The leadership of American Airline’s TWU employees had convinced the members to give back almost everything to the bosses to prevent bankruptcy. They don’t even seem to have considered fighting layoffs and wage and benefit cuts. When faced with the bosses’ demands, the union leaders caved and started negotiating terms of surrender. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants leaders actually made their members vote on the takebacks again, after they rejected them the first time!
Now, no thanks to TWU and other union bureaucrats, the AA workers are mad enough to fight back. They learned that the AA bosses, while demanding takebacks and proclaiming that they and the workers were “all in this together” had secretly dealt themselves huge, untouchable payments and pensions. The TWU and other union leaders held yet another membership vote on the bosses demands, but gave the members no fighting strategy against them. They hope that the resignation of CEO Carty, a reduction in the most extravagant executive perks and AA’s slight amelioration of the worst takebacks will allow them to sell big givebacks to the members.
The leaders of the TWU at AA hope that if the members accept the deal and give up almost everything now, they’ll get a little of their wages back, starting in 2006 -- maybe. Leave aside the fact that the possible wage hike of 1.5 % per year will leave the workers way behind inflation: the odds are they won’t even get that much. This is the second wave of takebacks that the airline bosses have demanded since 9/11. They’ll be back for more soon enough. And every new set of concessions from the workers reduces their numbers, increases their demoralization and makes it harder for them to fight back.
The airline bosses have managed to go together to the federal government to get billions of dollars in handouts. The Congress members, Democrats and Republicans, grant them the money, on condition that they get their companies in better shape, i.e., lay off and cut wages. The union leaders give back one union at a time to one airline at a time. The workers should unite against the attacks as the bosses and their government are uniting against the workers. They should build for a Strike of All the Airlines against all layoffs, cutbacks and concessions. To protect the strike against scabbing and government repression, the workers should organize Mass Militant Picket Lines and shut the airports down tight.
Nobody knows how many airline workers are open to this program: no-one’s ever asked them. Though some other workers might resent not being able to fly, significant sectors of the working class would find inspiration in fellow workers fighting back, for once. The biggest obstacle to the above strategy isn’t rank-and-file airline workers’ reluctance or backlash from the rest of the working class, but the leadership of the airline workers’ unions, who hold the ranks back and front for the bosses.
Speaking of boss-loving union leaders, the TWU–AA sellout deal could not happen without the approval of TWU International President Sonny Hall. The policies of Hall and his ilk are screwing airline workers as they do commuter transport workers. Any TWU leaders or would-be leaders who say they oppose Hall but don’t openly and clearly oppose the TWU-AA sellout are not serious about opposing Hall.
Hall’s most prominent TWU opponent is Local 100 President Roger Toussaint. He ran for TWU International President against Hall in 2001. Toussaint obviously felt he had more to offer all TWU members, including airline employees, than Hall did. If he truly opposes the disastrous policies which Hall and his flunkeys are currently foisting on the AA workers, he will openly say so and try to win our airline brothers and sisters to a fightback program. That doesn’t seem too likely: we TWU Local 100 members watched him derail our own strike movement in return for a contract with a two-year wage freeze and unlimited rights for the NYCT to introduce job-cutting new technology and farm out our work.
In fact, Toussaint and Co. are doing nothing to help our Brothers and Sisters in airlines. Their opposition to the boss-loving Hall leadership consists mostly in withholding Local 100 COPE funds from the International. (Since anti-working class laws forbid unions from using dues money to wage a political fight, the AFL-CIO solicits voluntary member contributions to the “Committee On Political Education" -- COPE.) Unfortunately, COPE doesn’t fight for working-class political power. It just sends money to our enemies, the bosses’ Democratic and some Republican politicians. Toussaint’s gesture only means that he and Hall separately send the money to the same bunch of capitalist politicians.
Nor are there any principled differences between Hall and Toussaint to justify withholding the funds as “leverage.” For what -- wage hikes in every contract year? Hall’s followers and Toussaint both got us 0% contracts. Union unity? Hall & Co. tried to split the Queens Private lines workers from the Local, Toussaint refuses to rule out splitting the Local from the International. Striking for a better contract? Hall’s supporter Willie James and Toussaint both derailed strikes that the members voted for unanimously. No, this maneuver with COPE funds is just a petty personal power play. A fighting leadership would campaign to Stop All COPE Contributions. That fighting leadership remains to be built.