Racism in the Aviation Sector


ATSSSAN & NUATE protest discrimination

by Baba Aye

International airlines operating in the country are subtly institutionalising racist discrimination as a means of “divide and rule” of aviation workers. In a press statement signed by Comrades Saint Omotaje and Olayinka Abioye of the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN) and National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) respectively, the aviation unions decried the sack of 20 cabin crew of Virgin Atlantic, who were all Nigerians, in November last year.

Stating that: “we have studied the situation and have decided to call on the Federal Government, through the relevant ministry of Transportation and Aviation Agencies (MDA’s) to intervene in this act of racism before it gets out of hand”. The two unions showed that this is part of a broader strategy for containing the working class by the airline.

As they further pointed out, “Virgin Atlantic does not have a workable conditions of service for its employees.” The discriminatory measures the airline metes out are thus aimed at breaking possible bonds of solidarity across racial and national lines in the fighting the bosses.

This racist unofficial policy thrust is not limited to Virgin Atlantic. Speaking with Socialist Worker in the first week of the year, Comrade Saint unveiled the complicity of Air France as well. The bosses of the airline were confronted with workers’ anger in October when they declared that 2,900 workers would be sacked between 2015 and 2017. Some of them had their shirts torn and were beaten up by revolting workers in Paris.

Nigerians are a significant number of those workers that have been slated for the layoffs eventually. But, according to Comrade Saint “what they are to be paid as their severance packages are just peanuts, compared to what European workers being laid off by Air France are to enjoy”. This is not necessarily because the Air France bosses love white workers any more than they love black workers.

Racism, particularly in the workplace, is more often than not a divide and rule tool of the bosses. We can defeat it only with unity and resistance to its primary and secondary contents. The essential core of the bosses’ class interest must be exposed and fought against. The racist message that the colour of one’s skin or her/his nationality has a bearing on the job s/he does must also be countered.

The International Transport Federation, which is the Global Union Federation of workers in the aviation industry is duty bound to take a clear stance against racism in this international industry. The primary battle is however in our workplace and communities. Local branches and national transport unions in the Britain and France, which are the “mother countries” of Virgin Atlantic and Air France respectively must equally speak out against this injustice. An injury to one, is an injury to all!



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