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Ireland: No to privatisation of Aer Lingus! End Partnership talks

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The sale of Aer Lingus via flotation on the stock market was given the green light by Irish Transport Minister, Martin Cullen, on Wednesday, 5th April. All but a quarter of the national airline will shortly be up for grabs to the highest bidder.

Why the sale of Aer Lingus?

Has the national airline been in the financial doldrums? On the contrary, Aer Lingus is one of the world’s most profitable carriers, currently valued at €600 million. This profitability is down mainly to the sacrifices made by workers: since 9/11, 2,500 jobs have been cut.

Management intends to use these sacrifices to prepare for privatisation The Irish state would lose vast sums in the privatisation process, for in addition to fees paid to stockbrokers, it is estimated that the sale would cost it €90 million, as discounts are traditionally offered to prospective shareholders. The Heathrow slots, which are Aer Lingus’ most valued possession, would also be asset stripped.

So why privatise?

The privatisation of Aer Lingus is consistent with a drive towards privatisation and the dismantling of semi-state bodies that’s been afoot since the early eighties. Privatisation is a key aspect of neoliberalism, a late twentieth century free market economics especially favoured by Reagan in the US and Thatcher in Britain.

In semi-colonial Ireland, first in line for privatisation was Irish Sugar. Followed by Irish Shipping. Followed by Telecom Eireann. Disaster has attended in the wake of each of these privatisations, both in terms of the workers’ jobs and erosion of services.

The debacle at Eircom is still fresh in the memory and should be a warning to anyone. There, a hugely successful company was turned into a debt-ridden, private monopoly, after it was taken over by a conglomerate led by media mogul, Tony O’Reilly. Because of the monopoly this newly-private company was given over Ireland’s telecommunications infrastructure, the government has been forced to hand out €300 million in grants to other companies. Ireland’s broadband facilities are now among the worst in Europe. So much for the efficiency of the “free” market!

B&I became Irish Ferries. Only three months ago we saw the end result of this privatisation play itself out, when the company bosses sacked 543 staff, replacing them with Eastern European workers at a third the rate of pay, much worse conditions and no job security.

When Irish Sugar was sold off two decades ago, it became Greencore with equally disastrous results. Where there were once four Irish sugar plants at Carlow, Tuam, Mallow and Thurles now there are none. Earlier this year the doors of the last of these plants, established by the Irish Free State in the 1930s, were closed with workers thrown on the scrapheap. Now Ireland imports sugar from Brazil, produced by super-exploited cheap labour there.

Contrary to impressions, there is nothing to stop the government investing in Aer Lingus – even under harsh European Union laws. Yet the government’s only response to the slowing down of the Celtic Tiger is to speed up the race to the bottom. It believes that in order to attract greater US investment in services, Ireland needs to sucker up to and emulate the US model in every aspect. A key element in this is breaking up powerful centres of working class organisation by privatising firms.

Partnership talks

Currently the unions are engaged in partnership talks with the government and the bosses over pay. Partnership deals have been a feature of Irish industrial life for two decades now, and have underpinned ongoing class peace for that period. This in turn enabled the Celtic Tiger to grow, for it reassured US multinationals about the security of their increased investment into Ireland. This increase came as a result of their eagerness to get inside the EU before the borders tightened up.

Successive governments have used partnership deals to keep the union leaders sweet, while privatisation rips into unionised labour, degrading working conditions, and depressing wages. Sure, this has been a godsend for the union bureaucrats, who can enter talks with ministers without having to ever risk mobilising their members. Partnership deals have been good for the bosses, too, while the Celtic Tiger roared, and undreamt of profits were made by a few. But workers have been asked continually to tighten their belts.

Giant Irish general union Siptu should withdraw immediately from the partnership talks over the issue of privatisation of Aer Lingus. This dispute is not just about the Aer Lingus workers – it will have huge repercussions for all public sector and semi-state body workers in Ireland. Defeat for the Aer Lingus workers will only hasten the agenda for the bosses in breaking up and selling off of An Post, Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann.

A Challenge to Privatisation

Workers at Aer Lingus have voted unanimously for strike action in the event of the government going ahead with its privatisation plans. This needs to be all-out and indefinite. The workers should elect an independent strike committee in order to lead and spread the strike, with union officials where possible and without them and in defiance of them where necessary.

Rather than compromise in any way with privatisation – as the Siptu and Mandate union bureaucrats are doing, by pretending privatisation could be made compatible with job security – Aer Lingus workers should demand the company remains nationalised; only, from now on, it should be run under workers control. Every management decision – over job levels, pay, conditions, hiring and firing – must be subject to veto by representatives of the rank and file workforce.

All-out strike action now!
Reject and defy the Industrial Relations Act of 1990 and its anti-working class legislation!
Reject the “Social Partnership” – for an independent, fighting working class movement across Ireland and Europe with the goal of taking ownership of the means of production and building a truly democratic world based on people, not profit!

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