WASHINGTON (PAI) – Fourteen unions from eight nations, all representing groups of airline workers, created an international alliance to strengthen themselves and their members against increasingly trans-national airline combinations.

The airline union alliance, pioneered by the Transport Workers – one of the main unions at American Airlines – will share information, tactics and organizing drives among its members, a panel of founders told an April 20 D.C. press conference.

The airline alliance would be the third such large international alliance involving top U.S. unions, all designed to give workers more strength against multi-national corporations – or in the airlines’ case, multi-national airline alliances and combinations.

Other big U.S. unions involved in international alliances, which several union leaders see as a big part of the future of the labor movement, are the Steel Workers, with the British union Unite and with an independent Mexican metal and mine workers union, and the Communications Workers, with the German telecom union Verdi. Unite, Britain’s largest union, is also in the new airline union alliance.

“As airlines combine in global alliances, we believe TWU and our colleagues should share” in the airlines’ revenue streams and decision-making “as equity partners – and share an alliance” to achieve that, explained TWU Vice President John Conley.

“We have talked with our partner unions about further alliances,” specific steps to counter the airlines “and job actions, if necessary,” he added.

When the airlines went to code-sharing and other forms of international cooperation, TWU President Jim Little realized the unions needed to cooperate with each other lest the carriers use divide and conquer tactics successfully against them, Conley elaborated. Little approached the International Transport Workers Federation, also part of the new alliance, last year to get the airline union alliance off the ground.

“It’s an opportunity for each of us to give each other the status of affairs” with airlines “in each others’ countries” and organize joint moves of aid, Conley said.

The new alliance is still hashing out details of how its member unions will help one another trans-nationally, the leaders said. But it may be confronted with the need to act quickly when it next assembles in June, in Madrid.

There, the former CEO of British Airways, William Walsh, has become CEO of a new airline holding company, IAG, formed to oversee the merger of British Airways and the Spanish national airline, Iberia. While Walsh’s successor as BA chief executive appears to want to settle long-running disputes with its unions, said Unite’s Rhys McCarthy, Walsh is still strongly anti-union.

He’s also cheap, moving maintenance work on British Airways planes “from Heathrow to Madrid” because Spanish workers are paid less, McCarthy said. One aim of the new international airline union alliance will be to eliminate such disparities let carriers pit airline worker against airline worker worldwide, the panelists added.

The unions in the new alliance, besides TWU and Unite, are as far-flung as the Australian Services Union, which represents mechanics, flight attendants and other workers at Qantas, Australia’s national airline. They’ll also welcome other U.S. airline unions, including independent unions representing mechanics and pilots, Conley said.

Linda White, of the Australian union, said it joined the alliance both because of Qantas’ anti-worker actions – she gave as an example its outsourcing of pilots’ jobs to New Zealand, three hours away, where wages are lower – “and because want to know what we’re in for” facing international airlines.




Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.