Workers Vanguard No. 892

11 May 2007


On JetBlue and Outsourcing


20 March 2007

Dear Comrades,

In reading the article “Labor: Organize JetBlue!” (WV No. 888, 16 March) I noticed that the question of organizing workers at “third party” contractors does not take up the international dimension of this task. In our article on the 2005 strike by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) against Northwest Airlines, we wrote: “The AMFA leaders, and many mechanics on the picket lines, combine their protests against the outsourcing of mechanics’ jobs with chauvinist statements against ‘illegal’ immigrant workers and foreign mechanics in Latin America, China and Singapore, which is depicted in AMFA statements as a haven for terrorists. The AMFA tops buy right into the government’s phony ‘war on terror’” (WV No. 853, 2 September 2005).

Officials at other industry unions, including the Machinists and Teamsters, AMFA’s main rivals, also openly imbibe in this national chauvinism. The AMFA strike article calls for unions to fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants and to organize the unorganized, citizen or not. It goes on to say: “The America-first protectionism pushed by the union tops, which promotes the lie of a commonality of interests between the U.S. working class and its exploiters, is utterly suicidal in an industry that is inherently international in scope.”

Unlike at Northwest Airlines, JetBlue mechanics have never performed heavy maintenance on the company’s aircraft. According to JetBlue, most of its major overhauls are done in El Salvador or in Canada. Still, JetBlue’s contracting out this work is an issue for many workers across the industry. It is part of what makes JetBlue a “low-cost” carrier, and its example is often used by other airlines as the pretext to accelerate the outsourcing of their own maintenance work.

Much of the objection to maintenance in developing countries like El Salvador is presented in the guise of safety considerations, since mechanics there are not required to have an FAA license (or the equivalent) and safety oversight relies heavily on company supervisors and quality control personnel. So there is a safety issue. But the bureaucrats’ solution is not to aid in organizing mechanics in other countries and in enforcing union-run training and safety rules, but to instead rely on U.S. government “safety” inspectors and promote protectionist legislation. This chauvinist outlook and program divides the working class, setting it up for defeat, and is an obstacle to successful union organizing. It should at least have been mentioned in the article.

Steve H.