For the last seven months, the pilots and crews of Ryanair have fought tooth and nail for their most basic workers rights. Their claim is simple: Ryanair must respect labour law and local jurisdiction. But Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary — and the authorities to which he is accountable —refuse to listen.
Since its creation, Ryanair has been at the centre of many cost-saving scandals: underpaying its employees, under-fuelling its planes, and — of course — doing its best to dodge taxes.
At first, much of the public tolerated this behaviour on the basis that it would deliver gains to the consumer. Ryanair’s low prices would force the other companies to adapt, ultimately ensuring much more affordable plane tickets. This was considered a democratisation of plane travel.
Today, this is a much more mixed picture. The public is aware of the intolerable labour condition of their flying crew and the risks associated with this cost-cutting strategy. As a result, many are turning their back on the rotten dream of low cost air travel.
Alas, Ryanair’s management appears unmoved. Obsessed by chasing short-term profit, they maintain a heavy workload and wage pressure on their employees.
Ryanair workers, however, have not given up the fight. Answering the call of Portuguese, Italian, Ducth, Belgian, Spanish and German labour unions, flight crews of Ryanair have been leading a strike movement that’s drawing more and more attention. So far Ryanair has been keeping a hard stance toward this movement, but the cracks are appearing. The first blow came when the European Commission, not usually on the side of labour unions, recognised that Ryanair strikers had a fair claim. The second came when approval rate dropped within the Ryanair board when 30% of its members opposed the official hard line toward the employees’ demands.
This movement, known as “Ryanair Must Change,” is of central importance for the future of European labour relations. As Fernando Gandra, one of the organisers of the movement puts it: “when fighting against a multinational power you’ve got to organise on the multinational level”. This is exactly the philosophy that we promote in DiEM25 and the European Spring. To defeat transnational corporate powers such as Ryanair, we must widen our mobilisation strategies and widen our understanding of democratic accountability.
Ryanair strikers are opening the way for such a change of consciousness. They are on the frontline of the battle for a social Europe and we offer them our full support. By following in their steps we might be able to conquer new rights as citizens, new progress as workers, and new hopes as human beings.
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