Striking Rolls-Royce workers at the company’s Barnoldswick plant face a lock-out, after bosses closed the site from 27 November. Strikes against plans to cut 350 jobs at the factory were scheduled through to 23-24 December. Rolls-Royce has said it will immediately transfer work currently being undertaken at the site to Japan, Singapore, and Spain.
Unite officer Ross Quinn said: “We have consistently called on Rolls-Royce to work with us to find the resolution that the members who have given their working lives to Rolls-Royce deserve.
“However the company has shown absolutely no appetite to resolve the dispute. The decision to lock workers out of Barnoldswick before Christmas and to immediately offshore work at the factory demonstrates that Rolls-Royce has no intention of negotiating or consulting its loyal workers on its plans.
“Workers at Barnoldswick, who take huge pride in their work, began targeted industrial action as a last resort in order to ensure the future of the historic factory.”
Rolls-Royce workers are now faced with the task of finding a way to raise the stakes in the dispute and increase the pressure on the employer. One potential tactic is a factory occupation to prevent Rolls-Royce from removing any unfinished engines, parts, or equipment from the plant, as part of its offshoring of work.
Factory occupations are rare in recent labour movement history in Britain, but not entirely unheard of. In 2009, Unite members at the Visteon factory, which supplied parts for Ford, occupied against cuts to their pensions. The same year, wind turbine factory workers at Vestas on the Isle of Wight occupied to resist closure.
More recently, Debenhams workers in Ireland occupied their workplace in September 2020 in a dispute against job losses.
Workplace occupations, or “sit-down strikes”, are a qualitatively higher form of workers’ struggle than simply walking off the job. As Leon Trotsky put it: “Sit-down strikes […] go beyond the limits of ‘normal’ capitalist procedure. Independently of the demands of the strikers, the temporary seizure of factories deals a blow to the idol, capitalist property. Every sit-down strike poses in a practical manner the question of who is the boss of the factory: the capitalist or the worker?”
In our movement, with little recent culture of taking this kind of action — which would inevitably bring workers and their unions into conflict with the police, as well as the bosses — a factory occupation seems a huge leap. It may be that an occupation is not a realistic prospect in the Barnoldswick dispute for now. But, ultimately, it is only by rediscovering these tactics that we can hope to resist the wave of job cuts now facing.
Another option for Rolls-Royce workers is to spread the Barnoldswick strike to other Rolls-Royce plants. 9,000 jobs are due to be cut across Rolls-Royce’s UK operations, and an expanded strike campaign that demanded the retention of all jobs at all sites could add pressure to Rolls-Royce even if it locked out workers at individual workplaces.