By Michael O’Brien
Ryanair and Aer Lingus have both announced massive cuts to jobs and pay. Ryanair is seeking 3,000 job cuts and pay reductions of 20%. Aer Lingus wants to reduce its workforce by 20%.
Unfortunately, the response of both unions dominant in the sector, SIPTU and FORSA, has been extremely feeble. In short statements on their respective websites SIPTU simply calls for “as many jobs as possible [to be] maintained” and for redundancies to be voluntary. FORSA confines itself to calling for the income support schemes to be extended beyond the initial 12 week phase that expires in June.
No cuts in jobs & incomes
In the case of Ryanair and Aer Lingus the demand from the unions should be clear to employers and government – no to job losses and no to cuts in income. These demands can only be realised on the basis of nationalising both companies and running them as one public aviation company. This should be done on the basis of compensation to shareholders only where there is a proven need, for example, occupational pension funds.
Since 2008 Ryanair has paid out to shareholders, the idle rich in most cases, €6.8 billion in the form of dividends and share buy backs. Aer Lingus paid out €225 million in dividends in 2018 alone. A publicly run airline with workers at the heart of management can be of massive benefit to society.
Beyond the Covid-19 crisis there is also the urgency of combating climate change. Reductions in emissions from aviation will be a big factor in overall CO2 emission reductions. It is only on the basis of public ownership and workers’ control and management that a just transition in the course of the decade can be guaranteed so that jobs and incomes are protected.
Even if the government’s steps towards unwinding the lockdown were to proceed as announced last weekend it would be the early autumn before there would be a basis to a resumption of flights in any significant number. So it is crystal clear that operating on a “normal” capitalist basis, aviation, like many other branches of the private sector, will see catastrophic job losses if there is not an intervention from the state. The question is what kind of intervention is required.
Varadkar in the Dáil last week proclaimed that he was not hung up as to whether Aer Lingus in particular was publicly or privately owned. The thought of Ryanair being nationalised is obviously inconceivable to him.
But behind this appearance of not being bound by “ideologies”, as the likes of Varadkar like to say, there is a clear pro-big business and anti-worker bias to responding to the crisis. On the one hand there is the announcement of €6.5 billion in low interest loans as well as tax and rates breaks for businesses. They will argue that on the basis of such supports companies can have their cash flow, hiring and investments tided over for a period after which normal commerce will kick in.
Bailout for business
This is an over-optimistic perspective that things will smoothly return to near normal after the lockdown. Compare this to their approach towards workers where there are clear signs from the government that they want to “taper” off the Covid-19 payments beyond the initial 12-week period that runs out in June.
The Fianna Fáil / Fine Gael-led government that’s likely to form claim that they want the state to be a bigger player in the Irish economy. However, this should not be seen as a “left” or progressive turn but rather a state capitalist policy, i.e. a policy where the state intervenes to defend the interests of private profit. This will mean a diversion of resources, be they grants, low-interest loans, loan guarantees and tax deferments, to prop up the very capitalist system which has brought the major crises of these times upon us in the first place.