The lonely fight at Northwest Airlines

Corporations are no match for united workers, and it’s time we realize that.

On Aug. 20, more than 4,400 mechanics, cleaners and custodians of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association went on strike rather than take pay cuts and layoffs from Northwest Airlines. They are still on strike and their difficult position is caused by the nonsensical disarray of organized labor.

We stand on the side of the AMFA strikers. The first people to take pay cuts should be CEOs and owners, not the workers who have already sacrificed for the sake of the company. Such a practice should be the standard, not the exception, of American industry. When the ship sinks, so too must the captain.

Northwest is a drowning company and CEOs will do whatever they can to make sure workers drown before they themselves jump ship. This is most evident in Northwest’s efforts to replace mechanics’ pensions with 401(k) plans. We’ve seen this fiddling with retirement plans before, most notably with Enron, United Airlines and Bethlehem Steel. In each case, the workers lost out big time and had their retirement hopes dashed. In each case, CEOs made out handsomely before their companies collapsed.

The most distressing problem in the current mechanics’ strike is not that Northwest has lasted so long but rather the lack of solidarity from Northwest worker unions. Flight attendants, baggage handlers, ticket agents and pilots have failed to stand beside striking mechanics. Had workers united to this extent, Northwest would have settled terms long ago. The fact that Northwest’s nonstriking workers tolerate the presence of scabs points to a larger labor problem than Northwest’s efforts to cut away at livelihoods.

Had nonstriking workers struck in solidarity with AMFA, Northwest would have gotten the message loud and clear. Workers are united and they will not stand for end arounds.

AMFA workers are fighting a noble fight. They are not fighting for just themselves, but for the well-being of all workers. Corporations are no match for united workers, and it’s time Americans realize that.