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Bombardier jobs massacre – unions must resist!

Over 1,400 jobs are being cut at train manufacturer Bombardier, but Unite is failing to organise resistance, writes M J Cook

Bombardier trains has announced it will cut over 1400 jobs at its plant in Derby, following a decision by the Department for Transport to offer a Thameslink contract, worth around £1.4 billion, to German manufacturer Siemens.

The effects of these job cuts will be felt throughout the city, as over 12,000 jobs are said to be linked to the rail supply chain. Derby City Council has predicted losses of between £150-£200 million to the local economy as a result of the announcement made on Tuesday.

Bombardier plans to cut 446 permanent contracts, as well as 983 temporary contracts, resulting in a total of 1429 redundancies in the 3,000-strong plant. Much has been made of these job cuts, as Bombardier is the last remaining passenger train manufacturer in the UK, and the ConDem government is being blamed for the redundancies due to the fact that it chose not to give the Thameslink contract to a British company. In response, Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond said that the Government had no choice in the matter, as EU procurement regulations state that they must award the contract to the bid which represented the best value for money.

Kevin Owen, a welder at the Derby plant said that the Government has “gone for the bottom line, not for the bigger picture- what this could mean for the whole country and the industry.”
Fortunately, Unite, which organizes the workers at Bombardier has pledged to “fight night and day” to protect jobs at the plant. Unfortunately, that’s about all they’ve done. The union, which is the largest in Britain, has put up almost no resistance to the planned job losses, with general secretary Len McCluskey stating that they “will be working tirelessly to maximise voluntary redundancies and natural wastage”. Unite’s bite has been as pitiful as its bark; the union has decided to start an online campaign to “keep British rail manufacturing on track”, demanding the ConDems reverse their decision and award the contract to Bombardier.

The RMT has stepped in and organised a demonstration on Saturday 23rd of July to oppose the job losses. Bob Crowe called the Government’s decision “an act of political vandalism”.

There are a few issues which have largely been glossed over by the media, the DfT and the unions, however. For a start, prior to the decision to give Siemens the Thameslink contract, Bombardier had already warned the Government that they would be cutting 1,200 jobs regardless of whether it got the contract or not.

What’s more, Francis Paonessa, president of the passengers’ division of Bombardier, stated that the Derby plant had seen record levels of production over the past year. To add insult to injury, in the last calendar year (January 2010-January 2011) Bombardier made a profit of $4,352 million USD globally, an increase on the year before.

Once again, by cutting through the rhetoric of “British skills and British manufacturing”, which has raised its ugly head again in Unite, and the typical Brussels-bashing of the Government, we can see the heart of the matter. Workers are being made to pay so that their bosses can keep their profit margins in the heart of an economic crisis which they didn’t cause. After all, Kevin Owens and his co-workers didn’t write the EU procurement law, nor are they responsible for Bombardier’s contracts drying up because of the economic crisis.

This is what Unite should be saying, instead of rolling over and making feeble statements about natural wastage and voluntary redundancies. It should be calling for an occupation and solidarity strikes; it should refuse to accept a single job loss because that is what its members pay their subs for. If Bombardier refuses to keep its employees under contract, then the company’s assets should be nationalised under the direct control of the people who actually work in the plant. There are plenty of things that we need to build, and replacing old train stock is one of them – since the bosses can’t run the company then the workers should!

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