Rolls Royce workers in Lancashire have begun a three-week strike against redundancies and outsourcing. The labour movement must demand nationalisation and workers’ control in order to defend jobs and plan production for society’s needs.
Last Friday, 6 November, workers at the historic Rolls Royce (RR) factory at Barnoldswick, Lancashire, began a three-week strike against job cuts. 350 workers are facing redundancy after the decision was made to outsource blade manufacturing to a company in Singapore. The main reason given is cost savings amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Although strike action is an essential first step in fighting the closure, the potential loss of both skilled workers and machinery raises the question as to whether the factory could be used to produce alternative goods which society still needs. The question of a factory occupation to stop asset stripping and to demand nationalisation must inevitably therefore come to the fore.
The Rolls Royce factory has been producing engines for aircraft bombers since 1943, and is currently involved in manufacturing for the sixth generation of bombers under the Tempest Fighter-Jet programme. This is a multi-billion pound project involving BAE Systems, Leonardo, MBDA and RR.
At present the programme is facing tough competition from the Franco-German-Spanish Future Fighter project involving Dassault, Boeing and Indira. In addition, further competition is provided by the US aerospace alliance of Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and Raytheon.
This tough competition between aerospace consortiums has led to them cutting costs in order to remain profitable. Furthermore, automation and the shift from traditional bombers to military drones is putting pressure on these consortiums to adapt.
This morning @RollsRoyce workers continue to strike to keep their site open and save high skilled aerospace jobs here in the North West. #BattleforBarnoldswick #SaveOurSite pic.twitter.com/y7lWDq6lc6
— Unite North West (@Unite_NorthWest) November 9, 2020
After the financial crisis of 2008, ‘defence’ aerospace companies are continuously receiving huge government bailouts and support. Recently, the British government showered billions of pounds on the ‘defence’ aerospace sector under various schemes to cover COVID-19 related losses.
However, these funds did not stop bosses from laying-off workers. ADS-UK, a trade body representing the owners of 1,100 companies in aerospace, ‘defence’, security, and space technology, informed their workforces that tens of thousands of workers would bemade redundant during the COVID-19 crisis.
Over the last two years, almost 50% of staff at the Barnoldswick plant have been cut as part of this drive. Other RR plants have also announced massive redundancies amid increasing outsourcing practices. A part of Barnoldswick factory production is outsourced to Singapore, a country which has some of the worst industrial relations in the world.
Under capitalism, the bosses’ only solution is to cut jobs once workers are considered expendable.
The only way to save these jobs in the long run is to turn to the creativity of the workers themselves. 40 years ago, workers at Lucas Aerospace produced theLucas Plan, which offered a brilliant solution to such a challenge.
The Lucas workers proposed that the best way to defend jobs was to repurpose their manufacturing skills for socially useful products, rather than the fuelling of Britain’s imperialist wars and the arming of despotic regimes such as Saudi Arabia.
Repurposing manufacturing is not a thing of the past as some might claim. During the COVID-19, different automotive and defence production companiesstarted manufacturing ventilators and PPE within a few days of the pandemic. This proves that the potential to completely restructure production exists, but can only be fully realised through workers’ control and a general plan of production for need.
The Lucas Plan is more relevant today than ever, as it gives workers a blueprint to organise and take over the managing, planning and running of factories.
Unfortunately, the Lucas Plan was rejected by company bosses and the government, who feared that it would trigger demands for workers’ control over production in other workplaces as well. Shamefully, the union leadership at that time, including the TUC, did nothing to support the workers to implement the Lucas Plan.
Workers cannot have any faith in bosses to restore jobs. They only care about their profits. Workers at RR Barnoldswick should immediately organise themselves and develop an alternative plan like the Lucas Plan. This would demonstrate that the factory can still produce the things society needs, and that only the bosses’ greed for profit prevents that from happening.
Unite the Union should support these workers in the implementation of such a plan in addition to the support already being provided for their strike. Furthermore, Unite should also play an instrumental role in building solidarity amongst workers in other factories, through mobilising their regional and national industrial sectors and spreading word of what the workers at Barnoldswick are trying to achieve.
The workers at Rolls Royce Barnoldswick can defend their jobs. They’ve already shown they have the courage to stand up and fight by taking strike action. However, to make sure these jobs are not only safe but socially useful, it’s time to take over such factories, implement a new Lucas Plan in each, and run them in the interest of workers and society as part of a socialist plan of production.