Appeal for Striking Workers at Northwest Airlines

by Peter Rachleff


This message was posted on the Internet on Aug. 22, 2005.

Sisters and Brothers:

As I am sure you know, 4,400 mechanics, cleaners, and custodians represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association have been on strike for four days at Northwest Airlines. The issues they are facing will soon face all of us. They have dug in for a substantial fight and they intend to win, despite NWA’s “preparations,” which have been lauded on page one of the New York Times.

Despite the clarity of the issues, the leadership of the International Association of Machinists and the AFL-CIO has been determined to undermine this strike because they blame AMFA for “raiding” the IAM at NWA and other airlines in the late 1990s. I do not have the time or space here to go into an explanation of why and how the NWA mechanics turned to AMFA, nor do I propose to offer a point-by-point validation of AMFA’s history and their approach to trade unionism. These are worthy issues and they deserve careful and considered debate. But, at the moment, 4,400 mechanics, custodians, and cleaners are in the fight of their lives and they need support.

NWA management’s strategy rests on the assumption that AMFA has been, is, and will remain isolated. It is crucial that unions, labor activists, and progressives respond quickly and loudly to challenge this assumption. I am offering you the “solidarity statement” below as a way to announce your support of these workers.

Last night, activists in the Twin Cities organized an event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Hormel strike. More than a dozen veterans of the strike (which occurred in Austin, 100 miles away) attended, amidst a crowd of about 100 local union activists. The parallels between the Hormel strike and the Northwest Airlines strike are stunning, from the employers’ determination to bust the union and impose substantial wage, benefit, and workrule cuts, to the unwillingness of the “leaders” of the labor movement to step up and support strikers. Leaders and rank-and-file members of AMFA Local 33 also attended, and several spoke about their struggle. Activists from the flight attendants’ union (PFAA) and IAM Local 1833 (NWA) also expressed their solidarity and informed us about what is happening on the job itself during the strike, even among workers who have crossed AMFA’s picket lines. When a coffee can was passed in the audience, more than $1,200 was collected! Here in the Twin Cities, we are convinced that THIS IS A STRIKE THAT CAN BE WON.

But it is critical that unions, union activists, and progressives stand with AMFA and its striking members. Here in the Twin Cities, supporters of the strikers are pressing their union leaders to sign on to the statement below. We are also organizing a formal support committee and organizing a food bank. Please sign on to the statement below and circulate it to others to sign. Please reply to me at rachleff@macalester.edu.

Love and Solidarity,
Peter Rachleff
Professor of History
Macalester College
St.
Paul, Minnesota


A STATEMENT OF PROTEST AND SOLIDARITY

As union leaders and activists, we want to make it clear that we stand against the behavior of Northwest Airlines management and with the workers of Northwest Airlines and their unions as they seek economic justice.

For too many years the management of Northwest Airlines—along with other U.S. corporations—has demanded that workers give more hours, more effort, and more of their lives to their jobs while receiving reduced compensation, less security, and less respect. At the same time, management has taken home fat compensation packages, stock options, bonuses, and golden parachutes. NWA management is now in the midst of spending, by their own admission, more than $100 million to bust the mechanics’ union. They are recruiting hastily trained scabs and employing the infamous union-busting Vance Security company to intimidate the hard-working men and women who have given decades of their lives to Northwest.

NWA management has demanded that mechanics allow the contracting-out of the 53% of the work that remains after management already contracted out 38% of it. Fewer than one-fourth of the mechanics employed in 2000 will continue to have jobs. For those who remain, management demands a 26% wage cut and the emptying of their underfunded defined-benefit pensions into 401K plans tied to the stock market. NWA management has demanded that flight attendants undergo a 40% cut in their overall compensation. They are seeking similar cuts from other workers and, if they are able to force the mechanics and the flight attendants to accept these cuts, these other workers—pilots, baggage handlers, ticket agents, clerical workers, and others—will have little base from which to resist. The flying public will also have many reasons to question the safety of NWA flights.

NWA management’s behavior is all too familiar. It mirrors the actions of Hormel, the Detroit newspapers, Caterpillar, Staley, Delphi Auto Parts, Enron, and United Airlines. It also sets the stage for other corporate employers to demand that their workers and unions allow expanded outsourcing of work, accept slashed wages and benefits, and give up the pensions that they have sacrificed for over many years.

This must stop. These actions by NWA management, combined with their abuse of the trust of Minnesota citizens, taxpayers, and state government, make them a suitable poster child for the labor movement’s renewed efforts to educate, organize, and mobilize all Americans—native-born and immigrant, blue collar and white collar, manufacturing and service, women and men, union members and non-union members. All of us need to say “NO!” to this kind of behavior. NO to union-busting! NO to corporate greed! NO to a race to the bottom of the economic ladder!

We union leaders and activists stand against Northwest Airlines’ behavior and we stand with Northwest’s workers and their unions in their struggle for economic justice.