The Grand Rapids branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) will be picketing outside of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Kentwood this Saturday. 4,400 machinists at Northwest went on strike two weeks ago after Northwest Airlines proposed a series of job, pay, and benefit cuts that would reduce union jobs by 50%, reduce pay by 25%, and require higher payments for insurance and reductions in pensions and sick pay.
While the union offered to accept pay cuts of 20% and the elimination of 1,000 jobs, Northwest rejected the offer and is instead focused on breaking the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) union. Those within the labor movement see Northwest’s response as a sign of what corporations will do in the future when handling strikes. Northwest made an extensive effort to hire replacement workers as a contingency in the event of a strike and their success in replacing highly skilled workers suggests that corporations will now see almost any worker as replaceable. Northwest spent $176 million in preparations for the strike, including the hiring of scab workers and is currently paying scabs more per hour than both the AMFA-offered concession wage and the pre-August 20 wage.
Nationally, the AMFA has been unable to gain widespread support for its strike among other unions. Ideally, other airline unions would have participated in solidarity strikes or work slowdowns, but none of the independent unions at Northwest, the AFL-CIO, or the new “Change to Win Coalition” have joined the strikers. Instead, labor appears once again to be disorganized and fractured with various union leaders describing the AMFA as a “renegade union” that is not a part of “the house of labor.” This has caused the AMFA to focus instead on organizing support amongst rank-and-file workers in other unions, bypassing the outdated union bureaucracies that have stifled the labor union over the past forty years. Thousands have participated in solidarity rallies around the country, numerous workers at Northwest have refused to cross the picket lines, and efforts have been made to block scab workers from getting to work.
The picket organized in Grand Rapids will take place from 1:00pm to 3:00pm on Saturday. Carpooling is available and individuals wishing to participate are asked to call Cole Dorsey at 616-881-5263.