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United mechanics ready to walk

January 4, 2002 | Page 11

JENNIFER BIDDLE, a member of International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local 1781 and a furloughed engine inspector at United Airlines, spoke to Socialist Worker about the recent strike authorization vote by IAM mechanics.

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IAM MECHANICS voted 99 percent for a strike vote. Why was it so overwhelming?

THE MECHANICS are angry. We feel enough is enough. IAM members are the only employee group--union or non-union--not to have received raises or really even cost-of-living increases since 1994.

It is burning everyone up that our tax dollars are bailing out an industry that won't give us raises that we sacrificed for the past 10 years--ten years where they were making billions of dollars off our concessions, ten years of concessions during the biggest boom in the history of capitalism.

HOW HAS this affected your standard of living?

UNTIL THE past few years, most mechanics lived in the San Francisco Bay Area where the Maintenance Operations Center is.

For people like me--married with a child--it meant you couldn't afford to save to buy a house and essentially lived paycheck to paycheck. Others virtually live at United, working as much overtime as they can just to make ends meet.

It was surreal in the 1990s in the Bay Area to see some doing so well financially, and yet to feel yourself sink ever deeper into your own little fiscal crisis.

WHAT OTHER issues are behind the strike vote?

EVERY DAY the company seems to be bombarding us with new lies and contract violations.

The company laid off 16 percent of maintenance, and yet they are now asking us to work overtime. They're also outsourcing more of our work. Then there is the six-day workweek, which most people hate for obvious reasons.

There are also the little, everyday lies--our supervisors refusing to pay us for sick leave without a doctor's note…supervisors not allowing shop stewards to conduct union business. Management's tactics have been so totalitarian, oppressive and hated that mechanics now refer to them as "the Taliban."

WHAT ARE the stakes for the labor movement in this fight?

THE STAKES are huge. Even our International is clear about this.

The union is pitching this as a fight against the Bush administration. They are saying that Bush wants this to be his PATCO.

Certainly Bush and United have a lot stacked in their favor. But so do we potentially. All the issues that have plagued the labor movement since PATCO are part of this struggle.

Unfortunately, IAM leadership is doing little [to prepare for the strike]. We need to have a very public, vocal campaign to win the support of the many workers in this country who can identify with what we are fighting for.

Most importantly, everyone I work with is looking forward to the day in February when we get to put our tools down and walk.

Ultimately, I believe what happens with our struggle--whether we win our strike or not--will shape the political and economic terrain for working people for years to come.

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