Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Qantas workers display the Spirit of Australia

(Above: Qantas baggage handlers block an airport access road in Adelaide after walking of the job.)

Qantas badges itself as the Spirit of Australia and was once the pride of Australian skies.

In March 1993, under the Labor Government of neo-liberal adherent Paul Keating, this once proud symbol of the nation was privatised, with British Airways taking a 25% stake. The remaining shares were disposed of in 1995–96 and 1996–97 with other foreign investors taking a further 20% of the stock.

Spirit of Australia? That’s blatantly false advertising. It has brought in a foreign CEO to break the Qantas unions and outsource jobs to low-wage Asian countries.

Qantas pilots last took industrial action 45 years ago. It is not part of their culture to think in terms of having to wage struggles against management. However, earlier this year they sought permission from Fair Work Australia for protected industrial action. So far, this has been limited to pro-union in-flight announcements.

Maintenance engineers who are members of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association have been undertaking a rolling series of one-hour strikes against Qantas during the past four weeks. After October 10, this is likely to escalate to rolling four-hour strikes.

Qantas also has a third front of disputation with 28 Qantas flights cancelled across Australia recently after four-hour strikes by thousands of baggage handlers and catering staff belonging to the Transport Workers Union.

All groups of Qantas employees are incensed at the company’s arrogance and refusal to engage in serious negotiations.

Even the shareholders are unhappy, having had no dividend in the 2011 financial year, and having watched the share price fall 16% so far this calendar year.

Now shareholders and employees will be told that CEO Alan Joyce received a 71% pay rise to $5 million. On top of this, the airline's profit doubled in 2011 from the 2010 financial year to $249 million.

Even the bourgeois press has had to comment on the company’s effrontery.

“So this is an airline that has pleaded poor mouth with its international business, which lost a claimed $200 million, wants to cut 1,000 jobs, and is fighting with its unions,” said an article in the online Australasian Investment Review (see: http://www.aireview.com.au/index.php?act=view&catid=8&id=13098&setSub=1 ).

The company’s disregard for the interests of its customers and its workforce, its deteriorating reputation as a safe airline, its use as a golden calf by senior executives all show that privatisation has been a disaster.

Qantas should be renationalised without compensation and restored to its former position of pride of place among the airlines of the world.


And by the way, back in 1989……

The last major dispute in the air was between the now defunct Ansett Airlines and its pilots.

It was one of the most dramatic industrial disputes in the country's history, and led to a massive fine of $6 million being imposed on the Pilot’s Federation.

The slimy Labor Hawke Government called in Air Force pilots to help break the Pilots Federation.

Hawke demonized the pilots, playing on their privileged position as part of the aristocracy of labour. It was hard for low-paid workers to feel much sympathy for the claims made by the Pilots Federation, but the pilots were employees and the Federation was their union.

Hawke was a former head of the peak union body, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and had a track record of betraying workers’ struggles.

Disgusted by yet another confirmation of the capitalist nature of social democratic parties and governments, I wrote the following in support of the pilots (Australian coins have the face of the English Queen on one side!):

On the fining of the Pilot’s Federation

I have 6,000,000 new reasons for hating the bourgeoisie
And every one of them a dollar
Six million new monarch-faced reminders
Issued in the currency of conflict.

And I have 6,000,000 new reasons for detesting the bourgeoisie
Each a bitter mouthful shared with pilot families
Six million new sinewed angers
Wrench at my gut like some disease

And 6,000,000 new reasons for loathing the bourgeoisie
Each one a lash across the back
Driven forward to the past of the convict dream:
To organise, to fight, to act

And in acting, 6,000,000 multiplied strengths
And every one of them a worker
The lash-backed, bitterness-baited, capital-less throng
Who, by such punishments unite, and know they are strong.


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