Northwest Airlines mechanics, cleaners and custodians walked off the job Aug. 20, refusing to accept layoffs that would leave half of them without jobs, and pay cuts that would reduce the wages of those left by 25 percent. According to a statement on the Airline Mechanics Fraternal Association web site, not one of the 4,400 members has crossed the picket line to return to work.

AMFA’s statement emphasized that the strike is about jobs, not money. “At the signing of our last contract we had 9,750 jobs,” it said. Northwest has eliminated over 5,000 jobs and demanded that the union agree to the elimination of another 2,000, leaving a mere 2,750 jobs in four years. The statement concluded, “The remaining jobs would be eliminated through attrition, resulting in the loss of all jobs and busting our union.”

Northwest has hubs in Detroit, Minneapolis, Memphis, Tokyo and Amsterdam.

According to an AP report, the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees airline maintenance and repair, has nearly doubled the number of inspectors watching Northwest, from 46 to 80. But according to the FAA inspectors’ union, the Professional Airways Systems Specialist Union, only 21 of these are maintenance inspectors assigned to Northwest. They include 10 who were pulled away from watching other airlines.

AMFA is not an affiliate of the AFL-CIO. In the late 1990s, after airline workers’ unions took big concessions to keep afloat airlines threatening bankruptcy, AMFA, a craft union, vigorously campaigned and convinced mechanic members of the International Association of Machinists to drop the IAM and affiliate with AMFA. The bitter feelings from that action have no doubt dampened expressions of solidarity from the remaining unions.

But many labor observers see disturbing parallels between the AMFA strike and the disastrous PATCO strike of 1981. The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization was also an independent union. Its leadership minimized the need for solidarity, counting on the high skill level of its members to win the strike. While some labor activists mobilized in support of the PATCO strikers, the response was inadequate. Without solidarity of other workers, PATCO members were replaced and defeated and a precedent for union-busting was set that impacted the entire labor movement up to the present day. (See related editorial, page 12.)

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