A new billboard along Interstate 35 near Fort Worth highlights website SouthWoke.com calling on Southwest Airlines to ‘shut up’ about liberal politics and focus on flying.
Here at Southwoke, we’re fully committed to DEI, ESG, LGTBQ+, BLM, and every other woke acronym you can think of…
Attempts to tie Southwest’s operational meltdown over the Christmas holiday to ‘being woke’ (‘bringing California values to Texas’) fall flat. While there are certainly calls by some environmentalists to de-industrialize in order to de-carbonize, Southwest is still an airline. And their underinvestment in technology stems from a culture that is inherently cheap dating back to Herb Kelleher, roots as a low cost carrier, and systems that never fully matured from a time when they were a much smaller carrier.
And contra critics at ‘Southwoke.com’ diversity initiatives simply did not trade off with technology investments just as share buy backs didn’t. Southwest had the strongest balance sheet of any airline going into the pandemic, and could have made more technology investments alongside their other spending.
To be sure, in 2017 a Southwest Airlines flight attendant was fired after sending five messages to her union president, critical of her for attending the ‘Women’s March’ in D.C. using union funds and making anti-abortion statements. In Charlene Carter v. Transport Workers Union Local 556 and Southwest Airlines the airline was found liable for $5 million for violating the employee’s right to criticize their union and for religious discrimination. But that was a union issue as much as an airline one.
There’s a tendency to see your own hobby horses as the cause of anything bad that follows, for instance criticisms of Silicon Valley Bank for their own diversity programs – as though there’s a ‘woke’ way to mismatch treasury bond duration with liquidity needs. A Northern California bank seeking to win business is going to reflect back the values of its customers and customer influencers.
After Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX fraud came tumbling down, he admitted to playing “this dumb game we woke westerners play where we say all the right shiboleths and so everyone likes us” and that much of what he funded was for “transactional purposes.”
My point isn’t that everyone is Sam Bankman-Fried, but that most people don’t admit this and I rather assume that much of corporate DEI and milquetoast political efforts don’t reflect core beliefs but are strategic decisions to be accepted and acceptable in polite society. The beef that critics have, then, isn’t really with most companies so much as with a culture that pressures them to adopt politics they oppose.
- American Airlines went on a P.R. offensive over diversity with then-Chairman Doug Parker having conversations about race while not having a single African American in an airline leadership role at the time (HR doesn’t count).
- Meanwhile Delta wraps cost cuts in environmental concerns and indigenous amenity kits, announcing the end of plastic in releases that promote plastic cups, and achieving emissions goals not predominantly by reducing emissions (with an old fleet of aircraft) but through carbon credits that amount to greenwashing.
- While no major airline has adopted the politics of the left more than United, which backed affirmative action in California, promoted use of employee pronouns in internal communications, and pushed vaccine mandates before they were government policy. They’ve heaped tremendous praise on the Biden administration while their environmental agenda has seemed calculated to attract fuel subsidies. The airline’s narrative is crafted by President Obama’s former press secretary.
Calling out Southwest it seems to me is an odd choice among airlines, since they’re not in any way out of the mainstream. And airlines are among the most heavily regulated businesses, with nearly every aspect controlled by government. So even more than most companies they’ve adopted a strategy of “say[ing] all the right shiboleths” so that everyone among regulators and the commentariat “likes” them.