Socialist ViewPoint and analysis for working people

September/October 2005 • Vol 5, No. 7 •

Transport Workers Solidarity Committee

Honor Airport Workers Picket Lines!
An Injury to One Is An Injury to All!

The U.S. labor movement may be facing its most important test since the split in the AFL-CIO in July. Northwest Airlines has declared war on the Aircraft Mechanics and the Flight Attendants unions. The company has openly bragged that they’re spending $100 million to hire and train 1,000 scab mechanics. Northwest crafted demands to force a strike: 50 percent cut in the workforce, 26 percent cut in pay, cut medical benefits by forcing workers to pay 20 percent of the premium and freeze the pensions for 15 years. Employers are stonewalling negotiations. The strike deadline is set for Friday August 19.

For workers it’s an easy choice in a struggle between a greedy employer and a labor union. Yet, the leadership of neither wing of the split in the AFL-CIO has stepped forward to offer support for the airline workers. This is a shame! Have they learned nothing from the devastating defeat of the PATCO strike 24 years ago? In 1981, officers of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers’ union were hauled off to jail in handcuffs at the urging of President Reagan. Unions at airports crossed the PATCO picket lines. It wasn’t their jobs or union, so they thought, that was on the chopping block. The misleadership of the AFL-CIO did nothing to mobilize labor to defend picket lines. Instead they cynically called on the public not to fly. The tragic result: a union in a key transport industry was broken and all workers have suffered from that defeat since. Organized labor is down to a low of 12 percent. Corporate robber barons and their flunkey judges rip up negotiated pensions with impunity. Nowadays, strikes are seen in baseball, but rarely by workers organizing to defend their interests.

On the Northwest Airlines’ provocation, former ILWU Vice President Rich Austin recently posted this on the rank and file ILWU discussion list: “Years ago when Reagan threatened to bust PATCO, ILWU International President Jim Herman wrote a letter to AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland and several other union presidents. He called for a united labor action—including a walkout—if Reagan followed through on his threats. Kirkland ran for cover as did the other presidents. They all hid.” Will AFL-CIO President Sweeney or leaders of the split, SEIU’s Andy Stern or the Teamsters James Hoffa act differently?

If there is a strike, workers cannot allow another PATCO defeat. This time it’s AMFA in the crosshairs. To be sure other unions will be targeted. The survival of the organized labor movement in this country is on the line, the picket line.

Already Northwest has made a deal with the Bush administration to help bust the union by allowing the company to operate despite serious safety problems that a strike would bring. Passengers would be the victims in such a ploy as in the recent crash of the Greek airplane due to mechanical malfunctioning of the cabin pressure. Sounds very much like a repeat of the West Coast longshore union negotiations in 2002. While Bush and the politicians of both parties, Republican and Democrat, were screaming about “port security” not one made a peep when Pacific maritime employers shut down all U.S. ports on the West Coast to lock out longshore workers in a contract dispute. Then, Bush invoked the Taft-Hartley Act on the ILWU on the heels of the lockout to support the employers in negotiations. Any attempt by the government or politicians to claim an airport strike as a “national security” threat must be opposed as a sham. Northwest Airlines provoked the strike and refused to negotiate in good faith. As one Bay Area AMFA union officer put it, “The government IS the corporations.”

If Northwest attempts to divert struck airfreight to ships, trucks or rail, workers there should refuse to handle the hot cargo. One problem is that the IAM which lost out to AMFA in a decertification election for Northwest mechanics has refused to back the possible strike action by the AMFA mechanics. This is not only short sighted but traitorous. The defeat of the mechanics would lead to union busting throughout the airlines and other industries. Only labor solidarity can stop strikebreaking, scab herding and union busting and rebuild the labor movement.

Solidarity doesn’t just fall from the sky. It must be organized by workers. Support the AMFA picket lines if and when they go up and get your local, labor council or other workers’ organizations to back the strike. It could be do or die for all unions.

Fax support letters to: Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, O.V. Delle-Femine, National Director Transport Workers Solidarity Committee: Fax 510-839-8193

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