Ryanair on strike in Spain as airline strikes spread across Europe
European airline workers are continuing strikes, defying state threats to ban strikes using reactionary “minimum service” laws against which unions are organizing no opposition.
The Spanish unions USO (Unión Sindical Obrera) and SITCPLA (Sindicato Independiente de Tripulantes de Cabina de Pasajeros de Líneas Aéreas) called in July twelve 24-hour stoppages for 1,900 Ryanair cabin crew members at the ten airports of the company in Spain. Workers strike over wages and working conditions. The six-day strike by Ryanair crews will affect nearly 2,650 operations and nearly 400,000 passengers.
Workers are striking in defiance of the Socialist Party (PSOE)-Podemos government’s demand that workers provide a “minimum service” of between 57 and 82 percent of flights, depending on the airport and route. Confident in the complicity of the government, Ryanair threatened last month to fire all the strikers.
The USO and SITCPLA make a pathetic appeal to the PSOE-Podemos government, in particular to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labor of Podemos, Yolanda Díaz. In a joint statement, they implored Díaz: “Do not let Ryanair violate labor laws and constitutional rights such as the right to strike and act against a company that does not respect court orders, does not respect the law and uses fear, coercion and threats with its employees.
Unsurprisingly, Díaz declined to answer. Her anti-worker record is notorious: She led the back-to-work campaign with unions during the pandemic that led to millions of workplace infections and the deaths of thousands of workers and their families. It also passed a reactionary labor reform extending the much-hated one endorsed by the right-wing People’s Party (PP) in 2012.
Díaz belongs to a government that has repeatedly attacked strikes. In November it deployed armored vehicles and riot police against striking steelworkers in Cádiz; in April, he mobilized 23,000 police to crush a truckers’ strike over rising fuel prices as part of NATO’s war on Russia in Ukraine. Two weeks ago, Díaz cynically offered his condolences after Spanish and Moroccan police went on a rampage, killing at least 37 refugees on Morocco’s border with the Spanish enclave of Melilla.
Initially, Ryanair unions were only planning 24-hour shutdowns in June. However, under mounting pressure from workers, the USO extended the strikes, which it blamed on “company indifference”. Trying to divide the action and minimize its impact, the unions have called for 24-hour shutdowns which will begin today and continue intermittently on July 13-15, 18-21 and 25-28.
Seeking to divide its members, the USO has called separate strike days for its EasyJet members, who are fighting for similar demands. At EasyJet, Europe’s second-largest low-budget airline after Ryanair, the USO called six new strikes on July 15-17 and 29-31 to demand a 40% increase in their base salary.
On a single day, July 15, strikes by Ryanair and Easyjet will coincide, even as workers defend the same demands: improved working conditions, higher wages to compensate for 10% inflation, pay for hours of training and seniority supplements.
The combined strength of airline employees at Ryanair and Easyjet was demonstrated last month. Strikes at both airlines have left at least 241 flights canceled and 1,440 delayed: 26 cancellations and 185 delays at Ryanair, and 215 and 1,255 at EasyJet. Most EasyJet cancellations were to or from Malaga-Costa del Sol airport, but operations at Barcelona-El Prat and Palma de Mallorca-Son Sant Joan airports were also affected.
The crucial issue for workers is to break down the obstacles posed by the airline unions and create rank-and-file committees to coordinate their struggles across national borders. A powerful Europe-wide mobilization of airline workers is already underway. Over the past month, Ryanair workers in Belgium, Italy and Portugal have staged strikes. Strikes have hit Air France, Transavia and Brussels Airlines, and there have been demonstrations by American pilots at Southwest Airlines.
In addition, ground staff at European airports – baggage handlers, security guards and check-in staff – also went on strike last month, leading to thousands of canceled flights, hours of waiting at airports and capacity restrictions. in the largest European hubs.
Terrified by the emerging international mobilization of workers, the USO stirs up nationalism in an attempt to divide the workers and stifle the strike.
The USO said crew members in Spain earn a base salary of €950, €850 less than their French or German colleagues. “The conclusion is clear: at EasyJet there is money for everything except Spain,” said USO Secretary General Miguel Galán.
Galán pleaded with Ryanair to grant symbolic concessions to avoid strikes. Another meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, after which the USO hopes to call off the strike.
The USO has also complained that Ryanair is bringing in crews to operate from Spain to break the strike, again demonstrating the powerlessness of the USO’s nationwide one-day strikes. According to reports, some are Portuguese, but others are non-EU, UK. The USO said it would file the corresponding complaints with the labor inspectorate of each city where Ryanair has Spanish bases.
The same nationalist outlook is shared by trade unions across Europe. Last week, the French and Belgian pilots’ unions called for strike action on the days not called by the Spanish unions, for July 23 and 24.
In northern Europe, the SAS Pilot Group (SPG) union of Scandinavian Airline Systems (SAS), the Scandinavian air transport giant created in 1946 by the governments of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, has been delaying the strike for a month . On June 9, they filed their June 29 strike notice, which they eventually postponed to July 4.
Since last week, nearly 1,000 SAS pilots have been on strike. SAS is operating at around 50% capacity due to the pilots’ strike, affecting 30,000 passengers a day. Thousands of flights have been cancelled. According to Norwegian broadcaster NRK, the strike is costing SAS $8-10 million a day. In solidarity, 200 SAS aircraft mechanics in Denmark are to join the strike on Thursday, refusing to service the planes.
With this immense power, the SPG agreed to break its own strike, operating charter flights to help stranded passengers get home. He then had to call off his strike when the pilots realized they were deployed to “popular and busy holiday destinations, such as Rhodes, Crete, Larnaca and Split, from where there are already other travel options”, SPG accepted.
The wrath of the pilots is the culmination of a number of betrayals with the complicity of the SPG. Pilots were forced to accept a two-tier system in which new pilots received lower wages and benefits at SAS Link and SAS Connect subsidiaries. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the union agreed to a “temporary” pay cut for its members. Last week, negotiations over a new collective agreement broke down, resulting in a strike.
Once again, these strikes show the immense power of airport and airline workers, a powerful section of the working class that can quickly cripple much of the global economy. This could not only impose improved working conditions and wages, but trigger a broader working class movement against war, the criminal official handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the soaring cost of living.
The key issue, however, is the need to unify workers’ struggles internationally and break free from the debilitating nationalist grip of union bureaucracies that work closely with management and capitalist governments at the expense of their members. For this, workers must build the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWA-RFC) and fight for a socialist perspective that subordinates socially created wealth to social needs.