The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Workers sacrificed on the altar of profit

Mar 19, 2007

The directors of Airbus, who have been tagged the Power 8, announced a “cost reduction” plan to eliminate 10,000 jobs in Europe and sell a number of factories where there are no job guarantees included for the future. In Germany, 3,700 jobs are to be cut. Another 3,000 out of the 23,000 who work for Airbus in German will be affected by these job cuts.

In reaction to the bosses’ plan, the unions called for a Day of Action on February 2, with rallies held at the seven Airbus sites in the country. But on February 28, as soon as the official Power 8 plan was made public, there were spontaneous reactions by workers at the three sites that are to be sold. In Laupheim, near Ulm (Baden-Wurtemberg), a part of the afternoon shift workers spontaneously stopped work and a demonstration of 1,000 people was immediately organized. At Varel (Lower Saxony) as well, the workers spontaneously stopped work and then on Thursday, March 1, blocked the gates of the factory. The anger also exploded in Nordenham (Lower Saxony). Meetings held on March 2 ended in a tumult, with union leaders who proposed nothing concrete booed down. The workers didn’t go back on the job until Monday, March 5.

At other Airbus plants – in Hamburg, Bremen, Stade and Buxtehude – there was less of an outburst. The fact that these plants were left open, at least for now, and that management announced there would not be any immediate massive layoffs (for example, “only” 800 jobs lost out of the 12,000 workers at the Hamburg-Fenkenwerder location) obviously played a role. But the leaders of the IG Metall union also worked to calm the workers’ reactions, explaining that it was better to wait until the plans of the bosses became clearer. Those union leaders made no effort to organize a common struggle of all the Airbus workers at the moment when anger and emotions were the strongest. The German metal workers union, for example, didn’t call for actions at the same time that a Day of Action was called in protest of cutbacks at Airbus in France.

The bosses’ projects are even more shocking because the workers all know that there is work for everyone and that there are already plenty of orders on hand. In order to build all the planes already ordered over the last couple years, the bosses increased the number of employees and installed special Saturday and even Sunday shifts. There is not a single extra worker in the factories. It’s obvious that the announced cuts can be carried out only if work is dangerously sped-up or if new, lower-paid workers are hired to replace those whose jobs are cut. Or both.

There was a Day of Action for all Airbus workers across Europe on March 16, a work day. Some 40,000 Airbus workers protested. In Hamburg, 20,000 protesters were in the streets. About 7,000 marched in Toulouse, and 4,000 rallied at factories in St Nazaire and Méaute in France. In Laupheim, Germany 2,000 workers formed a human chain around the plant. In Chester, Britain more than 2,000 protested near the wing plant. Some of these protests included workers at Airbus contractors. Some 1,900 workers in Seville and 2,000 workers in Madrid, Spain also protested. There were sizeable demonstrations in the streets to say “No Layoffs” and “Down with the Plan of the Power 8”.