Hundreds of Labour activists have signed a petition demanding “bailouts for workers and planet, not billionaires” in a backlash against the party position on supporting the aviation industry.
Jim McMahon, Labour’s new Shadow Transport Secretary, has called on the government to urgently “bring forward a plan to protect the future of our aviation industry” following the impact of coronavirus.
In a letter to Grant Shapps, McMahon stressed that reduced air traffic has had a “devastating impact” on the industry, adding: “It is far easier to transition our aviation sector to become greener from a point of strength than weakness.”
Labour has also urged that any government bailout to be conditional on the protection of jobs and salaries, the use of cleaner fuels, companies having their tax bases in the UK and not paying dividends until they are commercially viable.
But green activists say the proposals would “revert to a broken system” and “lock us into runaway climate breakdown”, with aviation on course to becoming the UK’s largest source of emissions by 2050.
Organised by campaign group Labour for a Green New Deal, which pushed the party to adopt a 2030 net-zero carbon target at conference last year, the online petition gained the backing of over 800 members in twelve hours.
Lauren Townsend, Labour for a Green New Deal’s spokesperson, commented: “We welcome Labour’s proposals to protect jobs, and its ambitions for a huge green recovery plan as we emerge from the coronavirus crisis.
“But its plans on aviation fail to live up to that ambition, nor will they create the secure, green jobs we urgently need. Labour is essentially calling for the return of business-as-usual air travel, locking us into runaway climate breakdown.
“These proposals are out of touch with party members, out of touch with the public and disastrous for the planet. The idea that a just transition must wait until we have rebuilt the old, exploitative and unsustainable economy is utterly nonsensical.”
Members supportive of the GND group would prefer to see Labour arguing for workers to be transitioned to greener industries during the Covid-19 crisis, and for stronger measures such as taking public stakes in airlines.
They point out that recent polling by Survation shows a majority of the British public reject airline bailouts, and 72% of those who did support rescue measures thought the public should hold a share of those companies in receipt of assistance.
The Greater Manchester branch of Labour GND has brought together organisations to form an “environmental coalition” that opposes the local authority decision to bail out Manchester Airport in a loan package worth over £250m.
The campaigners are urging Labour, wherever it is in power, to work with trade unions and ensure that all such bailouts include mandatory commitments to decarbonisation and workers’ rights.
They also want the party to pressure the government on attaching similar strict conditions to help provided through ‘Project Birch’ – Rishi Sunak’s plan to save “strategically important companies” in the coronavirus economic recovery.
In the House of Commons this week, MPs from all parties complained about the conduct of British Airways – described as “ethically outrageous” by transport select committee chair Huw Merriman.
BA has announced last month that it was consulting on cutting 12,000 jobs, a move that Unite the Union general secretary Len McCluskey said was “heartless” and a “stab in the back”. The union has since said that BA plans to sack its entire workforce of 42,000.
“Over 40,000 loyal BA staff now face the prospect of losing either their livelihoods or potentially being re-interviewed for their own jobs on vastly reduced terms and conditions,” McCluskey said.
He asked why the company was “threatening to terminate contracts, including eliminating disciplinary procedures”, adding: “This is nothing more than a cynical act of corporate greed and a betrayal of the BA workforce and Britain.”