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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Aerospace battles

by New Worker correspondent

BETWEEN July 1985 and April 1987 the Lancashire town of Barnoldswick was the scene of the longest strike in British history when members of the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union employed at the local bed and mattress factory owned by Silentnight downed tools in a dispute originally over productivity.

Today, at the town’s largest employer, Rolls-Royce workers are gearing up for another dispute. This time it is in opposition to plans announced in August to offshore production of its Trent Engine blades, which are made at Barnoldswick, to a factory in Singapore, with the loss of around 350 jobs.

Unite the union argues that this will make the site, in Rolls-Royce ownership since 1943, where it manufactures jet engines, potentially unviable.

Workers have already voted by an overwhelming 94 per cent in favour of industrial action.

Unite had previously delayed issuing precise strike dates in order to give bosses a final chance to cancel their plans or to ensure that Barnoldswick remains viable by introducing similar work and employment levels.

No response being forthcoming, targeted strike action will begin on the morning of Friday 6 November and will continue to the evening of Friday 27 November.

Ross Quinn, a Unite regional officer, said: “Unite has given Rolls-Royce every opportunity to change its plans, confirm there will be no more compulsory redundancies and guarantee the long-term future of Barnoldswick, but it has refused to do so.

“To offshore work and destroy the viability of this historic factory would be nothing short of industrial vandalism.”

The union’s national officer, Rhys McCarthy, added: “It is simply unacceptable that Rolls-Royce is seeking to offshore the jobs of workers in the UK, while at the same time that it is going cap in hand to the UK government for £1 billion in financial support,” adding that: “If Rolls-Royce is prepared to propose a viable future for Barnoldswick, then Unite will meet them at any time to resolve this dispute and secure a deal to preserve the jobs and the future of the factory.”

Support for the workers came from local residents including Liberal Democrat Lord Tony Greaves, who called the plans “a catastrophe for high-tech manufacturing in the UK”. East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Miranda Barker weighed in to say: “Action is needed now from our government, levelling up investment and support for the Civil Aerospace sector.”

lower level

At the same time, the company is seeking £2 billion from shareholders to support a plan to cut 9,000 jobs and close factories to adjust to a lower level of demand from airline customers that fly with Rolls-Royce engines on Boeing 787s and Airbus 350s.

Rolls-Royce made a £5.4 billion loss in the first half of 2020. It accounts for two per cent of all UK goods exported and purchased from 2,300 smaller UK suppliers, supporting 135,000 UK jobs. Its market value has slumped from £20 billion to £4.7 billion. It had only three orders for their wide-body jets in the third quarter according to an industry source.

At another Rolls-Royce plant, at Inchinnan, in Renfrewshire the same union is demanding action to support highly skilled aerospace engineering workers after more than 700 jobs were lost recently. Research was commissioned from Strathclyde University’s Fraser of Allander Institute (FAI) following a spate of redundancy consultations and voluntary severance schemes at four Scottish Rolls Royce sites. FAI estimate that the 1,225 proposed job losses including spill-over effects is associated with a £185 million loss in Gross Value Added and a loss of 2,530 jobs.

The report includes a survey of the 700 workers made redundant. Of the 100 responding, the overwhelming majority reported that taking voluntary severance was a financial decision forced on them by the effective closure of the plant. Many wanted to work in the renewable energy sector, specifically wind turbines, for which they would need some training. Nearly two-thirds were out of work. Those finding new jobs said they were not using their skills. Some workers have criticised the union for being ineffective after the job losses were announced in June, but with 400 taking voluntary redundancy within two months not many were up for a fight.

Unite’s Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said: “Rolls Royce engineers are widely recognised to be highly skilled, highly experienced and amongst the most outstanding engineering workforces in the UK. What this new research has discovered is that the vast majority of Rolls Royce workers who have left Inchinnan remain out of work with most of them remaining fearful for their future employment prospects. However, this requires two fundamental elements which is jobs actually being created in the renewables sector in particular through the manufacturing of wind turbines, and skills transition support.

absolutely abject

On these specific issues the Scottish Government’s record has been absolutely abject and they need to urgently intervene to provide concrete support for workers who have lost their jobs. If they do not, then this research illustrates that there is a real danger these crucial skills will be lost forever.”

Professor Alan McKinlay of Newcastle University added: “Many of the people who used to be employed by Rolls Royce have family connections and roots in West Central Scotland. Some of them are mobile and may seek work elsewhere in the UK or overseas but the majority are faced with limited options for finding work within a reasonable distance of home. If the specialist capability of this workforce is lost and people are obliged to pick up work wherever they can find, if indeed they can, then Scotland’s capacity in the highly skilled engineering sector will be much reduced and might never recover.”

Across the sea in Northern Ireland Jackie Pollock, the Regional Secretary of Unite, welcomed the saving of jobs when the Belfast operations of Bombardier was sold to the American company Spirit Aerosystems at a bargain price.

Bombardier Belfast employs 3,500 workers specialising in major aircraft structures and flight control surfaces in metal and advanced composites, producing around 10 per cent of Northern Ireland’s total manufacturing exports.

support package

Steve Turner, Assistant General Secretary, demanded that Stormont and Westminster follow up the deal with a robust long-term support package to safeguard all aerospace jobs, saying that: “This is a hugely difficult time for our members in aerospace, the sector alone in Northern Ireland has suffered a contraction of 1800 jobs over the last number of months through a series of redundancies.”

Chances of the Inchinnan workers getting jobs in the renewables industry have diminished after SNP ministers abandoned what was once the great hope of the renewables industry in Scotland. Burntisland Fabrication (BiFab) have lost the bidding war to supply turbines for offshore wind turbines off the nearby Fife coast, which will now be made in China and shipped across the globe.

According to the Glasgow Herald, ministers decided to do a U-turn after new legal advice felt that providing key support for the ailing company at the centre of a windfarm jobs row would be seen as illegal state aid under European Union (EU) regulations. Some £42 million has already been spent on supporting the state-owned company. It presently has a skeleton staff of 30 workers. Unite’s Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty and GMB Scotland Secretary Gary Smith jointly said that: “It looks like the Scottish government ministers have walked away from our best chance of building a meaningful offshore wind manufacturing sector, and in doing so have extinguished the hopes of communities in Fife and Lewis who were banking their future prosperity on it.


“It’s a scandalous end to a decade which started with promises of a ‘Saudi Arabia of Renewables’ supporting 28,000 full-time jobs in offshore wind and now finishes in mothballed fabrication yards and no prospect of any contracts or jobs on the horizon.”

They also noted that: “The fabrication will be manufactured by the rest of the world. Two projects worth a total of £5 billion, requiring 168 turbine jackets to power our future, and not even one will be built in Scotland – everyone needs to let that sink in.

“This is what political failure looks like and people are right to be absolutely furious.”