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Aer Lingus privatisation exposes folly of partnership

category national | worker & community struggles and protests | opinion/analysis author Monday April 03, 2006 21:46author by SL - ISN Report this post to the editors

As the government moves to flog off another public asset, the trade union movement has failed to take effective action

Once again, the dogmatic urge of the current FF/PD government to sell off another publicly owned company has reared its ugly head. In parallel to this, we see our trade union leadership do nothing but pay lip service to the concerns of the workers involved, showing an abysmal failure to tackle the government head-on in opposition to its plans.

The trade union movement has ample evidence at its disposal to oppose privatisation, and public support if mobilised could prevent any attempt at asset-stripping a vital public service. The experience of Eircom privatisation is very fresh in people’s minds. When that company was floated many ordinary citizens invested in the company, only for them to lose their money very quickly.

The board of directors even had the audacity to pay themselves large and unjustifiable salaries and bonuses. The limited availability of broadband on a nationwide basis is also a direct consequence of privatisation. Thousands of secure jobs were lost, working conditions too suffered, with many workers in the company now working as sub-contractors with little or no real job security.

The economic argument being made for the privatisation of Aer Lingus has no basis in fact. In its most recent annual report Aer Lingus was reported to have made a profit of 100 million euros. In various viability plans the unions and workers went to great lengths to ensure the company’s sustainability. 3,000 jobs were lost, wage increases frozen, and working conditions drastically altered.

Yet still management and government have continued to pursue even more stringent cuts to an already demoralised staff, with attempts by management to alter the pension benefits of workers and targeting of areas where they could drive workers out of their jobs. The government too stood back and refused to invest adequate capital to ensure continuing profitability, and made false claims that they were prevented from investing in the company by EU legislation.

By appointing an institution like the A.I.B. to be part of a consultation group on the future of Aer Lingus, the government has effectively put a wolf in charge of a flock of sheep. How can an institution that has been proven to have high levels of corruption in its financial affairs be trusted with carrying out such a study?

The government and management have, in their lack of openness with the unions at Aer Lingus, proved that any consultation process with the unions is meaningless and futile. After all, the Minister for Transport Martin Cullen has already said openly that Aer Lingus will be sold off.

The leadership of both trade unions organised within Aer Lingus must be brought to account for their complacency throughout this whole affair. Impact, the union that represents the majority of pilots and cabin crew and organises 49% of union members in the company, does not oppose the privatisation plans. In fact they are merely seeking negotiations on the very short-term benefits privatisation will bring in financial terms for their membership.

This position is in direct contrast with that of SIPTU. SIPTU mainly represents clerical, cleaning and ground staff, and cabin crew – this amounts to 51% of the workforce in Aer Lingus. SIPTU have balloted throughout the company for strike action. A total of 98% of staff have agreed that if the sell-off begins, it will take industrial action.

IMPACT must be directly challenged by SIPTU's leadership and called upon publicly to oppose privatisation. SIPTU must show strong leadership and unconditionally withdraw from any potential new social partnership agreement (if indeed such a concept actually exists). The evidence is clear: social partnership is a process that absorbs the trade union movement so deeply into the capitalist economy that its strength to fight governments who are hostile to the working class and hostile to concepts of public ownership is neutered. It loses its ability to defend the very principles it was originally founded to uphold.

During the 18 years of social partnership, we have seen our public health service decimated, house prices soaring, increases in double taxation, and wage levels barely keeping in line with inflation. We have seen the selling-off of our telecommunications network and the threat to part-privatise Dublin Bus. Each day, new evidence emerges that employers are exploiting vulnerable workers.

Even before the new talks began the government announced the selling off of the Great Southern Hotels - a publicly owned company - and the job security of 800 employees in that company is now under threat. The race to the bottom is clearly heating up: GAMA, ESB in Moneypoint and Irish Ferries are clear examples of this. Employers are unashamedly pursuing this race. It is being facilited by a government that refuses to punish rogue employers.

The trade union movement must defend workers from the threat of privatisation. Privatisation leads to outsourcing of work that results in loss of job security, working conditions, and pension rights - and even union recognition itself. Social partnership has done nothing to stop this onslaught on very basic workers’ rights.

It is time the unions withdrew from social partnership and returned to what really matters: protecting workers from such attacks .We must free up workers to take action themselves in the workplace. It is only by building grass-roots trade union networks amongst the radical left and shop-floor activists with a clear and shared rejection of social partnership that this battle can begin to be won.

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author by Caitlin - Code Pink Irelandpublication date Wed Apr 05, 2006 22:43author email codepinkireland at gmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

I realize that Bertie's militarized Easter Parade down O'Connell St. is a relevant issue, but has anyone thought that perhaps it was planned as a "weapon of mass distraction"? It seems like something that might have come from the mind of Carl Rove, rather like cranking up the adrenals of the American people with "gay marriage" bills on the eve of the last Presidential elections. That piece of strategy certainly worked up the populace in Amerika enough to drag wing-nuts from their death beds to the polls, and I see certain parallells here in Ireland with all the energy being poured into events on Easter weekend, so much energy that no one seems to be noticing that the governments accelerating its privatization plans for Aer Lingus, healthcare, and other programs that already DO belong to the Irish.

I understand how much 1916 means here, and it's a subject near and dear to my heart. But isn't it more important to focus on the fact that the government is wholesale hijacking our futures and our childrens futures rather than pouring so much time and scarce resources into countering the government's hijacking of the past?

Could the government be participating in "Influence Operations"?

Just some food for thought . . .

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author by MMVIpublication date Thu Apr 06, 2006 02:24author address author phone Report this post to the editors

SL - ISN - Your claim that SIPTUs position on the privatisation of Aer Lingus stands in contrast to the position of IMPACT does not stand up to investigation. Thus calling on SIPTUs bureaucracy to intervene with IMPACT is pointless. The positions of the leaders of both unions are similar. Read the following extract from a SIPTU press statement.

Notice of industrial action served on Aer Lingus
Date Released: 05 Apr 2006

SIPTU has served protective notice of industrial action on Aer Lingus this afternoon. “It will be activated if the company proceeds to privatise unilaterally and without prior agreement on the core issues of concern to union members”

“These issues include job security, commitments that there will be no compulsory redundancies or outsourcing, resolution of the pension issues and a number of unresolved long outstanding matters that arise from the business plan. We are also concerned that any floatation of the company does not dilute the employees’ shareholding of 14.9 per cent.

“While we remain in fundamental disagreement with the government’s proposition to part privatise and will be articulating those views before the Oireachtas Committee on Transport tomorrow 6th April at 9.30am, there is now a clear focus on the company to address these serious issues as a matter of urgency,” he concluded.

This statement says that they are "in fundamental disagreement the government’s proposition to part privatise" but what it doesn't say is that SIPTUs leaders are going to organise strike action against privatisation. The statement says that strike notice has been served and will be implemented if SIPTU is not consulted about the privatisation and if it does not get assurances on the protection of jobs, wages and conditions of their members. This is not the declaration of a campaign against privatisation - it is a notice of surrender to the government that SIPTUs leaders will accept the privatisation of Aer Lingus as long as their concerns are met.

author by Pete - Nonepublication date Tue Sep 12, 2006 23:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

As part of your arguments that Aer Lingus should not be floated, you said that in the Eircom float that private investors lost money. True of course, but you would complain much bitterly if the same private investors had made handsome profits on the former State asset! You can't have it both ways, but I am sure you will! If private Investers make money in the Aer Lingus float, you will complain bitterly that this State asset was sold too cheaply. Maybe investers will make a profit, but they certainly deserve to - by risking their money on a volatile Industry.

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