SAS walkout disrupts Nordic air travel

Scandinavian carrier SAS (Photo: Wikimedia)

Hundreds of flights in Norway, Sweden and Denmark have been canceled as 1400 pilots for Scandinavian carrier SAS began strike action this Friday. Pilots took the step of escalating to strike action after collective bargaining negotiations on pay, working hours, scheduling and outsourcing broke down between SAS and trade union SPF (Svensk Pilotförening, Swedish Pilots’ Association).

Wilhelm Tersmeden, chair of the SAS employees’ section of the SPF, blames SAS bosses for the strike. “My understanding is that SAS did not want to continue the talks,” he told Swedish news agency TT. “For me it’s pointless to sit with your mouth shut at a negotiating table when one side is just sitting there and saying ‘no’ to everything.”

SAS pilots struck over pay in 2016, but were defeated after four days. The relative militancy of the SPF is possible because the union is not part of Sweden’s bureaucratic, collaborationist trade union federations–but its small size also makes it harder to build solidarity action from other unions, despite high levels of public sympathy.

The need for solidarity across unions is underscored by the success of dockworkers in Sweden, who took over a month of strike action earlier this year on the basis of establishing a national collective bargaining agreement. The impending threat of escalating to national action brought employers back to the bargaining table with independent dock union Hamn.

Fighting unions needed

Workers need fighting unions and unions need fighting federations, with socialist leadership to connect their immediate goals to a coordinated program for action to benefit the entire working class.

In today’s Swedish government, they have the opposite — Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Löfven, just a few years ago a trade union leader, now heads a government which last week launched its planned attack on the Employment Protectoin Act, or “Las.” In the words of Tobias Baudin of the Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union, changes to the Las would “set the labor market back 50 years” by making it easier for bosses to terminate workers.

Workers should fight not just for better conditions but for SAS, partly owned by the Swedish and Danish governments, to be brought into full public ownership and put under democratic control of its workers and travelers. Such a victory is the only way to build an environmentally sustainable, equitable airline guaranteeing good wages and working conditions to all employees.

And Swedish workers and unions should use their May Day platform to launch a coordinated campaign to stop marketizing “reforms” to the Las, and to prepare for a general strike to put the weak, unstable Löfven government under pressure from below. Swedish bosses are able to attack the Las only because of the willingness of the Social Democrats to collaborate with the neoliberals. If workers unite their struggles to build a fighting mass party of the working class, both Sweden’s capitalists and its far right will run scared

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