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Flybe collapse: nationalise to save jobs threatened by Covid-19 and downturn
Steve Score, Socialist Party national committee
The collapse of Flybe, the British-based largest regional airline in Europe, highlights that an economy teetering on the brink could be pushed over by the new coronavirus, Covid-19.
2,000 jobs will be lost immediately as a result, with 1,400 more threatened in the supply chain, despite the government announcing a "rescue plan" two months earlier. It came a week before the budget where it was expected that air passenger duty would be cut in an attempt to help airlines.
Flybe had been struggling for some time but the impact of Covid-19 accelerated this. The International Air Transport Association estimates airlines could lose anything up to £87 billion this year as a result of falling demand, as tourists and businesses cancel travel plans. The economic effects of the virus of course go well beyond the airline industry.
Open the books
When big companies threaten job losses, lay-offs or pay cuts - whether a result of economic crisis or Covid-19 - the Socialist Party argues that they should open their books to show where past revenues have gone. If it is shown they are insolvent, then they should be nationalised under democratic working-class control and management to save jobs and protect the economy.
But nationalisation should not be a temporary measure simply to sell it off once taxpayers' money has helped it become profitable again - as with the Tory government's rescue of Rolls-Royce in 1971. Neither should rich bosses walk away with wads of cash - there should only be compensation on the basis of proven need, not for the super-rich.
For example, Flybe was owned by a consortium of super-rich billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Air and a hedge fund called Cyrus Capital. They shouldn't benefit from their speculative buyouts while workers suffer. Nationalisation should be permanent in order that these companies can become part of a wider democratic socialist plan for the economy.
The Socialist has proposed a workers' charter for the Covid-19 crisis which demands that working-class people do not pay the price of controlling it. It includes full pay during isolation, no pay losses, no redundancies, and so on.
If firms say they cannot afford these measures, again they should open the books. In the case of small firms who can't afford it there should be government subsidies, but in the case of big ones they should be nationalised.
The threat posed to the economy by Covid-19 has already forced some governments to consider exceptional economic measures. We need to deal with the crisis in a way that defends workers' interests - not rich bosses - including by fighting for the measure of socialist nationalisation.
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