Ireland: Shannon Airport crisis – Aer Lingus and government betrayal

Unions must act now!

There was palpable anger at a meeting of Aer Lingus workers at a meeting in Shannon Airport where Aer Lingus Chief Executive, Dermot Mannion, officially announced the move from Shannon to Belfast. Workers jeered, heckled and booed Mannion during his speech and many workers walked out of the meeting when Mannion indicated that he would not answer questions from the workers.

The primary reason for the Aer Lingus decision is an attack on the jobs, wages and conditions of Aer Lingus workers.

Aer Lingus, in moving the Heathrow slots to Belfast, will attempt to impose lower pay rates and poorer conditions on its new Belfast based workforce and they will also use contractors for ancillary work. Any move to expand Aer Lingus to Belfast cannot happen at the expense of jobs or services from Shannon, nor can the company be allowed to impose lower pay rates and poorer working conditions on a new workforce in Belfast.

Since privatisation, Aer Lingus management have being trying to impose wage cuts and job losses. They will use the move out of Shannon to further this agenda. The decision by the Aer Lingus pilots to take strike action is confirmation of the company’s agenda. The pilots are striking because management plans to employ new pilots to work from Belfast on terms and conditions that are below those of the current workforce.

There is widespread anger and resentment at this decision by Aer Lingus right throughout the mid-west region and up and down the entire west coast. Local Fianna Fail Minister, Willie O’Dea, has claimed thousands of jobs are at risk in the region as a result of the Aer Lingus decision and has publicly attacked both Aer Lingus and Transport Minister Noel Dempsey for downplaying the possible impact of the decision.

However this decision is directly as a result of the privatisation of Aer Lingus. The very same business leaders and politicians (like Willie O’Dea!) who are now attacking this move by Aer Lingus were to the forefront in supporting the privatisation of the company, claiming that it would increase competition and protect economic and regional development in the mid-west. In contrast the Socialist Party outlined that the inevitable outcome of privatisation would be cuts in jobs and conditions for workers and attacks on services for customers.

The failure of the trade union leadership to act on this issue is unacceptable. As in 1993 the local trade union officials have handed over responsibility for campaigning against this decision to business leaders and right-wing politicians in the region. Workers in the region demonstrated in their thousands against the elimination of the Shannon "stop-over" in 1993. Yet the trade union leadership sat on their hands and failed to mobilise any opposition. Business interests in the region do not care about the jobs and conditions of the Aer Lingus workers in Shannon Airport. Their priority is the protection of profits, not the well being of workers and their families.

In order to protect the jobs and livelihoods of Aer Lingus and other workers in the region, SIPTU, IMPACT and the other Aer Lingus unions must launch an independent campaign of opposition. This campaign must involve the local community in Shannon and the wider mid-west region and involve protests, pickets and demonstrations to put pressure on Aer Lingus and the government to reverse the decision. The union leaderships must immediately campaign for strike action across the entire Aer Lingus group and among other workers in Shannon Airport and accept nothing less than the maintenance of the current jobs and conditions of airport workers.

The privatisation of Aer Lingus was always going to be about increasing the profits of the shareholders at the expense of the workforce. The Shannon debacle shows clearly that in order to protect the jobs, wages and conditions of the Aer Lingus workforce as well as the service to regions like the mid-west, Aer Lingus should be immediately taken back into public ownership.

Public ownership of Aer Lingus, under democratic workers’ management is the only way to prevent future decisions that would be detrimental to the interests of working class people right throughout the country.

Text of Socialist Party leaflet

Government & Aer Lingus Betrayal

Unions Must Act!

No cuts in services, jobs or wages!

The decision of Aer Lingus management to axe the Shannon to Heathrow routes is a declaration of war on working conditions and jobs.

Like Irish Ferries, it shows what a disaster privatisation is and that bosses are intent on imposing a ’race to the bottom’.

These routes are profitable. If this agenda of greed and maximizing profits is accepted it is clear there will be no end to the attacks on pay, and jobs and the living standards of Aer Lingus will be devastated.

Management’s attacks on the planned strike action of pilots, as endangering the company should be dismissed. Management are only concerned about a small number of shares holders and don’t give a damn about the workforce, the service or the needs of the wider community.

This is a black and white issue. On the one side you have hundreds of workers and their families in Shannon and Belfast and the whole community in the mid west and on the other you have the greed of the few that can’t be satisfied. It is vital that the plans of Aer Lingus management are defeated.

Renationalise Aer Lingus Under Workers Control!

How can the plans be stopped?

The Aer Lingus workers have considerable power. They play a crucial role in a very profitable company. For years the unions have prevented workers from using their power and management have successfully undermined jobs and conditions.

Now Aer Lingus workers have no alternative but to take action. The axing of Shannon and the proposals for Belfast will give management a lever to attack all conditions and jobs. Workers must not accept union inaction or reliance on alliances with local buisinesses.

IMPACT and the pilots association IALPA have called strike action for next week. Now all Aer Lingus workers must insist that all unions take action next Tuesday and Wednesday to demand that all current services at Shannon are maintained and that the expansion into Belfast goes ahead with all workers on the same pay and conditions as current staff. A united approach should be taken with unions in the north.

It will not be possible to defeat management’s attack without causing disruption. Unions must not be apologetic about this but should fight to win the support of working class people for this struggle. If public demonstrations were organised to coincide with industrial action next week undoubtedly there would be a big response as there is deep opposition to ’the race to the bottom’.

Given the position of Dermot Mannion and Aer Lingus it is unlikely that action next week alone will be enough to force a change of policy. Workers should be quickly prepared to escalate the action which would also put the government under intense pressure.

Socialist Party says:

  • Maintain Aer Lingus’s Shannon to Heathrow routes.
  • Expand Aer Lingus operations to Belfast and employ staff directly on the same terms, conditions and pay as currently operate in the company
  • United strike action next week of all Aer Lingus workers as the start of a campaign of industrial action to halt management’s attacks
  • End the private ownership of Aer Lingus. Run Aer Lingus on the basis of democratic public ownership, which is the only way to guarantee decent pay and conditions and ensure people get the services they need

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August 2007