From Socialist Voice, October 2007

Another disaster for privatisation

It would be side-splittingly funny if it wasn’t so serious to see and hear all the local business people from the Munster-Connacht hinterland of Shannon Airport, as well as the management of many of the foreign corporations based in the region, blathering away on television and radio, “demanding” that the Government, in alliance with Ryanair, “force” Aer Lingus to reverse its decision to move its base from Shannon to Belfast Airport.
     These are the same forces that championed the privatisation, and lauded the Government for its tenacity in pursuing it against workers’ opposition in the state-owned airline in the first place.
     The management’s decision is based on the option that would provide the greater return to its shareholders, i.e. produce greater profits. Big business, together with what passes for economic experts and economic journalists in this country, poured scorn on the trade union movement, and the Aer Lingus workers in particular, when they opposed that very same privatisation from the start. They are now demanding that workers use their voting power through their ASOPs (approved share option plans) and that the Government block this transfer of operations.
     Ryanair is using its 29 per cent shareholding in Aer Lingus as a means of nobbling a rival airline. It extracted major concessions from the Shannon Airport Authority and had its own plans for developing its own business out of Belfast with its recent announcement that it was planning to develop its services. This was after Aer Lingus announced its decision.
     The Aer Lingus management are doing nothing more nor less than what these same business gentlemen do every day. They, like Aer Lingus shareholders, are not in business for the good of their health but to accumulate wealth and make the maximum profit. This is what happens when private interests become the dominant economic interest.
     Aer Lingus, like Irish Shipping (closed down), Telecom Éireann (privatised—with the management now wanting the state to buy part of it back), the Irish Sugar Company (privatised) and the ESB (now being broken into three separate companies and being made ready for privatisation) were developed and built by the Irish state, using capital created by Irish workers to build up essential state industries, because Irish capitalism either hadn’t got the capacity or was unwilling to make the long-term investment to develop these vital areas of the economy.
     As with Telecom Éireann, the privatisation of Aer Lingus has removed another essential lever that the Government had for encouraging, promoting and ensuring proper regional development.
     The public ownership of such vital areas of the economy as transport, telecommunications, energy, scientific research and development and the control and use of natural resources is essential in any modern economy in order to ensure balanced regional development and to maximise the potential for the industrial and infrastructural development of the country in a planned way.
     Resistance to the privatisation of the ESB needs to be stepped up and not confined to whenever the Government makes its policy decision public.
     Resistance to privatisation can’t be left up to the workers involved in a particular industry facing privatisation, because in many instances these workers are most susceptible to pressure and to the appeal of ASOPs.
     Not alone should the labour movement oppose any further privatisation but it is essential that a serious debate be opened up about taking back into public ownership the strategic companies already privatised.

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