The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

“Linkage” of sacrifice?
No sacrifices at all!

Feb 18, 2002

Mechanics at United Airlines voted down a proposed contract with more than 68% voting against the contract. It was the first United offer the workers voted on since the old contract expired in August of 2000, 18 months ago.

United’s offer included a 37% wage increase, which doesn’t look bad until you consider that workers at United gave up sizeable wage cuts in 1994 when United pleaded poverty. Despite years of record profits turned in since by United, they haven’t made up what they lost. Moreover, the company was unwilling to pay the mechanics full retroactive pay for all the months since the last contract expired.

If these had been the only issues, it’s possible the contract would have passed – since at least the wages would have gone up significantly.

But there was a trick included in the package. United included “linkage” language in the contract – by which it meant that if other United workers accepted concessions in their new contracts, then the mechanics would also have to accept them after the fact. The ground crew as well as the flight attendants still have contracts to be negotiated.

In other words, the mechanics could get a 37% wage increase written into this contract – and yet have to give it all back, without ever voting on the contract again and without ever having the legal right to strike again. At the same time, it puts all the responsibility for making a fight in the laps of the other workers who will have to strike in order to avoid giving concessions. This is a way to divide the workers – exactly at the moment when they need to bring their forces together.

What happens next is up in the air. But a business writer in the Chicago Tribune commented, “linkage will be requested, and ultimately achieved, regardless of whether the language is in the contract.”

This may be only one writer’s opinion. But it’s a reasonable assumption. It’s clear that United is pushing to get concessions from all its workers. And the Air Transportation Stabilization Board set up by Congress REQUIRED the airlines to get concessions if they want loans from the government. This was part of the bonanza voted to the airlines under the pretext of September 11.

“Linkage” – it’s nothing but a new word, covering over an old worn-out trick that profitable corporations use. Put in ordinary language: they are trying to divide us so they can more easily take back gains we have all made.

Look at United itself. Yes, it suffered losses after September 11 – much of which it has already been compensated for, either by the government or by its insurance carriers. And yes, there is a downturn in the economy that cuts back its revenues – temporarily.

But United is a company which has accumulated vast profits over the years. In the five years between 1996 and 2000, it accumulated 3.2 billion dollars in profits – after taxes!

In 2001, it had so much available money, it tried to buy US Air for 4.3 billion dollars, plus assuming 7.3 billion dollars of US Air’s debt. The government wouldn’t let United do it. In that same year, it established Avolar, a business jet company, for 70 million dollars.

Actions speak louder than words. And United’s actions show that it has money. It simply is using September 11 to squeeze its workers still harder.

This contract proposal, this “linkage” is the battering ram being used against all United workers – and through them, other airline workers and then other parts of the working class.

We don’t need the kind of “linkage” the bosses want – which would simply tie us up hand and foot so we end up making sacrifices to increase their profits.

We need “linkage” of course – but the kind which links us together in struggle. We need solidarity.