Feb 17, 2003
After U.S. Air and United went to the bankruptcy court in order to extort concessions from their workers, other airlines stepped up to demand the same concessions. And they didn't even bother to go through the bankruptcy routine. American simply demanded 1.8 million dollars in "labor cost savings" – that is, cuts in wages, benefits and jobs. Delta, whose workers are for the most part not in any union, announced that it would have to match what the other companies get. And Northwest, saying that it too had to keep up with the competition, announced that it would cut costs by 1.5 billion dollars a year, most of it by reducing labor costs. And all the airlines are now talking about setting up "low-cost" airlines – in other words, subsidiaries to take part of their own traffic. As for "low cost" – it doesn't really mean much lower ticket prices. But it surely will mean much lower wages and many fewer benefits.
Of course, all the big airlines claim to be losing money. And sooner or later they all bring out the specter of September 11, even if it is getting a little tattered, given how many different companies and politicians already used it to justify attacks on the working class and on the population.
The issue is not really company losses over the last few years. If that really were so, all these airlines would have given very big wage and benefit increases during the good years – and they didn't do that. Some gave minimal increases, some gave none. But all are demanding bigger and bigger concessions today, when they have these supposed losses.
Nor is the issue the bankruptcy courts – the courts are just the club that U.S. Air and United used to extort concessions, making it seem like the workers have no choice.
The real issue here is how much all of them can convince their workers to give up before the workers begin to fight back.
They will not stop taking until the workers put a stop to it. When the workers are ready to fight, money can be found – even at the companies whose balance sheets today seem to be in the most desperate situation. Behind those companies stand some of the biggest investment banks in the world, with holdings in the trillions of dollars. Linked to those airlines are hundreds of subsidiaries they set up to drain off some of their profits in the good years.
There is a whole capitalist class in this country that, either directly or indirectly, has a stake in the big airlines. That's where the money is, plenty of it. Over the last few decades, it has been taking an ever bigger share of the wealth the working class produces, robbing from us.
There is no lack of money. And the workers can have it back – if they fight to put their hands on it. The airline workers certainly have every reason to fight today, since their standard of living is being so openly threatened. But if they begin to struggle, there are many other workers who could join them. All of us, in one way or another, find ourselves in the same boat. The more of us to make a fight, the more we have the forces to wrench more of that money away from where the capitalists are hiding it.
We should not give up a single penny more to these wealthy thieves.