photo Marvin Mutz/CC

photo Marvin Mutz/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Heathrow Airport shop steward

August has seen a number of strikes threatened in the airline industry, in particular at Heathrow Airport but also at Gatwick Airport and potential industrial action by British Airways and Ryanair pilots. Strikes at Gatwick and Heathrow have been suspended because of improved offers.

In the past, workers in the airline industry have had a high level of organisation and militancy which has resulted in the trade unions being able to protect members’ wages and conditions.

Since the financial crisis, the airline industry has experienced long, drawn-out attritional battles. These have seen a combination of outsourcing and new contracts, often resulting in severe reduction in terms and conditions and wages.

The consequence is that new employees have borne the brunt of this attack because in reality they have had to sign up to inferior contracts. Where these contracts have been the poorest, there is rapid turnover of new joiners.

Before the financial crisis in 2008, airlines struggled to make consistent profits. However, since the massive reduction in the working conditions of the new generation of airline employees we have seen an explosive growth in profits of both the budget airlines and the full service carriers.

Billions of pounds are being returned to shareholders which have directly come from the pockets of the workers.

The recent return to industrial action ballots reflects an understanding from the new generation of workers that they need to repeat the battles of the past in order to return to a level of pay they can live on.