Fighting Heathrow expansion from within

Fighting Heathrow expansion from within

Invitation to join a workers' intervention at Heathrow airport

The UK government recently decided to build another runway at Heathrow airport. This will add another 250,000 flights annually to the existing 470,000, worsen the already disastrous levels of local air pollution in the largely (migrant) working class western fringe around the airport, and destroy at least 800 homes. Heathrow expansion is disputed by various forces: environmental activists, local resident groups, lobby groups of competing airports and various members of the political class, including the former and current Mayor of London. Unsurprisingly, both Heathrow-related business and most trade unions are in favour of building another runway, citing that the £18 billion plus investment will create between 50,000 and 110,000 jobs by 2030.

We, as a small collective around the Workers Wild West newspaper, are against the development of any destructive infrastructure, but we think that a true opposition has to be created from within the 80,000 largely migrant and low-paid workers employed at, and around, Heathrow airport as well as the wider local working class that largely depends on the logistics sector (warehousing, food processing etc.). We have to contribute to their confidence as workers which means pointing out that the logistical monster that is Heathrow depends on their daily drudgery as cleaners, baggage handlers or check-in staff. We have to point out the basic blackmail any worker is forced to accept in the current system: we depend on our job, while our job contributes to the destruction of our planet. If we don't fight the small daily battles of who is in control at our workplace (control of break-times, work targets and pay and conditions), how can we imagine being in control over a social system of production which turns against us in the form of capital, e.g. as health damaging industries or a polluting energy and transport system?

Given the nature of airports as fortified borders, the contradictions run right through the workforce. While many airport workers are migrants, airports are used as watch-towers and deportation machines of the migration regime. In turn, this increases the pressure on local workers either through low-wage competition or migration raids. As we have seen many times in recent history, the very same state forces of repression that incarcerates 'illegal immigrants' on airport sites is used against airport workers in struggle - from Reagan's mass arrests of air flight controllers in the early 1980s to the deployment of army personnel during strikes at Spanish airports in recent years.

Unlike most trade unions we should not shy away from pointing out this seeming clash of interests - "jobs versus health and environment", or "local versus 'foreign' jobs" - which can only be overcome by working class revolutionary initiative. In the shorter run we have to start building actual relationships with local workers. We can imagine sitting with airport cleaners over a beer at the campfire together with the fellow rebels of Grow Heathrow, shooting the breeze about stress at work and the beauty of life and how to preserve and widen it.

In order to make this happen we have to get rooted. We work in local distribution centres, try to defend local resident 'services' (e.g. swimming pools from closing) and distribute 2,000 copies of our workers' paper - but up to now we’ve shyed away from Heathrow airport, which is only down the road, mainly due to its sheer size. We've made contact with some airline-catering colleagues [], but they are not directly employed by the airport. Only recently we started getting on the local 105 bus at 4am in the morning, double-deckers full of Heathrow workers of largely South-Asian origin, handing out the paper and talking to cleaners and airline-food workers. We want to increase this activity in the future and address the issue of the Heathrow expansion from an anti-systemic point of view. We will need help with that and hope that some of you might join in.

Airports are globally connected working class concentrations. Airline workers in Heathrow will take notice of the conditions and struggles of their colleagues in the rest of the world. Interruptions have ripple effects. We want to contribute to this organic proletarian internationalism by circulating news from other airports and help create bonds between workers. Much loved friends of ours work as check-in workers and baggage handlers at two other major European airports (Frankfurt and Madrid) - they wrote about their conditions and the aviation industry globally. We hope to make more friends at other places - if you work in or around airports, get in touch!

We have to know our enemy and our own strength and divisions. For that reason we have started with some basic empirical research on Heathrow airport. Our friends from Germany and Spain have already summarised important trends in the industry, which we publish below. If you are interested in helping us with this work, get in touch, too.

angryworkers, December 2016


1) Aviation industry globally
2) Heathrow
3) Madrid
4) Frankfurt

1) Aviation industry globally

Airports channel 50 million tonnes of freight per year or roughly one percent in volume of world trade. However, this small share represents 35 percent of value in world trade. The high costs of air transport, nearly 16 times more expensive than sea and 5 times more expensive than land, makes air freight only profitable when transporting small, perishable, high value commodities. Therefore air transport is particulary important for the pharmaceutical industry, perishable goods merchants, mail, express and e-commerce such as Amazon, eBay and Ali Baba. Approximately 50 percent of global air cargo is carried in specialised trans-continental freight airplanes, while the other half is carried in the belly of intra-regional passenger aircraft. it is estimated that air freight volume will double within the next 20 years, with passenger aircrafts playing a larger role, as aviation companies increasingly manufacture passenger aircraft with freight in mind.

Storage and shipment preparation are performed in specialised cargo terminals within the airport grounds. Cargo arrives by truck and loaded into Unit Load Device containers or trolleys. The cargo is then taken to the aircraft for loading. Major logistic corporations such as DHL and Fedex once had private aircraft, warehouses and installations. State mail continues to have a separate area for operations. Workers involved with airport freight are employed by these logistic, mail, airline and ground handling companies. Although airports are responsible for such a low portion of freight volume and labour in the global supply chain, they are vast and important entities, requiring major state investment and intervention as well as the combination of tens of thousands of workers per airport.

Besides freight, airports are related to another important industry: Tourism. In 2015, international tourist arrival surpassed 600 million, expenditure on accommodation, shopping, food, drink, entertainment and services at the tourist destinations reached 1.2 billion dollars, near the GDP of Spain. Tourism ranks third or fourth in global industry, between automobiles and chemicals. The tourist industry represents ten percent of global GDP and nine percent of jobs.

Airports and aviation companies are an example of capital which was previously managed by the state, then privatised, segmented and outsourced during the neoliberal era. Air transport continues to be highly regulated by private concerns such as IATA and state bodies such as ICAO. Between 1975 and 1990 international tourism rose from 200 million to 400 million people, between 1990-2000 it rose to around 600 million. As tourism rapidly increased during the eighties and nineties, the obstacles of state ownership became increasingly visible, particularly with high public sector wages; labour along with fuel are the core cost of airlines. As the bulk of the labor force of airline companies (and airports) is composed of ground handling staff, this was one of the first segments to be privatised. The term 'ground handling' covers a wide variety of services required by airlines in order to operate flights. These services include areas such as maintenance, fuel and freight handling. Ground handling also covers services like passenger check-in, catering, baggage handling and transport within the airport itself. Since 1997, the provision of ground handling services in the EU is covered by Directive 96/67/EC. The Directive opened up ground handling services to competition. Prior to this, monopolies were the norm for ground handling services at EU airports and many airlines complained about high prices and poor quality services. Under the EU rules, there is now free competition for the majority of ground handling services at larger EU airports, resulting in more choice for airlines. This in turn means improved service levels and lower fares for the passenger. For certain services such as baggage handling, ramp handling, fuelling and freight services, the member state may decide to limit the number of suppliers. In these cases, the minimum number of suppliers has to be two and at least one of the suppliers has to be independent of the airport or the dominant airline at that airport. Some airlines choose to provide ground handling services for themselves, which is known as 'self-handling'. Similar rules on competition apply to 'self-handling' airlines.

“The Directive has largely achieved its main objective, to open up the ground handling market. The Commission is continuing to monitor the application of the rules to ensure high levels of passenger safety and comfort, as well as competitive pricing for airlines.”4 The ground handling workforce is one of the biggest of air transport and airport sector.5 Ground handling workers (and airline’s workers, when they provide these kind of services) use to perform ramp, baggage and freight and mail activities: So, liberalisation in ground handling services began 20 years ago, which results have been: a strong segmentation or duality in labor force (permanent and temp workers), reduction of median hours of weekly work, and intensification of work, given that since the year 2000, the number of passengers (just international passengers) has doubled and global ground handling workforce seems to have been reduced: “Within each of the main industry sectors, the main trends in the level of employment were:

* Airlines: Over half of direct employees in the sector work for airlines (418,700 in 2010). Despite significant traffic growth, the number of people directly employed with EU airlines reduced by one per cent between 1998 and 2010; the number of employees peaked at approximately 455,100 in 2002. The decline in employment is partly due to outsourcing of certain services, particularly ground handling (direct ground handling employment with air carriers declined by 36 per cent, equivalent to 31,400 employees, over 1998-2010). There have however been significant increases in the number of mobile workers employed by airlines, with an increase of 26 per cent in the number of flight crew and 40 per cent in the number of cabin crew.

* Airports: We estimate that at least 123,300 people were directly employed by EU airports in 2010; this is likely to be an under-estimate due to limitations with the available data. In most Member States, the number of airport employees has increased significantly. No reliable disaggregate data is available on the categories of employment of airport staff, but one of the largest categories is security processing staff; some of these are employed by airport management companies, but many are outsourced. The number of security staff increased significantly due to the introduction of new security measures (including liquids restrictions) after August 2006.

* Independent ground handling organisations: We estimate that were approximately 137,000 FTE ground handling employees EU-wide in 2010, of whom approximately 45 percent worked for independent ground handling companies and the remainder for airports or airlines. The number of employees with independent ground handlers has increased but, as explained further below, the impact of outsourcing of this service on employee numbers has been offset partly by the substantial productivity gains that have been made.”6
This employment decrease has been also caused partly by automatisation. For example, SATE (Baggage Automatic Process System, made by SIEMENS) in Madrid-Barajas has fully automatised luggage transfer flow.7

2) Heathrow

a) A bit of history

In most cases the construction of major infrastructure developments, from canals to railways to airports, relies on the brute force of the state and its military complex. Apparently this was also true for Heathrow airport:

"In April 1944 the Air Ministry requisitioned the airfield and surrounding farms, roads and houses, claiming the necessity to accommodate military bombers. Harold Balfour (later Lord Balfour), then Under-Secretary of State for Air (1938–44), wrote in his 1973 autobiography that he deliberately deceived the government committee into believing a requisition was necessary so that Heathrow could be used as a base for long-range transport aircraft in support of the war with Japan. In reality, Balfour wrote that he always intended the site to be used for civil aviation, and used a wartime emergency requisition order to avoid a lengthy and costly public inquiry. This took over all or part of twenty farmers' and market-gardeners' land-holdings, in total about 1,300 acres."

Born as a military con, the army reappeared in Heathrow's history, using UK's major infrastructure as political background scenery:

"In 1974 Heathrow was briefly occupied by the Army, ostensibly as a training run in case of possible IRA terrorism. However, in a documentary, ‘The Plot Against Harold Wilson’ in 2006, Baroness Falkender asserted that the government was not informed in advance. The occupation of Heathrow was privately seen at Number 10 as a warning to Wilson by the Army, or even a dress rehearsal for a coup d'etat." [Wikipedia]

We can leave the conspiracy speculations to the world of online forums, but what’s clear is that the state knows about the strategic significance of places like Heathrow and the symbolic impact of military intervention. Most recently the Blair government used Heathrow to enact the local 'war on terror':

"In 2003 army tanks are briefly deployed to Heathrow, this time under the orders of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Again, the reasons given relate to terrorism – specifically, intelligence of an "extremely probable" terrorist attack..." [Wikipedia]

b) Heathrow's current significance

Heathrow is the biggest airport in Europe, processing around 70 million passengers per year. In comparison, Gatwick transported around 35 million and Manchester 20 million.

Heathrow transported 1.4 million tonnes of air freight, most of it in passenger machines. London airports account for 77% of UK's air freight traffic and air freight accounts for about 40% of the value of UK imports and exports.

Heathrow's air traffic impacts on the highest number of people given the population density in its vicinity. 28% of the people across Europe affected by aircraft noise live under the Heathrow flight paths. While areas like Southall and Hounslow are predominantly poor, air traffic itself is still pretty middle-class, despite cheap flights to Spanish sea-side resorts: 15% of the UK population take 70% of flights. This is particularly true for Heathrow, where most flights are long-haul and do not service the budget airlines (Ryanair, Easyjet etc.).

Heathrow employs around 80,000 people directly on the airport premises and a further 35,000 indirectly in the local area, e.g. in over 100 hotels in close proximity to the airport, or in warehouses and cargo transport. Over 40% of the airport workforce is female. Almost 60% of employment is in skill level 2 which includes air cabin crew and baggage handlers - so-called semi-skilled, lower paid work. The five districts closest to the Airport account for almost 46% of employment.

Proponents of a Heathrow expansion emphasise the 'catalytic' impact of a major airport hub on the surrounding economic landscape, beyond the more directly related jobs:

"The “western wedge” area around Heathrow Airport has a strong, dynamic economy. It can be thought of as the area immediately around Heathrow and the economies that radiate out along the M4/Thames Valley, the M40, the A3 and the M3 and around the western segment of the M25. It generates £1 in every £10 of UK economic output and is home to over 2.4 million jobs. It is one of the most productive areas of the country, due in part to the concentration of high-value, knowledge intensive activities located in the region. All areas are defined by their proximity of ready access to Heathrow. The area around Heathrow, especially in West London and the Thames Valley, accounts for a strikingly high proportion of headquarters and foreign owned firms." [Commercial Heathrow Study]

c) Some spotlights on Heathrow workers' disputes

1970: A strike over pay by firefighters at Heathrow airport cancelled dozens of international flights. Management threatened to use supervisors to man fire stations, the union threatened to expand the strike to other groups of workers. Most struggles at Heathrow were staged by British Airways workers, whose main hub is Heathrow airport.

1977: Engineers and flight controllers at Heathrow airport staged an unofficial walk out for higher wages. This came at a time of official wage freeze agreed by the Labour government and the trade union leadership. The wage increase negotiated for the flight controllers in 1975 had been postponed. The strike coincided with a walkout of controllers in France, causing the biggest air traffic jam in history. The authorities asked airlines to cut their flights by 40%.

1980s: Management launched a first restructuring plan, justified by apparent 'over-staffing'. However, compared with other airlines in 1976, BA was only producing 122,000 available tone-km per employee, whereas other airlines were producing approximately 208,000 available tone-km per employee. Downsizing and outsourcing continued with the Civil Aviation Act in 1980. Between 1979 and 1984, employee numbers were cut from 57,741 to 39,794. Industrial disputes (and occasionally industrial action) remained a feature of industrial relations at BA - there was at least one dispute every year between 1982 and 1990. BA was officially 'privatised' in 1987.

1990s: By the end of the 1990s the emergence of low cost carriers such as Easyjet and Ryanair were undercutting BA’s prices. The company’s hold on Heathrow was also loosening under double pressure from Europe and the USA, e.g. today 25% of Heathrow is owned by a global corporation based in Spain, 20% by a financial institution based in Quatar.

1997: Cabin crew strike
The three-day strikes were highly-charged politically, given that the BA chief executive, Ayling, was a prominent supporter of New Labour and Tony Blair's government. Workers voted to strike because they disliked the way the airline had imposed new working practices, consolidating lots of special allowances into basic pay. Under the new scheme, cabin-crew recruits were supposed to start on lower pay than existing staff. Other European airlines were doing the same. Alitalia, for example, had started Alitalia Team, an airline within the airline, on cheaper contracts. Members of the cabin crew were warned not to strike and BA managers were instructed to tell disgruntled staff that anyone taking industrial action would be summarily sacked, then sued for damages. Anyone who simply stayed away would face disciplinary action, be denied promotion, and lose both pension rights and staff discounts on flights for three years. BA were also reported to be filming pickets. These managerial actions certainly influenced the impact of the strike. On the first scheduled day of action less than three hundred workers declared themselves officially on strike but more than 2,000 called in sick. Despite the company’s threats and ‘replacement workers’, more than 70% of flights from Heathrow were cancelled (The Economist 12th July 1997). Those employees who had called in sick tended to stay away longer than the official 72-hour strike. Management promised that existing staff could keep their conditions for at least three years, while the TGWU union promised to help management saving £42 million over three years. As a result catering was sold off. New BA cabin crew staff were hired on worse conditions.

1998: LSG airline caterer, Southall. Strike ends in a lock-out.
The outsourced airline catering company LSG tried to force their workers in Southall to sign new, worse contracts. The workers, most of them TGWU members had two ballots before taking official strike action. On the first day a court injunction prevented them from going ahead. Management then sacked 200 workers on the second strike day and hired new ones. The company’s video cameras filmed the pickets. When strikers photographed scabs the police threatened them with arrest for “intimidation”. Only a few of the original workers got their jobs back, after months of symbolic pickets and legal show-fights. The TGWU union only gave lukewarm support to the workers – at the time the TGWU had thousands of members at Heathrow airport, but the union tactically decided not to call other workers out for support – no risk of a confrontation with the law or with the New Labour government at the time.

2003: Wildcat against swipe cards
Hundreds of BA workers at Heathrow walked out in opposition to the introduction of a new electronic swipe card clocking-in system that they feared would lead to dramatic changes in working practices, including the possibility of employees being sent home at slack periods and recalled at busier times. The walkout came as a surprise to management and unions alike. The resulting two days of unofficial action was described by the Observer newspaper as the “worst internal problem BA has suffered since the 1997 cabin crew strike that did for [CEO] Eddington’s predecessor, Bob Ayling.” The cancellation of 500 flights left thousands of passengers stranded, some for days, severely damaging BA’s reputation.

Prior to the attempt of introducing swipe cards, a management paper complained about "near-anarchy at Heathrow and Gatwick, with check-in, ticket and customer service staff often arranging between themselves who should work particular shifts, what time they start and finish, and when days off or annual leave should be taken." The paper stated a "lack of basic management information also resulted in ‘imbalances’ between numbers rostered and airport workloads, poor monitoring of time taken off in lieu, and excessive overtime payments".

2005: Gate Gourmet strike in Southall and wildcat solidarity action
In the late 1990s, BA outsourced work to Gate Gourmet. In August 2005 management wanted to enforce a worsening of conditions and one day brought in agency staff, replacing permanent workers. The old workers met up in the canteen to discuss and to protest against this move. Most of them were women from Asian backgrounds. In response management sacked over 800 workers over the next two days. An unofficial walkout by BA ground staff – mainly baggage handlers, many of them family members and friends of the Gate Gourmet workers – at Heathrow airport in solidarity with the Gate Gourmet workers resulted in a 48- hour closure of the airport. 70,000 passengers were affected, many of them stranded. But the baggage handlers had to return to work – the TWGU union did not want to be associated with ‘illegal’ support strikes. In the end the union told workers to sign contracts with worse conditions. In 2016 permanent staff are on minimum wages.

2009: Strike against BA austerity measures banned
In June BA demanded that its 40,000 employees volunteer for up to a month’s unpaid leave, or even unpaid work. In the absence of any opposition from the unions, BA was able to announce that almost 7,000 staff took voluntary pay cuts or agreed to part-time working. These included 800 who agreed to work unpaid for up to a month. In November, BA cut the number of cabin crew on long haul flights from 15 to 14 and pushed through a two-year pay freeze to be imposed from 2010. The response by workers was less unanimous: some accepted pay cuts, some voted for strike during the Christmas period. A high court ruling banned the strike as illegal: "A strike of this kind over the 12 days of Christmas is fundamentally more damaging to BA and the wider public than a strike taking place at almost any other time of the year." The dispute or continues…

2016: GMB protest against employment of foreign workers
The GMB union called for a protest against the outsourcing of BA IT departments to the India-based company Tata Consultancy Services and the employment of foreign workers on so-called tier 2 visas. Rather than defending conditions, the union deepened divisions between workers. Referring to the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, the GMB stated: "These latest developments should worry MPs and the government that UK security interests are being handed over glibly to a foreign national company".

3) Madrid

Madrid-Barajas airport employs 40 000 workers and accounts for ten percent of Greater Madrid's GDP. Recently 49 percent privatised, AENA is the public company which manages all Spanish and also some foreign airports, amongst others London Luton. In 2014, Barajas airport channeled 21 percent of passenger traffic and 54 percent of cargo of the AENA network, 25 percent of this passenger flow was transfer and connection traffic.8 The importance of ground handling services for the airport industry is shown by this number: 73 per cent of AENA global income comes from aeronautical services i.e. passengers, landing, security, handling, aircraft parking, fuelling, cargo, etc. 20 percent comes from commercial services (shops, publicity, advertising, etc.). Baggage handlers form the bulk of the labor force of ground handling and airline companies. In Madrid airport there are 3 ground handling enterprises, which employ around 3000 loaders in peak seasons, Iberia, the largest, operates mainly in modern Terminal 4, which performs ground services for its own aircrafts and other foreign airlines such as British Airways. 'Groundforce' operates in older terminals T1, T2 and T3, which is part of Globalia Holding 9 (as with AirEuropa airlines, Groundforce performs ground handling activities for this airline), whose clients are also KLM, AirFrance, Alitalia, LOT, Continental, etc.; and Worldwide Flight Services (WFS), which keeps the smallest part of the airport’s ground handling market. Recently, two budget airlines, Ryanair and EasyJet, have reversed the outsourcing trend and now perform their own ground operations. As wages account for around 70 percent of ground operations, the path of profitability is to cut down wages and labor conditions. However, there are some laws to protect labor conditions of senior workers. For example, when an airline decides to change its handling operator, or when each 7 years AENA auctions handling licenses of all the airports it manages, the handling workers of the companies that may have excess of labor force are assigned to the handling companies that have assumed the workload of the formers. So workers are not fired, they just change their employer, but their working conditions supposedly don’t change. This process is named subrogation. Anyway, in each subrogation companies try to cut down working conditions of these better paid workers, who have to denounce it on labor courts.

Given the evolution of the handling business a typical situation is as follows: handling employees of the old state airline Iberia still enjoy better conditions than the rest, although they are divided in full time permanent senior workers, FT/PT permanent workers hired more recently, and part time temp workers. These kind of old airline companies have been reducing their labor force during the past 15 years, and deteriorating collective contracts; handling workers of independent ground handling companies are divided between FT workers subrogate years ago from airlines (who still conserve the conditions of the former), FT workers subrogate from previous ground handling companies (worse conditions), FT/PT workers hired by new handling company (even worst conditions), and PT temp workers.

So besides division between different companies, there is a strong segmentation of labor force within each company. Usually handling workers work 7 days one after the other, and then they have 2 days off. So weekly days off change weekly: Monday-Tuesday, Wednesday-Thursday, … and when this movement reaches the weekend (Friday-Saturday or Saturday-Sunday), 2 extra days-off are added. So in practice this 7-2-7-2-7-4 scheme implies 21 working days and 8 days off, close to usual 5-2-5-2 in global monthly hours and days of work. As handling crew must work public holidays, they enjoy around 45 holidays, 30 as usual and 15 extra for the public holidays they have to work. Theoretically, during these 7 days of work, workers have the same shift. So you know which days-off and holidays you’ll enjoy during all year, and around 15th of each month you know the shifts for the next month. But this is not the case for temp workers. The scheme 7-2-7-2-7-4 is not observed with them, so they don’t know which days off they will enjoy during the year. Their shifts are published just each 10 days before, so they don’t even know their days off nor their shifts during the present month. Their holidays are also pending on the will of the company. And for permanent workers, the same shift during the block of 7 days of work is also disappearing. In recent years, temp workers have been hired not just for 4h., but for 3h. or even 2h per day. So many temp workers try to find another job at the airport to increase their wage. Besides, in peak seasons, it's easy to work overtime for those temp workers who want to improve their wages. Anyway they have to work wonders to merge and fit-in different shifts of different companies. Typically temp worker's contracts only last one year in the form of 2 six month’s contracts, and then they have to spend a year out to be re-hired (because law forces to convert temp contract in permanent contract if the first last during certain time). Some companies use temp agencies, but others hire their temp workforce directly. Of course, all temp workers hope to sign a permanent contract with any company. While permanent workers have no problem at all taking a medical leave, temp workers (but also some recently permanent migrant workers!) are scared to ask for a doctor’s note, because they worry their contracts won’t be renewed, or they won’t be hired next year.

As in warehouses, baggage handling activities are usually divided: one section in the docks’ conveyors belt, sorting baggage of passengers who leave the city; and another section receiving the aircraft in the parking, unloading baggage and cargo and later loading baggage (carried from the docks) and cargo (from the cargo terminal). Layover time lapse for short and medium itineraries is around 1 hour. Although load/unload operations could be more difficult in the parking than in the docks (small size of aircraft bulks), it can also be lighter in wide-body aircrafts, available for pallets and containers (ULD’s). In this case workers employ equipment to unload ULD’s from aircrafts, and these containers are emptied, bag after bag, in the belt where passengers pick them up. In the docks work is less mechanised, and you have always to load ULD’s or trolleys bag after bag. Anyway, to load is always harder than to unload. The nature of the job of these loaders (handle weight) and the different working conditions create a singular situation amongst them, specially between loaders in the docks, whose work is more monotonous. On one hand, permanent workers, above all senior FT permanent workers, tend to work slower than temp workers, who increase median productivity. So temp workers generally distrust these “lazy” permanent workers. On the other hand, there is some kind of shared hardship feeling (also promoted in certain sense by foremen) that creates anger against workers (temps or permanents) who individually express their refusal to work, thereby make others to perform his workload. So paradoxically there is a common fellowship and solidarity feeling between workers, currently exploited by capital, which is undermined at the same time by individualist solutions of 'every man for himself', which end up in this kind of idle behaviour, or in escaping this shit work into management and union bureaucracy.

Historically most Worker's Representative’s Committee Members were members of the two largest state-sponsored unions, CCOO and UGT . Though recently some unions are trying to gain ground: as one handling workers union (CESHA) and the alternative union CGT. Union representatives use to be senior FT workers distanced from hard tasks: they are foremen, or they work driving coaches or push-back’s vehicles. They take their legal “union hours” as holidays, extending their days off.

4) Frankfurt

Frankfurt Airport is one of the largest airports in Europe, along with Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle, Paris. In 2015, 61 million passengers travelled through Frankfurt and 2.1 million tons of freight was handled, the cargo section being the eighth largest in the world. Fraport has two terminals, an additional section A-Plus was built in 2012 which increase passengers by about 1 million per year. In 2015, the building of a new terminal was initiated, expected to support an additional 25 million passengers, providing another 75 places for aircrafts and in 2021, the first gates should be ready for use. Surprisingly Fraport generates most of it's revenue from retail, with rent based directly on sales. With only 624 workers retail generated a profit of 379 million euros. In comparison, aviation, which employs 6000 people, generated 238 million euros in profit. Whilst ground handing generated 46 million euros with a workforce of 9200.

In 2010, 80500 people were employed by 500 different companies at Fraport making it the biggest worksite in Germany. One aircraft alone creates 300 jobs and another 600 jobs indirectly. In recent years strikes have been frequent, all within the trade union form. Revealingly, small groups of workers, depending on department, were able to cause great disruption and cost. When ver.di called for strike action in Spring 2016, even only as a few hour 'warning strike', 400 flights were cancelled. Roughly 4000 workers went on strike; technicians, security workers, ground handling staff, ramp agents, cargo workers and others. Once the fire fighters announced their participation it became clear that no airplane would move. Workers for security firm, Frasec went on strike in 2014 and won greater job security, a retirement plan and a pay increase from 10.73 per hour to between 14.5 and 16.5 euros per hour. However, a stroll around the airport these days, would see only a few Frasec workers at the security checks, most now working for I-sec, a new company with worse working conditions.


Frankfurt was Lufthansa´s hub. The "traditional" airlines were under pressure. The rise of low-cost carriers in Europe and also world-wide and the general capital crisis hit the Lufthansa group tremendously. The trust spent a huge amount of money on consultants and created a rigid savings program, which included everybody bar management. Pilots and cabin crew were threatened with the establishment of Germanwings and Eurowings, as for ground staff, the new announcement: "flying starts at the aircraft door."11 The 4500 Pilots of Lufthansa had been negotiating for two years and struck 13 times, still no agreements were met, until today. The negotiations for flight attendants (FB) 12 have gone on for three years now with many strikes. The biggest one in the companies history took place in November 2015. FBs (19000 with LH contract) went on strike for seven days, causing the cancellation of 4700 flights and effecting 550 000 passengers. Here was some workers power: due to recent staff reductions, only one or two had to strike for the aircraft to be immobilised for security reasons. After that strike negotiations were made and went into mediation with an outside of the company politician. After five and a half months of mediation a contract came out. It contained 10 points and 29 different contracts. It appeared pretty crucial that parts of the contract lasted until 2021 and another until 2023 and was a capital market oriented model. A new payment structure was implemented, that related on the qualification and seniority. That was not new, but FB´s who wanted to stay longer are now requested to do a training on their own cost to increase their salary after six years otherwise pay rise is going to stuck there. And it seemed that the management was scared so they insisted on a de-escalation program. Many other topics like retirement, job security, the absence of external personnel was also part of the contract. By now the workers have agreed to the contract.

But the limits of staff on long haul legs showed its backside for some month in a high number of staff away sick and led the corporation to hire 1400 new workers for LH and another 2800 for the daughter companies. Which they did in castings just like for another The Voice Show and attracted only very young people, who still live at their parents home or with a partner. The starting salary of a full time FB job without compensation was about 1300 E per month (for 80 per cent contract, which is "full time" in this field). The union/management negotiations for the ground staff (customer services, IT, Sky Chefs, technicians, Cargo and Passage and others) went without strikes. And were done before a meeting between UFO (cabin), Agil (ground staff) and ver.di (ground staff) could have happened, because ver.di who does the actual negotiations had already sign the new contract. This might have pushed ver.di a bit [in what way?], but nobody knows. A single payment and a salary increase of 2.2 per cent for January 2016 and 2017 was part of it and new responsibility of workers to finance a part of the retirement (Company retirement, there is another state retirement plan, which had nothing to do with this).

The strikes of the aviation workforce has formed some resentment amongst ground staff as it has increased their workload, frustration and stress. Because passengers needed to be taken care of with re-bookings, ground transportation and hotel bookings. The single payment had operated as a peace maker and erased most critical thoughts.The conditions of ground staff are being eroded through subtle and silent measures. There were many chances over the last few years depending on the department more drastic and other rather little. The company established a new check-in software worldwide. The training they provided was a two day computer program course and one day of front training. The first day in front of passengers the workers didn't generally know how to check in a bag. "Training on the job" meant feeling helpless and ridiculous for a worker doing this jobs for years – not to mentioning standing in front of yelling passengers. But not only this it also made a new pay scale grouping obsolete. And by now the lowest paid new worker has to perform tasks which were done by flight managers before. The only difference now is the at least two salary class difference. More tasks for everyone and less staff in general seems to be the topic of the whole airport work force.

Posted By

Dec 9 2016 15:20


  • We can imagine sitting with airport cleaners over a beer at the campfire together with the fellow rebels of Grow Heathrow, shooting the breeze about stress at work and the beauty of life and how to preserve and widen it.

Attached files


Gregory A. Butler
Dec 11 2016 03:12

Why would you expect airport workers to be opposed to an airport expansion?

For that matter, why should workers in general be opposed to expanding Heathrow?

We want to improve the means of production, not destroy them - save that for the luddite environmentalists!

Dec 11 2016 06:58

Why would you expect non-airport workers to favour an airport expansion? What use are more jobs if you (or many more) lose your home, can't breathe or suffer noise pollution. Why is building more of an airport seen as progress let alone progress worth the cost?

fingers malone
Dec 11 2016 10:06

Most flights in the UK are taken by a small and high earning section of the population. In any given year half of the population do not take a flight at all. If we want better transport infrastructure that most people will actually benefit from, spend money on the buses and trains. So the Heathrow expansion is so that those people can make more flights in more comfort, while the rest of the world suffers flooding, crop failure, drought......

Dec 11 2016 13:17
Gregory A. Butler wrote:
Why would you expect airport workers to be opposed to an airport expansion?

For that matter, why should workers in general be opposed to expanding Heathrow?

We want to improve the means of production, not destroy them - save that for the luddite environmentalists!

Apart from the general practical and climate change arguments, air pollution in London already kills 10,000 people, mostly workers, per year. Expanding Heathrow will massively worsen air pollution in London (particularly south-west London): which already has illegally high levels of air pollution.

Your last point doesn't make any sense either. How is not expanding something akin to destroying it? Expanding something isn't improving it either. And I don't think you understand who the Luddites were either. They weren't opposed to technology for its own sake, they were fighting to defend their pay and conditions.

Chilli Sauce
Dec 12 2016 17:04
Gregory A. Butler wrote:
Why would you expect airport workers to be opposed to an airport expansion?

For that matter, why should workers in general be opposed to expanding Heathrow?

We want to improve the means of production, not destroy them - save that for the luddite environmentalists!

Greg, I don't actually know what your politics are, but a set of revolutionary politics needs to include overcoming narrow, sectarian interests within the class.

It's strange to see someone on here advocate that workers should, in conjuction with their bosses, put their own short-term, immediate interests above those of their own local communities, the wider working class, and environment that sustains life here on here.

For inspiration - instead of some weird reactionary comment about the Luddites - could I suggest the Australian Green Bans?