On Aug. 25, U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero issued an injunction to prevent Northwest Airlines flight attendants from taking a series of actions and random strikes called CHAOS (Create Havoc Around Our System). The Bush administration had publicly urged the judge to render a pro-corporate decision.

Northwest’s 9,300 flight attendants have vowed to defend their wages.

Photo: Reuters/Rebecca Cook

The 9,300 Northwest flight attendants, represented by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, have still vowed to take action against the company.

One week after the judge’s anti-worker injunction, flight attendants say they are no closer to a deal with Northwest. The union is also taking a militant position, saying it will not negotiate with the airline unless flight attendants have the power to strike.

On July 31, flight attendants for Northwest Airlines voted down a union contract that would have cut wages by 21 percent and slashed total compensation by 40 percent. The airline responded by imposing an even more draconian contract on the flight attendants. On Aug. 1, the flight attendants voted to initiate the CHAOS actions.

Northwest is attempting to boost profits by reducing the labor costs of flight attendants and other workers. The contract rejected by flight attendants on July 31 included a lower base salary, increased health insurance premiums and a freeze in employer contributions to the pension fund.

The contract also required 20 additional hours of work per month, which would in fact amount to many more work hours. Flight attendants are only paid for time in the air, even though they spend hours passing through security checks, waiting for passengers to board the plane and waiting out flight delays. Consequently, they can often be on duty for twice the amount of time they spend in the air. This harsh contract would have lasted five and a half years and could have affected flight attendant wages for years after that.

Median annual earnings for a flight attendant are approximately $48,000. Under the rejected contract, median earnings would have dropped to less than $30,000. Wages for less experienced flight attendants, currently as little as $16,000 per year, would have dropped below family poverty levels.

Capitalist state aids private corporations

In September 2005, Northwest Airlines filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code, citing high fuel prices and competition from other carriers. Since then, Northwest bosses have used bankruptcy protection to take back $800 million in annual wages and benefits from workers.

Unions representing Northwest pilots and ground workers have been forced to accept drastic take-backs of wages and benefits. Some 4,400 Northwest mechanics, maintenance workers and cleaners represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association have been on strike since August 2005 after refusing to accept pay cuts of $176 million. Northwest Airlines has used scabs to replace the striking mechanics.

These thefts of workers’ wages and benefits have been enabled by bankruptcy court decisions. On July 6, 2006, bankruptcy judge Allan Gropper ruled that Northwest Airlines may void its collective bargaining agreement with its flight attendants and impose a contract cutting wages by 40 percent. Now, a new federal judge has joined the assault on the flight attendants.

The Bush administration’s role in shaping Judge Marrero’s recent decision is revealing. Although ostensibly separate, the executive and judicial branches of government work together to oppress workers and defeat any pro-worker mobilizations.

When it comes to increasing profits and keeping big enterprises afloat, all parts of the U.S. capitalist government act in concert to protect the interest of private corporations.

(First posted on pslweb.org, Sept. 5, 2006. Keep up to date with the flight attendants’ struggle at www.pslweb.org)