Aug 26, 2002
Labor Day is coming up. Officially, the government tells us that we are in an economic recovery. But for workers, the only thing to celebrate this Labor Day is that it is a day off.
That is, if you have a have a job. The ranks of the unemployed are growing. And, most ominously, those who have lost their jobs are finding it much more difficult to get back into the labor force. Long-term unemployment has more than doubled in the last year. In many parts of the country, the jobs just aren't there.
At the same time, those of us still with jobs are facing threats: threats of layoffs, threats of wage and benefit cuts. Workers in the airline industry are undergoing some of the fiercest attacks.
In the last month, one airline after another announced job cuts and concession demands. U.S. Air, the sixth largest airline, which announced that it was going into bankruptcy, demanded wage and benefit concessions from its workforce worth 900 million dollars every year. With this demand came an ultimatum. Management threatened that if any union did not agree immediately to its demands, it would get the bankruptcy court to tear up the labor contract and impose the concessions outright.
This then set the stage for announcements from the two biggest airlines, American and United. American Airlines announced that it was going to cut 7,000 jobs, among them, the jobs of 2,500 flight attendants. This was on top of the 20,000 jobs that American cut after September 11. United Airlines also issued an ultimatum: if the unions do not accept significant takeaways within 30 days, management would declare the company bankrupt. Since much of the United employees' retirement pensions is tied up in United stock, this would render their hard-earned savings worthless. In effect, management is holding the workers' retirement savings hostage.
According to the airline companies, they have no choice but to demand these concessions. They claim to be going through a crisis. They say they have to restructure.
In fact, these companies have been saying the same thing for the past 25 years. Over that time, the airline industry has been in a constant state of so-called restructuring. Companies have been bought and sold. They have been merged, split apart, merged again – or pushed out of business.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, airline workers had one wave after another of concessions imposed – with the promise that when the good times returned, their wages would also recover. But in the 1990s, when airlines were showing fat profits, the airlines simply refused to agree to any increases. At United, the company agreed to long-awaited wage increases for mechanics and flight attendants less than six months ago, only to come back and demand much deeper concessions now.
In the process, some enormous fortunes have been made. One group of speculators, who call themselves Texas Pacific, specializes in swooping down and buying up big chunks of airlines in bankruptcy for a song, and then selling out after the companies is taken out of bankruptcy. They did this in the 1990s at Continental Airlines, and their so-called investment increased by 11 times. They are now pulling the same stunt at U.S. Air – which is supposedly in such "dire" shape.
At the same time, airline executives have paid themselves enormous compensation. One executive, Steve Wolfe, who headed two of the airlines, one after the other, that now claim to be out of money, United and U.S. Air, made sure that he was paid at least 20 or 30 million dollars per year for his exalted presence. Often times, these executives paid themselves big bonuses immediately after they got the workers to accept big concession packages.
This past history only proves one thing: Concessions are a trap. They don't save jobs. They don't provide job security. They don't safeguard retirement savings. They only push workers living standards lower and lower for the benefit of the company, the speculators, the predators of all types.
Unfortunately, the union apparatuses have, without exception, made it seem impossible to oppose these concessions. They have made it seem like the workers have no choice but to accept the concessions.
But the workers have plenty of choices, when we decide to stand up. For these companies need us. They need our skills and labor. Without us, no planes would fly, nothing would be produced. The society as a whole could not run. We have an enormous power in our own hands when we unite.
This Labor Day can mark the end of giving in to the bosses' demands. We can celebrate Labor Day by resolving to begin to fight for our needs.