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AIRBUS CEO Tom Enders waded into British politics recently with a thinly veiled threat that Airbus would withdraw from Britain if we leave the EU without a deal, putting thousands of workers jobs at risk.
It reveals a familiar resentment: “We don’t need you — there are plenty of countries who would love to manufacture for us.”
It’s a refrain well-known to trade unionists everywhere who dare challenge the boss — “There are plenty more where you came from who would love to do your job. If you don’t like it you know where the door is.”
Enders’s remark was warmly received on both sides of the political spectrum, but particularly surprising was the level of support from those on the left and Labour Party.
Ben Bradshaw cheered “good for Airbus, telling it like it is,” while Faisal Islam chose “punchy” to describe the CEO’s comment, warning: “Please don’t listen to Brexiteers’ madness … they’re wrong.”
Paul Mason, who might have changed his mind and back again as I write, added another layer in that engineering students watching ought to “think about it.”
Keir Starmer called it a “stark warning” and went so far as to wonder when government would start listening to business instead of Brexiteers.
David Lammy quipped about “clipped wings” and Kevin Maguire struck out saying: “Brextremists would still be screaming ‘Project Fear’ to avoid engagement if they were sitting in rags around a campfire eating roast rats, blaming Europe.”
Other supposed leftists referred to Leave-voting workers facing the threat of redundancy from Airbus as “social Darwinism” in action.
Can you imagine the outcry if this interjection had been a commentary on taxation, or trade union and employment rights?
Despite this, there remains to be seen a single left-wing commentator prepared to challenge the political reality that allows a transnational corporation to blackmail and threaten our national democracy, and national security, so easily.
This irony surely cannot be lost on the pro-EU lobby — those who have been campaigning in the referendum and since to maintain permanently the right of capital to move freely — that when it does precisely that, they would rather blame the consequences on the people of this country who voted leave, than stand up to the corporate bullies, or recognise that the same single market they support directly facilitates it.
Airbus, which is based in the Netherlands, includes the German, French and Spanish states as shareholders.
It has received $22 billion in EU subsidies for the A830 and A350 jets. Parts for the latter are manufactured in a facility set up in Broughton, Flintshire, with the assistance of a £28 million grant from the Welsh Assembly.
These are the same parts referenced in Lammy’s hilarious “clipped wings” tweet. Now with the threat of high-skilled job losses in an economically depressed area of the country, it seems less a funny metaphor for Brexit and more a pale euphemism for capital flight.
This outright threat to our democracy is met with a resounding cheer from some Labour MPs, despite Airbus having been involved in years of corporate crime, insider trading, war profiteering, corruption and fraud.
In 2003 it was caught bribing South African officials for defence contracts, and in 2005 the Government Pension Fund of Norway recommended the exclusion of Airbus for producing components for illegal cluster bombs.
In 2012 the British Serious Fraud Office investigated an Airbus subsidiary for bribing Saudi Arabian officials. It found the company had attempted to secure a $2bn contract to renew the Saudi Arabian National Guard’s communication network, with luxury cars and millions of pounds sterling in mysterious Cayman Island accounts.
But what is missing from much of the gleeful “I told you so” and trivialising of a corporate threat aimed at blackmailing our Parliament, is that Airbus is an institution of the EU as fundamental as the European Central Bank or the European Court of Justice.
Enders is presented to us in the media as the voice of reasonable business against Brexit, masking the hard reality that he is a more important and more powerful figure in the running of the EU than even Jean-Claude Junker, and directly involved in writing more EU legislation than any person ever elected by EU citizens.
This man represents Airbus on the executive of the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), an invitation-only group of multinational corporate CEOs, with headquarters in EU member states.
The ERT is a powerful corporate lobby central to the development of the EU project at all levels of policy-making. The ERT, along with its US counterpart, was the architect of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
The ERT also drafted the Single European Act, establishing the single market which made neoliberalism permanent, and any democratic challenge to free market doctrine from EU member states impossible.
This single market enforces free movement of capital, and this is now used to great effect by Airbus to threaten our democracy for not being servile enough to its interests.
This was an intervention from the real rulers of the EU — the corporate interests who draft its policies, treaties and international trade deals, who demand access to our public services and the privatisation of our industries, who drain us for taxpayer subsidies and threaten our national democracies when we do not bend the knee.
That so many figures in the Labour Party have failed to challenge this bullying threat of corporate flight is worrying.
There is nothing new about this behaviour. We have seen it any time corporate taxation is mentioned, or proposals to deal with fat-cat bonuses are raised. We will hear them louder again if Labour attempts to implement its manifesto.
This speaks to a more general, slavish, corporate bootlicking that has become commonplace in political discussions around the European Union and capital mobility.
There is no doubt that this arises from the capitulation of much of the left to the neoliberal consensus of the past four decades and its abandonment of national sovereignty as a route for socialist policy.
Instead we are fed platitudes by a comprador political class about the “internationalism” of EU membership and how global capital has made the nation state redundant, begging the question — in whose interests?
Certainly not in the interests of those of us who wish to challenge corporate power and reorganise society in the interests of the people.
Isn’t it remarkable to see a bank like HSBC with its “We are not an island” ad campaign espousing the same sentiments and arguments as so many figures on the left?
The multinationals want to be free to ride roughshod over us all, to be accountable to nobody. Far from being obsolete, the nation state with the sovereign power to act, is now the most vital defence against global capital. The attack on the concept of the sovereign nation is in reality an assault on democracy itself.
Every Labour government that has ever existed in Britain, or any government anywhere in the world that has tried to shift wealth and power towards working people, has faced staunch opposition from capitalists.
In 1931 when Ramsay MacDonald’s government abandoned the gold standard following speculative attacks, the former Labour chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Snowden complained: “They never told us we could do that.”
Labour governments have always faced attacks on their policies from corporate threats of capital flight.
It is very naive to imagine a parliamentary majority is a sufficient condition for a left-Labour government to implement its manifesto.
It will face a continuous campaign of vilification from the media as well as economic and financial warfare from the City of London and big corporations.
In order to face these attacks down the government will need to regulate markets and impose capital controls.
It is very foolish therefore for supporters of a left-Labour government to hold up free movement of capital as bad side-effect of Brexit rather than a pillar of EU neoliberalism, which it actually is.
I would rather hear John McDonnell and Labour demand the government immediately secure a no-redundancy guarantee for all Airbus employees and the nationalisation of all its public and defence contracts, than offering reassurance to the international cartels — reassurance that a Labour government will protect their ability to threaten and tyrannise us with capital flight, which they surely will wield against any attempt to rebuild our society for the many.
Eddie Dempsey is a train driver and RMT activist.
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