From Socialist Voice, May 2005

Privatisation by a thousand cuts

After much pressure from Ryanair, Dublin Chamber of Commerce, the mass media, economic gurus, and an assortment of right-wing forces, plus the neo-liberal ideologists of the Progressive Democrats, the coalition government has announced that it is going to sell a majority share in Aer Lingus.
    The previous management of Aer Lingus, which attempted to push through a management buy-out, are now fully integrated into British Airways, and it seems almost certain that British Airways will be the main contender to snap up Aer Lingus. One of the key factors will be Aer Lingus’s landing slots at Heathrow Airport, which is one of the most congested in the world; and landing slots are at a premium. These slots are a very valuable asset, and many airlines would be very keen to get them.
    This proposal by the government is similar to the strategy of the French government, which has gradually sold off its share in the national airline. It is about buying them time and industrial peace. It appears to be sharing the investment required between the public purse and the private investor; this looks appealing to the public, who see that they won’t have to pay the total bill. This is privatisation by a thousand cuts; it is a ruse by the government to push it through.
    The trade unions and the workers have a positive role model in the action of the CIE workers who resisted the government and the management and have moved their position on a great deal.
    The decision about the second terminal for Dublin Airport is another pig’s dinner. They want to build a new second terminal, which, by the time it is built, will most probably be inadequate. According to this complex arrangement the terminal will be owned by the Airports Authority and will be built by 2009. When it is built—by the state—it will then be subject to an open tendering process to see who will run it. So the state will take the risk and make the investment, but the benefits may go to private operators.
    If the site at the airport that is owned by the state is too small, then the workers should be calling for a compulsory purchase order to be placed on the lands of the McEvaddy brothers. Their land—which they have been holding on to in their attempt to build a private terminal —is ideal. Proper airports and runways are a strategic necessity for a modern economy. If farmers’ land that is needed for a road, or a prison, can be subject to a CPO, then the land around the airport should also be.
    This plan, it is claimed, will lead to competition at the airport. How this is to be done is hard to see. The government has agreed with the workers that any new terminal will maintain pay and conditions and trade union rights at parity with those who now work at the airport—a good victory for the workers. So how is this much-talked-about competition to come about if it is not by changing the wages and working conditions of any new employees—in other words, reduced working conditions? Is one terminal to sell coffee cheaper than the other? Will they charge for going to the bathroom? Or will visitors be charged at the entrance? No, it is wages and conditions that will come under direct pressure.
    Workers need to be very vigilant in relation to the current government strategy. The way low-cost airlines are going and are operating, it will soon be difficult to bring luggage in the hold of the plane or a major charge will be incurred. They want to reduce the number of employees they need, to minimise the number of services they use at airports. Every item of airport equipment that they use adds to their costs.
    The likelihood of such a CPO is slim, as the McEvaddy brothers have powerful friends at the heart of government, in the form of the PD leader Mary Harney, a regular visitor to their luxury villa in the south of France.

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