Update: Fair Work terminates industrial action but Qantas workers still need our support

The ugly face of Australia’s 1 per cent was graphically on display over the weekend, when CEO Alan Joyce grounded Qantas and prepared to lock out its workforce.

It epitomised what the Occupy movement is fighting against—a $5 million a year Qantas CEO trying to cut jobs and conditions from workers on as little as $38,000 a year. Qantas plans to cut 1000 jobs, employ new staff on lower wages and conditions and outsource more baggage handlers’ jobs. Qantas is refusing to bring entry level baggage handlers up to the level of pay and conditions of existing workers under the Enterprise Bargain Agreement.

Qantas is very profitable—making a $552 dollar profit last year. Plus it made another $169 million from wholly-owned subsidiary, Jetstar. In February, Qantas announced it would buy ten new planes and lease another 18 to expand into 2012. Then, in August, it struck a deal with Airbus worth US$9.5 billion to buy 110 jets which will underpin its planned expansion into Asia.

Joyce declared the lock out because he wanted the Labor government and Fair Work Australia to terminate industrial action—and that is just what he got. By grounding Qantas, Alan Joyce has been able to ride roughshod over the unions and has put them on the back foot.

Shamefully, Julia Gillard and other Labor government Ministers refused to condemn Joyce and his stand-over tactics. She said she wasn’t taking sides, but imagine the screams if it had been the unions who had shut down the airline.

But Joyce and Qantas could have been beaten. Rather than caving into Joyce the Labor government could have squashed its job-cutting plans by moving to re-nationalise Qantas. It could even have kept more pressure on Qantas just by arguing for suspension of the industrial action rather than its termination—that would have allowed the unions to re-start industrial action.

Tragically, even the ACTU has gone along with the Fair Work decision. ACTU Secretary Geoff Lawrence said the Full Bench of Fair Work had made a “sensible decision” and that the unions can get back to “negotiating in good faith”—as if Alan Joyce is going to negotiate in good faith.

Joyce’s plans have been referred to as the “Asianisation” of Qantas—but Joyce is about exploiting workers in both Australia and Asia. (Philippines Airlines workers have also been on strike to stop job cuts.) Union officials have also talked about saving the Qantas “brand” when the real issue is saving jobs and conditions.

A fight for all the 99 per cent
But we shouldn’t leave this dispute to the courts. Occupy Melbourne and Occupy Sydney have both seen the willingness of the 1 per cent to use force against peaceful protesters. Now the 1 per cent is using the law and the courts to protect their millions and stifle workers’ right to strike.

Qantas is extremely vulnerable. An Essential Poll showed double the number of people blame Qantas management for this dispute as blame the unions. Occupy Sydney protested at the Qantas AGM last week. If the unions had gone on the offensive, Joyce would have been put on the back foot. Jetstar workers could have walked off the job in solidarity—hitting Qantas’s low-cost airline. Solidarity action by the powerful TWU could have shut down other significant parts of industry. Stop-work rallies in every capital city would have sent a message to Qantas, to the Labor government and to Fair Work Australia that we would not let Qantas put profits before jobs and working conditions.

Back the Qantas workers, back the teachers, back the wharfies
Joyce and Qantas have won round one of the battle, but the war is a long way from over. There are 21 days of discussions now before the dispute goes back before Fair Work. If there is no agreement with Qantas in those three weeks, the unions should be willing to defy the Fair Court ruling and use their industrial power. Joyce had no qualms about shutting down Qantas—neither should we.

In NSW too, teachers are gearing up for industrial action to break Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell’s 2.5 per cent wage cap for public servants. A six-hour occupation of a Shell ship in Sydney Harbour by nine MUA members forced Shell to commit to diverting future domestic cargos onto Australian-licensed ships away from flag of convenience ships of shame. This is how we can stand up to the 1 per cent.

Industrial power is at the heat of the power of the 99 per cent to fight for a different world.


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