Saturday, June 25, 2016

My Opinion: "Sweetheart" CAL Union Urges Concessions, Threatens Strike

  The Taiwan labor department, China Airlines management, and a break-away faction of a "sweetheart" labor union reached an agreement to turn back the work attacks on the CAL union workers. 
     The last straw was management's insistence that all workers in the Taipei area of Taiwan clock in at Tao-Yuan airport instead of the more convenient local Sung-Shan Airport. It is a victory for Taiwan Airlines' flight attendant workers in northern Taiwan!
     The Taoyuan Flight Attendants Union (TFAU) was formed with the help of a thirty-year China Airlines retiree when the "sweetheart" China Airlines Employees Union (CAEU) did nothing to stem the downturn in employees salary and increase in their workload. For example, in 1996, flight attendants earned between 70-80,000 NT a month ($2335-$2666 us); now it is down to 50-60,000, while their workload went from 60-90 hours to 75-120 hours a month. 
      Through a collection of passports necessary for flight attendants to travel at work, and be scabs, the union faction got almost complete adherence to the strike, with few scabs. The one "scab" they did make an exception for was President Tsai Ying-Wen who was to fly on her first overseas trip on China Airlines. Otherwise, the one day strike was a success and a role model for every worker in Taiwan to stand firm and start their own independent union. 
    Despite voicing displeasure that all China Airline workers were not a part of the agreement, the CAEU, formed by KMT leadership as "sweetheart" union, they aplauded the victory. Most CAL workers, as in other "official" unions, are indebted and loyal to management; no strike work action was ever promoted. 
     The flight attendants ratio of one per twenty-five airborne passengers twenty years ago has expanded over the years to fifty passengers each. In a typical  layover between assignments,  New Zealand to Taoyuan run, a ten day stay was allowed in 1996 but has been chiseled away  to a twenty-four hour layover, barely enough time to rest and prepare for the next flight, a flight that can be twenty hours long with one stop-over.
      The official CAEU has lost face with the 8,000 members employees they represent and are publicly criticizing the TFAU faction demanding better working conditions for workers who they have not lifted a finger for in the past.  They are threatening a strike, too. [Update: the un-voted "day-off" gained psudo-strike victory for the CAEU, with the leader resigning mysteriously afterward.] If the TFAU action has caused the "sweetheart" CAEU to finally demand reversal of eroded benefits for all China Airline employees, that is good, though suspect. Most non-flight attendant China Airline employees still get their job through KMT connections and have special benefits other workers don't have. 
     The hope is that the action and victory of the TFAU can spread to other airline workers and oppressed workers all over Taiwan. For instance, EVA airline workers have to sign an agreement not to unionize when hired; those workers need union protection, too. 
     Ironically, only the Taoyuan China Airline flight attendants  will benefit from the strike settlement, while other CAL flight attendants, such as those in Kaohsiung, though they showed solidarity with their sister and brother workers in the north, will not benefit; in fact, their jobs may be in jeopardy by vindictive CAL management. 
    What would be best for all workers is industrial unionism, such as in the IWW, where all employees in an industry show solidarity and benefit in a work action. However, with "sweetheart" unions designed by the government to obstruct in dependent unionism, breaking away is legitimate.
    The media uses the specter of "communism" to stifle unionism. It is also used by the KMT to support business interests and stifle union solidarity.  In the media, the leader of the more militant CAEU faction, has been branded; she was a member of Cooloud, an anti-WTO labor organization opposed to Taiwan independence or laissez-faire U.S. dependence. This  may be used to discourage unionism. Workers  should be aware of this tactic to divide them when unionizing and not be discouraged. 
   The DPP has started on the right foot by giving Taiwan workers a hand by returning the seven vacation holidays taken away from them. Hopefully, a new era in workers' rights is dawning in Taiwan.

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