Workers Vanguard No. 889

30 March 2007


Joint Statement by ICL British, French and German Sections

For United International Class Struggle Against Airbus Bosses!

Against National Protectionism, Chauvinist Poison for the Working Class!

For the Socialist United States of Europe!

BERLIN—35,000 Airbus workers and supporters took part in a Europe-wide day of action on March 16 against the mass layoffs and plant closures planned as part of the company’s restructuring plan, known as “Power 8.” The Spartakist Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, section of the International Communist League, joined the 25,000-strong rally in Hamburg and distributed a statement signed jointly with our comrades of the Ligue Trotskyste de France and the Spartacist League/Britain. Airbus workers walked off the job and protested in France as well, where some 7,500 came out in Toulouse and another 4,000 total in Nantes, Saint-Nazaire and Méaulte. Mass demonstrations and walkouts also took place at seven locations in Spain, while hundreds rallied in North Wales.

Profits at the Airbus parent company, European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), reportedly fell significantly last year after management blunders caused a two-year production holdup of the Airbus A380 “superjumbo” jet. The “Power 8” plan, which includes eliminating 10,000 of the 55,000 jobs in Europe, is aimed at squeezing the workers in order to recoup some of the billions of dollars that Airbus lost last year. After details of the cutbacks began to leak out, thousands of workers in Germany and France downed tools in spontaneous protest earlier this month.

At the March 16 Hamburg demonstration, workers protested the projected sale of plants in Varel and Nordenham, two of the Airbus plants on the chopping block. The fear of unemployment and poverty was on every face. Recalling the four Hartz Laws enacted by former Social Democratic (SPD) chancellor Gerhard Schröder to shred social programs, and specifically the fourth law attacking unemployment benefits, workers carried a placard that read: “Today Power 8 and Tomorrow Hartz IV.”

While the demonstrations were impressive, the workers were not mobilized in their own class interests. Instead, union tops in Germany, France and elsewhere pushed class collaboration with their “own” capitalist government and employer. In Hamburg, this was highlighted by the fact that IG Metall union head Jürgen Peters stood on the platform with regional presidents belonging to the right-wing Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The CDU is a party of the bosses, and together with the Social Democrats—a reformist workers party with a thoroughly pro-capitalist leadership—it carries out daily attacks on workers in the public sector and more broadly. Lower Saxony’s CDU president Christian Wulff stressed that the politicians would do anything to save the high technology plants in Germany (Hamburger Morgenpost, 17 March). This was echoed by Peters, who called for a “national industrial policy” (Frankfurter Rundschau, 17 March).

The workers were furious with management, but many still identified with the company. While workers exhibited illusions that working together with the German bosses would get them out of the crisis, there were also many expressions of solidarity with their colleagues in the other European plants. Workers told Spartakist salesmen that they would stand against any attempts to divide them and play them off against each other. Many workers were open to our internationalist class-struggle perspective and criticized the union tops for not having organized a single mass protest bringing together workers from across Europe. On the other hand, they also raised the bosses’ arguments, for example that Airbus should not be weakened so that it could still compete with Boeing. As Trotskyists, we are for the unity in struggle of workers not only in Europe but extending to the U.S. and elsewhere.

While the Airbus crisis threatened mass layoffs of its workforce, some 500 workers at a major Peugeot-Citroën factory in the Paris suburb of Aulnay began a strike on February 28, demanding higher wages, permanent jobs for temporary workers and a retirement age of 55. Inspired by a successful work action in another part of the plant, the strikers stalled the assembly of thousands of cars. Our comrades in the LTF have been raising with strikers, who are largely of North African origin, that their union leaders’ policy of seeking support for the strike from the courts and local bourgeois state authorities sows illusions in the racist capitalist state and undermines the workers’ fighting capacity.

Ironically, as the bosses are enmeshed in the Airbus crisis, European leaders are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome that led to the foundation of the European Union (EU)—an imperialist consortium. As our European comrades’ joint statement explained, we fight for workers revolutions to establish a Socialist United States of Europe. We print the statement below.

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The Airbus bosses’ “Power 8” restructuring plan, announced at the end of February, would mean eliminating 10,000 jobs at Airbus factories throughout Europe. Factories would be sold and the remaining workforce would face speedup. Airbus, the “daughter company” of the joint German-French military aeronautics concern EADS, has been rocked by crises over the past year, with delivery delays and cost overruns on the prestigious A380 jumbo jet. Orders have dropped off sharply in comparison with American competitor Boeing. The essence of “Power 8” is that the Airbus bosses—French and German—are seizing the opportunity provided by the company’s difficulties and using them as a club against the workers throughout Europe, ramming through layoffs and “streamlining” of all kinds to secure their fabulous profits at the expense of the workers. This attack, and the whole crisis shaking the supposedly “European” firm Airbus, show the irrationality of this capitalist system and the need for the workers to struggle against the capitalists in defense of every gain. Airbus workers should beware of the trap of nationalist protectionism set by the trade-union misleaders and the bourgeoisie, which pits them against each other in the interests of the respective national capitalist classes. Be guided by the words of the Communist Manifesto: “Workers of the world, unite!”

The situation at Airbus cries out for solid, coordinated class struggle by the workers in Britain, France, Germany and Spain to hit the Airbus bosses where it hurts them, by stopping production and the flow of profit. The Airbus bosses, whose order books remain full despite their difficulties of the past year, are “highly vulnerable” to strikes, as the German co-chief executive Thomas Enders himself said in a comment to the German magazine Focus: “Longer strikes would hit us very hard and set us back even further.” With vile cynicism, this capitalist, who had just announced a “restructuring” plan condemning thousands to unemployment, adds: “That can’t be in the interests of the employees.”

The trade-union bureaucracies agree with Enders on this. Their whole perspective in the Airbus crisis is defined by class collaboration and protectionism—the policy of allying themselves with their “own” bourgeoisies and their governments to intervene against foreign capitalist competitors and “save” national industry. They have been working overtime to divert Airbus workers’ anger and opposition into protectionist appeals to their respective capitalist governments in order to maintain the influence of their own national bourgeoisie in Airbus and its parent company EADS. The IG Metall [metal workers union], for example, mobilized some 24,000 workers in all German Airbus plants for protests on February 2, which were dominated by chauvinist protectionism. At the protest in Hamburg, EADS Gesamtbetriebsrat [plant council] head Rüdiger Lütjen ranted: “My impression is that England and Spain are getting extra work, and we Germans have to foot the bill” (quoted in Hamburger Abendblatt, 3 February). The union tops in France and Britain have responded with similar chauvinist poison. After “Power 8” was made public, a representative in Toulouse of the Force Ouvrière union blustered: “Hamburg alone would profit from an increase in production of up to 45 planes from the A320 family. That’s unacceptable.”

With the union bureaucrats engaged in a treacherous nationalist tug-of-war over which production site will be sacrificed, actual protest against the Airbus bosses’ plans has been sabotaged. While tens of thousands protested in Germany on February 2, there were only 100 in Toulouse. Later, when protests were called in France for March 6, the German bureaucrats responded by persuading workers at Airbus factories in Varel, Nordenham and Laupheim—where there had been spontaneous work stoppages following the company’s announcement that these plants were to be sold off under the “Power 8” plan—to go back to work! A “Europe-Wide Airbus Day of Action” on March 16, originally planned to be held in Brussels, was abandoned in favor of separate, national demonstrations. Despite occasional lip service by the bureaucrats and their left water boys about “not letting the workers be played off against each other,” this is nothing but ass-covering. The clear political thrust of these demonstrations in the different countries remains simply to build “national unity” with their “own” capitalists and their government against the workers in other countries. For example, the speakers list for the IG Metall protest in Hamburg is filled with mostly CDU heads of the capitalist governments of German Länder [states] where Airbus sites are located. The demonstration call, “We’re fighting for our future,” explicitly refers only to German Airbus factories.

This nationalist protectionism is 100 percent counterposed to the international class struggle which is urgently needed against “Power 8” and the capitalists’ many other attacks. Nationalism is inherent to the capitalist system, which operates by setting one national capitalist class against another, constantly creating unevenness and crises. The international character of the working class, on the other hand, gives it a potentially enormous superiority over the bourgeoisie if mobilized across national and other divisions to coordinate its interdependent struggles. This is exactly what the union bureaucrats refuse to do out of loyalty to the capitalist system, which is based on the exploitation of one class—the proletariat—by a tiny, fabulously rich ruling class—the bourgeoisie. A class-struggle strategy, in stark contrast, means mobilizing the unions’ social power to fight for the burning needs of the working and poor masses independently of and against the interests of the national bourgeoisie.

While the French and German bosses of EADS/Airbus are divided over where to cut costs on investment and development, they are united in the desire to squeeze as much profit out of the workers of all countries as they can. The unions need to present a unified front. The losses for Airbus—whether caused by the screw-ups with the A380 delivery or other problems—are the problem of the capitalists, and could come out of their enormous profits. A class-struggle union leadership would demand that the Airbus capitalists open the books, exposing their enormous profits and demonstrating just how they are trying to pass off their current crisis onto the workers. Such a leadership would also fight for the principle of equal pay and working conditions for equal work—whether it is done by temporary workers, employees of German- or French-owned Airbus/EADS subcontractors, or workers in plants owned by capitalists from Russia, India or the United Arab Emirates. This would be an important step, not least in restoring the power of the unions, which have been undermined by years of sellout deals by the union bureaucrats, who have introduced two-tier contracts and split the workforce, with the justification of “maintaining the production site.” Organize the unorganized!

If the Airbus factories are all producing at capacity, then that is a good argument for union-controlled hiring and training programs in all plants to fill the demand. More broadly, the unions have a vital interest in taking up a fight against unemployment, for jobs for all with decent pay through a shortened workweek with wages adjusted to prices. That this basic need runs beyond the limits of what the capitalists and their governments can offer shows that this system has long become a fetter on developing the productive forces in the interests of humanity. The burning needs of international working-class struggle against capitalist attacks lead inexorably to the need to overthrow this irrational system of exploitation and replace it with a socialist planned economy based on workers power. Unleashing the massive potential power of the trade unions in Europe is thus integrally linked with fighting for revolutionary socialist leadership of the working class, which is our perspective. As Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky posed it in Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay (1940), either the unions will become organs for subordinating the working class to the capitalists and their state, or they will be transformed into weapons in the revolutionary class struggle.

The current conflicts within Airbus and EADS, which was founded as a counterweight to Boeing to give the European imperialists more military independence, highlight the nature and contradictions of the European Union. The EU is a reactionary capitalist alliance of the European imperialists and smaller capitalist countries, founded to support NATO’s anti-Soviet war drive during the Cold War and later extended and restructured for the purpose of attacking the working class and immigrants at home and for competing with the European imperialists’ rivals, the U.S. and Japan. Within this coalition, the imperialist powers—France and Germany of “Core Europe,” as well as the historic U.S. ally Britain—also jostle for influence. These conflicting interests lie behind the wrangling about influence over strategy decisions and access to key technology in EADS. As revolutionary, proletarian internationalists, the ICL and its European sections are opposed on principle to the capitalist EU and racist Fortress Europe. We counterpose the fight for workers revolution and the Socialist United States of Europe.

All wings of the union bureaucracy and the social democracy that dominates it—the PS [Socialist Party] and PCF [Communist Party] in France, SPD and Linkspartei/WASG [Left Party/Electoral Alternative for Work and Social Justice] in Germany, the Labour Party in Britain, the PSOE [Socialist Workers Party] in Spain—utterly oppose this perspective, subordinating the interests of their working-class base to those of their “own” imperialists. While opposing certain aspects of the EU, they fundamentally support this capitalist coalition, demanding at most a “social” gloss for this instrument of capitalist oppression and imperialist exploitation. As for the WASG, in opposition to “neo-liberalism” and to preserve, in some form, the status quo of the capitalist “welfare state,” it supports a protectionist alternative for the capitalists, with intensified state intervention and a coalition of French and German imperialism. Thus, WASG speaker Herbert Schui appealed to the CDU/SPD government on February 20 to stop “looking on as Airbus Germany is left behind,” and instead, as a partner, “to get involved in Airbus and drive forward technological development in civilian airplane production.”

A joint statement by WASG chief Lafontaine with PCF leader Buffet, cited in l’Humanité (7 February), makes the same basic point: “The states should have a direct influence on the corporate strategy of EADS.” If they appeal against splitting French and German workers, it is only because they support closer cooperation between the French and German governments against Boeing, thus playing Airbus workers against their American colleagues. As opposed to the social-chauvinism of the PCF and Lafontaine, we fight for workers revolution in the belly of the U.S. imperialist beast. Key is winning the workers to a revolutionary, internationalist perspective and combatting protectionist chauvinism. As our comrades in the SL/U.S. wrote in an article on a strike by Boeing workers in 2005: “The labor bureaucracy’s response is to try to set workers in the U.S. against their brothers and sisters overseas through protectionist campaigns to keep ‘our jobs’ in the U.S. What’s needed instead is to unite workers across national lines in struggle against their common enemy, the capitalists” (WV No. 854, 16 September 2005).

The trade-union bureaucrats’ protectionist chauvinism is aimed today for the most part against “cheap wage competition” from East Europe and Asia (especially China). For example, an article in Welt Online (26 October 2006) reports: “Following the agreement on a final assembly plant for Airbus in China, the French CGT union, which is closely associated with the Communists, fears the elimination of jobs in Europe. ‘The union is especially worried about the production sites in Germany, as well as in Nantes and Méaulte,’ said a union spokesman in Toulouse.” While a German BR [plant council representative] in Stade disagreed that there was an immediate threat to German jobs, he echoed the German bourgeoisie’s complaints about China’s “stealing know-how”: “But he warned against transferring too much technical know-how to China. ‘Then positions in Germany could also be threatened’.”

Just like the chauvinist protectionism aimed against other Airbus sites within Europe, this is aimed at rallying the workers in Europe behind the particular interests of their “own” imperialists. It is doubly treacherous, because it serves to advance the German and other European imperialists’ aim of undermining the Chinese deformed workers state and fomenting capitalist counterrevolution. We oppose the labor bureaucracy’s efforts to deny China the elementary right of any state to engage in commerce, to buy and sell on the world market. The protectionism against China goes hand in hand with the anti-Communist agitation of bourgeois commentators like Gabor Steingart from Spiegel, who advocates an imperialist alliance against China under the pretext of defending workers’ living standards. He cries: “Protectionism! The West must defend itself.”

European workers roped in by this need only look at the effects of capitalist counterrevolution in East Europe and the Soviet Union. The capitalists have used this to ride roughshod over the workers and oppressed worldwide, slashing social gains including in West Europe, increasing racist terror and launching a string of imperialist wars and colonial occupations. This world-historic defeat for the international working class would be multiplied many times if the imperialists were to succeed in restoring untrammeled capitalist exploitation in China. That is why we Trotskyists fight for the unconditional military defense of China against imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution, and for proletarian political revolution to oust the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy and replace it with the rule of workers and peasants councils.

The “far left” tails of the social democracy echo the union bureaucracy’s protectionism with reformist appeals to the capitalist governments to save Airbus. Thus, the Pabloite LCR [French Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire] wrote: “Not one more cent for the big shareholders. We propose that the state take on its responsibilities. What is necessary is to ‘renationalize’ Airbus, under the control of the workforce and their trade-union organizations, as part of a public, European aeronautical company” (Rouge, 8 March). The “left” capitalist governments which the LCR voted for, like the [PS’s] Jospin-led popular front [voted out in 2002] that included the PCF, have carried out massive attacks on the working class. Today, the PCF and a coterie of left groups are working to prepare the next betrayal, supporting [PS presidential candidate] Royal’s campaign for top cop of the French state.

The WASG has the same aim, as Lafontaine recently confirmed by announcing his desire to govern in coalition with the SPD (which the PDS [Party of Democratic Socialism] already does at the regional level). The “left” tails of these parties, such as the SAV [Socialist Alternative] in Germany (section of Peter Taaffe’s CWI [Committee for a Workers’ International]), have no problem with entering a bourgeois government, as long as it gives lip service to not worsening (!) the workers conditions, while the LCR makes clear that it is ready to take “its responsibilities” in a government today, as long as it is “anti-capitalist.”

Counterposed to the reformist program of taking responsibility for the bourgeois state, what’s really needed is a struggle to prepare the working class to take society’s fate into its own hands. The repressive organs of the capitalist state must be replaced by organs of workers rule. Opposing this revolutionary perspective, the “radical left” reformists barely even mention the chauvinist protectionism of the union bureaucrats, much less offer a programmatic alternative to it. They see in the bourgeois state a means of controlling the excesses of capitalism and not an instrument of bourgeois class rule. Against this, Lenin, leader of the 1917 October Revolution, explained in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917): “We see plainly here how private and state monopolies are interwoven in the epoch of finance capital; how both are but separate links in the imperialist struggle between the big monopolists for the division of the world.”

At bottom the question is, which class will rule. Competition and rivalry between the “great” imperialist powers over spheres of influence and exploitation lead inevitably to trade wars and then to shooting wars, which are the ultimate means for the bourgeoisie to defend its interests against rivals. For the bourgeoisie, protectionism and “free trade” are options to be discussed. For the proletariat, protectionism means renouncing internationalism, pledging support in advance for the capitalist rulers’ interimperialist slaughters and giving up on socialist revolution, which is the only way out for humanity. Against this, we of the ICL fight to reforge the Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution, to prepare the working class for this solution.