1960s >> 1965 >> no-727-march-1965

Editorial: Crisis in the aircraft industry

The aircraft industry is giving British capitalism perhaps its biggest headache for a long time. Once was when it enjoyed a leading reputation, both in the civil and military spheres, but over the past few years it has been hit by a series of crises. In a severely competitive market the gap has been rapidly narrowed until today it faces the threat of almost total eclipse by its American rivals.

This fact, accepted by government and opposition alike, stood out starkly in the Commons debate on February 9th. It was matched in its starkness only by the government’s avowed intention to cut its already heavy losses, pare the industry down by several thousand workers, and divert skilled manpower to other and more profitable ventures, particularly in the export field. “We are determined not to leave skilled labour lying idle,” said Aviation Minister Jenkins during the debate, although only time will tell just how far this intention is realised.

The present structure of the aircraft industry is something which was largely imposed on it by the capitalist class as a whole. Large amalgamations were pushed through at the behest of previous governments in return for a guarantee of a certain amount of support and protection. Whatever the intentions were, however, it seems they did not prevent the industry floundering, and the days are gone when our rulers are prepared to throw more large sums of good money after bad. There will be a link-up with France, Holland and U.S.A. in the development of future projects, obviously a cost-saving move among other things.

As usual in any upheaval of this kind, workers are the ones to suffer, and already thousands of redundancies have been declared. Men who entered the industry as youngsters, when it was the up-and-coming thing, are having to face the prospect of retraining for other employment, with the possibility of lower wages and conditions. Most of them have been engaged on military aircraft of one sort or another, and it is one of the bitter ironies of the situation to see them demonstrating in favour of these instruments of death and destruction in a quite understandable attempt to save their jobs. Clearly, one worker’s livelihood is another one’s obliteration—one more example how capitalism pits workers remorselessly against their brothers elsewhere.

But protest as they may, there was no sign that the government would relent. After all, the capitalist class is not in business for the benefit of its workers, and if better value for money can be had by pulling out of one industry and investing in another, then this is what will be done, unemployment or no unemployment. “Value for money,” was a battle cry of the Labour Party for some time before their recent return to power, and there is every sign that they will be just as ruthless as anyone else in their effort to attain it. Already they have said that the firm of Short Bros, must go, and future contracts with other companies may carry much stiffer “fixed price” provisions—something which will give employers an added incentive to resist wage claims.

An interesting comment on the essential similarity in the ideas of all capitalist parties was given on February 10th by the Hawker Siddeley chairman Sir Roy Dobson. In a slashing attack on the Tory party, he said they “would have liked to have done” what the Labour government was now doing, but instead “just waffled” when they were in power. But apart from this anyway, the Commons debate was notable for the closeness of views on both sides. And not one whisper of dissent was heard when Mr. Jenkins uttered a cardinal fact of capitalist life:—“We can afford to make products only if others buy them.” This is what is really behind the wrangles over the aircraft industry today, the textiles industry yesterday, and who knows what tomorrow. And workers will always get hurt in the process, for capitalism is a very hurtful system.