|Volume 51 Number 2, January 23, 2021||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Workers have ended their strike at the Rolls-Royce factory at Barnoldswick in Lancashire. The historic plant had been threatened when Rolls-Royce announced its intent to offshore the production of its Trent Engine blades, which are made at the site, to Singapore. Not only had 350 jobs hung in the balance, the actions of the owners and controllers of Rolls-Royce were destructive to the economy.
Determined to save the factory, the workers took strike action. Throwing the full weight of their organisation behind their struggle, they have managed to reach an agreement that will see guaranteed continued operations at the plant with a workforce of equal size. This is no small victory in the current conditions and climate of industrial relations under the anti-social offensive. The outcome shows how justified the action was, and that the working-class can assert their position in society and take stands to turn things around.
The company initially forced the workforce into a corner and breached relations to do so. In response to the strike action, Rolls Royce at first retaliated by taking more work to factories in Singapore, Japan and Spain, threatening the viability of the plant. But the mettle of the workers was shown to be up to the challenge of saving the day.
Rolls-Royce were accused by unions of "choking" the company's future and "selling the family silver" as the plant was run down. The immediate consequence was for workers to lose all 350 jobs. The workers' right to a livelihood was to be taken away in a dramatic move by the company.
The deal, through which the workers have blocked these moves, is significant in forcing concessions in their favour over their right to a livelihood. The agreement contains:
The struggle required concerted action and large demonstrations with the backing of the community, including a motorcade that received wide support. Workers took to the picket line, maintaining social distancing in all weathers, to fight the closure. The workforce was balloted and began targeted strike action on November 6 last year, which ran until Christmas Eve. Workers then returned to the picket lines on Monday, January 4. In total, the workers have taken nine weeks of strike action.
Paying tribute to the Barnoldswick workforce and community, Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner said: "Today is a day for celebration at the Barnoldswick plant and their community. They demonstrated real solidarity in the face of a genuine threat, stood together and have won a future. True local heroes who have inspired a generation."
Rolls-Royce is the major employer in Barnoldswick. The historic factory was said to be the "cradle of the jet engine", operating since 1943. Its workers have long been enormous creators of wealth. The closure of the factory would have had devastating consequences for the prosperity of the local community.
"This plant has a great history, but it now has a bright future thanks to the courage and determination of these workers and the support of their friends and neighbours," said Steve Turner. "Threats to end manufacturing at Barnoldswick would have left the plant facing closure, destroyed this town and been another nail in the coffin of UK manufacturing. But heads never dipped, and the solidarity shown by its workforce and community has been inspirational," he added.
Unite underscored the necessity for a change in direction of the economy by building the country's capacity in manufacturing, declaring the determination of the union "to retain manufacturing of tomorrow's technologies here in the UK".
The union pointed its finger at the government, which itself did not lift a finger to support the interests of the community or the economy. Instead, the government maintained a position of allowing deteriorating relations by appeasing self-interested decision-making to maintain business as usual.
"Finally, the government must learn from Barnoldswick. Its refusal to support these workers as they fought for a future sent a depressing signal. The ongoing failure of government to develop an industrial strategy that intervenes, supports and invests in the development, growth and transition of our economy simply confirms that while they're happy to talk about 'levelling up' our northern regions and manufacturing heartlands, that is all it is, talk," Steve Turner said. 
Workers and their union are approaching the agreement with a view to its guarantee. They know that concessions are not solutions. They want to make sure it is a complete success, on their own terms. Not only has their action protected a community from ruin, but the agreement reached provides an opportunity for the site to retain advanced manufacturing for decades to come. It is possible, and necessary, for workers to take control over their lives and their destiny.