Ted Grant

Labour must end aircraft deadlock

Source: Militant, no. 4 (March 1965)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Manuel 2009

For the first time in many years, a workers’ demonstration on January 15th for jobs was enthusiastically written up and supported by the Tory press.

Hypocritical concern was expressed by Tory politicians at the possibility of aircraft workers being made redundant by the decisions of the Labour government and the Hawker Siddeley decision to ruthlessly sack 14,000 men is a cynical attempt to further embarrass Labour.

Meetings involving thousands of workers were held in Preston, Weybridge and other aircraft centres. Ten thousand workers marched from Hyde Park after a meeting of protest had been held there.

Although Harold Wilson found time to meet the heads of the biggest employers in the industry, for “confidential talks,” a six-man delegation of shop stewards were met by a secretary and told the Prime Minister could not see them “because of pressure of work.”

The delegation made it clear in a message to Wilson that the demonstration was aimed not against the government, but for the purpose of protecting the employment of the workers in the industry.

The aircraft industry could not exist without lavish state handouts. The state supplies the money for research and development, the state takes the risk—but the aircraft employers pocket the profits.

What humbug the Tories talk when they chant about private enterprise! The whole thing is a racket, but instead of exposing it and appealing to the workers, the Prime Minister wines and dines with the top employers and beneficiaries of this dishonest system.

In the last 12 years £4,000 million has been spent by the state for the benefit of the aircraft industry. In the government estimates for 1964-65, aviation swallows up a total of £344,309,000.

Two-thirds of the money for industrial research is provided by the government, most of it for wasteful defence expenditure, of which the aircraft industry takes a big share.

In spite of this, the bungling and incompetence of the aircraft industry is notorious. Even the Tory government had to force through amalgamation into four big combines because of the scandalous inefficiency of the industry.

The amalgamations were strictly for the benefit of the giants in the industry.

After the investment of £5,000 million in new aviation projects in the past 12 years, only 10 designs out of 189 attempted were sold in quantities of more than 500. There has been 22 catastrophes in the air in Europe in the last 17 years; 20 of these were British planes.

The industry has been going from bad to worse. In 1958 aircraft exports reached £98 million: in the first 11 mouths of last year they were only £39 million.

The Labour leaders have declared that they would take action against any industry that “failed the nation.’’ Could the record of any industry be worse than this, especially one dependent on public money?

The current row has been caused by the suggestion that the TSR 2, which would cost an estimated £1,000 million to develop, should be scrapped. But the Wilson solution of buying the American TSF would almost cost as much.

Russell Kerr, the Labour candidate for Preston North, has pointed out that if ever there was an industry which “cries out for planning and for a substantial measure of public ownership” it is the aircraft industry.

If a state industry were run in the way the aircraft industry has been since the war, there would be screaming headlines in the press.

With subsidiary industries, there are 260,000 workers dependent on the aircraft industry. They certainly deserve consideration.

The aviation workers’ skill has been wasted in the last 20 years in a vain attempt by British capitalism to compete with American imperialism and the Soviet bureaucracy in military power.

The British employers now realise that they cannot keep pace. They have undermined the British economy without coming remotely near the military strength of the two giants.

George Brown has hurriedly denied that the government intends to nationalise the aircraft industry, but the aircraft industry is nevertheless to remain a kept woman of the state.

This is not good enough for the labour movement. Workers, especially in the trade unions catering for the aircraft industry, and in such areas as Coventry, Bristol, Preston and Weymouth, must demand the nationalisation of the industry with minimum compensation for the owners.

The industry developed at state expense. Let it be run in consultation with the shop stewards and unions in the industry, for the benefit of the people generally. If the state is to provide the money for the above-listed ventures, private parasites must not benefit.