Aer Lingus "crisis"? It's sabotage!

Socialist Voice November 2001

OVER 2000 secure pensionable Aer Lingus jobs to be axed, pay and working conditions will be annihilated for those remaining, and key parts of the company will then be sold off. A survival plan? This is a destruction plan.

By Michael Murphy

If carried through, this plan will have a devastating effect, not just on the workers concerned and their families, but on entire communities in north Dublin and Shannon.

A barrage of propaganda by management and the government is painting a picture of Aer Lingus as a company in terminal decline. That there are problems in the entire aviation industry arising from 11 September and there is nothing they can do. This is a con.

Air travel will remain the key mode of international travel. What is at stake here is not whether there will be airlines, but what sort of airlines and what sort of conditions for those left working in them? Aer Lingus is a viable entity. Last year, Aer Lingus made profits of 60 million, and was profitable in all the proceeding years. It had cash reserves of 650 million at the start of the year, and bookings are up 2% this year. These profits were made off the backs of the workforce who made huge sacrifices after the Cahill Plan. The only conclusion that can be drawn from these facts is that a major con is taking place.

Apart from the reliable service provided to passengers, the carrying of freight, the level of employment generated, and the positive identity linked with the national carrier, there have been major gains to the state coffers. Aer Lingus workers on their own paid more tax every year in the 1990s than all the farmers in the country. Yet there was no problem in the farming sector receiving 1 billion in EU and state aid in the year 2000 alone.

There is nothing standing in the way of state investment in Aer Lingus except the lack of political will. Europe is being used as a smokescreen. There is nothing in EU rules that prevent the government as the shareholder investing in the company. There is also an "exceptional circumstances" clause, under which, they can put in money if necessary. In any case, the Irish Government has faced down the EU on matters such as the budget and the low level of corporation tax. They can do they same on Aer Lingus. The real issue is not that they cannot do this, but that they will not. The agenda of the government and the establishment political parties is to sell Aer Lingus. The current climate is being seized upon to lay the basis for this.

Politicians or indeed, the unions are not challenging the lies and the propaganda. Government investment to tide Aer Lingus over and allow the development of a proper long-term plan is entirely possible. Central to this should be the clear out of the present senior management and the board of directors. Mainly comprised of political hacks, with no aviation experience, these people have nothing to offer. The only way Aer Lingus is top heavy is in terms of its management structure.

Why then is it the workforce that is paying the price of their ineptitude? The response of the two main unions involved SIPTU and IMPACT has been nothing short of a scandal. They have organised only token opposition to the job losses. The only real action they have organised was to hold a demonstration at 1pm on 24 October, conveniently when most of the staff were in work and couldn't attend. They have no strategy or plan to deal with the crisis, they are flapping around meeting politicians and flying to Brussels to discuss with bureaucrats who don't give a damn about Aer Lingus. In reality, the unions have bought the line of government and are simply involved in a face saving process. They don't believe that a single job can be saved and haven't even tried.

Aer Lingus can be saved as it currently exists but it will only be saved by a mass campaign of pressure on the government. It is in their hands to save this company and the jobs of 2,000 people. The unions could if they wanted give a real lead to the staff of Aer Lingus who have been stunned by the events of recent weeks. If the union won't do this, workers have to take action themselves by bypassing the trade union leadership and organising action at rank and file level in the different sections of the company. Workers are angry and they will move if given a lead.

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