Restructuring puts people on the streets

The deepening crisis in the airline industry claimed its latest victims recently with the announcement from DHL Express that it would close the Wilmington, Ohio, hub and that it would partner with United Parcel Service to contract out its North American airlift operations.

Up to 6,000 workers, including pilots, sorters and maintenance technicians will be affected in the Southwestern Ohio region. The majority of these layoffs will take place at ABX Air and ASTAR Cargo.

They currently contract with DHL for airlift and sorting operations.

DHL Express is a subsidiary of Deutsche Post, the German Post Office. DHL Express has operated at the Wilmington hub since it acquired Airborne Express in 2003 and has struggled financially to compete with UPS and FedEx. Indeed, DHL Express only has just over two percent market share of the domestic cargo industry but on a worldwide scale it has more of a foothold and is considered a major player.

Under the proposed ten year, $10 billion pact between DHL and UPS, DHL will restructure its domestic network by closing a quarter of its regional sorting hubs and terminals. UPS will now be the single airline for transport of DHL’s North American express and international shipments.

DHL will also contract out some of the rural deliveries to the United States Postal Service and consolidate smaller terminals into larger single facilities.

The majority of DHL’s delivery drivers are represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters who recently ratified a new five year national contract.

The impact of the restructuring plan on the Teamsters will be minimal as compared to the ground crew and pilots at ABX Air and ASTAR.

The workers who will be affected get the least attention in all the press releases and media coverage. Elimination of hundreds of thousands of jobs, and worsening conditions over the last two decades demonstrates the irreconcilability of interests between those who labor in the airline industry and the top managers, billionaire investors and Wall Street speculators who control it. In the age of globalization, as airlines such as DHL restructure due to overcapacity and a deepening world economic crisis, there will be more attacks on airline workers. Labor unions, especially in the United States, need to start thinking on a global scale and forge alliances with workers internationally.

Workers are already under stress due to having loved ones overseas fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are under stress from rising fuel costs and from the mortgage crisis. A restructuring plan from their employer should not add to their problems.

Armed with a Marxist insight into this war on workers and, by uniting as a class to fight for socialism, we can end the flaws of capitalism including overcapacity, overproduction, the boom and bust cycles of Wall Street, environmental destruction and war.

Doug Smiley is a delivery driver and a Teamster.