AMFA’s Record Against Solidarity
written & posted 11/05
A letter from National Director Delle-Femine April 28, 1994
“ Our task, our mission is to separate from the cleaners/janitors. That’s our goal, and through your support and help we will win.”
April 4, 1994 “The Mechanic” flyer
“Mechanics and Inspectors wages historically have been sacrificed by the IAM in order to provide an artificially high scale for the unskilled workers who dominate the catch-all union.”
AMFA memo April 7, 1994
“The mechanics at UAL are being forced to make concessions for the unskilled class of cleaners and baggage handlers.”
* AMFA’s attorney Lee Seham in an August 11, 1994 letter to the National Mediation Board arguing AMFA should not have to represent United Airlines’ Cleaners because,
“The professional lives and collective bargaining aspirations of skilled craftsmen cannot be dictated by individuals who preponderantly wipe tray tables, dispose of trash, or clean the exterior of an aircraft with a mop. Forcing this unnatural alliance guarantees instability.
* Why does the AMFA use a legal firm that has represented corporations over Unions in the past?
(Answer submitted by the National Director) We in AMFA over the past 30 years have enjoyed a most trusting and successful relationship with Lee’s (Seham, Seham, Meltz & Peterson) firm. It is not any of our business to dictate how a firm should earn its living. In fact one of the things we admire about his firm is that it knows both sides of the table. This is a valuable asset for us
Statement by Carl Finamore, President, IAMAW Local Lodge 1781
Addressed to Delegates to All Northern California Labor Councils
The NWA Strike and Labor Solidarity
Dear Brother & Sister Delegates of the Northern California Central Labor Councils,
There is a need within Labor to discuss the reasons we have fallen to such a low point. Our decline for years now has been steady. My personal opinion is that it is traceable to policies enacted over 50 years ago that have allowed political parties outside Labor to largely speak and act for us in defense of the working class. That should be our job.
I believe we must declare our political independence and act more in our own proud name, our own loud and strong voice, and with our own clearly stated demands before we can reclaim the allegiance of the working class. Unfortunately, the betrayals and compromises of politicians and parties who claim to be our friends have left the working class confused and disoriented. So we have our work cut out for us.
But that is a much larger discussion. The immediate issue I want to address is the breakdown in Solidarity at Northwest Airlines that has recently been discussed in the San Francisco Bay Area Labor Councils without the benefit of hearing from my Union.
Solidarity by definition is action that unites and strengthens the working class in defense of its own interests. In the airline industry, this required unity has been under attack for several decades by the Aircraft Mechanic Fraternal Association (AMFA).
As you know, AMFA has throughout its history refused to join the AFL-CIO because its openly avowed goal was to break apart industrial unions in the airline industry. Why? In order to “free” skilled mechanics from their association with the unskilled kitchen, cabin cleaners, janitors and baggage handlers.
Because of its historical opposition to labor solidarity, AMFA was largely insignificant throughout its existence since the early 1960s, shriveling to 439 members in 1996.
But since 1998 their persistent raids against the IAM, TWU, AFA-CWA, and Teamsters have made large gains at United Airlines, Northwest Airlines and Southwest Airlines. This was because AMFA was able to feed off the large discontent among workers who endured concessions imposed by management over the last decade. This decline of wages, erosion of working conditions and elimination of pensions accelerated with more than half a dozen airlines seeking bankruptcy since 2002.
AMFA’s characterization of the majority of airline workers as ‘unskilled’ ‘drags’ on higher-skilled mechanics has also converged nicely with the efforts over the last 10 years of the airlines to contract out most of these same so-called ‘unskilled’ positions.
AMFA’s elitist propaganda in recent years not only won support among many misguided mechanics, but notably also among the bosses. Significantly, the Teamsters and IAM both filed charges with the National Mediation Board documenting numerous instances of Management favoring AMFA raiding tactics.
There are some who have mistaken AMFA’s organizational successes in recent years as a sign of some sort of new opening for labor activism. They are mistaken. AMFA has no political explanation for the setbacks suffered by airline workers. Instead, they offer an organizational explanation reminiscent of 19th century labor officials. The problem as AMFA sees it isn’t lack of labor solidarity, but solidarity itself!
For AMFA, the problem is the industrial union concept; the inclusion of the unskilled from their reactionary vantage point has supposedly handicapped mechanics from exercising their ‘skill’ as the main bargaining leverage against employers.
Rejecting solidarity with other workers, AMFA openly champions skill over numbers as their most powerful leverage. But all these false craft-union notions, soundly disproved by the USAir mechanic strike in 1992 and now once again, vividly, heartbreakingly, in the 2005 NWAmechanic strike, do not in themselves justify a breakdown in solidarity among airline industry unions.
The even larger immediate tragedy is that the elitist ideas of AMFA have not been limited to speeches or to the written word, but have actually been part of their bargaining strategy.
The strike at NWA seeks to further bargaining objectives that pit AMFA against other workers. In fact, as the IAMAW has publicly complained numerous times, AMFA dared to demand that NWA impose more concessions on non-AMFA workers, beyond even what the employers originally proposed. More from non-AMFA members means less from AMFA members, according to AMFA’s elitist logic. Unfortunately, they are now reaping the consequences of such a betrayal of solidarity.
Similarly at UAL, AMFA successfully won a recent National Mediation Board decision to take over approximately 550 IAM fueling jobs, which were then promptly contracted out in a prior agreement between AMFA and UAL.
Make no mistake. AMFA knew that if they won the Board decision, the $20 an hour IAM jobs would be lost and contracted out for $12 an hour, with UAL’s savings partially set aside to soften concessions required of AMFA UAL mechanics.
A few months earlier in 2005, UAL AMFA mechanics again took less of a concessionary hit because they agreed to allow the Carrier to contract out all cabin cleaners and janitors.
At NWA, a similar breakdown in solidarity occurred with regard to Cabin jobs. Prior to the strike, AMFA negotiators already agreed, following their pattern at UAL, to contract out all Cabin jobs at NWA.
Notably, at NWA, AMFA did not attend any of the joint bargaining sessions of the Flight Attendants, IAM and Pilots. How could they? AMFA was demanding that NWA seek concessions from other work groups that would in some cases more than double what was already being asked by the Carrier.
Let’s also be clear about this. Strikes designed to increase the standard of living of workers by targeting employers deserve unconditional support regardless of any past grievances between organizations, no matter how deep-seated. But the breakdown in solidarity in the NWA strike has occurred because of AMFA’s concrete bargaining actions. AMFA tried to cut their own deal with UAL and NWA, to the detriment of other work groups. The breakdown in unity was not because of prior conflicts with the unions whose members they have raided. Unfortunately, AMFA only discovered the word Solidarity after they found themselves out in the cold.
Our position is also clear: IAM members refuse to support a bargaining strategy that attacks other workers!
In this regard, it appears the NWA flight attendants, who originally held AMFA’s same goals and objectives, have taken a different course.
They are not asking that NWA lighten their concessions by taking from other workers. They appear to be asking for collective action by all the unions to defend all the workers against the Carrier’s greed.
That is why they deserve and are receiving full and unconditional support in their fight regardless of their AMFA affiliation or origins.
The bald truth is that solidarity has been destroyed by AMFA’s actions, leaving its members defenseless and isolated. Of course, we take no joy in seeing NWA take advantage of this setback for all workers, but the damage cannot be healed by ignoring reality and supporting strikes that demand sacrifices from other workers.
The lesson of the AMFA strike is that we should oppose breaking apart unions within industries. Rather, we must work within the existing unions to make them more responsive to the membership and more militant against the corporations.
We demand true Solidarity, actions and demands that unite and benefit the working class as a whole. There can be no solidarity with a bargaining strategy that divides the working class.