Two giant firms employing two of the most brilliant teams of workers on the planet could be helping to make the world a better place. Instead they are producing killing machines. That’s capitalism for you. Instead of co-operating, they are squabbling over market share. As Karl Marx said, “It’s one thing to share out profits and quite another to share out losses.” Could this be the start of a trade war?
The US Air Force has announced that EADS, the European defence company which owns Airbus, and Northrop Grumman, a US aircraft manufacturer, have won a contract to supply the Air Force refuelling tankers. The contract is worth $35bn initially but could eventually be worth more than $100bn.
Originally the Air Force had selected Boeing, the US aircraft manufacturer, in 2002, but Congress cancelled the deal after it emerged that the top Air Force procurement official had held job talks with Boeing during the bidding process. Subsequently, the Air Force official and Boeing’s Chief Financial Officer both went to prison for corruption while Boeing’s CEO resigned. (Financial Times – 3 March 2008)
EADS has said that it will assemble the tankers in Mobile, Alabama and it is half-promising to assemble cargo aircraft at the same facility. Alabama’s two Republican Senators sit on the Senate armed services committee and the defence appropriations committee. Boeing maintains that US jobs will be lost at their plant near Seattle and that US national security will be damaged by giving the contract to EADS.
Boeing have formally protested the decision with the Government. Members of Congress, particularly those with Boeing plants in their constituencies are threatening to block the decision by means of legislation. Presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both expressed concern about the decision. John McCain, who was instrumental in overturning the original 2002 decision has been silent. It has emerged that two of his advisers lobbied on behalf of EADS/Northrop before joining his campaign staff (The Times – 12 March 2008).
Despite the noise coming from Congress, it is doubtful that this decision will be blocked on technical grounds. Because it’s an election year, with the US plunging into recession and jobs being lost in all sectors of the economy, it’s possible, if unlikely, that politicians in Washington DC, afraid of losing their comfortable jobs and their benefits from big-business, will force the Air Force to reconsider their decision.
More to the point though is the what this hissy-fit demonstrates about the capitalist system. Boeing is willing to play the jingoistic card in order to retain orders and profits; EADS seeks to reinvent itself as an American company to win the same orders and profits. Ominously this incident has also raised the spectre of trade wars and protectionism at a time when the world capitalist economy is facing severe difficulties. Both the US and Europe have filed complaints with the World Trade Organisation that Airbus and Boeing are receiving subsidies from their respective governments.
In the meantime, while the capitalists on both sides of the Atlantic exchange insults, workers in both the US and in Europe suffer with job losses and cutbacks. Only with the ending of capitalism and a socialist planned economy can the incredible technical achievements of the workers in both Airbus and Boeing be used for the benefit of all humanity.