Boeing 737 Max Boeing 737 Max. Photo: Steve Lynes/cropped from original/licensed under CC 2.0, linked at bottom of article

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a blinding light on how capitalism measures and values our social priorities, argues Tony Dowling

For most people, the lives and health of themselves and their families comes first. But for the Tories and other free marketeers, it often seems that ‘the economy’ and the pursuit of profit takes precedence.

Surely, though, no-one would put business interests first and place people’s lives in jeopardy in the quest for profits? Would they?

Sadly, the recent US congressional report into why two aircraft crashed within months of each other suggests that they do.

As The Guardian said in its article on the report, “Boeing jeopardised the safety of passengers” and “pushed to cut costs in order to compete with its European rival Airbus.”

On 29 October 2018, Lion Air flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea 13 minutes after take-off, killing all 189 passengers and crew. Five months later on 10 March 2019, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed near the town of Bishoftu six minutes after take-off, killing all 157 people aboard.

In both instances the aircraft was a Boeing 737 Max, which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had certified as safe to fly.

And shockingly the report concludes that there “is clear evidence that the current regulatory system is fundamentally flawed and needs to be repaired.”

How could this happen?

We live in an age of international and national regulatory standards in which it is difficult to imagine that a major corporation would risk actually killing its customers.

But this report demonstrates otherwise:

“There was tremendous financial pressure on Boeing and the 737 MAX program to compete with Airbus’ new A320neo aircraft,” it says, and “this pressure resulted in extensive efforts to cut costs.”

The investigation identified “several instances where the desire to meet these goals and expectations jeopardized the safety of the flying public.”

For Marxists this seeming contradiction between the need for an airline to be demonstrably safe, in order to secure passenger trust, and its preparedness to risk that safety in the pursuit of profit, is plainly explicable.

Despite having a shared interest in exploitation of the working class, Marx described capitalists as a band of hostile brothers at war with one another to obtain the greatest share of the profits. He called it the “industrial war of capitalists among themselves” in which competition “constantly pursues him with its law of the cost of production.”

Commenting on the 737 Max scandal, Kevin Ovenden noted that “it would be easy to think that no corporation could risk actually killing its customers unnecessarily through recklessness or greed. That Boeing – a paradigm of a global corporation – could do this is proof that such confidence is misplaced.”

Even airline captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, famed for crash landing U.S. Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River in 2009 saving all 155 people on board said:

“These crashes are demonstrable evidence that our current system of aircraft design and certification has failed us… It is obvious that grave errors were made that have had grave consequences, claiming 346 lives.”

We know that this Tory government has been a champion of a ‘bonfire of regulations’ and is committed to ‘the free market’ and deregulation of businesses. Like Boeing, these capitalists eventually find themselves ruthlessly seeking profit with their “band of hostile brothers” with little regard to how that might jeopardise the lives of people caught up in it.

So we must be wary of any relaxation of regulations which could be detrimental to our health or even our lives. And we must resist the Tories’ efforts to deregulate measures to protect lives that have been hard won by trade union campaigning over so many years.

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Tony Dowling

Tony Dowling is a teacher, socialist, trade unionist, antifascist, anti-war & anti-cuts activist. He is currently chair of North East People's Assembly and a member of Counterfire.

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