Northwest strikers seek solidarity
to beat back union-busting attack
Militant/ Jacob Perasso
Flight attendants join August 27 rally at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in solidarity with the 4,400 striking members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association.
BY NELSON GONZALEZ
ST. PAUL, MinnesotaMore than 1,000 unionists rallied here August 27 in solidarity with the mechanics, cleaners, and custodians who are on strike against Northwest Airlines. They came loaded with boxes of food and other donations. Strikers from the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) were joined by members of the Teamsters, Professional Flight Attendants Association (PFAA), Carpenters Union, and others. A good number of those present were retired mechanics.
The strike, which began August 19, was provoked by the companys union-busting drive to impose a contract that would cut 2,000 jobshalf of the workforcereduce wages by 25 percent, freeze pensions, and increase the subcontracting of mechanics work.
Making clear its antiunion objectives, Northwest announced August 25 that it was prepared to operate indefinitely with replacement workers and was considering giving permanent jobs to 1,500 strikebreakers it is using as a temporary workforce. The company said it can do this under the antiunion Railway Labor Act.
It is not all smooth sailing for the company, however. One week into the strike, Northwest admitted that, despite earlier claims that the job action had barely disrupted flights, its operations were badly fouled up at the beginning of the strike, the New York Times reported. Flight problems are still significantly higher than Northwest experienced last year at this time, according to FlightStats, an airline consulting firm.
Northwest executive Andrew Roberts reported that as of August 25 the airline still had delays affecting 30 percent of its flights as compared to 21 percent a year ago. On the first day of the strike the airline had to cancel more than 8 percent of its flights, five times the industry average, although a few days later this had dropped to 1.8 percent.
Some individual ramp workers and flight attendants at Northwest have been visiting the strikers picket lines to show their solidarity, and a few have been honoring the picket lines, despite the fact that the International Association of Machinists (IAM) and Professional Flight Attendants Association have told their members to cross the line. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, Machinists joining the picket lines told the Militant that a few IAM members here have invoked article 26 of the contract, protecting their right not to cross the line. They report that the company has threatened them, saying they are on furlough.
Get out here and support this fight
Peggy Lubinski, a flight attendant here who was fired for refusing to cross the picket line, spoke at the August 27 rally. She received a sustained ovation. In an appeal to fellow members of the PFAA and other unionists, she urged, Dont cross the picket line. You need to get other jobs and get out here and support this fightyou need to walk, right now!
She added, In the same way that Northwest prepared for 18 months to replace the mechanics, they are preparing our replacements right now. Theyve got 1,300 ready right now and are organizing to replace all 2,500 of us. You need to walk right now or there wont be a PFAA with any members to go back to.
Referring to the pilots, Lubinski said, Shame on you. They should be here.
Northwest is seeking $107 million in annual concessions from the IAM as well as $143 million from the PFAA, including a 20 percent pay cut. Playing on the divisions between the IAM and AMFA, the company has promised to shift some of the aircraft cleaning tasks from AMFA cleaners to IAM-organized ground workers. IAM officials have said they are asking Northwest to get even more struck work handed to their members.
Also speaking at the solidarity rally, Dave Foster, president of District 11 of the United Steelworkers union, reminded the crowd of similar corporate attacks against steelworkers in Minnesotas Iron Range in the 1980s and pledged his support.
Kip Hedges, former president of IAM Local 1833 and one of the baggage handlers who have refused to cross the picket line here, said, Northwest is trying to break all the unions on Northwest property. If we dont stick together were dead.
PFAA president Guy Meek described the harassment by Northwest bosses of any flight attendants who document and file incident reports that indicate the need for aircraft maintenance.
Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, received sustained applause when he explained his organizations efforts to reach out to the Somali community through flyers and meetings to win support for the strike.
Earlier that week, at picket lines along the driveway leading to a hangar where Vance Security and the cops are escorting in scabs, striking mechanic Bruce McGee told the Militant that Northwest is using temp agencies to recruit some Somali workers as custodians and cleaners.
Jamal told the crowd, We are with you, we will not let Northwest take advantage of immigrant workers.
Ted Ludwig, president of AMFA Local 33, which sponsored the rally, said, A successful strike by us will give strength to other workers who have been taking it on the chin for quite a while now. Were doing the right thing as long as we dont cross the picket line.
Noting that not one striker has crossed the line, he said, I admire and respect the cleaners and the custodians for coming out with us. We will all get our jobs back and go in together. He pointed out that prior to the strike Northwest had tried to entice these workers into crossing the lines by promising them a supposedly generous severance package.
An announcement was made at the rally that three locals of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees planned a picket line next to a hotel to protest scabs being housed there. That action took place August 30.
At the San Francisco airport, the 20 mechanics on the picket line have been joined by many United Airline workers and Northwest flight attendants, as well as members of Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
On September 5 at 11:00 a.m., a Labor Day rally will be held at the San Francisco airport in solidarity with the Northwest strikers. It will be take place at Terminal 2, the old International Terminal.
At some airports, American Airline workers, who are members of the Transport Workers Union, have joined the picket lines.
Betsey Stone in San Francisco contributed to this article.
San Francisco: SWP candidates back Northwest Airlines strikers fight