From Alitalia to the fight against opening of cooperatives, the fight in air transport extends.

By Matteo Bavassano.

The story of bankruptcy and the planned sale of Alitalia by the government-appointed commissioners, with the active involvement of the Italian government, has strengthened the struggles in the sector of air transport that has seen heavy attacks on workers’ rights in recent years, although it is an area, either of passenger transport or freight transport, which has been growing steadily for several years. Wage cuts were not limited to Italy and the former Italian flag carrier but are generalized throughout the sector at European level and not only, but ours was the only country where the fight remained limited to a tiny minority of workers while in the last two years there have been prolonged strikes of about a week of Lufthansa and Air France workers, with hundreds of cancellations of national, international and even intercontinental flights, strikes where workers were united against restructuring plans of leading European air carriers. Alitalia’s workers have finally managed to find their unity to reject wage cuts and redundancies contained in the “rejuvenation” plan rejected by the April referendum, and are continuing their mobilization to avoid the sale and dismantling of the company. In order to prevent workers’ struggles with the aim of re-nationalizing the former flag carrier as a public transport service, Alitalia has resorted, in the last two June and July strikes, to injunctions against workers’ strikes beyond the limits imposed by the anti-strike laws, while important members of the government and the Democratic Party (PD) have stated that the laws governing strikes need to be tightened, that is to say, in fact, to abolish the right to strike, making this weapon completely ineffective. But the workers are still able to defeat government and bosses.

 An international reach

The entry of the so-called low-cost airlines in the airline business has undermined the plans of ‘traditional’ companies, putting them in the face of competition that limits their profits, which they try to recover by wage cuts and restructuring: in September 2015, the Air France’s staff has animated a one-week long strike against the creation of a low-cost company by the same French company, which would have been transferred a significant part of the crew. The situation is, therefore, the same in all countries: it is no coincidence that the international campaign of solidarity with the Alitalia workers promoted by the No Austerity Fighting Front is doing well, and indeed thanks to this campaign the Alitalia and Air France workers, the last ones from the Solidaires union, have met in Rome and have decided to constantly check the evolution of the two disputes and have opened the possibility of planning joint action.

A turning point

The Alitalia dispute is at a turning point: the commissioners have in fact sanctioned the complete outsourcing of handling services (i.e. ground handling services, excluding aircraft maintenance) after stating that they would accept bids for just the flights operating sector, restoring life to Ethiad’s plan that had been rejected by the workers in April. It is an Alitalia’s sale and dismantling plan, which in its way recalls the attacks on the air transport industry in the last 20 years: starting with the outsourcing of handling, ending the state monopoly of airports (which have been privately granted), with the aim of lowering the cost of labor to ensure profits. But that has not been enough, so the rights and wages of the flight crew began to be hit. Every protection has been progressively swept away, while private management companies distribute substantial profits and equity dividends. Today, a new attack is being carried out, trying to force in the handling sub-sector a particular form of exploitation with the co-operative system.

At Milan airports, workers, in particular baggage handlers and cargo transporters, have created two spontaneous strikes in just under one week at the end of July to protest against the use of cooperatives in subcontracting, blocking all for the moment. This is the only solution: to fight united and resolute with those forms of struggle (the prolonged strike) that the bosses want to take away. It may seem that open battles and disputes in air transport are separate, but are part of the same general fight against the privatization of services, to the detriment of workers and users, for the profit of a few.

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Translation: Marcos Margarido.