On the Picket Line

Rolls-Royce jet engine workers strike to stop job cuts

By Hugo Wils
and Pete Clifford
November 30, 2020

BARNOLDSWICK, England — After being furloughed, prescribed a 10% wage cut and now facing 350 job losses, workers at jet engine maker Rolls-Royce here have had enough. Ninety-four percent voted for a strike called by their union, Unite, to oppose the job cuts.

Up to a dozen workers joined two picket lines Nov. 6, the first day of the action.

The union’s fight takes place as workers across the country face mounting job losses and the impact of the government’s new lockdown. The extension of a furlough scheme, which provided government funds to bosses to cover 80% of furloughed workers’ wages, has masked some of the effects of this crisis.

Bosses at Rolls-Royce aim to cut 9,000 jobs out of a workforce of 52,000 worldwide. In August they announced the Barnoldswick site will cease making wide-chord fan blades for jet engines by the fall of 2023.

“They are saying 350 jobs are to go,” union convener Mark Porter told the Militant. “We’re not sure about the long-term viability for the rest.” Bosses “made the announcement under the cover of the coronavirus pandemic, expecting us not to take action,” he added.

The strike, initially called for three weeks, is now extended until Christmas Eve.

“Eighty-one workers are initially on strike, then a further 11, with more joining the strike as days go by,” said Porter. “It’s already having an impact on production.”

Many of those on strike are not hit by the immediate job cuts, but join the action nevertheless, recognizing that an injury to one is an injury to all.

Union banners opposing the job cuts are displayed throughout this town of 11,000, and motorists frequently honk in support of the strike as they pass pickets.

The impact of the job cuts “on the town is immense,” Porter said, “from how it will affect several manufacturers that supply this plant to local shops and businesses.”

Messages of support can be emailed to ross.quinn@unitetheunion.org; or sent to Mark Porter, Unite Union Office, Rolls-Royce, Skipton Road, Barnoldswick, BB18 5RV, England.