The Workers’ Runway- Newsletter No.6

This is the longer, online version, of the newsletter that we are distributing locally. Download below:-

Heathrow Staff Parking Charges!


Workers are being made to pay up to an extra 135% for the privilege of parking at work. From £57 a month for a parking pass, to £135! Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) say this is to make up for a £7 million shortfall caused by a drop in demand for parking passes. Most workers only alternative is public transport. This was made more expensive last year when HAL forced more losses onto workers by removing the free bus services around the airport. The £7 million shortfall is nothing to shareholders that have received £4 billion since 2012 and got £100 million paid out in April 2020! The GMB union has started a petition, written to MP’s and council leaders, but the campaign hasn’t advanced much further. Workers have been balloted 3 times but aside from 400 people signing the petition and a couple of letters, no pressure has been applied to the bosses. 

If the union’s aren’t getting the job done, we need to get together and do it ourselves. Let us know what’s happening where you are. Has this affected you? How has the union performed? How can we escalate the dispute? 

British Airways Cabin Crew Recruitment?! 

British Airways have tied the knot on their obvious and predictable “back door fire and rehire scheme,” that they started in spring 2020. The first part of this not so secret plot was to aggressively demand that shell-shocked staff accept large reductions in pay and conditions or face the sack. The next phase was to continue to plead extreme poverty to staff and demand huge redundancies, while simultaneously with their other face, reassuring shareholders of the companies cash reserves and healthy liquidity. The company was never in much actual difficulty. Banks will lend almost indefinitely to a company like BA. There will always be UK aviation and no matter what the circumstances, when all the other smaller airlines have folded, one of the last standing will almost certainly be BA. And now, barely a year after making 4700 cabin crew redundant and not even a month after furlough has finished, BA are attempting to rehire 3000 crew, on contracts far inferior to the ones they left on. 

While some of the media are parroting BA spokespeople, saying that the announcement is positive news, that BA are drawing on their “talent pool” and that workers should basically feel lucky for the jobs, the Financial Times is much closer to reality when it reports that “…the new BA hires and the potential new subsidiary from Gatwick reflect how airline bosses will look to rebuild their workforce’s and operations, while cementing the considerable cost savings achieved during the pandemic.” 

These latest developments clearly expose the mass attacks on jobs and contracts at BA for what they always were- barefaced opportunism. Simply an opportunity to do what companies are always looking to do- reduce labour costs as much as possible. While companies profits return to “normal,” workers pay and conditions, will be expected to stay where they are- cemented down below their pre-pandemic levels. 

Why should this be tolerated? As things pick up and bargaining power increases, we should remember what’s happened and figure out how we can reflect it in our demands. 

Alitalia workers fight for jobs in Italy!
On 20th October we held a public Zoom meeting with workers at Italian airline Alitalia. They are fighting to save jobs and pay and conditions, in the wake of the companies far reaching restructure. Alitalia is to be broken up into 3 sections and renamed ITA Airways. The new company came into being on the 15th October 2021 and huge job losses are already being endured in the handling division, while aircraft maintenance is apparently being outsourced to private companies. National agreements around pay and conditions are not being honoured and staff transferring or being rehired by ITA are signing up on inferior terms. 

This has obviously all been decided upon with little or no worker input. The Italian government, which owns ITA Airways, would likely claim that workers voices have been heard and use union leaderships agreement to the plan as evidence. Union officials in Italy, as they often are in the UK, are probably convinced to agree with the bosses plans, by promises of more members and national recognition agreements, that give the unions guaranteed dues and prestige. This however, is of course, no substitute for workers genuine involvement and agreement. Since demand for aviation has picked up a little, workers have responded to the plans with a number of official strikes, but these actions are hampered by managements awareness of them long in advance. 

The workers we spoke to on the 20th are with an independent worker collective called Tutti A Bordo (Everyone on Board). The group is made up of militant workers from different departments that have come together, irrespective of their job roles and union membership, in an attempt to provide a forum for workers to develop and put forward their authentic demands. Not an easy task but their efforts are admirable. The group has made a point of trying to get workers on the streets in a militant fashion. Demonstrating inside airports, attempting to occupy the ITA HQ and blocking a main road to Rome’s airport. All this makes a stark contrast to the relatively subdued recent disputes at Heathrow. Alitalia stand to lose as many as 10,000 workers. That’s the same amount that British Airways have made redundant since the pandemic. In spite of the similarities in scale, the prospect of blocked roads, occupations and all out strikes at Heathrow has always seemed very distant.

They are not the only workers looking to combine their efforts against the bosses attacks in the aftermath of Covid. In Italy an array of what are called “base unions” has developed. These unions tend to pride themselves on being more militant and encouraging much more rank and file participation within the organisation. These unions called for a “general strike” on 11th October, uniting struggles from many different workplaces and industries. Disputes at Ex-Ilva, Jindal Piombino, Whirlpool, Flextronics, Almaviva, Stellantis and Sevel were all drawn upon. On the day, 10’s of thousands of workers participated in the strike, ports and roads were blockaded and demonstrations were held across Italy. The workers we spoke to were quite clear however that the 11th October had serious limitations and alongside the GKN workers, expressed commitment to building towards a much bigger and more effective general strike, that draws in far more workers. 

Port workers, air or sea, have always got lots of power. When supply-chain’s appear to be under pressure, as they do at the moment, they have even more power. If people and stuff doesn’t get to where it needs to be, it can have serious effects on companies and throughout the economy in general. The most successful labour dispute at Heathrow during the pandemic was the strike at BA Cargo. The Cargo workers got most of their demands met. BA workers in other departments had to accept mass redundancies and large cuts to pay and benefits. With a better organised workplace, the increased bargaining power at BA Cargo, could have been utilised for the benefit of workers at the whole company and beyond. Global supply chains seem fragile and workers should make the most of it. 

Another impressive worker collective is the west coast port workers organisation- Collettivo Autonomo Lavoratori Portuali. They participated in the 11th October general strike and are best known for refusing to load ships at their ports, that they discover are holding arms earmarked for use on civilians in places like Yemen and Palestine. These kind of actions are a crucial part of workers self defence and hold the promise of a transformed economy within them- workers deciding what gets to circulate the globe, not capitalists. The connections and trust built up by port and all logistics workers acts of solidarity, could be a critical part of bringing together working class people across borders. This is one of the reasons we feel it’s so important to organise at Heathrow and the surrounding area. We need more workers here realising the power and agency they have to help enact the profound changes needed, to give people control of their daily lives and protect our environment from the inherent logics of capitalist production. This knowledge is empowering and should give pride and purpose to work that the bosses make boring, frustrating and often demeaning. How do we want to spend our days? “Today, most of the work we carried out, was loading planes with crap that people don’t need, to make people, that probably hate us, richer….” Or “Today, to support fellow working class people on strike thousands of miles away, we refused to load a plane, while working fast and efficiently to transport essential goods for a worker run health service equally as far away…..” 

An issue, external to the immediate struggle, that has made an impression on it, is the fight against the green pass (Italy’s vaccine passport). Workers are expected to produce a green pass as proof they have been vaccinated or be force to pay for regular Covid tests before they can enter the workplace. Many workers are resisting the scheme, but, as it is in the UK, it is appears a divisive issue. Speaking in a personal capacity, as the Tutti A Bordo collective doesn’t have a unified opinion on the topic as yet, workers told us that it should be viewed as part of the general attack on the working class. That companies are using the green pass to circumvent costly health and safety measures, like social distancing and PPE. Matters are complicated by the fact that the green pass debate has drawn people into the orbit of these workers who are not very helpful when your trying to build a working class movement. Small business owners, spoilt little rich kids, conspiracy enthusiasts, and even fascist elements have all jumped on the anti-green pass bandwagon. Messaging can get jumbled and direction can be lost, in such a menagerie of motivations. But situations like this can also provide opportunities for people to be exposed to a class perspective that will be helpful in future struggles. People could be brought into a battle by fears of satanic cults injecting microchips into our bloodstreams and leave with a far better understanding of how power operates in a capitalist society. 

The motto of the workers at Tutti A Bordo and GKN was used by resistance fighters against fascism during the war- Insorgiamo. It means “let’s rise up.” We should all do our best to learn from the experiences of workers in Italy and do all we can to help them. Follow them on social media and send them your solidarity. What other ways might we be able to help? What do you think of the situation in Italy in comparison to our situation at Heathrow? We will be following the situation closely and attempting to build support for a solidarity action here in the UK. Get in touch if you want to get involved! Insorgiamo Heathrow!!!

Jet Zero Consultation

In July 2021 the Department of Transport published their proposals for achieving net zero carbon emissions in aviation by 2050. This was a part of the preparations for the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow. You’ll be surprised to hear that it’s all bollocks. Apparently passenger miles will be able to double by 2050, while greenhouse gas emissions remain constant. The predictions for how this will be achieved rely heavily on, no word of a lie, as yet unachieved technological breakthroughs in sustainable bio-fuels (SAFs), carbon capture, hydrogen and zero emissions flights (electric, solar etc.). It reads as one big gamble with our future. The proposals were drawn up by the Jet Zero Council. By their own admission “a partnership between industry and government to bring together ministers and chief executive officer-level stakeholders…..” The council membership list reads like a who’s who of people we shouldn’t listen to when we’re thinking about aviation and its impact on the environment. From the list of members you can easily predict the proposals and conclusions. The basic message is “carry on as usual, we’ve got people working on it.” We shouldn’t waste time pretending that these people can be convinced to act any other way or that they are even fully in control of how this will all pan out. As long as, profits need to constantly expand and reproduce itself, is not replaced by people democratically deciding what our needs are and producing according to them, our mental and environmental health will continue to decline. 

In the UK (and it’s similar across the world) 70% of flights are taken by only 15% of the population, while most years over 50% don’t fly at all. The average income of that 15% is £115,000. The dire futures predicted by the vast majority of climate scientists won’t be averted by appealing to the members of the Jet Zero Council. The techno-fix isn’t going to solve our problem as they tell us. The honest truth is that people need to fly less. As most of the flights are taken by the wealthy, this isn’t something workers should be concerned about. Some form of rationing is required. Distributed fairly and not just on your ability to pay. As workers we can think of ways to force this into happening and not accept the “jobs or climate” blackmail. This shouldn’t result in job losses or working people penalised in anyway to protect the profits of shareholders. Working class people can bring this about but we’ll need to get organised and work together. The unions role in agreeing to businesses demands for constant aviation sector growth will need to be challenged. Those benefiting from the system will try and convince us we can carry on as usual. We will be subjected to many more cringe inducing adverts, using children as emotional fodder, like the recent Climate Pledge effort, which, we are informed at the end, is paid for by Amazon, co-founder of the Climate Pledge. Get on the bus, go on a train, sit in a cinema and you’ll be bombarded with advertising designed to play on our heart strings and convince us that the corporations are handling everything just fine. And if Covid restrictions on flights continue to be rolled back we will be asked to return to “normal.” Keep shopping, keep buying, keep flying. Recent media coverage around COP26 has been painful. BBC pieces, uncritically regurgitating corporate propaganda around the wonders of carbon capture technology and future “guilt-free” supersonic flights fuelled by SAF’s. 

At Heathrow we should know what to make of these promises. At every turn, since the inception of the airport, airlines and governing bodies have insisted that there will be no more expansions and have every time been proven liars. The construction of terminal 4 and terminal 5 faced heavy opposition from locals due to concerns over noise, air pollution and destruction of habitats. Before each was constructed they were given assurances that no further expansion would be pursued. And now the same authorities are pushing hard for a 3rd runway and a 6th terminal. It is never enough. If the whole of the Thames Valley was a landing strip, it still wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the insatiable appetite and parasitic nature of money. Take a look at aerial photos of Heathrow over time and you get a visual representation of this process in action. Lush green countryside consumed, step by step, by an ever expanding grey mass, polluting and devouring its host and destroying the basis of its own existence. The climate crisis in microcosm. Just as we shouldn’t be appealing to corporations to solve the climate crisis they created, we shouldn’t appeal to the media to report on it properly. After all, they are corporations and can’t be trusted to. An alternative is workers creating their own media, that reflects our values and interests. Do our own research and reporting for our own sake, not to make a buck out of it. We all have knowledge and experience that needs to be shared and that would be enriched by the debate and discussion it could create. Workers can develop the power and skills necessary to reshape the way we produce. And if we want to maintain an environment capable of supporting us, we will have to! 

Remote Sign-on!
Bus drivers all over London and beyond are facing major attacks on the way they work. Companies are looking to impose remote sign-on. A practice that requires drivers to report to a particular bus stop rather than a bus depot at the beginning of each shift. It will not only mean being at the companies beck and call, more hours for less money and a decline in access to toilet and rest facilities but potentially paves the way to the full “casualisation” of the job. Bus drivers being completely “self employed” and stripped of the benefits of being employed is a predictable outcome of this practice. Speaking with bus drivers on our leafleting sessions it appears the company Metroline has already pushed the changes through and others are in the process. When are ballots going out for strike? How can we support the bus drivers?

Whose Solidarity?!
On Monday 8th November, to celebrate the restarting of long-haul flights to the US, British Airways and Virgin put their rivalries aside and staged a simultaneous take-off from Heathrow. The seemingly bitter adversaries decided the media attention attracted by the stunt made this rare collaboration worthwhile. The rich know when to show class solidarity for one another and work together when needs be. 

Heathrow Solidarity Network is trying to help build and develop our own, workers solidarity. When bosses or landlords start messing with our fellow workers, our class, we should be getting together and fighting back. If you need help with unpaid wages, bullying or discrimination at work, landlord trouble, we offer to do what we can as workers to help. Contact us on the details below. If you just want to share some information or get involved with what we’re doing, get in touch. We hold regular leaflet sessions at local transit hubs. See you around. 

Email- heathrowworkers@protonmail.com

Call or text- 07518 573068

Facebook- Heathrow Solidarity Network 

Twitter- @heathrowworkers

Website- https://heathrowworkerspower.wordpress.com/

Alitalia Meeting Summary!

Alitalia workers in confrontations with police while blocking roads to Rome’s airport!


On 20th October we held a public Zoom meeting with workers at Italian airline Alitalia. They are fighting to save jobs and pay and conditions, in the wake of the companies far reaching restructure. Alitalia is to be broken up into 3 sections and renamed ITA Airways. The new company came into being on the 15th October 2021 and huge job losses are already being endured in the handling division, while aircraft maintenance is apparently being outsourced to private companies. National agreements around pay and conditions are not being honoured and staff transferring or being rehired by ITA are signing up on inferior terms.

The restructure is part of a European wide plan, with the involvement of the European Commission, to allow for only three main intercontinental carriers out of Europe and for these to be based out of France and Germany. Alitalia’s diminishing and breaking up, is in part to make room for these larger European airline companies and to encourage the expansion of low-cost/budget airlines nationally. This has obviously all been decided upon with little or no worker input. The Italian government, which owns ITA Airways, would likely claim that workers voices have been heard and use union leaderships agreement to the plan as evidence. Union officials in Italy, as they often are in the UK, are probably convinced to agree with the bosses plans, by promises of more members and national recognition agreements, that give the unions guaranteed dues and prestige. This however, is of course, no substitute for workers genuine involvement and agreement. Since demand for aviation has picked up a little, workers have responded to the plans with a number of official strikes, but these actions are hampered by managements awareness of them long in advance. The workers we spoke to on the 20th are with an independent worker collective called Tutti A Bordo (Everyone on Board). The name is simultaneously a call for unity across the airline and a demand that all staff should keep their jobs. The group is made up of militant workers from different departments that have come together, irrespective of their job roles and union membership, in an attempt to provide a forum for workers to develop and put forward their authentic demands. Not an easy task but their efforts are admirable. The group has made a point of trying to get workers on the streets in a militant fashion. Demonstrating inside airports, attempting to occupy the ITA HQ and blocking a main road to Rome’s airport. All this makes a stark contrast to the relatively subdued recent disputes at Heathrow. Alitalia stand to lose as many as 10,000 workers. That’s the same amount that British Airways have made redundant since the pandemic. In spite of the similarities in scale, the prospect of blocked roads, occupations and all out strikes at Heathrow has always seemed very distant. Tutti A Bordo doesn’t claim to have any great power at this time. It doesn’t have the ability to call a strike for example, but they are no less an important focal point in the struggle. They have also developed a significant partnership with another worker collective fighting the closure of their factory at GKN in Florence (Collectivo di Fabbrica- Lavoratori GKN Firenze). The groups of workers from different companies and sectors are demonstrating, blockading, occupying and striking together. 

They are not the only workers looking to combine their efforts against the bosses attacks in the aftermath of Covid. In Italy an array of what are called “base unions” has developed. These unions tend to pride themselves on being more militant and encouraging much more rank and file participation within the organisation. These unions called for a “general strike” on 11th October, uniting struggles from many different workplaces and industries. Disputes at Ex-Ilva, Jindal Piombino, Whirlpool, Flextronics, Almaviva, Stellantis and Sevel were all drawn upon. On the day, 10’s of thousands of workers participated in the strike, ports and roads were blockaded and demonstrations were held across Italy. The workers we spoke to were quite clear however that the 11th October had serious limitations and alongside the GKN workers, expressed commitment to building towards a much bigger and more effective general strike, that draws in far more workers. Again, with echoes of the situation in the UK, the number and nature of the unions was a severe impediment in the strike. The mainstream unions, that still have the majority of members in Italy, did not support the general strike. The base unions that did support the strike are often, politically, on very different pages from each other, which can inhibit collaboration. They can also, like their mainstream cousins, sometimes be more concerned with the preservation and expansion of their particular organisation, rather than linking up with others in the interests of working class people in general. Tutti A Bordo is taking a sensible approach and seeking to build connections between workers that will get them to walk out in support of one another, no matter what the union leaderships may wish. 

Port workers, air or sea, have always got lots of power. When supply-chain’s appear to be under pressure, as they do at the moment, they have even more power. If people and stuff doesn’t get to where it needs to be, it can have serious effects on companies and throughout the economy in general. The most successful labour dispute at Heathrow during the pandemic was the strike at BA Cargo. The Cargo workers got most of their demands met. BA workers in other departments had to accept mass redundancies and large cuts to pay and benefits. With a better organised workplace, the increased bargaining power at BA Cargo, could have been utilised for the benefit of workers at the whole company and beyond. In the current Alitalia dispute the situation is a little different in that Alitalia no longer handles cargo. Cargo services are carried out by different companies mainly through Malpensa airport, Milan. Workers in cargo have shown solidarity with the Alitalia workers but to what extent is unclear. Hopefully the collaboration can be expanded. Global supply chains seem fragile and workers should make the most of it. Another impressive worker collective is the west coast port workers organisation- Collettivo Autonomo Lavoratori Portuali. They participated in the 11th October general strike and are best known for refusing to load ships at their ports, that they discover are holding arms earmarked for use on civilians in places like Yemen and Palestine. These kind of actions are a crucial part of workers self defence and hold the promise of a transformed economy within them- workers deciding what gets to circulate the globe, not capitalists. The connections and trust built up by port and all logistics workers acts of solidarity, could be a critical part of bringing together working class people across borders. This is one of the reasons we feel it’s so important to organise at Heathrow and the surrounding area. We need more workers here realising the power and agency they have to help enact the profound changes needed, to give people control of their daily lives and protect our environment from the inherent logics of capitalist production. This knowledge is empowering and should give pride and purpose to work that the bosses make boring, frustrating and often demeaning. How do we want to spend our days? “Today, most of the work we carried out, was loading planes with crap that people don’t need, to make people, that probably hate us, richer….” Or “Today, to support fellow working class people on strike thousands of miles away, we refused to load a plane, while working fast and efficiently to transport essential goods for a worker run health service equally as far away…..” 

Aviation workers can also play an important role in the battle to return our environment to health. It can appear daunting but should also be empowering. As yet, environmental concerns have not entered into the dispute at Alitalia. When we spoke with Tutti A Bordo they said that they were obviously concerned with the environment and well aware of the contradictory position climate conscious aviation workers find themselves in, but that they hadn’t managed to incorporate the issue in the struggle so far. They said one of the main reasons for being against budget airlines was that they help to produce excessive polluting flights. The pandemic has shown us what the “essential” work in society is. Society carried on pretty well with only about 40% of people going to work. In aviation we’ve seen that lots of the air traffic is quite unnecessary and harmful. Business flights have plummeted and the temptation for airlines will be to ramp up demand for leisure travel. Unless we can begin to use our positions at work to put environmental concerns at the centre of how we run aviation, the likelihood of genuine change is slim.

Another issue, external to the immediate struggle, that has made an impression on it, is the fight against the green pass (Italy’s vaccine passport). Workers are expected to produce a green pass as proof they have been vaccinated or be force to pay for regular Covid tests before they can enter the workplace. Many workers are resisting the scheme, but, as it is in the UK, it appears a divisive issue. Speaking in a personal capacity, as the Tutti A Bordo collective doesn’t have a unified opinion on the topic as yet, workers told us that it should be viewed as part of the general attack on the working class. That companies are using the green pass to circumvent costly health and safety measures, like social distancing and PPE. Matters are complicated by the fact that the green pass debate has drawn people into the orbit of these workers who are not very helpful when your trying to build a working class movement. Small business owners, spoilt little rich kids, conspiracy enthusiasts, and even fascist elements have all jump on the anti-green pass bandwagon. Messaging can get jumbled and direction can be lost, in such a menagerie of motivations. But situations like this can also provide opportunities for people to be exposed to a class perspective that will be helpful in future struggles. People could be brought into a battle by fears of satanic cults injecting microchips into our bloodstreams and leave with a far better understanding of how power operates in a capitalist society. Committed fascists will likely be the toughest nuts to crack and have to just be wholly rejected.

The motto of the workers at Tutti A Bordo and GKN was used by resistance fighters against fascism during the war- Insorgiamo. It means “let’s rise up.” We should all do our best to learn from the experiences of workers in Italy and do all we can to help them. Follow them on Facebook and send them your solidarity. What other ways might we be able to help? What do you think of the situation in Italy in comparison to our situation at Heathrow? We will be following the situation closely and attempting to build support for a solidarity action here in the UK. Get in touch and get involved! Insorgiamo Heathrow!!!

Facebook:-

Tutti A Bordo – no al piano ITA 

Heathrow Workers Power

Twitter:-

@heathrowworkers

Email:-

heathrowworkers@protonmail.com

Public Meeting with Alitalia workers fighting job losses!  

Everyone on board!!!


Wednesday 20th October at 7pm (BST)

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88184235766

All over the globe, since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, bosses have been trying to push losses onto workers and capitalise on this crisis. Aviation workers at Alitalia in Italy are facing massive job losses. Base unions and worker collectives across Italy are attempting to link up different struggles, in different industries!

Join us for an interesting chat with an Alitalia worker! We work in and around Heathrow and are starting a local solidarity network. What can we learn from the experience of aviation workers in Italy? How did the October 11th general strike go? And how could we support them in their efforts and link up common struggles?!!! 

Heathrow Workers Power

Email:- heathrowworkers@protonmail.com

Twitter:- @heathrowworkers

Facebook:- Heathrow Workers Power

Call or text:- 07340 082667

WE SUPPORT ALITALIA WORKERS AGAINST ITA PROJECT 

During the last weeks the struggle of Alitalia workers against ITA project has dramatically increased. The Italian government, with the EU support, has decided to erase the Italian historical airline to start up a small airline with a few aircraft, no handling, no maintenance and not a chance to take off! A downsizing plan that has only one certainty: the layoff of thousand workers. We support this important struggle, we support Alitalia workers that during the last months crowded the streets of Rome making public the liability of Italian and European policies favoring the multinational corporation. We stand with all Alitalia employees for the removal of the Ita industrial plan and its re-definition, with their approval, of a new, concrete and public project to re-launch Alitalia, which guarantees full employment, rights and wages for all workers, also by means of a new model of Union representation, where workers can actually decide about their future.

Tutti A Bordo (Everyone on board)!No Layoffs!Down with the ITA plan!We are all Alitalia!

Heathrow Workers Power

Heathrow Meeting!

Hello everyone 

We would like to invite you to a meeting to discuss plans for a local action group at Heathrow. 

When:- 7pm Thursday 16th September 2021

Where:- On Zoom

How:- If you would like to attend, email us @ heathrowworkers@protonmail.com and we will send you the Zoom link. 

What’s been happening?! 

Workers reliant on aviation, have been through a lot since the outbreak of the pandemic. Most have either been through a redundancy process, had their pay and conditions attacked, lost all their overtime, been on furlough or all of the above. Last year, high profile disputes broke out at British Airways (BA) and Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL). The main cause of the stand offs were the companies attempts to “fire and rehire” their staff. A practice employers have been deploying up and down the country and all over the globe. Workers would need to accept drastic cuts to their pay and conditions or be shown the door. These disputes at Heathrow ended much as those elsewhere, with the companies, more or less, getting their own way. Only BA Cargo workers, that went on strike for 9 days over the Christmas period and threatened more in January, managed get most of their demands met. The rest of the workers at BA and HAL have faced serious attacks on their terms and conditions as well as mass redundancies. However, these are just those workplaces under the spotlight. Thousands of workers in large and small, non-unionised companies, on and around the airport, have faced the same and worse. The pandemic has accelerated long-term downward trends in standards of living and working conditions. 

What shall we do about it?! 

We think we have to start locally, to build the confidence, trust and power to push back. Workers themselves need to lead the discussion about the future of their livelihoods and the planet. Are union’s, that even after the pandemic still enthusiastically support a 3rd runway, the best place for these conversations? Heathrow is full of workers on different contracts, in different unions, in different departments, in different companies, but in the exact same workplace. How can we break down these barriers that keep getting in the way when workers try to combine? How do we speak to workers in non-unionised workplaces? Our group could be a focal point for militant workers to get together, seek out and offer support to non-militants, discuss their situation, devise strategies best suited to them, and then act. 

We would like to discuss some modest and achievable objectives to get this ball rolling. 

  • A monthly collectively produced newsletter, with reports and articles discussing workers issues in and around the airport and linking to the wider national and international scene. 
  • A monthly leafleting and postering session, to reach out to workers that need support or want to get involved. 
  • A monthly meeting to discuss the groups business and direction.
  • Visits of support to local disputes, strikes and protests.
  • The maintenance of Facebook and Twitter accounts.

We started this project in late 2020 but Covid restrictions made it difficult to maintain momentum. We have a worker on the airport and a number of local supporters and contacts through solidarity network activity, but we are eager to get a more committed group established in the area. Come and discuss this with us. What do you think of the proposals above? What would you like to do? What would you like a local group to do? 

Look forward to seeing you. 

All the best 

Heathrow Workers Power

Highland and Islands Air Traffic Controllers Strike

https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/homenews/19475495.hial-lifeline-planes-grounded-scots-air-traffic-workers-forced-strike-cuts/

Air traffic controllers at HIAL with the union Prospect finally go on strike, shutting down multiple airports, in long running dispute over planned control tower relocation and centralisation! Why has it taken so long? Is the union scared of bad media publicity? Negotiations have been ongoing for nearly a year with no progress, why’ll the company continually pushes ahead with its plans. How can the workers patience be in question? Yet still, the Herald article above, questions the legitimacy of the strike by putting the word “forced” in scare quotes and seeks to convince readers that the workers are irresponsible by calling the flights that were cancelled by the strike, “lifeline planes.” The media will never be on the workers side, no matter how obvious our “patience” is. If the boss isn’t listen and we have the ability to shut the operation down, do it! How else are we going to teach the bosses, to do as they’re told.

Heathrow Workers Power

Direct SatisfAction


At Heathrow, once we’ve decided what we want, what actions shall we take to get it? And what can our method of action tell us about what we want? Some recent events might give us some hints.

Livorno and Naples Dockworkers. 

Amidst the continuing atrocities against Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories, in mid-May, Italian dock workers at the Port of Livorno are refusing to load weapons destined for Israel. The workers of the USB (Unione Sindacale di Base) in collaboration with the Autonomous Collective of Port Workers of Genoa and the WeaponWatch association discovered the shipment and issued a statement. Dockworkers in Naples with the S.I.Cobas union also stated their determination to refuse to load military shipments destined for Israel, should they discover them. These actions aren’t totally spontaneous, but the result of ongoing organising work. Dockworkers in Genoa did the same in solidarity against the slaughter in Yemen with a shipment destined for Saudi Arabia back in 2019. After that action, Weapon Watch was established – a research group monitoring arms traffic in European and Mediterranean ports. In this region of Italy, links have been formed between researchers, autonomous worker collectives and base unions, to create situations where actions to defend working class people thousands of miles away are possible. Scaled up, these could be perceived as the embryonic rudiments of a counter-power capable of taking on nation-states and transnational corporations. 

Refusing to do something you are contractually obligated to carry out isn’t allowed. But companies have limited options if the workers have unity, as the examples above show. It becomes not so much about whether something is legal or illegal but what power do workers have at work? What is the cost for bosses if they steamroller something through? Teachers in Chicago went on wildcat strikes a few years ago and even though they were thoroughly illegal, they had enough power to get their demands met nevertheless. 

This is especially interesting for us as workers at Heathrow – a major logistics hub. Heathrow was already Britain’s largest port by value. The pandemic has seen demand for freight increase, even judged against pre-Covid levels. February 2021 saw a 9% increase on 2019 levels of freight. Companies are keeping less stock meaning they need to quickly order bits in when they run out; manufacturing in general is holding up quite well, and the pandemic is disrupting supply chains causing delivery delays, which prompts companies to opt for air transport, which is quicker. Added to this is huge quantities of PPE flown in since the beginning of the crisis. With passenger numbers likely to be uncertain in the near future and cargo proven more reliable and profitable in these troubled times, companies are likely to adjust their infrastructure and business models to accommodate it. Emirates adapting a huge double decker A380 into a cargo plane is a sign of this trend. This all means that, like dockworkers on the west coast of Italy, as Heathrow workers, we have a significant effect on global trade and power relations. Us workers have enormous potential power to wield, if we choose and make steps to use it. The relative success of the BA Cargo strike late last year shows that BA management were willing to make greater concessions to their cargo division than the other departments. The question is how to use it to link up to other groups of Heathrow workers, who may not wield so much direct power (e.g. cleaners), but who are vital parts of the Heathrow machine. 

Organised port workers studying their own situation and realising the power they have, can improve their living standards, support workers elsewhere to do the same and contribute to the development of a broader discussion and understanding about aviation, global trade, the environment, human emancipation and the conflicting relationships between them. They can also offer direct, practical solidarity to their brothers and sisters overseas in their struggles, as the recent cases with Palestinians show. 

Glasgow Immigration Raid

On the 2nd May, a crowd gathered in Kenmure Street, Glasgow in reaction to a dawn raid by immigration officials. Officials barged into the top-floor flat of the two men who have reportedly lived in the area for 10 years and work as a mechanic and chef. The men, originally from India, were loaded into a van to be taken to a detention centre because of “suspected immigration offences.” The crowd prevented the vehicle from leaving by the sheer weight of their numbers. After a nine hour stand off, the two men were released and escorted to a local Gurdwara for protection. 

What started off as a few people with signs making phone calls soon turned into a crowd of hundreds. The protest didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. Tensions within the local community surrounding asylum issues have been escalating over the years and the community has been organising. The No Evictions and Anti-Raids networks have been active in raising awareness and attempting to disrupt Immigration Enforcement operations. That said, unless many members of the local community not linked to those groups had come out and refused to allow the abduction of their neighbour, they wouldn’t have achieved what they achieved. It was an amazing display of solidarity. It shows that people have considerable power to dictate the course of events, when they act together. It is clearly “illegal” to completely block the transportation of someone that Immigration Enforcement have earmarked for detention. But after watching the footage of the event, it’s hard not to conclude that with enough social force, the law begins to become pretty inconsequential. The roar of collective joy released when the men emerge from the back of the van is spine tingling. A healthy ripple of jealousy should reverberate through those of us that weren’t lucky enough to be involved. It should spur our efforts to cultivate the kind of environment in which these actions are more common and the exhilaration of overcoming the authorities, more widely dispersed. The Home Office has not given up and have said they’re committed to prosecuting the case. But they have been given a bloody nose and the community will have grown in confidence. 

Again, Heathrow potentially has a quite significant role to play in all this. With deportation flights leaving from Heathrow and Europe’s largest detention centres on our doorstep, workers here are ideally placed to intervene. The so-called “hostile environment“ is being turbocharged under the stewardship of Priti Patel. The poor conditions at detention centres (not that we would find good detention conditions acceptable), the dawn raids outlined above, and the Home Office’s dodging of due process in asylum cases, is causing a massive amount of unnecessary suffering. The stated purpose is to discourage ‘illegal’ immigrants. The often implied purpose is the racist scapegoating of migrants that “drive down “our” wages,” while simultaneously stealing all “our” jobs and claiming all “our” benefits. 

Recent reports of labour shortages due to Covid, Brexit and the hostile environment, which may lead to an increase in wages, will obviously cause problems for employers, eager for available workers to make them profits, but will play well politically for the UK’s ruling elite. The Conservatives and their media mouthpieces will spin a narrative, using increasing wages to justify the restrictions to immigration. Some workers will agree and reason that they have things hard enough and that they don’t need any extra competition from migrants. While this might be true in the short-term, this view fails to see the mutual interest all workers have in fighting together for improved living standards and control of our workplaces and communities. The rich can move their money wherever the labour is cheapest. If our wages get too high for the capitalists to stomach, they can migrate elsewhere. How does it benefit us to pretend that throwing up “our” borders solves anything? The system is so sick and perverse that it punishes us for improving our lot. Either through inflation, benefit cuts, improved technology or offshoring, the gains we make can be taken away from us in an endless cycle. Escaping this loop though needs a longer-term perspective and a realisation that the power of today’s rich resides in their ability to blackmail workers and even nation-states, with taking their investments elsewhere. 

Workers’ response should be global in outlook and pay no respect to borders that benefit the ruling class at the expense of our fellow workers abroad. But when things seem hopeless, it’s easy to see that people look after themselves first and foremost. This is even more so when we see how many workers have, for the most part, been on the defensive for a good many years now, the attempts to  to fight ‘fire and rehire’ strategies from management being the most recent example. 

Aviation workers everywhere have significant power to challenge the dominant border regimes – if we coordinate our efforts. If we refuse to deport people, they can’t be deported. If we blockade detention centres, people can’t be detained. Much like the Italian dockworkers, it’s possible to conceive of a collaboration at Heathrow, between research/campaign groups like Detention Action, autonomous workers collectives like our own, and more militant unions leading to actions that help to destroy the “hostile” environment and create a much better one. Workers can come up with alternatives to the global Hunger Games we are expected to fight in. And have the power to bring them about.

Old Trafford Pitch Invasion 

2nd May 2021 saw the first ever protest induced postponement of a Premier League football match in history. The scheduled Manchester United home fixture against Liverpool was abandoned after Manchester fans broke into the ground and occupied the pitch. Fans lit fireworks and flares and held banners and placards calling for the club owners (Billionaire businessmen Glazer brothers) to “fuck off.” The protest wasn’t entirely peaceful. Fans showed a large amount of commitment and dedication to entering the stadium. Police reported (to the extent that we can believe them) that six officers were injured in the protests, with one sustaining a fractured eye socket. 

The cause of the protests was anger against club owners and (their now aborted) proposals for a new European Super League (ESL). The league’s announcement at 11pm on 18 April, to accommodate US audiences, was accompanied by rising share prices and jubilant advertisers. ESL operations were suspended three days after its founding due to a furious backlash from national football governing bodies, pundits, players and fans. Some fans are continuing the protests in an effort to get their clubs under new ownership. The Old Trafford pitch invasion was part of that effort. 

It has been interesting to watch football legends turned pundits debate societal values and capitalism in their pre-match discussions. The whole affair has foregrounded debates about the state of our economic system and the trajectory of our society in general, more than most issues today. What the ESL proposed for football was, in many ways, another example of what has been happening in advanced economies for decades – the offshoring of production. While ticket sales, merchandise and TV subscriptions still contribute a significant amount of income for clubs, like so many industries, the real money comes from advertising. When an industry is dominated by an advertising revenue model, the product is not this or that widget, but the eyes watching the screen. The products are the fans watching the match, the consumers are advertisers. The greater the number of eyes on the match, the more you can demand for your advertising space. 

Advertisers also want the viewers with the fattest wallets watching. No point advertising your high-end products or your gambling website to people with no money! This is partly the rationale behind the ever-increasing season ticket prices and the disgusting amount of atmosphere-destroying corporate boxes, full of hob-knobbing company boot-lickers separated from the hoi polloi and not watching the match. Corporations, and the wealthy elite that run them, don’t want informed, secure and empowered members of a community. They want ill-informed, insecure, impotent and isolated individuals – so they’re easier to rip off. Advertisers see the pitch as a distraction from the billboards and the match is the interlude before the important bit: the adverts. The fans’ love and sense of connection to the clubs (that are now transnational corporations) is the unpaid labour that fuels this industry. Under this model football’s historic ties to working class communities are being shattered. The orchestrators of the ESL were attempting to expand the scale of this market to other continents and increase their share of the existing revenue stream by setting themselves up as an elite league. The terrible job the would-be ESL owners made in pitching the proposals exposes their level of detachment. It’s pretty clear they have no idea what the fans of their clubs are thinking – and don’t care. 

The backlash from fans, players and pundits was intense, but may not have been the major factor in getting the ESL suspended. The national governing bodies were obviously incensed and made various threats. There is a plausible theory that the ESL clubs were merely making a power play in an attempt to get a better deal from their respective governing bodies, UEFA and FIFA. Whatever the case may be, fans are now looking for solutions and contemplating actions. Many fans are wondering whether fan ownership is the answer. The refusal of the German clubs, that traditionally have far more fan ownership than in the UK, to participate in the ESL seems to support this view. Other fans, like those at Arsenal, drawn in by promises of “fan representation,”are pinning their hopes on a supposedly more benevolent billionaire, Spotify owner Daniel Ek and a consortium of team legends to save their club. 

Fans have been discussing how they might link up with other fans across borders to press their interests. Reports of Barcelona fans kicking off were welcomed and debated. Some form of fan ownership may be a step in the right direction, but if fans really want to revive the feeling of attachment and local community that they expect from their involvement, questioning the capitalist’s system that drags their beloved game and everything else of value into the gutter, is essential. If football remains beholden to advertisers, fan-owned clubs will be subject to the same pressures and imperatives as big money owned clubs and degenerate just as surely. The profit motive is noxious and corrupting.

A major consequence of the direct action at Old Trafford was that a day after the protest, and following other protests across the country, the Premier League announced plans to bring in a new owners’ charter, which would prevent football club owners from forming future breakaway leagues, as well as introducing further restrictions and tougher penalties for non-compliance. More importantly on 8 May, UK retail and technology company The Hut Group pulled out of a £200 million sponsorship deal with the club due to the protests. 

Is this such a bad thing given all of the above? It depends on what you want. When it comes to football, it is amazing and frustrating in equal measure to see fellow workers speaking with such erudition and acting with such conviction. We have incredible knowledge about the ins and outs of the entire process and have complete confidence that we are capable of doing just as good a job as those at the top. “I can play better than that idiot,” “the manager’s dog shit, he should use these tactics.” We make these assertions even though they are almost never true for premier league clubs (most top flight players and managers didn’t get to where they are by being crap at what they do) and even though we have almost no influence over the course of events. Why don’t we think like this when it comes to something we  genuinely do know about and have  influence over? – Our work!! If we spent half the time we spend on pondering a tactical decision at a match we can’t influence, in thinking about the way we want our daily lives to be run, we would be well on our way to solving a great many problems in our society!

Direct action could be defined as the use of one’s own power to achieve a political/economic end, as opposed to solutions that appeal to authorities for help. On this very narrow definition alone, it should be clear why direct action is preferable to all other forms of political engagement. If we have the power to effect a desired change, why would we appeal to authority to do it on our behalf? But do we have the power? 250 years ago, in his essay, ‘Of the First Principles of Government’, David Hume addressed the paradox that, 

“Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs….. than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few, and the implicit submission with which men (sic) resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find that, as force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion only, that government is founded, and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular.” 

If we take Hume’s comment on face value, it would imply that all we need to do is change our ‘opinions’; for us to realise that actually, it is us that have the power and we just need to stop accepting the state or bosses’ control over us. But if it were this simple, I’m sure we’d have told the bosses to fuck off by now! So what’s missing? We think that material conditions – mainly an economic system that forces us to relate to one another and our wider environment in a competitive and exploitative way – help form our opinions. They also prevent or discourage the development of opinions and the acquisition of knowledge that might challenge the dominant power structures in our society. So how do we overcome these structures, whose very purpose is to keep us disciplined and feeling powerless? Unlike reading an essay by some old Tory philosopher, we think direct action can more concretely, change our social relations, and therefore our ‘opinions’. The act of using our own powers to achieve our objectives, has the effect of affirming and expanding those powers and altering our perception and consciousness of their scope and application. 

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Heathrow Workers’ Newsletter No.5

What’s been going on?!

If you’ve been a worker at Heathrow over the last year, chances are, you’ve either been through a redundancy process, seen your pay and conditions attacked, lost all your overtime, been on furlough, or all of the above. It has been a unique experience. Previous aviation crises, like the fallout from the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the financial crisis of 2008, while severe, are dwarfed by the sheer scale of the current disruption. It has been draining, both emotionally and financially. As is the case with situations like this, we have seen the best and the worst of people. We tend to show our true colours when faced with this level of adversity. We’ve witnessed workmates throw others under the bus to save their own jobs, bullying, harassment and snivelling to management of the highest order. But, many people have shown a lot of courage and decency. Workers have been striking to protect their colleagues’ pay and conditions, volunteering for redundancy to help save their friends’ jobs (even though we shouldn’t need to), challenging management and insisting that scarce work and overtime be dished out fairly. Our issues are obviously not confined to Heathrow. They are replicated throughout the country and all over the globe. Workers have been resisting in various ways with varying degrees of success. How are things panning out? And what can we learn? 

March 2021 saw an escalation of the long running dispute at Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL). HAL’s “fire and rehire” plans, announced last summer, have been subject to ongoing strike action from fire fighters, security and engineers since December 2020. 

Strike tactics

The strikes until now, (9 in total) have been no more than one or two days in length. In an apparent attempt to up the ante, Unite, the union representing HAL workers, threatened a month of targeted actions in April. 41 actions spread over 23 days. Unite had adjusted their tactics in February and March, opting for short 4-hour strikes. This was intended to limit the loss of pay for staff and to make it harder for HAL to get scabs in to cover the work. HAL reacted by insisting that if a worker was on strike at any point in the shift, they would lose pay for the entire shift. 

It looks as though the companies stance had an effect, as Unite changed tack again for the proposed April strikes, opting for full shift walkouts. Sections within Fire, Campus Security and Engineering would each alternate strike actions throughout April. Reasoning seemed to be that, if the company wasn’t going to pay staff the whole shift, they might as well strike for the whole shift. Why a total workforce walk out wasn’t preferable or possible isn’t clear. On 1st April, the planned strikes were cancelled. We were told that a pay offer negotiated between HAL and Unite would be presented to the members to vote on. Ballots have now been sent out, and Unite is recommending that the workforce accepts the deal. 

The pay offer has not been hailed as a major victory in the customary way that most of these compromise deals are. This may be because the details of the proposal don’t address the major causes of the dispute. The “fire and rehire” plans left many staff facing 20% pay cuts, the removal of incremental pay increases for long service and abatement clauses (clauses that make redundancy more expensive for the company) from their contracts, along with other reductions in benefits. The deal leaves these issues unresolved and instead offers conditional pay rises of 2.5% in 2022 and 2023. The pay rises are dependent on annual passenger numbers being above 60 million. While this was certainly achievable before the pandemic (passenger numbers have been above 60 million for the last two decades), the continuing uncertainty concerning air travel – variants, vaccine passports, red list restrictions etc.- now makes this passenger level difficult to achieve. Last year, Heathrow saw just 22.1 million passengers.

The linking of pay increases to passenger numbers also sets an unhealthy precedent for aviation workers. Our living costs don’t go down if our company is doing badly, do they?! And being employed in a polluting industry, that is detrimental to the physical and environmental health of our community, is enough of a contradiction, without directly linking our standard of living to passenger numbers. It could erect further barriers to the necessary transition away from ever increasing passenger numbers and airport expansions. Leaving that aside, if the required passenger levels are achieved and staff get the total 5% by 2023, a substantial portion of the workforce will still be on inferior contracts and be 15% poorer without adjusting for inflation. If the passenger numbers aren’t achieved no one gets anything. There appears to be some dissatisfaction with the offer, but other workers we’ve spoken to seem convinced this is the best deal available. Whatever the outcome, the fact will be that a company has once again managed to successfully downgrade contracts at one of the most densely unionised workplaces in the country.

How have they managed to do this? Is it just a simple matter of workers not having the bargaining power to sufficiently fightback during a pandemic? The fall in demand for air travel is a major problem, but not the whole story. The same patterns have played out at numerous other UK workplaces. Workers at British Gas, ESS catering and cleaning staff at the MoD, porters at NHS trusts, Go North West bus drivers and many others, have all faced attacks on contracts, by companies with flimsy or non-existent economic justifications. If working people at unionised and profitable companies are still unable to resist assaults on their contracts, obviously something deeper is happening. 

The issues internal to the disputes are very similar. Strike ballots take too long, causing anger to dissipate and giving companies time to prepare for any eventual actions. In the long period leading up to the moment when workers can finally legally strike, we need to be applying pressure in whatever ways possible. These efforts can often be constrained by unions obsessed with presenting themselves as “reasonable” during negotiations. Unless workers have forums in which to discuss these issues, outside the unions, we’ll keep repeating this mistake. Picket lines are too small and isolated to be the effective campaign tools they are intended to be. At many workplaces (British Gas, Go North West, HAL, British Airways etc.) sizeable chunks of the workforce voted to accept the companies terms earlier in the disputes, leaving the remaining workforce out on the proverbial limb. Disputes remain largely isolated within their companies. Solidarity between companies or even departments is rare. For example, NHS workers are mobilising in opposition to the insulting 1% pay offer in England and Wales and 4% in Scotland they received in March. But already, Unison has unilaterally recommended the offer of 4% to workers in Scotland. This undermines their own demands for a £2000 uplift, stabs unions still fighting for 15% in the back, and scuppers the chances of a unified cross-border response. 

Companies have been able to cover the work of strikers and this hasn’t been effectively challenged throughout the recent disputes. Go North West are openly running a scab bus service that is undermining the ongoing strike action in Manchester. There is footage of workers attempting to disrupt the scab service. Unfortunately, the low number of workers involved makes it difficult, especially when, either scabs or hired goons come out of the garage and start assaulting the picketers. And while Unite‘s main efforts are confined to asking Mayor of Manchester, Andy “King of the North” Burnham, to denounce the company and lobby parliament to get “fire and rehire” banned, escalation of efforts to stop the scab bus service has been neglected. On May 3rd, a well attended May Day demonstration was organised by Manchester Trades Council and marched to the bus garage on the Queen’s Road in Cheetham’s Hill. Hopefully efforts like this are applying pressure on company. The lead banner at the demo and the speeches at the rally emphasised the importance of outlawing “fire and rehire.” A great deal of noise is being made about banning “fire and rehire,” without enough discussion about whether this will be sufficient or even effective. On the 26th April, Unite launched a national campaign to end “fire and rehire.” 

Ongoing strikes at software company Goodlord, Go North West and Fife Council were coordinated and demonstrations held at various locations. The campaign has started with the usual photo ops with MP’s and the union top brass. Some demonstrations were targeted at company subsidiaries. The online launch material contained quotes from MP’s denouncing “fire and rehire” in parliament. One such quote was from the Right Honourable protector of the working class, Jacob Rees-Mogg. This law is unlikely to be a crushing defeat for the rich and powerful if MP’s of this variety are willing to pass it.

Even if a law is passed, unless workers have the unity and therefore the power, to resist the companies will obviously find a way round these legal measures. We can see an example with aviation workers at WISAG in Germany, who were recently the victims of a “fire and rehire” scheme. In order to keep their jobs at Frankfurt Airport, they were made to apply for their jobs at “another company,” which just so happened to be a subsidiary of WISAG.

So what are our options in a stressful time when things move quickly and often behind closed doors? Well, we have to be prepared by studying how these things go, and be ready to capitalise on opportunities that will make us stronger. During the HAL dispute, at least two obvious opportunities for cross company collaboration at Heathrow arose, that a more confident and organised working class may have capitalised on. Unite members at British Airways Cargo in their own “fire and rehire” dispute and Passport Control staff with the PCS union, battling an unworkable roster change, both voted to strike at the same time as HAL workers had their strike mandate running. British Airways and Passport Control staff both reached agreement with their employers before, and separately from, the HAL workers. It’s not easy to build the sense of support and solidarity necessary to combine these kinds of dispute, but it has happened before, and can happen again. And in Neuquen, Argentina it’s happening right now.

The British Airways Cargo strike, over the Christmas period 2020, was probably the most effective recent action at Heathrow. That action, which took place in relatively favourable conditions for the workforce (Cargo division still profitable, widespread port disruptions, 90% plus staff walk out, busy Christmas period etc.), still resulted in a deal that didn’t safeguard the workforce’s conditions in their entirety. The outcome was considerably better than if they’d of done nothing, but still ground was given, because the wider BA workforce had already done departmental deals, isolating the action. Divisions amongst the Cargo workers to do with qualitatively different contracts and work roles between newer and older staff, as it often does on the airport, limited the likelihood of escalating the dispute. 

Parliament won’t save us. Businesses will find a way to drive down our conditions for as long as we fail to unite in opposition against them, directly in our workplaces and communities. The time, money and resources wasted lobbying politicians and courting a media that doesn’t care, could be better deployed in direct action, to forcibly block the companies scab operations and stage pickets, blockades and demonstrations that hit the companies where it hurts.

London Bus Driver Disputes

Hounslow Heath bus drivers to the rescue!

The recent London bus strikes are another example of these familiar dynamics playing out. Bus drivers at three subsidiaries (London United, London Sovereign and Quality Line) of the same parent company (RATP) began challenging their company’s derisive pay offers (as low as 0.5%) at the same time. Ballots were called and strikes began in February. In late March, Unite suspended strikes at London Sovereign and Quality Line garages. The revised pay offers were meagre increases of 0.25%. The offers were at first rejected by some garages, but after further talk and suspended strikes, the pay offers were reluctantly accepted by relatively narrow margins at the two subsidiaries. 

Unite’s decision to bargain with the subsidiaries separately had left the drivers at London United striking alone, as their company was refusing to improve the 0.5% offer. The London United action was given a welcome boost when the original five garages, including Hounslow and Park Royal, were joined by Hounslow Heath and Stamford Brook garages, after they voted to strike in early April. On 25 April, the scheduled London United strikes were suspended, while details of a new offer are finalised. 

Another 4,000 London bus drivers are currently considering strike action over Metroline’s “remote sign-on” plans. “Remote sign-on” is a blatant attempt to casualise the bus drivers. Drivers won’t be expected to report to a garage at the start of their shift, but instead Metroline will require drivers to report to particular stops at designated times. The Go North West bus drivers are facing the same changes and drivers everywhere will eventually be affected. 

Heathrow Parking Charges

The GMB has started a campaign against increases to parking charges at Heathrow. On top of the removal of free local bus services late last year, staff can now expect increases of 135% for the pleasure of parking at work, as HAL looks to pass more of the cost of the pandemic onto low paid workers. The GMB have started a petition for free staff parking at Heathrow.

News elsewhere!

British Gas blowout – more thoughts on the media

After 3 months of strike action, the British Gas dispute ended in defeat on 14th April with hundreds of engineers being sacked. Last summer, workers there were informed that they would lose their jobs if they failed to accept detrimental changes to their contracts. Engineers with the GMB voted twice to reject the new terms. At the same time, British Gas office staff with Unison, under recommendation from their union, voted to accept the changes. This decision hampered workers’ efforts from the outset. A full company walkout would obviously have been preferable.

A recent Tribune article, written by an Engineer sacked for not accepting the new terms, is well worth a read. The writer points to a GMB survey in mid-February to determine whether members were happy to suspend strikes for 4 days to allow time for talks – a blatant and common delay tactic from management. Members voted to suspend the strikes, while “fire and rehire” was still on the table. The writer justifiably believes this was a big mistake. Unions continually suspend and delay industrial action citing concerns about negative media coverage. Although he voted against the suspension, he relayed worries about the company using a rejection of talks to whip up bad media coverage against the strikers. He believed Covid restrictions to be the most significant barrier to escalating the dispute. This, he says, prevented the engineers from holding mass demonstrations and gaining the required media coverage needed to pressure the company. 

Taking for granted for a moment that increased media coverage is a useful primary goal when contemplating tactics, we could ask if the mass demonstrations were really made impossible by the Covid restrictions? Especially when the British Gas engineers had a lot of latent support from those that were aware of the situation – a profitable company blatantly taking advantage of the crisis to increase profit. Recent Black Lives Matter protests, Kill the Bill demos and electricians actions against deskilling, have shown that actions can be carried out relatively safely (until the police get involved) and gain a fair amount of public support. The lack of coverage, we are told, should be a “mark of shame” for the media. The coverage they did receive was littered with inaccuracies and falsehoods. The worries highlighted by the engineer surrounding the suspension survey and his belief in the pivotal nature of media coverage in the escalation of the dispute, expresses the dominant understanding of struggles within much of today’s labour movement. If we keep expecting favours from the media, we are going to keep barking up the wrong tree. The scarce and inaccurate coverage of workers issues is hardwired into the corporate media’s operating model, not a “mark of shame.” 

Unsurprisingly, media corporations show a great deal of class solidarity when their fellow corporations are under the spotlight. As with all of society’s institutions the explanation for this is complex, but an obvious and primary reason is that media owners hire editors that reflect their values, causing the principles they hold dear to filter down through the organisation. Unless we develop a systemic understanding of the media industry, as being diametrically opposed to our interests, our tactics will continue to be deficient. We waste time courting the powerful, when we should be speaking to each other. Using our precious time to foster relationships of mutual aid and support. From there we can develop tactics that target the company’s finances and operations, not just their reputations. The engineer lucidly articulates this, when making sense of the defeat and trying to learn lessons for the future, he states that:

“If I had one piece of advice to give to striking workers, it would be to recognise your colleagues……If someone goes above and beyond like speaking at a rally or going on the TV, let them know they did a good job; if your shop steward has been having a hellish time of it, make it known that you appreciate what they’re putting in; and if a colleague is keeping quiet, try to get them to open up. A little goes a long way.”

Manchester Airports Group 

Unite have made an agreement for staff at Manchester Airport Group (MAG) that they are hailing as a benchmark deal for the aviation industry. Under the agreement, workers who are not required for work will receive 80% of their full pay (which is applicable regardless of any government support through the Job Retention Scheme). Workers who are in work for up to 85% of their normal hours will receive 90% of their full pay and those who are working for 85% and above of their normal hours will receive 100% of their pay. A fair share arrangement has also been established to ensure that work is shared out on an equitable footing and an oversight committee has been installed to ensure that the agreement is effectively implemented.

Unite members accepted the agreement with an 85% yes vote in favour and members of Prospect and Unison have also accepted the agreement. 

MAG staff have already paid a huge price during the pandemic. 465 directly employed staff have been made redundant, plus another 1500 contractors at the airports (800 from Swissport and 300 from Menzies) and a 10% pay cut across the board since the beginning of the crisis. This agreement continues on with those pay cuts. Surely these workers have given enough already? 

Missoula, USA

Non-union airport workers in Missoula, Montana, USA staged a walkout against the poverty wages at their workplace. $9.65! That is £6.93 at the current exchange rate! The company, Unifi, claim they had no problem getting management scabs to cover their work. The ground handling and ramp workers were isolated and have now been fired. They showed a lot of dignity and courage walking off the job. It is possible to carry out actions without the union, but if there was a plan or strategy with this walkout, something went very wrong with it. The strikers have since got new jobs at Alaska Airlines on over $12 and through protest have drawn the attention of the Missoula County Commissioner who has written a letter of “dismay” to Unifi.

New York and New Jersey, USA

Airport workers with the SEIU union at New York and New Jersey airports are striking and demonstrating for a decent healthcare package and no givebacks. (Whatever givebacks are?!)

Frankfurt, Germany 

The WISAG workers fired from their jobs for refusing to accept the inferior contracts continue their fight for justice. They are staging noisy demonstrations at airports and state buildings most weeks. We have sent a message of solidarity and support. We stated that we would like to help them more practically and that we hoped to speak with them to see how we might help them further. 

Optimism over Despair

We regularly hear our friends, family and workmates saying “nothing can be done,” “there isn’t any money” and “the countries bankrupt.” Even the partial belief in these assertions, serve to seriously temper our ideas of what is possible. Unions’ calls for government support sometimes play into these misconceptions. During the pandemic, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) were asking for loans to the aviation companies their members work at, for the air passenger duty to be suspended, and stated that workers are “pleading” for support from government This encourages the perspective that most aviation companies haven’t already got the finance to see them through the crisis (which they have!), that an increase in passenger numbers is desirable at this time (which it probably isn’t!) and that workers, at one of the world’s most important transport hubs and one of Europe’s most active cargo ports, are powerless (which we are not!). 

We need organisations in which we can productively channel our anger, not institutions through which we can express our collective inferiority. Even in times of crisis, such as these, we have the collective strength to demand a great deal more than loans and tax cuts for the companies we work at. Our societies have more than enough physical and intellectual wealth to provide for our needs, but the organising of our daily lives through the profit motive, restricts our ability to take control of our lives and the industries that sustain them. We can try to move unions in a more radical and militant direction, but we can’t rely on them to do our fighting for us and we need to be prepared to act without them, when necessary. 

Many of us don’t trust the unions, not just because of our terrible and biased media, but often because of genuine experiences of betrayal and abandonment in the past. Most of us are smart enough to not trust the government or the corporate executives they largely serve. Daily, the gap between the rich and the rest of us becomes more obscene, our governments become less accountable, as individuals we become more isolated, monitored and subject to surveillance. In our communities we become more cut off from each other and our environment. Trust in one another will be key if we are going to be able to start pushing back against these trends. We need to start again. Build up the material and emotional support, needed for us to flourish as individuals. With the strength to make our own demands and eventually control our own daily lives. Let’s look forward to a future with no more pleading with the government for handouts, no more top-down union drives, no more divide and rule and lots more community and freedom. 

WISAG ground workers at Frankfurt Airport call for expanded struggle

The WISAG ground workers maintained their hunger strike at Terminal 1 of Rhein-Main Airport for eight days before they had to break it off on the evening of March 3. Before that several hunger strikers had collapsed since Sunday. The workers have temporarily suspended their action, “exclusively for health reasons,” as they say.

The ground workers are fighting against 230 dismissals, increasing exploitation and low wages. They have not capitulated, but on the contrary want to expand the struggle. In a courageous appeal published today by the World Socialist Web Site, they say: “Workers everywhere are facing very similar problems. We must fight together! (…) We, the workers, are ‘essential’, without us society does not function. We say: Life before profits! The health and well-being of the workers are more important than the profits of the financial oligarchy.”

The first day of the hunger strike at Rhein-Main Airport (WSWS)
The industrial action at WISAG illustrates the problems facing workers in microcosm. Thirty years ago, if you had a job at the airport, you were set for life. Such jobs were part of the public sector, reasonably paid, with guaranteed employment and a company pension, Christmas bonuses and holiday pay. Job security was a priority in every respect. Today, the dream job has turned into a nightmare.

WISAG is just one of the companies using the pandemic as an excuse to systematically cut jobs at the airport and destroy workers’ rights. At airport operator Fraport, 4,000 jobs out of 22,000 in Frankfurt am Main are to be cut, allegedly “due to coronavirus.” At Lufthansa, 30,000 jobs have already been destroyed worldwide, and another 10,000 are to follow. Lufthansa has received 9 billion euros in “coronavirus aid” from the state. WISAG itself has already laid off 350 ground workers in Berlin last summer.

The pandemic is only the trigger. Corporations and banks are using the opportunity to implement long desired plans for destroying jobs and important achievements and get rid of workers with seniority. This is exemplified by WISAG.

In 2018, the WISAG holding company used a court case to boot out the previous ground services provider, Acciona, at Frankfurt Airport and take over its concessions. Company owner Claus Wisser personally guaranteed all employees at the time that their rights would be fully protected as part of the transfer of operations. “At the time, we didn’t know that it was all a sham,” says Rene, one of the hunger strikers, “and that WISAG was just trying to prevent possible strikes.”

Almost immediately after the takeover, the company started to put pressure on older workers in order to get rid of them. Often they were forced to take on jobs that were not even in their contract. The teams working at the aircraft were understaffed and loadmasters were forced to work as loaders and baggage drivers, for example. Those who resisted were threatened with dismissal.

The tone was set by Michael Dietrich, the newly hired managing director, “a man who walks over corpses,” as WISAG workers say. What Dietrich says is the law, whether it complies with regulations and safety rules or not. Temporary workers are put to work on planes without professional training. One worker reports, “As a result, there were many accidents and damage. One worker was even blown 4 to 5 metres in the air because he got behind a running engine. But Fraport and WISAG covered it all up.”

The pandemic opened up previously undreamed-of possibilities for management. Immediately, WISAG officially introduced short-time working, which means workers’ wages are paid by the employment office, but only at 60 percent, so they suffer considerable wage losses.

At the same time, however, operations in the cargo division continue. While passenger numbers have plummeted, there is intense activity around the clock between the planes and cargo halls. The transport of food, relief supplies, medicines etc. has not stopped. After all, supply chains must be maintained to provide parts to industries that have not been closed down during the whole pandemic.

As a result, some have had to work overtime. “People worked 160 to 200 hours,” says Benli, a worker whom WISAG dismissed after 37 years’ service. “In fact, 40 to 50 planes were dispatched every day. And now, in March, there are significantly more.”

Even when colleagues fell ill with coronavirus, not even their closest team members were sent into quarantine. The company’s response was cover-up instead of contact tracing—a situation that can lead to disaster in an outbreak with a highly contagious strain of the virus.

Then on December 17, just a week before Christmas, a total of 230 workers received notice of dismissal “in the most brazen way.” They were offered about 4,000 Euros severance pay for 20 years’ service. Workers were coerced into signing severance agreements and re-employed at another WISAG subsidiary at minimum wage, giving up all their acquired rights, with a fixed-term contract and on the condition that they could be deployed throughout Germany. Still other workers had their terms and conditions changed.

Thirty-one airport bus drivers were forced to switch to the brand new subsidiary City Bus. This company is one of more than 300 corporate constructs that WISAG has set up, hidden or open, to depress wages and break contracts. Those who refused the offer were dismissed and their pay stopped from October 2020. This is what the “unavoidable dismissals” look like, about which company chief Michael C. Wisser wrote in his most recent letter to his “dear colleagues.” The sackings were “by no means easy,” he said. The trade union Verdi also claims to have known “nothing at all” until the end of January.

The hunger strike has also shone a glaring light on the role of the so-called “workers’ representatives”—the large service union Verdi and the works council. As the hunger strikers’ statement says: “Our struggle has not been supported by Verdi officials, nor by the works council.”

That is why more than a hundred WISAG workers have left Verdi and become members of the smaller sectoral union IG Luftfahrt (IGL). However, the latter shares the same perspective as Verdi, with which it professes to want to cooperate. The IGL is trying to use the workers’ protests to put pressure on the Wisser family, one of the 300 richest families in Germany, to convince them of the need for a “crisis collective agreement”—the cost of which will ultimately have to be paid by the workers!

The workers are rightly turning to their colleagues at other WISAG sites, at airports and throughout the industry, because they are their only reliable allies. The increasingly brutal attacks can only be repelled and reversed through an independently organised joint struggle.

What is needed is a fight at the political level. As one WISAG worker wrote on Facebook, “Since there are probably Verdi people on the WISAG board, and Claus Wisser has also donated a lot of money to parties, especially to the SPD [Social Democrats], the politicians are dumb and blind as far as what’s happening at WISAG is concerned.”

The WISAG workers were on hunger strike for eight days, but no parliamentary group in the Hesse state parliament, in Frankfurt City Hall or in the Bundestag (federal parliament) even looked at what was happening. The Wisser family is well networked and connected with high-ranking politicians, such as the Hesse state Minister of Economics and Transport, Tarek Al-Wazir (Green Party), who actively promoted WISAG’s entry into the airport.

The local and regional press has kept silent about the hunger strike. Apart from very brief reports once in the Bil d and twice on broadcaster RTL, there was literally nothing, neither in the Frankfurter Rundschau, the FNP, the Offenbach Post, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung nor in the Hessenschau. This clearly shows that the freedom of the press is really degenerating into mere court reporting in the service of the capitalists.

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/03/10/wisa-m10.html

Support staff at Cork Airport consider industrial action over redundancies

Staff employed by OCS, a facilities company contracted by the airport, are facing compulsory redundancy.

It is due to the downturn in traffic at the airport, which means the facilities staff are no longer required. 

“The workers are angry. They’re not going down without a fight,” Tony Carroll, Aviation Officer with trade union SIPTU said.

A meeting this morning with OCS will dictate whether SIPTU ballots for strike action.

OCS, an international facilities management company, once employed 20 people to work in wheelchair assistance. That number dropped to six, and now the company wants to make three more compulsory redundancies, Mr Carroll said.

“The minimum number required when airport traffic picks up a bit again is six people,” he said.

“Why make these people redundant if they will just have to hire them again in a couple of months?” 

The employees have offered to be temporarily laid off while Cork Airport continues to operate on reduced capacity due to Covid, but Mr Carroll said that this offer has not been entertained.

“There’s no logical reason to make them redundant when they’re willing to be laid off and wait until work picks up again,” he said.

A strike could bring the airport to a standstill, he said, as the majority of workers there are SIPTU members.

“If we picket Cork Airport, SIPTU members won’t pass the picket. And if SIPTU workers won’t pass it, and if airport police and the fire service won’t pass the picket, then the airport can’t operate.” 

Passengers and flights through Cork airport plunged by 99.5% in February. 

Solidarity TD Mick Barry hit out at OCS and said he will raise the matter in the Dáil.

OCS was contacted for comment.

https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/munster/arid-40240667.html

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