 2009, no democratic environment prevailed among the airport workers as the CPI-M backed AAEU used to hoodwink everyone. If anyone dared a defiance, in connivance with the management, they placed that worker in a tough roster. We have succeeded in changing the scenario to some extent, but the final change would take place when we will capture the official union status through the referendum due in November,” the AASWU general secretary, Pradip Sikdar, said.

There are around 1600 non-executive AAI workers at the NSCBI Airport. Mr Sikdar claims around 250 of them have already switched over from the AAEU and more would join the AASWU as the referendum nears.
“We have already carried out several agitations in favour of the workers and would now intensify activities further to win over their trust,” he said.

Since the AASWU does not have a national registration required for taking part in the referendum; it is looking for a prospective partner either in the Airports Authority of India Workers’ Union led by Mr Khim Singh or the Congress MP G Sanieeva Reddy-led Indian Airports Kamgar Union, under whose registration it can fight November referendum.

Mr Dipankar Ghosh, general secretary of the incumbent AAEU at the NSCBI Airport, put up a brave face even though he acknowledge the fight this time will be “a little harder.”

“Till date of the 1050-odd workers that we have in the International Airports Division, 834 are paying us the monthly subscription. So one can easily decide, how much water is there in AASWU’s claim,” said Mr Ghosh.

But the cause for worry for the NSCBI Airport management is that both these rival unions are eyeing “prize posting” for the workers in the upcoming new terminal building to gain in strength.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 20 April 2012.)


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