WORKERS AT Aviation Fuel Services (AFS) at Heathrow airport are “elated” after winning all their demands through strike action last weekend.
News of their victory lifted pickets and fellow TGWU union members at baggage handling company Servisair at Gatwick, who were also on strike from Saturday into Sunday.
AFS management caved in over pay and overtime rates midway through a 48-hour strike.
The 40 workers, who refuel 40 percent of planes at Heathrow, have won an 11.1 percent pay rise and an extra £1.15 an hour on overtime rates, both backdated to April of this year.
The company had originally offered 11.1 percent over two years and nothing on overtime.
It changed its tune when the entire workforce supported the strike. After 24 hours of action airlines were on the brink of cancellations and AFS buckled.
“News of the victory has shot through the airport like wildfire,” says one Heathrow worker.
It comes after months of a recovery in confidence among sections of workers at Heathrow in the wake of unofficial stoppages by BA check-in staff last year.
There is now talk of holding a meeting for reps and activists from all unions across all sections and companies at Heathrow.
The 600 workers at Servisair also sense a growing unity. “We’ve got all sections of the company at Gatwick on strike,” said one of the 100 pickets. “It’s the first official TGWU stoppage at the airport for ten years.”
The strike is against the victimisation of the senior union rep at Servisair, who was leading workers’ opposition to imposed flexible working until he was suspended.
“It’s not simply about the convenor,” said one striker, “It is a blatant attack on the union in preparation for a major attack on our conditions—what the management calls ‘re-engineering’.”
Management flatly rejected a compromise offer from the union over the suspended union rep in the run-up to the strike.
Union officials said they would call off the action if the management guaranteed that any disciplinary action would not result in the sack.
“The fact that they wouldn’t have that shows they seem determined to sack our convenor,” said one striker. “It’s typical of the confrontational attitude the company has adopted.
“We are just being treated like scum. There’s no meeting halfway. They want all the gain, while we get all the pain.”
Another striker said, “You are working flat out, and people are forced into overtime just to make ends meet. There are people working 55 or 60 hours a week.
“The company says it is all down to the downturn in the industry after the 9/11 attack. But the number of flights and the amount of baggage we are handling is going up. They are just using that as an excuse.”
The offensive by Servisair management is part of a drive to boost profits in the airline industry in the era of low cost carriers such as Ryanair.
“They have cut everything else—now they want to squeeze us dry,” said one picket.
AFS workers at Heathrow have also suffered six years of subcontracting and worse contracts. Now workers feel that they have had enough.
“None of us has ever been on strike before,” says one AFS worker. “But we saw other workers at the airport strike, and the union told us that we couldn’t be sacked. So we had a go.”
When they did, they discovered their power. The same is true at Servisair. The media spread the management line that the strike caused no disruption.
But the company had to drag in office staff and managers from across Britain to do the strikers’ work.
Still, many passengers were told to bring hand luggage only. One Gatwick worker from a different company says, “Later in the day it was getting really ragged.
“The day after the strike there was an unusually large number of tailbacks. It really stretched the company to cope with a 24-hour strike. Sustained strike action would stretch them to breaking point.”
Servisair workers were due to strike again for 24 hours on Thursday of this week. They enjoy widespread support from other sections, particularly after BAA management invited its workers to scab on the strike.
“The action at the weekend shows we’ve go the determination and organisation to win,” says one Servisair worker, “We are prepared to do what it takes.”
One hundred engineers, sales, marketing, ground and cargo staff in the Amicus and TGWU unions at Lufthansa are balloting for strike action after rejecting a 2.6 percent pay offer.