IAG chairman Walsh plans to axe 3,800 jobs – a fifth of the Spanish Iberia airline’s workforce – in a country where unemployment is at 26% while youth unemployment is over 50%.
Riot police have been clashing with the striking workers during their five-day stoppage in protest against the sacking plans.
Workers’ banners read: ‘They have sold us to pirates’, while unions blamed the impasse directly on Walsh, the chairman of the IAG holding company, saying that Iberia’s Spanish management are puppets whose strings are pulled by Walsh.
The strike was called by cabin crew and ground staff unions representing more than 90% of the workforce. Iberia’s pilots are also at war with the airline and a strike last year cost the loss-making company £2m a day.
Walsh wants to sack 3,800 of its 18,000 employees, and gave unions a 30-day window to negotiate on 12 February, as he plans to cut 15% of capacity, including long-haul routes to Latin America.
Gabriel Mocho, of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said: ‘The fingerprints of Willie Walsh are visible in the breakdown in talks that led to this declaration. Orders from above have clearly denied Iberia the freedom to achieve a joint negotiated plan with unions to secure a profitable future for the airline.
‘Willie Walsh seems to once again be following the same plan as he did at BA. Set the bar impossibly high. Torpedo any agreements that are reached. Create maximum discord.’
This is undoubtedly true. Everything that is happening at Iberia was earlier imposed on the BA cabin crew and the Unite trade union in 2010.
Then, the Unite trade union said that after seven days of strike action BA had lost £100 million – twice the £7 million per day, or £49 million, that BA claimed it would lose.
Unite added: ‘For a company that claims to be on course for major losses this year (2010) the financial logic of this costly dispute is puzzling in the extreme and suggests that BA’s management is actually pursuing another agenda, that of smashing union organisation at the airline.’
Earlier that week, BA wrote to cabin crews to inform them that their travel benefits would be withdrawn and they would ‘never’ get them back, further angering the crews.
The BA bosses wanted to destroy trade unionism and dictate manning levels, impose sackings, and dictate slave-labour pay and two-tier conditions. Cabin crews knew this and that is why they voted overwhelmingly to strike.
Even Unite leader Woodley, who did everything to prevent a strike at BA, was forced to admit that Walsh had declared ‘war’ on the union.
Woodley said: ‘Despite our offer that if the company put last week’s offer back on the table we would consult our members, unfortunately British Airways has not done that.
‘In fact, what they’ve done is table an offer that is worse than the offer that was tabled last week.
‘That makes it absolutely impossible for us to go back to our members and reballot them under these circumstances.’
Then, the 4.7m-strong International Transport Workers Federation, which had 264 affiliated aviation trades unions declared: ‘We are all backing the crews and their desire for a speedy solution . . . Our member unions will continue to mobilise to support the strikers.’
The problem was that the Unite union, and the trade union movement a whole, refused to take decisive action and call all the airlines out. As a result, Walsh was able to cut crew numbers, impose redundancies, and impose pay, pension and conditions cuts for new starters. Then he was moved to IAG, and now war has been declared once again.
What must be done is that the unions must pick up the gauntlet. BA and the other EU airline unions must take indefinite strike action at once, and Walsh, and the bosses behind him, must be smashed. Otherwise, the BA-Iberia tactic will be the common experience for airline workers all over Europe.