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From The Socialist newspaper, 8 March 2007

United action needed to defend Airbus jobs

AIRBUS, THE giant European plane manufacturer announced last week that they were to get rid of over 10,000 jobs from their plants in Germany, France, UK and Spain.

Bill Mullins

In France and Germany this announcement was met with strikes. Workers walked out in St Nazaire, Toulouse, and Meulte (Picardy) in France. In Germany workers in Varel, Nordeneham and Hamburg took action. The workers in Varel (which has been earmarked for closure) blocked the factory gates and demanded their union organise European-wide action.

Airbus, whose parent company is EADS, made the announcement that 4,300 jobs would go in France, 3,700 in Germany, 1,600 in the UK (split between the Filton factory in Bristol and the Broughton factory in Cheshire) and 400 in Spain.

The European Metal Workers' Federation has said that it will not call for European -wide action until after they meet the bosses on 5 March.

In Britain the main union, Amicus, has said they are: "extremely disappointed" but they thought the cuts would not involve compulsory redundancies.

The reason for this rather insipid response is that, like much of the rest of British industry, hundreds of Airbus workers in Britain are from agencies on temporary contracts. Workers are taken on for six months at a time, often not getting a new contract at the end of that period.

It is similar across Europe. Of its 87,000 workers only 50,000 have permanent contracts. 30,000 work for sub-contractors, often alongside the permanent workers.

The unions on the continent are coming under tremendous pressure, from their own members in Airbus, to do something to stop the jobs slaughter. Already the French government has been forced to offer financial aid to the company to lessen the impact of the job losses.

It is also leading to a row between the German and French governments over where the axe should fall the most. Jacques Chirac, the French president, has demanded "absolute equilibrium" when it comes to job losses. But Airbus plans were approved by the two governments weeks ago when Chirac met up with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.

It is pure hypocrisy by these capitalist politicians to hold up their hands in horror when the axe falls.

Airbus workers across Europe have a joint interest in fighting these job losses. But their own unions are running for cover.

Amicus in Broughton has raised no objection to the shifting of some of the work from Germany to the Cheshire factory.

This is because the bosses clearly want to close plants like Varel in Germany and sell them off but still have to do their work somewhere else.

Behind this crisis lies a potential trade war between Europe and the USA.

Complaints of unfair subsidies by both the USA and European governments to their respective aeroplane makers, Boeing and Airbus, have been raised at meetings of the World Trade Organisation.

Both companies are racing to replace the ageing jumbo Boeing 747 with their own new models - the Boeing 787 dream liner and the Airbus A380.

These two companies now dominate the world market for passenger planes.

With a new slump looming in the world economy the markets for new planes will also slump. The capitalist governments of Europe know that if the USA draws ahead now in the world airline market, this could be the end of their role in that market.

So for these governments there is much to lose in the longer term but for workers facing job losses there is even more.

Workers are demanding that their unions act now. The worst thing that could happen is that the unions turn inward. Workers know that acting together across Europe will make their battle for jobs that much stronger.

That is why the demand for a European-wide strike should be supported by all socialists.

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