International developments in airport workers' struggles

Passengers at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle Airport during 5-day Air France strike in 2007

As recession and job losses seem imminent, airport staff across the world have been organising to oppose their negative effects.

Air France unions have called for employees to join mass strikes due to take place on January 29. A statement released last night by seven unions including the two biggest ones, the CFDT and CGT, called for employees to demand greater protection for jobs and pay in the face of the current economic crisis.

The statement said: "While the management prepares to restructure, freeze pay and make discussions more difficult, our unions are coming together to join the national strike on January 29."

Unions say employees, jobseekers and the retired are the greatest victims of a crisis for which they are not responsible.

The main eight unions met earlier in the month to discussion action for January 29. They said to overcome the economic crisis "requires urgent measures favouring employment, salary and integrated policies within an economic relaunch policy." They have called for the relatively slow period of activity caused by the crisis to be used to train staff and for the government to renounce the 30,000 civil service job cuts planned for 2009.

Unions have called for public and private sector workers, the unemployed and the retired to take part in a strike “on a mass scale.” January 29 will be the first time a strike across different professions has been held since May 22 last year when between 300,000 and 700,000 people took to the streets.

Ireland
Meanwhile, SIPTU members at Czech Airlines took strike action at Dublin airport yesterday (Friday 16th) in protest at job cuts. The company is closing its Dublin offices and outsourcing operations to Britain.

SIPTU says today's strike action relates to the airline's refusal to offer Irish staff more than statutory redundancy in their severance terms. The union says the company made no effort to engage in negotiations and refused repeated requests for talks on the redundancies.

Jamaica
Finally, news should come out by next week as to whether Air Jamaica will be cutting staff. Since last week, reports have surfaced that the management of the airline is to slash some routes and significantly reduce its staff in the face of the current economic turbulence.

However, the management says no decision has yet been made.

"We have gone through a review and we are developing a plan that is going to the Ministry of Finance and the Cabinet and it would be inappropriate for us to comment on that now. As soon as we have word, we will let you know," Bruce Nobles, president of Air Jamaica, said.

Nobles' comment came hours after the Jamaica Airline Pilots Association put more than 150 pilots employed to Air Jamaica on alert.

"We have told our members that this is a possibility but we have not had any information," Russel Capelton, president of the pilots association, said.

However, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), which represents flight attendants, managerial and some ground staff at the airline, says it has not yet had any dialogue with its members.

"Nobody has said anything to us. We have heard some rumours but that is not enough for us to take to our members," Kavan Gayle, president of the BITU, told The Gleaner.

"We want to know about the plans to divest the airline and a management plan for the future. It cannot be that there is a staff reduction first without any long-term plan being released for the airline," Gayle added.

International picture
These struggles join the current upswing in airport workers' militancy with recent months seeing wildcat strikes in Germany, Italy, Israel, Spain and earlier strike action by Air France staff. It can be said to be a fair bet that the intensifying of the global financial crisis will see further action by workers in the aviation industry as fights against job losses and worsening conditions become increasingly important. The activity of French, Irish and Jamaican airport staff can only be seen as the development of this trend which is quite likely to continue (and hopefully intensify) in the near future.

Comments

Spassmaschine
Jan 19 2009 22:18

Security screening staff at Hungary's Ferihegy airport are also on strike again, a resumption of last December's strike. They've closed down one of the terminals but everything has just been moved to the other terminal and I don't think any flights have been cancelled.

Ed
Jan 22 2009 22:13

Still though, these are all interesting developments. I've been thinking about it mostly in terms of Beverly Silver's arguments (in her book Forces of Labour about the shifts within the transport sector for major sites of conflict. As the aviation industry grew over the past 70 years, we've seen the move away from docks/shipping and towards airports as a major site for capital investment (and increasing class struggle). I think there will be more to come with regards struggle in this industry.. one to keep an eye on I think!

Steven.
Jan 23 2009 13:09

On another note related to Beverly Silver's work, you can already see a number of "fixes" employers have been trying to put into place. Particularly technological fixes - the introduction of online check-ins, and the automation of lot of check-in staff functions is clearly in large part the result of check-in workers militancy.

Baggage handlers are also quite a militant lot - their wildcat strike in Heathrow in support of gate gourmet catering workers was a stunning example of this. I'm sure a technological fix for this "problem" is being sought. On the positive side for airport workers, a lot of security and safety considerations would mean that a lot of jobs simply can not be automated, which is a marked difference from much of the rest of the transport sector (where trains and trams can be driven by computers, ticket systems run entirely by machines, etc)