Last Wednesday, Lufthansa’s 20,000 ground staff largely crippled Europe’s largest airline, in terms of passenger-kilometres. The company canceled more than a thousand flights, including 680 in Frankfurt and 350 in Munich; 134,000 passengers were affected.
The strike shows the enormous power workers have when they decide to fight. But the Verdi union, which has called for a one-day ‘warning strike’, has no intention of using that power. Verdi manager Christine Behle, who is leading collective bargaining with Lufthansa, assured ARD news outlet that there would be no further action until the next round of negotiations on August 3: “I can rule out this possibility. . »
But Lufthansa employees can only win their fight for better wages and working conditions if they break with Verdi. This union has not the slightest intention of enforcing its own wage demands and even less of taking action against the intolerable working conditions. He is officially asking for a raise of 9.5 percent, or at least €350 extra salary per month for a period of 12 months. That would roughly offset inflation, but not make up for the massive loss of revenue in recent years.
Behle justified Verdi’s salary demand by pointing to the precarious situation facing Lufthansa employees. More than a third of jobs had been lost during the coronavirus crisis. Their work now had to be done by the remaining employees, who were “exposed daily to the wrath of passengers”.
“The constraints are extremely high and many are considering leaving aviation for good,” Behle complained. After “three years of wage sacrifices to stabilize the company during the pandemic”, she added, employees had also been particularly affected by high inflation.
Faced with such cynicism, one is almost speechless given that Verdi and Behle herself ensured that Lufthansa was able to lay off thousands of ground and cabin crew, and impose the “wage sacrifice” to those who remained.
Behle, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), is not only vice-president of the Verdi trade union, but also vice-president of the supervisory board of Lufthansa. In this role, which earns her an annual salary of €140,000, she is in constant contact with Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr and shareholders.
As the company clawed back €6 billion in coronavirus aid from the German government, Verdi and industry unions UFO and Cockpit agreed to tens of thousands of layoffs and billion-euro wage sacrifices. In the summer of 2020, UFO agreed to savings of half a billion euros at the expense of 22,000 cabin crew and Cockpit agreed to reductions of 850 million euros at the expense of pilots.
Verdi then accepted an unbundling contract for ground employees at the end of 2020. By waiving their holiday and Christmas bonuses with immediate effect, in addition to a salary freeze and a waiver of all bonuses until the end of 2021, ground workers had “helped achieve more than 200 million saving euros to help overcome the crisis,” announced Behle. Thanks to the agreement with the ground staff, up to 50 percent in personnel costs could be saved for this group of employees, Lufthansa personnel manager Michael Niggemann said.
“German trade unions have never accepted such a reduction – around 1.2 billion euros – in the income of their members”, commented(article in English) then the WSWS. “This is a turning point in union betrayal. Averaging the impact over 130,000 current employees, the deals will reduce income per worker by nearly €10,000. »
Verdi ensured, and not just at Lufthansa, that any resistance to these massive cuts was nipped in the bud. The only exception were the ground workers at Frankfurt airport, who fought for months, with a hunger strike and countless demonstrations, against their dismissal by the service company WISAG.
To lead this struggle, WISAG workers had to break with Verdi and form an independent grassroots action committee. Their struggle ultimately failed as it remained isolated and the trade unions, the parliamentary parties of the Land (region) of Hesse and finally the courts, stabbed them all in the back.
After Lufthansa staff were forced to bear the cost of the coronavirus crisis through mass layoffs and pay cuts, low wages and increasing work stress must now ensure that the company can repay the aid as soon as possible of State; and get rid of the government’s 20 percent shareholding, so the hearty profits flow again and the stock price goes up.
Working conditions are now so unbearable and wages so low that Lufthansa can no longer find enough workers. As Verdi itself admits, hourly wages of less than €12 are sometimes the norm at its LTLS and Lufthansa Cargo subsidiaries. This is less than the minimum wage promised by the federal government.
The union is now demanding that the hourly wages of these groups of employees be increased to at least €13! No one can live off of it in expensive cities like Frankfurt and Munich, where the two most important German airports are located.
Staff shortages at airlines and airports are now so acute that Lufthansa has had to cancel 3,100 scheduled flights over the summer months, far more than the number canceled due to a ‘warning strike’ by a Verdi’s day.
About 2.3 million jobs have been lost in aviation since the start of the pandemic worldwide, including 600,000 in Europe. At German airports, around a fifth of jobs are unfilled, according to airport association ADV. A study by the Institute of German Economics calculated that there was a shortage of around 7,200 skilled workers for whom no replacement could be found in the short term. A high level of sick leave due to COVID infections further aggravates the situation.
The consequences are not only flight cancellations, delays and long queues for travelers, but also insane work pressure for the remaining staff, who are paid miserably. The situation is reminiscent of clinics and hospitals which, also under Verdi’s leadership, saw their resources cut to the bone during the pandemic.
Verdi is desperately trying to keep growing anger over these conditions in check. This is why the union has called for a ‘warning strike’ at Lufthansa. In the eyes of its well-paid civil servants, this one-day strike has no other purpose than to allow the workers to let off steam and strengthen their own authority so that they can calmly prepare the next agreement at a discount.
The entire international aeronautical industry is in turmoil. In recent weeks there have been and still are strikes at Ryanair, Easyjet, the Scandinavian airline group SAS and other airlines. Social movements at airports, particularly in France and Spain, have led to many flight cancellations. Thousands of flights have also been canceled in the United States due to understaffing at airports. At Lufthansa, the Cockpit union is currently organizing a strike vote among the pilots. British Airways pilots are also preparing for a strike.
For these struggles to succeed, they must break free from the shackles of the unions and build independent grassroots action committees that network internationally. The Sozialistische Gleichheitspartei (Socialist Equality Party – Germany) and its international sister parties have launched the International Workers’ Alliance of Base Committees for this purpose. Take contact and sign up to form action committees!
(Article published in English on July 28, 2022)
#Ground #workers #cripple #Lufthansa #flights #Germany