Workers will rally in Derby on 23 July to protest the loss of 1,400 jobs at the Bombardier train manufacturing plant.
The losses come as a result of the government’s decision on 16 June to award the £1.5 billion contract for new carriages for the Thameslink rail line to German manufacturer Siemens.
After the rejection of their rival bid, Canadian-owned Bombardier announced on 5 July that it would cut 1,400 jobs (446 permanent and 983 temporary) from the current workforce of 3,000 at its Derby site, where rail rolling stock has been built under various ownerships for 171 years.
The Government claims that the Siemens contract will create 600 rail-manufacturing jobs in the UK, when part of the contract work is done at the Siemens factory in Hebburn, Tyne and Wear; but that is unclear and the 1,400 job cut is definite.
The cuts explode the Tories’ story that job losses and attacks on pay and conditions in the public sector will be compensated for by an expansion of private sector jobs.
Bombardier Derby currently manufactures train carriages for London Underground, London Midland, and Stansted Express, but all three contracts are due to finish in December 2011. Bombardier claims that it would have cut up to 1,000 jobs whether or not it won the Thameslink contract.
According to rail expert Christian Wolmar, complete closure of the Derby works “after the current order for London Underground trains is fulfilled in 2014, seems inevitable”.
The rail union RMT, which represents some workers at Bombardier Derby, says that the knock-on effect of the closure could be the further loss of 13,000 jobs in Bombardier’s supply chain and in other businesses.
This is not because the skills and the equipment in Derby are useless, could not be adapted to other production, or even are not needed for rail rolling-stock production.
Wolmar notes: “Train travel is booming and there is an obvious lack of rolling stock. With a bit of will, extra carriages could be ordered to lengthen existing trains and give hope to Bombardier that it should hold on with the prospect of getting the large Crossrail order” [after 2015, when Crossrail, the new rail line across London, is completed].
Unions should demand that Bombardier Derby is nationalised, under the control of the people who work there.
There is a precedent for even Tory governments nationalising big companies to prevent economic devastation. In 1971, Edward Heath nationalised aerospace engineers and car manufacturer Rolls-Royce (also Derby-based). However, nationalisation in-and-of-itself is not enough.
Nationalisation on the model of the Northern Rock nationalisation in 2007, when the failing bank was taken into state control, downsized (resulting in significant job losses), streamlined, made fit for profitability and handed back to the private sector, is not the answer. Unions should fight for democratic public ownership, and for Bombardier to be run directly by elected committees of workers who can manage the company on the basis of social need.
Much of the rhetoric against the government’s decision, including from the unions, has shaded into “British jobs for British workers” territory.
The main unions involved, RMT and Unite, are demanding that the government withdraw the contract from Siemens and award it to Bombardier.
But demanding that German workers (and maybe some British Siemens workers too) lose jobs so Derby workers can have them is a nationalist, not a socialist, solution to the problem.
If the starting point is human and ecological need, rather than profit, it is clear that there are more than enough trains that need making to provide work for both Siemens and Bombardier workers. And, if not trains, then other items that the plant’s productive capacity could be easily converted to make. The Thameslink contract does not represent all the work that could be, and indeed needs to be, done by a plant like Bombardier Derby.
A fight to save jobs at Bombardier should be part of a class fightback to impose a working-class programme to combat austerity across the whole of society. The entire labour movement should throw its weight behind the Bombardier Derby jobs fight and support Bombardier workers in taking whatever action necessary to save their jobs — demonstrations, strikes, occupations and beyond.
They should begin by making the 23 July demonstration a priority for national mobilisation.