By Tomáš Tengely-Evans
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As polluting industries face crisis – emissions must fall but workers should not pay

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Issue 2704
BA workers out on strike in 2017
BA workers out on strike in 2017 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Some of the world’s most high-profile polluters are faltering in the coronavirus crisis. And already, it seems like good news for the environment.

Aircraft emissions fell by almost one third globally in a month as passenger numbers plummeted because of the pandemic. 

Bosses’ response is to make workers pay through mass layoffs, and by saying the industry will be smaller for the foreseeable future.

Virgin Atlantic has ­threatened to get rid of 3,000 workers. And British Airways (BA) plans to slash 12,000 jobs, including pilots, cabin crew and ground crew.

So how can activists oppose job cuts in an industry we must radically downsize to tackle climate change? 

The airline bosses’ plans are no recipe for reducing emissions.

Some airlines are already trying to position themselves to get ahead of rivals after coronavirus. 

Opportunist BA bosses see a chance to push through “further structural change” after the 12,000 job cuts. 

Proposals include ­reducing pilot numbers and attacks on cabin crew. 

From 2010 BA hired cabin crew into a new “mixed fleet” on lower pay and in-work benefits. And now bosses are reportedly looking at consolidating cabin crew into one section, likely on worse contracts to drive down staff costs.

This is all about having a cheaper, more “flexible” workforce than rivals in order to grab a bigger slice of the airline market. 

Coronavirus crisis - put workers in charge and end the chaos of capitalism
Coronavirus crisis – put workers in charge and end the chaos of capitalism
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BA workers took part in a strike that was the longest in aviation walkout in history over low pay and “mixed fleets” in 2017. 

Strikes such as this by those in polluting industries for better conditions and pay must be supported unconditionally. We must also say that it’s possible—and vitally necessary—to have a just transition to a carbon neutral economy without ­workers losing out. 

Their skills could be redirected to other jobs aimed at tackling the threat of climate change.

Actually reducing airline usage would require huge investments in public ­transport and infrastructure. 

This would include an increase in better, faster rail travel at lower prices as an alternative to flights. 


There would also need to be a reckoning with the ­overconsumption of the rich, who take a disproportionate number of flights.

But under capitalism, everything is about competition between rival firms and states in maximising profits. 

And the needs of ordinary people and the planet come last. We need a ­democratically-planned economy under workers’ control. 

Winning this sort of ­transformation requires taking on capital—and ­workers have the power to do it because the system couldn’t run without them. 

So that means arguing for and supporting working class resistance now against the bosses, including in polluting industries, to strengthen the fight against their system.

Bosses pocket bailouts as thousands lose jobs

Union leaders have responded to the airline jobs massacre with calls for bailouts. 

The Unite union said Virgin’s plan was “premature” pleading, “We urge them not to act in haste while the job retention scheme is in operation.”

In response to BA’s announcement, Unite leader Len McCluskey urged the airline “to think again”. 

He called on bosses to “join with us to work with the government and aviation industry to deliver the rescue package so desperately needed by the whole sector”. 

Bosses will happily pocket bailouts, then go on to make further attacks on workers. BA has taken money to cover wages but now says “we cannot expect the taxpayer to offset salaries” as the firm prepares for a huge restructure.

Unions should be leading a fight. Many workers are “furloughed” so walkouts are more difficult, but resistance is still possible.

Even with aircraft grounded, for instance, they still require regular maintenance to keep them ready to fly. 

Workers could refuse to carry out the work unless bosses withdraw their plans.

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