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Starving Amid Plenty

by Richard mellor Friday, Oct. 01, 2004 at 1:20 PM

With society awash in cash workers are expected to take cuts and be thankful

United Airlines, one of the carriers that received millions in taxpayer’s money after the attacks on the World Trade Center, wants to renege on its pension obligations and shift that responsibility to the U.S. taxpayer. Terminating its employee pension plans is, the "best of a bad set of options" United Airlines said in a court filing on September 23rd.

The Airline has filed bankruptcy and proposes dumping its pension obligations on to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp (PBGC), the government funded agency that already had a .7 billion deficit as of March 31st. Much like the savings and loan debacle over ten years ago when the debt of the moneylenders was nationalized, was taken in to public ownership, vibrant and resourceful capitalism turns to the taxpayer when the inefficiency of the market cuts in to profits.

Since United made clear its intentions to renege on its pension obligations, other airline industry giants are following suit. Both United and Delta Airlines are threatening major layoffs as well as the termination of their pension plans. U.S. Airways has asked a judge to cut the pay of all its Union employees by 23% due to an emergency and wants to end pension plan contributions and 401K matches. The airline also wants permission to outsource maintenance and passenger service work and increase hours for pilots and flight attendants.

Quite naturally, the defenders of the market economy are not crying foul and accusing UAL of being communists for wanting to nationalize their financial obligations. There are no articles in the Wall Street Journal attacking this nationalization plan and UAL for being anti-American and Soviet sympathizers. Fox news will surely oppose any government interference or funding. On the other hand, are the leaders of the Unions involved and the heads of the AFL-CIO taking this opportunity to go one step further than UAL executives and call for the nationalization of the entire airline industry rather than the capitalists financial obligations, or their debt?

Flight Attendants President Perry Hayes makes his position clear. Regarding U.S. Airways demands, he told his members through an e mail, that, "he still hoped to reduce the company's emergency request through negotiations" according to reports in the press. He laments that flight attendants cannot afford, "a pay cut of the magnitude the company is seeking." In other words, he is re-assuring the employers that he accepts that pay cuts have to be made, but can't the employers be a little less aggressive. Hayes also fails to inform us that flight attendants have a hard time making a decent living on the pay they already receive.

Don Wright, President of the Transport Workers Union considers himself and his member’s fortunate. The TWU represents 150 dispatchers at U.S. Airways who are exempt from the airlines request. But the reader should not get too excited. The TWU leadership agreed to a .5 million concessionary agreement with the airline earlier in the week that calls for a 10.3% pay cut this year and a 12% cut in 2005. The agreement also calls for reduced vacation and more workdays per year according to press reports. Members will vote on this proposal over the next few weeks but with unemployment as the alternative and their leaders supporting the employers there will not likely be a revolt from such a small contingent.

The TWU President considers himself, "fortunate to have settled when he did, thus avoiding the request for higher pay cuts", reports the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (9-24-04). Wright adds further, "The reality is, the demands were just not going to go down." Well that's definitely true if the AFL-CIO does nothing.

But the Union leaders are going on the offensive. Pittsburgh pilot representative Fred Freshwater met with two U.S. Senators, Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter. Santorum had accused Union representatives of trying to destroy the airline last week and wants to get this settled pronto. Freshwater was impressed with the meeting, "They were very receptive and wanted to help," he said. As for Santorum, he was "gracious enough to explain his actions and why he did what he did and why he was prompted to say what he said. I wasn't there for an explanation or an apology from him." (Pittsburgh Post Gazette) They wanted to help, says Freshwater. They were gracious. What sort of nonsense is this? These politicians want to destroy the standard of living of his members and they are "gracious"; of course, they can be "gracious" when they are dealing with the top union leaders behind closed doors - trying to figure out how to cut workers' pay without causing too much of a protest. It is no wonder the average Union member hates their leaders and considers them corrupt, while resentment at having to pay Union dues is on the increase as these organizations are seen more and more as protecting the interests of the employers rather than fighting for the members.

These views are not new of course. The policies of the trade union leadership, and the former workers' parties, which flow from their belief that the market and capitalism is the only form of socio-economic organization, have been the dominant factor in the decline in living standards over the past period and the success of the capitalist offensive in the U.S. and around the world. Despite society being awash with cash, and wealth abundant, the trade union leaders, like those quoted above, still slavishly assist the employers in their efforts to drive down the living standards of workers. But this is the natural outcome of a world-view that sees the vast wealth accumulation of fewer and fewer individuals as a normal way of life.

One doesn't have to look far to find money in places other than workers pockets. The recent 2004 Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans has more billionaires than ever. There are now 313 billionaires in the U.S. alone and the combined net worth of the 400 is more than trillion. Microsoft's Bill Gates increased his wealth by billion over the last year, while Warren Buffet made a cool billion in the same period.

The Financial Times also reported that, due to various squabbles among these thieves, "in the past few months, JP Morgan Chase, and Citigroup alone have added billion to their reserves for litigation costs, of which the biggest single element is Enron." The figures are staggering when one thinks about it. Nine billion dollars in a few months, and this is miniscule when we consider that this sort of waste of our wealth goes on every minute of every day. Meanwhile, 45 million Americans are without health insurance and thousands of workers with financial obligations face massive cuts in pay or layoffs.

These figures are just the tip of the iceberg but clearly show that there is plenty of wealth in society and that society can in fact provide us with increases in living standards, not declines as the Union leaders recommend. The Union officials strategy of damage control only makes sense if, in the near future we believe the employers are going to make major concessions to working people and our standard of living is going to climb dramatically. However, no one really believes this, just the opposite. So the result of the damage control strategy is a never-ending downward spiral of wages and working conditions.

The Union official above who thinks his members are fortunate in getting a 10.3% wage cut offers no hope for the future and, by his own choice, supports the theft and waste of billions in government and the private sector by the capitalist class. So why should we be surprised when the average Union member falls prey to right wing propaganda and objects to paying Union dues?

Richard Mellor

Member, AFSCME Local 444

Oakland CA

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