Apr 28, 2003
After making a slight pretense of opposing American Airlines' demands for enormous concessions from its workforce, the leaders of all three unions involved fell in line, one after the other, signing away the workers' future on American's dotted line. In fact, they had always intended to sign, having pushed for the concessions in the first place – with APFA even going so far as to reschedule a vote for fight attendants, who had voted "NO" the first time around.
But the union bureaucrats were embarrassed by American itself. Just before the contracts were to be signed, American let it be known it was putting aside 41 million dollars in a special pension "trust" that couldn't be touched in the event of a bankruptcy, unlike what could happen to the workers' pensions. It also said it would give millions in executive bonuses.
Faced with an outraged membership, union leaders did a song-and-dance routine for a few days, only to rush back into the companies' arms before workers might begin to act on their own against the concessions.
American – the largest airline in the country – dares to pretend it has no money, that it might go bankrupt. This is nothing but outright blackmail. And top union leaders went along with this outrage from the beginning, telling workers that the bankruptcy courts might impose even worse concessions.
Labor "experts"compared this situation to what the auto workers and the steel workers unions went through in earlier years, when they, too, gave up big concessions in order to – as they put it – "save jobs." Most of the experts forgot to mention that the auto workers union today is less than half the size it was when the concessions began – in other words, the concessions didn't prevent job loss. The loss of steelworkers' jobs was even more massive.
Not only did the concessions not save jobs. The unions' cowardice in the face of outrageous demands encouraged the companies to come back for more, closing plant after plant, suppressing job after job, etc. Auto workers never got back what they gave up in concessions – and they lost most of the jobs.
We have no reason to trust what a boss tells us. Look at the airlines today. Most of them pretend they have no money. Only a couple of years ago, they were bragging about having billions of dollars. Only a few years ago, they were buying up other companies or setting up subsidiaries. At that time, they said they had plenty of money. Where did it all go?
It went right where it's always been – in the pockets of the airlines or their bankers. Otherwise, how could American have proposed to give its execs bonuses and a pension trust plan?
This arrogant move showed the real situation: these companies have access to money. They are just looking for an excuse to get even more by reducing the workers' standard of living. We cannot protect ourselves if we worry about the situation the company claims it's in.
Today the workers know nothing about the companies' real situation. We don't ever see their real financial accounting, including all of the books of each company's subsidiaries, and all of their bank accounts, including in off-shore banks. We are not in the position to look at all the deals the companies have cut with each other, shifting money around, as well as equipment. We don't monitor all their daily financial activity – although we could. We should assume they are lying to us – and act accordingly.
These big companies – some of the biggest in the world – think we are fools. They ought to think again. Many airline workers realize they are being had right now. Those workers can start a fight to protect their jobs and to resist these takeaways. And what they start, other workers can pick up. In every industry, every city, most workers find themselves under attack. A real fight – one that is militant and determined from the beginning – could quickly enlist the active participation of other workers.