The Spark

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

Northwest flight attendants:
New union, same policy

Aug 7, 2006

Leaders of the new union representing Northwest Airlines’ flight attendants, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, say they will carry out unannounced temporary sporadic strikes to stop the company from imposing deep concessions. It calls the plan “CHAOS,” short for “Create Havoc Around Our System.”

It’s certain that Northwest workers have to act against this union-busting company if they expect to defend themselves. Unfortunately, there seems to be more bluff than substance to the union’s threat – which gave the company 15 days notice, plenty of time for Northwest to go to court to get an injunction to stop them. And Northwest promptly petitioned the court for an injunction. It’s not serious!

The flight attendants seem ready to make a fight. They voted to reject the contract the AFA-CWA leaders negotiated with the airline, which included 21% wage cuts and 40% reductions in total wages and benefits.

This was the second time they have voted down the contract. After the first vote, they voted to leave the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) – which had negotiated the earlier concession contract – and join the AFA-CWA.

The flight attendants may have a new union, but its leaders have the same policy as the old one. When the AFA-CWA leadership came in, they managed to negotiate the second concession contract within 10 days after being chosen as the flight attendants’ collective bargaining representatives.

If the flight attendants’ situation shows anything, it’s that workers have to depend on their own forces. It’s not enough to simply vote down agreements and wait for union officials to negotiate the right agreement. To defend their own interests, workers need leaders they can trust, leaders they put forward, who keep them informed of what happens in negotiations. And the workers need to make the decisions themselves about how to carry out their fight.