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/

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