No, we will not be able to control the eruption of volcanoes under socialism. But – we can make sure, that its effects will not lead to a chaotic situation such as we see now as a result of the eruption of a volcano in Iceland.
As an airline passenger, stranded in London and only being able to get home on my own, without any help from "my" airline or officials, one thing is very clear to me: privatization and "free competition" under capitalism lead to the catastrophic situation that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people face all over Europe and beyond.
No international plan for help
As the transport systems are divided into national systems and, even further, into different competing companies, no international plan has been drawn up to help stranded passengers. The situation is that the overwhelming majority do not get any information from the airline they have paid a lot of money to for their tickets. People have to find out by themselves about the next steps to take or places to sleep.
In a nationalised integrated transport system, orientated to the needs of people, the situation could be handled much quicker and better. People would informed about the situation and the possibilities for alternative travel and accommodation. They would be picked up at the airports and brought to hotels quickly. It would be possible to make sure that those who have to travel get on their way as quickly as possible. But in today's capitalist system, it is those who manage to be stronger and quicker then others, and especially those who have more money, who find ways to travel – the others are just left alone.
With international planning to meet the needs of people and not profits, trains, buses and ferries could be coordinated much better then they are now. Extra wagons could be added to trains to make sure that all passengers find a place. Buses could bring people whose flights are cancelled together, either to places they can stay until their flight can take off or to the places they need to go. An international plan could make sure that the needs of people come before profits. That would mean that people and essential goods are transported before lorries carrying non-essential loads are. A nationalized transport system would mean no private companies suddenly increasing their prices to make extra profits and that stranded passengers are transported for no extra charge to their destinations.
Now, in the present crisis, passengers are totally left on their own. They do not know where to go, how to pay for the accommodation, for trains and other things.
Money is a big problem for a lot of people – it is not sure if they will get the money they have spent refunded. They have to pay out for accommodation or to continue their journey on their own. The airlines and the insurance companies will do everything possible to leave those extra costs with the passengers.
Already some airlines have explained that they will be in serious financial problems because of this volcanic eruption and that it might be necessary to bail them out through governments. This is another dirty trick of capitalist companies to use the situation for their own benefit. The crisis of the airline companies is not due to the eruption, although it definitely increases their problems, rather their problems are due to the general economic crisis.
For working people it is not only a question of the extra money passengers have had to spend being refunded. The likelihood is that this air transport crisis will produce a new wave of attacks on the wages and working conditions of the airline staff as well as an increase of flight prices in the next period. This must not be accepted by the staff and the unions, but fought against.
The current chaotic situation should be taken up by trade unions and socialists all over Europe. They should not only demand a stop to privatization, but also to go further. They should explain the need for nationalised transport systems, the need for the international planning of transportation, and the need for a different society – a socialist society where the needs of people are central, not profits.
Sonja Grusch, CWI Austria