Ryanair has pledged to recognise trade union representation for its workforce for the first time in its history. The move came after the company faced the potential for strike action from pilots across Europe demanding representation.

Irish-based pilots voted to strike in early December, and were quickly followed by colleagues in Germany and Portugal.

Facing the threat of serious damage to its profits over the Christmas period, Ryanair was forced to concede and, for the first time in its 32-year history, has agreed to recognise independent representation for its workers. The company has also indicated its intention to recognise union representation for cabin crew.

Ashley Connolly, an official from IMPACT, a key union involved in the dispute, described the victory as “an historic achievement that would resonate beyond the company” and added that it would “assist thousands of workers elsewhere , who want independent workplace representation but whose anti-union employers had been encouraged and emboldened by Ryanair’s previous antipathy towards IMPACT and other unions.”

The victory will have particular significance to the Irish working class who have been forced to endure years of Ryanair owner Michael O’Leary’s anti-worker diatribes. In 2016, O’Leary called for striking Luas (Dublin tram) workers to be sacked, adding, “There’s plenty of people who would replace them.” During an Aer Lingus strike in 2014, O’Leary called for striking workers to be punished by taking away their travel discounts. In a TV interview in 2011 O’Leary referred to pilots as “overpaid peacocks” and “glorified taxi-drivers”. O’Leary, who has amassed a €1.08 billion fortune as owner of one of Ireland’s biggest polluters, rejects the scientific consensus on climate change and has referred to environmentalists as “lying wankers”.

The victory at Ryanair has the potential to inspire other workers in the struggle against exploitative employers. The fact that such a notoriously anti-union company can be brought to heel by the threat of collective action is a good indication of the power of workplace organisation. Ryanair’s approach to workers’ rights is hardly unique among employers, and the lesson of this struggle is sure to resonate with other workers who face opposition to their basic rights by similarly exploitative companies.

By Ryan McNally