Farnborough air show: for the industry, not for the workers

Jul 21, 2022

Tahir Latif Secretary, Greener Jobs Alliance

The GJA Secretary went to Farnborough to join campaigners and activists from the anti-aviation/pro-worker organisation Stay Grounded in a protest against the Corporate love-in that is the Farnborough air show.  A photo shoot with a ‘pigs might fly’ theme, complete with masks, took place, before three of the group went to the show itself to continue the protest from within the heart of the beast.

It’s hard to understate the sense of irony and hypocrisy that permeates the atmosphere over Farnborough.  The air show opens on the very day that the country is subject to a Red Alert for extreme weather, that temperature records (including the 40o thresh-hold) are being broken, and thousands across Europe are suffering illness or death due to the conditions.  By any objective measure those supporting a ‘yep, we need more of these here planes’ would surely be considered dangerous psychopaths.

As a trade union-oriented organisation, we have to recognise that a number of our constituent unions, and many members otherwise supportive of our campaigns for green jobs, feel a sense of job security bound up with the continuing success of the aviation industry.  This exerts significant power over worker viewpoints, and union policy, in the context of an industry that – due entirely to strong union representation – treats them relatively well in comparison with those struggling in the gig economy.

One thing we should all be clear about is that the Corporate hob-nobbing at Farnborough, the multi-billion deals and contracts, have absolutely nothing in common with the interests of workers, let alone with the communities sweltering in the excessive heat.  At Farnborough – and I know this from my years as an industry employee – workers are never mentioned at all, or if they are it is as annoying ‘overheads’ to be reduced as soon as automation allows.  As for unions, they are even more bothersome because they insist on making those overheads so expensive, a barrier to corporate objectives and shareholder benefits.

We see this all the time in the relentless attacks aviation employers make on workers’ jobs, their pay, and terms and conditions.  Cuts are a measure of success, even when, as now, it results in the pandemonium on display at airports, where there are not enough workers to deal with the level of post-Covid demand because the opportunity to slash wage bills during the pandemic was irresistible to corporate logic.  Trade unions could follow the lead of those who have banded together to form the aviation workers’ organisation Safe Landing and recognise that the industry is not their friend.  

Unlike with the miners in the 1980s, we can now envision a future for our workforce in meeting the climate emergency.  To counter the extreme weather we are experiencing as I write this, we desperately need the skills, knowledge and resources of workers in high carbon industries to be redirected towards efforts to save the planet not destroy it.  For aviation workers, a two-pronged plan is not rocket science, it’s just common sense:

  1. To vehemently protect workers’ existing jobs in aviation against the rapacious attacks of greed-driven employers, including fighting against abhorrent fire and re-hire policies, opposing redundancies and demanding decent pay increases.
  2. Campaigning now for the long-term security of workers by recognising what climate change means for the future of transport, and demanding government intervention to protect workers’ jobs and deploy them where they are needed, both in a transformed aviation sector and in alternative modes of transport as well as in other sectors.

These are not mutually exclusive aims.  Quite the opposite, they are driven by the same imperative, the protection of jobs, communities and planet.  One in the short term and the second in the long term.  To focus on the first only, while understandable given the immediacy of the threat, is to risk members falling off a cliff edge when catastrophe strikes (if it hasn’t already struck).  We have to come together around this and do both.

And yes, mention of ‘government intervention’ throws up problems, pretty much ruling out anything positive happening as long as the current mob are in office.  See the Net Zero Judgment in the case brought by Friends of the Earth, the Good Law Project and Client Earth as regards the Net Zero ‘strategy’.  Or the equally remarkable concoction of hogwash, smokescreen and greenwash in their pet Jet Zero strategy for aviation.   Jet Zero seeks a fully deregulated aviation industry, unconstrained growth with no barriers, everything left to the market, hardly a recipe to encourage workers.

The above is purely my own view.  The Greener Jobs Alliance represents a broad worker/climate alliance that includes a number of perspectives, from unions and campaign groups.  We welcome contributions, and in particular, responses to articles such as this.  The more healthy and constructive debate we can encourage, even allowing for differences, the greater our solidarity will be.

For a more detailed analysis of the government’s Jet Zero strategy, click here.