Wales: GE Aviation workers march to save jobs

Workers marching to save job at GE Aviation in Nantgarw 1 August, photo SP Wales

Workers marching to save job at GE Aviation in Nantgarw 1 August, photo SP Wales   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Dave Reid, Socialist Party Wales

Over 400 GE Aircraft Engine Services workers and supporters marched through Caerphilly, south Wales in a socially distanced but lively demonstration on 1 August to save jobs at the Nantgarw plant.

GE has announced the loss of 369 jobs out of a workforce of 1,350 which threatens the long-term future of the aircraft engine plant. Jobs at GE are hi-tech, highly skilled and well-paid industrial jobs. For generations the plant has taken on dozens of apprentices, male and female, to be trained for well-paid jobs. The knock-on effect of lay-offs and job losses at the plant will be devastating on communities in Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taff.

Nearly 4,000 job losses have been announced at plants in the Welsh aviation industry since the Covid pandemic began, and this threatens the loss of thousands more jobs in the supply industries. The temporary collapse in the aviation industry is allowing employers to restructure to the detriment of workers.

Every loss of jobs at GE threatens the viability of the plant and means it might lose important projects, bringing the future of the whole plant into question. 2,500 jobs were lost after the slowdown in aviation following 9/11 in 2001.

Once lost, the jobs are gone forever: rather than reskilling for other jobs, the already skilled workers mainly migrated to where the work was across the world. So the loss of 369 jobs would be a permanent blow, and there have been rumours that another couple of hundred jobs could go.

GE workers are demanding that the UK government steps in to safeguard the plant and the jobs. At the rally, Kerry Owens, Unite union deputy convenor, showed the determination of workers to save all the jobs. A total of 1,350 work at the plant, and all but 300 are on furlough.

He demanded that all the furloughed workers – including those whose jobs are threatened – be brought back into work for training and upskilling on the new low-fuel GE9X engine. Three days a week, he proposed, could be paid by the company and two days mainly by Westminster and the Welsh Government – with a contribution by local government.

None of the GE workers in Italy, Germany and France, Kerry told the crowd, are losing their jobs, because governments there have bowed to workers’ pressure and moved to implement similar schemes. He pledged the full support of GE workers to British Airways workers fighting job losses and attacks on wages and conditions.

Speaking on behalf of the National Shop Stewards Network, Socialist Party member Alec Thraves pointed out that there should be no bail-out for the bosses as there was with the banks. GE made $1 billion profit at the beginning of the year. If it says it cannot afford to keep all jobs at the plant, then the company should open the books to show where those profits went and, if necessary, the plant should be nationalised.

Aviation engines have been maintained at Nantgarw for 80 years, originally as part of British Airways, before being taken over by GE in 1991. If GE begins to run the plant down, then the government must step back in to save this important facility.

The plant should be brought back into public ownership along with BA (which is threatening 42,000 jobs), and the aviation industry should be democratically planned, with workers’ control and management.

In 1971, Rolls-Royce aircraft production was nationalised by the Tory government when the company was in trouble. Most of the industry has been nationalised at one time or another because of its strategic importance. With thousands of aviation jobs once again under threat, there must be a mass campaign by aviation unions to force the government to step in and renationalise the industry.