Threatened with redundancies which will effectively close the plant, workers have voted overwhelmingly to fight back with strike action, reports Richard Allday
News that Rolls Royce intends to make 350 workers redundant at its Barnoldswick blade manufacturing site sent shockwaves through the local community. With only 150 workers left, the general feeling was that the site would be too small to survive, that Rolls Royce was effectively announcing the closure of the site.
The site produces the state of the art blades for the company’s Trent series jet engines, and the company intends to shift manufacturing to its Singapore facility – a site that they guaranteed would only handle excess orders, and would never threaten Barnoldswick. It was on this explicit understanding that 60 workers helped set up the Singapore site 10 years ago.
The company blames Covid-19 for its decision – who knew that Singapore workers are immune to the virus? More likely is that health and safety legislation and workers’ rights in Singapore are far more to the company’s liking – i.e. non-existent. (The last strike in Singapore was the 2012 walkout by 170 Chinese SMRT bus drivers, in protest at being paid a lower rate than Singaporean drivers. The last one before that was 1986.)
So. Major UK manufacturer threatens site closure, putting 350 highly-skilled workers on the scrap heap. It off-shores the work to Singapore (so not a lack of demand then). It blames Covid-19 (not heard that one before!). So what’s new?
What is new is that the workforce has refused to just lay down and die. Unite has balloted all 500 workers across the site, and received a 94% vote for strike action. Not only are the workers determined to fight for their jobs (strike action is planned to start in early November) but they have received the message of support from the other Rolls Royce sites in the UK – and access to the combined strike fund, estimated to be around £750,000.
The North West region of Unite has pledged support, and the workforce and the local community have turned to the wider movement for support. They are using social media, petitions and demonstrations to expose the hypocrisy of a company that is currently asking the government for a £1 billion bung ‘to help secure its future’ at the same time as closing sites, expecting the government to fund the social costs of closure.
This is a fight that deserves to be supported across the entire labour movement – a victory for the Barnoldswick workers would be a victory for every worker facing pay cuts, layoffs and redundancies “due to Covid”. Unite’s Road Transport National Sector Committee agreed unanimously last week to support the Barnoldswick workers and to publicise their action, and this active support should be mirrored across all Unite’s industrial sectors.
This support is not ‘charity’ extended to the Rolls Royce workforce; if Barnoldswick stays open, that is a blow for our side and a step back for the employers. It is in our direct interest to see a victory at Barnoldswick.
The campaign has produced a campaign page which includes a 25-minute video covering the history of the site, and the effect on the community.
The ballot has come in the same week as Unite announced a 96% vote for strike action among Hoyer fuel tanker drivers, also against threatened redundancies, it gives hope that the tide may be beginning to turn.
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Richard Allday is a member of Unite the Union’s National Executive, a branch secretary and shop steward in road haulage. A member of Counterfire, his comrades know him better as 'the angry trucker'.
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