Support the pilots’ victory!


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A heavy defeat for the pilots would be a victory for all union busters and for all those who want workers to pay for the economic crisis.

The airline companies want to crush the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots (AFAP) “for the pot of gold at the end of the dispute” as the Financial Review put it. The paper went on to explain how the 1982 defeat of the air traffic controllers strike by Reagan led to a massive rise in profits for the bosses. The deregulation lowered safety standards and cut costs.

“Deregulation of the Australian aviation business is still 14 months away, but there’s nothing like getting in early with your union-busting to save time earlier”.

Outrageously, Keating told New York investors that “the government was treating the AFAP with the same contempt that the Reagan administration gave the air traffic controllers in the US”.

The federal government and the ACTU leaders are backing the bosses fully in this dispute. Their wage-cutting Accord strategy is at risk from a AFAP victory. If 1647 pilots – not even in the ACTU – can win large pay increases outside the Accord, why should the other three million trade unionists accept 6% pay rises when inflation is 7%?

The left unions were correct in passing a resolution at the ACTU Congress attacking the government’s handling of the dispute. But the left unions also attacked the 30% pay claim of the pilots. But is this not an amount that merely keeps wages up to the inflation level, bearing in mind all the cuts in real wages since the Accord was first introduced in 1983?

Many workers in left unions would dearly love their leaders to lead a fight for a similar claim. That is why many left union leaders feel outflanked by the pilots claim – especially if it is successful.

The pilots dispute also makes a lie of ACTU Secretary Bill Kelty’s claim that union power is weakening. He can’t have it both ways. He can’t say unions are weaker than ever while at the same time saying 1647 trade unionists have the country by the scruff of the neck!

In reality, it is not the union movement, but the right-wing policies of its leadership that are in crisis. Their policies have cut wages and worsened working conditions all in a time of high profits when workers’ wages should be rising. More and more workers will come into conflict with these right-wing leaders and policies as they transform their unions into fighting organisations to maintain and extend living standards.

In bankrolling the airline companies to hold off standdowns, in usisng the military to try and break the strike, the federal Labor government are introducing major precedents for the Liberals to use later. Troops were used for the first time ever to break up a civilian demonstration at Nurrunger military base last month. This flowed directly from the use of the air force against the pilots dispute.

Not unimportantly, is the marked lowering of safety standards on Australia’s airways through the use of scab, less trained pilots. Numerous experienced pilots – not members of the AFAP – have warned of possible catastrophe due to the desperate attempts of the bosses and government to defeat the pilots.

But despite all that is being thrown against them, the pilots are holding out. All the calculations of quick victory by the capitalist media, all the “final deadlines” set down by Hawke and the Industrial Relations Commission are being shattered. They all forgot one thing, the willingness of workers to struggle to defend their living standards. The pilots are now not just fighting for a pay rise but to fight off the threats of the airline companies to reemploy only 70% of pilots after the dispute.

If the ACTU leaders had one once of this spirit of struggle, the working class would quickly reverse all the cuts in wages and conditions of the past period.

A victory for the pilots or even a negotiated settlement winning key parts of the pilots demands, would have an electric effect on the Labor and union movement. Many workers would put pressure on their union leaders for a similar fight.

*Support the pilots!
*No military involvement in industrial disputes. No to anti-union legislation or use of civil action against unions.
*Left unions must support the AFAP industrially. A victory for one is a victory for all, a defeat for one is a defeat for all.

By Militant reporters

Originally published in the October 1989 edition of Militant, predecessor of The Socialist


Excerpt from: ‘ACTU Congress report’

“The highlight of the Congress was on the fourth day with the debate on the pilots dispute. A motion was put condemning the tactics used against individual pilots and their union. But the motion also condemned the pilots for their behaviour in asking for a 30% pay increase.

“This motion didn’t go far enough as far as some of the better delegates were concerned. There were speakers who not only condemned the government and airline bosses but also the ACTU itself for allowing strike breakers to be used and not supporting the pilot’s 30% claim.

“These delegates put up an amendment saying this. After these speakers we had a ten-minute break to watch the Test Cricket team parade past. We returned to continue the debate and surprise, surprise the first speaker was (ACTU Secretary) Bill Kelty himself!

“His speech was mostly about praising the ACTU and attacking the pilots. The amendment was defeated and the original motion passed with a Bill Kelty amendment.

“This was typical of the whole way the Congress ran. If anyone spoke against anything the main body didn’t like the so-called left would combine with the right-wing and they’d be shot down in flames.

“I wonder how different the Congress would have been had there been more working class people there. Very little of what was said truly represented what the working class is thinking. It was in fact totally out of touch of the people its supposed to represent. A fact the ACTU will learn the hard way.”

By a Militant member

Originally published in the October 1989 edition of Militant, predecessor of The Socialist

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