On Thursday, the ground staff and the fire brigade at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, one of the largest airports in Europe, went on strike. A quarter of all flights from there have been cancelled. The strikers were demanding a wage increase of 300 euros a month in light of the rising cost of living in France and around the world.
They also called for additional staff as airports are overwhelmed by the current surge in air traffic due to layoffs during the pandemic. According to estimates by the Force Ouvrière (FO) unions, 15,000 jobs have been cut at airports over the past two years, increasing the pressure on the remaining workers. The Paris airport authority is currently looking for applicants for 4,000 positions.
Sylvia, an airport security worker, told the press: “We are all struggling to make ends meet until the end of the month. We all have debts that we have to pay off.” She pointed out that wages for security guards are “just a few bucks above minimum wage.”
There were also strikes at smaller regional airports across France. At Carcassonne airport, an official from the Stalinist Confédération générale du travail (CGT) trade union made a statement to the public about the day-long strike on June 8 The Independent: “We want our job to match what we were originally hired to do. Whenever there is insufficient staff, management makes the workers do things that are not in their contracts. … The management makes no concessions. The director has said he will make an announcement on June 17.”
The airport strikes in France are part of an escalating wave of struggles by airport and airline workers across Europe and the world. They are a powerful section of the working class that can paralyze large parts of the world economy in a very short time.
A day before the strike in France, airline workers and air traffic controllers nationwide walked out in Italy. 68 flights were canceled at Milan Malpensa Airport, 40 at Milan Bergamo Airport and another 15 in Linate and Turin. Alitalia, RyanAir, EasyJet, Volotea and other airline workers and air traffic controllers went on strike for higher wages and better working conditions. In Milan, Turin, Verona, Genoa, Cuneo, Bologna and Parma, the airports were paralyzed by the air traffic controllers’ strike.
Italian union officials explained that Corriere della Serathe strike is directed against “violations of the minimum wage rule set out in the national collective agreement, persistently low wage levels, arbitrary wage cuts, non-payment of sick days, the company’s refusal to provide compulsory vacation days during the summer season and shortages of food and water for the staff.”
Yesterday, a strike by employees of the airline EasyJet caused a stir at Berlin-Brandenburg Airport. Around 450 cabin workers went on strike here from 5:00 a.m. on Friday morning. Although the verdi union deliberately limited the strike to just five hours, the airline said around 20 flights had to be cancelled
In Spain, RyanAir broke off collective bargaining on June 8th. Strikes could begin here at dozens of airports. Further strikes are threatened in Italy, Portugal, France and Belgium.
In addition to Italy and France, airport strikes have spread across much of Europe in recent weeks as airlines have massively overbooked passengers to make up for lost profits from the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, when fewer passengers were flying. Because a new Europe-wide wave of infections is looming at the same time and governments are lifting all health protection measures, the risk of infection is increasing. All this creates unacceptable working conditions at airports and airlines.
Last month, International Air Transport Association (IATA) director Willie Walsh said air travel would return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023, despite staff shortages and new waves of infections.
Walsh explained: “We’re seeing a sharp increase in bookings. All the airline CEOs I spoke to see not only good demand for travel at the end of the year, but further demand throughout the year.” He dismissed warnings of high oil prices and strikes, saying he should focus on the concentrate profits. Compared to the Irish Independent he stated: “I think we should not be distracted by the fact that we are experiencing a strong recovery.”
This ruthless pursuit of profits at the expense of workers has sparked a wave of strikes across Europe that could intensify over the summer.
In April, despite threats of mass layoffs, Polish air traffic controllers walked out to protest government demands for wage cuts of up to 70 percent. The Polish government was stunned by the threat of a total cessation of air traffic in a country that plays a central role in the NATO war against Russia. To buy time, she temporarily withdrew her demand for a pay cut and used the air traffic controllers’ union ZZKRL to end the strike.
At Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, baggage loaders and security staff could go on strike again in the summer after Dutch unions ended their strikes in April and May. Dutch union official Joost van Doesburg admitted workers are still overworked and angry: “Something big has to happen. I am shocked and members are frustrated. The situation is completely out of control. The workers literally fall over.”
A ballot vote on a summer strike began this week at London’s Heathrow Airport. Ground crew unions had agreed to a 10 percent pay cut during the pandemic, which they justified by the drop in passenger numbers. Since then, however, management has been receiving its usual inflated salaries, while workers’ wages have not increased despite rising global inflation. The result of the vote is expected on June 23.
On June 8, Lufthansa announced the cancellation of 900 flights in July. The statement said the entire aviation industry, particularly in Europe, is suffering from bottlenecks and staff shortages, affecting airports, passenger support, air traffic controllers and airline staff. Frankfurt Airport, Lufthansa’s central hub, has warned staff shortages could cause significant delays at Germany’s largest airport.
The security staff at German airports had previously gone on strike for a day, which is why all departures from Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen, Hanover, Stuttgart, Cologne/Bonn and Düsseldorf were cancelled. The unions ended the action, but none of the workers’ underlying grievances were addressed.
The crucial task of airport workers is to unite their struggles internationally and to break out of the crippling national framework set by the union bureaucracies, in close cooperation with management and capitalist governments, by which they seek to lead their own members to defeat. To do this, workers must set up action committees independent of the unions to direct and coordinate their struggles.
The national unions are all completely bankrupt. They divide the workers along national lines and betray every single strike. In this way, the explosive social resistance is contained, suppressed and subordinated to the maneuvers of the unions with the capitalist governments.
A joint pan-European strike by airline and air traffic controller workers could paralyze much of Europe’s economy and demonstrate the immense social power of the working class. He could not only push through improved working conditions and wages, but also launch a broader movement of the working class against imperialist war, the criminal response to the corona pandemic, social inequality and the soaring cost of living.
The basis of such a movement is the building of the International Workers’ Alliance of Action Committees (IWA-RFC) and the struggle for a socialist perspective with the goal of using the wealth created by society to meet social needs.