When you are fighting for your job little else matters.
Workers at Barnoldswick’s Rolls Royce plant have begun their strike action against the company and extended the initially planned three weeks of industrial action until Christmas Eve.
Unite Union regional officer Ross Quinn explained to Labour Heartlands why his members and the workers of Barnoldswick’s Rolls Royce have had to take industrial action during the covid crisis.
In August the firm announced it was cutting 350 jobs at the town’s Bankfield and Ghyll Brow factories and transferring the wide-chord fan blade work to Singapore.
He reiterated the company’s promise that jobs would be secure and would not be affected by the Singapore arm which had been set up in 2009 with ironically help from Barnoldswick workers.
Mr Quinn said the company’s aim to offshore production of Trent engine blades to Singapore with the loss of 350 jobs would harm the community which relied on the workforce to survive. Rolls Royce is the fabric of the town.
“This dispute is not just about maintaining the viability of the Rolls-Royce factory in Barnoldswick, it is about the future prosperity of the local community.
He said: “Our members are taking industrial action as a last resort and have given Rolls-Royce every opportunity to alter its plans by ensuring the viability of Barnoldswick and confirming there will be no compulsory redundancies.
It is limited to four representatives through lockdown restrictions.
The hashtag #battleforbarnoldswick was just one which has been shared across social media with the support growing daily, said Unite Union regional officer Ross Quinn.
“Support continues to grow including being shared thousands of times across all social media platforms using the hashtags.
“The strike action is tactical and will continue until Christmas Eve and is being done in shifts so everyone will be taking part.”
“The ability to resolve this dispute is entirely in the hands of Rolls-Royce,” adding that if the current plans cannot be reversed, then the company should look at using the skill and expertise among the workforce to create a viable future for the site.
Diversification could be the key to saving jobs and the community
Rolls-Royce has been urged to use plans for a fleet of 16 mini nuclear power stations to save skilled jobs at its Barnoldswick factories.
The firm has revealed the proposals by the UK SMR consortium which it leads.
The group has pledged to create 6,000 regional UK jobs within the next five years’ with up to 80 per cent of the power station components set to be made in factories across the Midlands and North of England.
It has lead to immediate calls by local politicians and the Unite union to locate some of the work at Rolls-Royce’s two factories in Barnoldswick.
Mr Quinn added that more than 100 Labour MPs and peers had signed a letter penned by Co Durham MP Grahame Morris which was sent to Unite Union convenor Mark Porter, rubber-stamping their ‘solidarity’ with the workers.
“Rolls Royce was once the pride of Britain, a flagship UK brand. At a time when they are taking billions of pounds in UK taxpayer support, it is insulting and shameful they are casting aside loyal workers to offshore jobs to Singapore.
“Rolls-Royce has broken the promise it made to protect Barnoldswick, and they must be held accountable by consumers, workers, and the government so we can protect UK jobs and restore the reputation of this once iconic British brand.”
Mr Morris also said when we remember the fallen war heroes on November 11, we should ‘never forget that it was the engineering intelligence and manufacturing skill of Barnoldswick workers that put the engines in the first British jet fighters, critical to winning the Second World War’.
Barnoldswick has operation for nearly eight decades. It was in this Lancastrian town that Rolls-Royce developed and built the UK’s first jet engine. That engine, which powered high-speed Meteor jet fighters in 1944, was the only Allied jet fighter to see action during the Second World War and played a crucial role in the winning of the conflict.
A Rolls Royce spokesman said: “The global pandemic has hit our business hard. Although we have taken swift action and put many, often painful, mitigation plans in place, we must continue to further reduce our cost base so that we can safeguard the future of Rolls-Royce, return to break even and work towards our target of reaching positive cashflow in the second half of 2021.”
ROLLS ROYCE BARNOLDSWICK: WORKERS STRIKE TO SAVE THEIR JOBS
Andy Ford, Warrington Trades Council writes: 520 workers at the Rolls Royce factory in Barnoldswick, Lancashire have voted for 3 weeks strike action against planned redundancies and possible site closure. The 500 jobs at Barnoldswick are some of the last high-quality manufacturing jobs left in East Lancashire. I interviewed Ross Quinn, the Unite officer responsible for the site and the aerospace industry across the north-west.
Ross explained that Rolls Royce have been in Barnoldswick since 1943 when it as set up as part of the war effort. At the end of the war Britain was still a significant player in the new industry of jet engines along with the US and Germany. In 2018 the factory employed 1140 staff, this was gradually reduced through voluntary redundancies to the 520 who work there today.
Rolls Royce is important to the town and community of Barnoldswick, which is in the borough of Pendle that has a child poverty rate of 37%. As Ross put it: “Skilled jobs are few and far between. The company a few years ago boasted that they brought £1.1 billion into the regional economy with wages, supply chain, investment and taxes – imagine the effect if all that just disappeared”.
In 2009 the company opened a plant in Singapore and asked the Barnoldswick workers to train the Singapore workforce. At that time they pledged that Singapore would only ever be support for production at Barnoldswick. Now the plan is to transfer production there.
At the start of the pandemic there were 700 workers but as the work dried up as a result of the virtual closure of the aerospace industry another 150 workers were given redundancy. Then the company asked for more. The reps and members explored a shorter working week, diversification and a ‘just transition’ out of defence industries, referring back to the Lucas Plan of the 70s and the company seemed to be interested. Some links were made with government.
But then Rolls Royce announced another 50 redundancies and the transfer of production to Singapore. It was the last straw. It seemed as if the press knew before the workforce, who felt betrayed. The belief is that all the talk of re-tooling and diversification had been lip service only.
Unite at Barnoldswick has never accepted compulsory redundancies. They have a healthy strike fund and have balloted the whole workforce for strike action, which begins with 3 weeks of action by key departments. Then the final work inspectors come out on November 18th until Christmas Eve, with a level of support from the Unite strike fund.
Rolls Royce have had over £2 billion of government backed loans, hundreds of millions in furlough payments and yet they paid no UK corporation tax last year, and there is no accountability to their workers or wider society. Public ownership of the company now would protect jobs and could support diversification. Rolls Royce were nationalised – by a Tory government at that – in 1971 and remained in public hands till 1987. Instead of which they are being allowed by the government to up sticks and off-shore the work.
The workers have other ideas however.
All Unite members and trade unionists should support this action which has gone beyond pleas and hand wringing, to determined strike action. Send messages of support, or short videos to Ross Quinn, Preston Unite office, PR2 2YP or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andy Ford, Warrington Trades Council