Rolls Royce: Lancashire workers’ strike shows the way to fight aerospace cuts and job losses

photo USAF/Rick-Goodfriend/CC

photo USAF/Rick-Goodfriend/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)


Dave Beale, chair, Unite Lancs Community Branch (personal capacity)

Rolls-Royce workers in Barnoldswick, Lancashire, launched strike action on 6 November to save jobs and stop their factory’s closure. The workers’ union Unite secured a sensational ballot result of 94% for industrial action and has rock-solid local community support.

However, Rolls-Royce is a hard-nosed employer. It plans 350 compulsory redundancies at the plant, and the transfer of Trent jet engine blade production to Singapore, while simultaneously seeking £1 billion of Tory government support. This is part of a bigger Rolls-Royce plan for UK and global job losses, with half of its workforce being in the civil aviation sector.

Unite has demanded Rolls-Royce cancel its plans to move production offshore, or introduce similar work on comparable employment levels. The union thinks failure to do so will make the plant unviable and lead to full closure. The factory dominates the small town and implementation of Rolls-Royce’s plans would be a disaster for the local community and this region of Lancashire. Thousands of jobs are also believed to be at threat in the factory’s supply chain.

Unite regional officer, Ross Quinn, said: “Unite has given Rolls-Royce every opportunity to change its plans, confirm there will be no more compulsory redundancies and guarantee the long-term future of Barnoldswick, but it has refused to do so. To offshore work and destroy the viability of this historic factory would be nothing short of industrial vandalism.” The Barnoldswick plant is the birthplace of jet engine production and has a highly skilled workforce which is very proud of its history.

A victory for the union here would be a major boost for other workers fighting job losses especially with the vast economic crisis we now face. Almost certainly, other employers will be watching this dispute closely too, aware of the wider implications for the tough battles ahead.

It could be a protracted dispute but the union has the potential to win. The mood, money and solidarity are there for escalation of the action and imposing a defeat on the employer. Even a factory occupation is possible.

At the same time, the global economic crisis in civil aviation is not going to go away. Ultimately, nationalisation of Rolls-Royce is the only real path to provide full job protection and an alternative plan of production, if necessary, using the high level of skills of the Barnoldswick workforce.


Ian Hunter, Derby Socialist Party

As the BBC headline on 5 November stated, the “cull continues” at Rolls-Royce. The company has announced its intention to create a further 1,400 redundancies in its civil aerospace division which makes and maintains aero engines. Of this 1,400, 950 will be in the UK, and is part of the continuing programme to cut 9,000 jobs from Rolls-Royce’s 52,000 global workforce.

Derby is Rolls-Royce’s main aerospace plant and will again bear the brunt of the redundancies. This will mean that Derby’s aerospace workforce has been halved over the last three years. 2018 saw 3,000 job losses, May 2020 1,500 redundancies, and now (November) the bulk of the proposed 950 job cuts. This is a further shattering blow to the local economy and to the futures of many younger workers.

In May of this year Rolls-Royce said it would take action to “increase our liquidity, dramatically reduce our spending in 2020”, and that “we will need to take further action.”

Rolls-Royce’s aerospace division is financially in dire straits, and currently shoring up its finances through bond sales, share issues, and capital loans. The company is appealing to the government for financial support but currently appears to be more interested in ‘financial engineering’ than production engineering, in their desire to prop up and support share value, dividend returns, and executive pay and bonuses.

Despite declaring earlier in the year to ‘fight for every job’, Unite locally has repeatedly failed to take a fighting stance, preferring instead to attempt to continue talks and press for government aid.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce has continued to steamroller through their resizing of the workforce and axing jobs. A notable fighting exception recently is the strike action by the workers at the Barnoldswick plant in Lancashire.

Socialist Party members will continue to campaign for no job cuts, nationalisation of the aerospace, division with democratic workers’ control, and the development of an alternative production plan for sustainable employment engaged in the production of socially and environmentally useful products and services, utilising the skills and experience of the workforce.