Barnoldswick – no short cuts but collective action by organised workers and their community

Barnoldswick Rolls Royce victory
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As was recently stated on a United Left post strikes like the one at Rolls Royce Barnoldswick are not won on paper or ranting on Twitter. Wise words indeed and with this in mind a North West United Left comrade has decided to dig a little bit deeper into the successful outcome as we believe it is a bellwether for the future direction of Unite and what real leadership looks like.

The strike and the campaign to save manufacturing at Rolls Royce Barnoldswick was a collective effort involving the members, shop stewards and full-time officials. It had an industrial and political strategy which included the local community and worked with not only the Labour Party, its MPs, and its leadership, but also politicians of different political colours including government ministers.

Such was the confidence and the resolve of the members, coupled with a clear strategy to save jobs, maintain manufacturing, and bring in new technologies to secure the future of the factory, there was no need for empty Twitter threats or wordy confused documents that might look good on paper but when analysed deliver little.

It was not necessary to outsource the work, as the North West Regional Secretary was supporting the members and the regional officer, so that he could be on the picket line with those on strike every day through sunshine, rain, and snow. This was a “back to basics” union approach to a serious industrial problem.

These things matter as bringing in those with little understanding of the company or our members at such a crucial time can do more harm than good and are what, at the end of the day make the difference between a victory and a glorious defeat. The campaign also did not burn bridges or indulge in stage-managed stunts as these are the hallmarks of weakness and not strength.

Serious industrial relations are what our members expect, and this approach left the door open for Steve Turner, Unitef AGS for Manufacturing, whose knowledge and industrial relations (from shop stewards, to Employers’ Federations, politicians and CEOs) is second to none, to arrange ongoing meetings and dialogue with Warren East the Rolls Royce CEO. The outcome of this was the drafting of an agreement by Steve Turner  which the Rolls Royce shop stewards committee unanimously recommended, and members have voted to accept.

When we compare the victory at Rolls Royce Barnoldswick with some recent disputes, the differences and outcomes are obvious. There was no need to use futile gestures of holding up banners outside empty COVID-compliant office buildings of companies that sometimes use the business. Nor was there an attempt try to damage the long-term future of Rolls Royce as opposed to efforts at Heathrow to take away BA landing slots (much to the dismay of many of our members who still have jobs there).

Unite at Rolls Royce did not refuse to negotiate with the company but used the experience and solidarity of the members and the community, this joint effort was the key to winning. Unite should never be in the game of refusing offers of negotiations, no matter how odious an employer. 

This is not a theoretical game or some performance art to be posted on social media for followers who do not belong to Unite to comment on. These are real life disputes involving our members, their jobs, their families, and their community’s future. 

Our members at Rolls Royce expected their union to step up and do what trade unions are supposed to do, and under Steve Turner’s leadership that is what happened. 

Rolls Royce proves we are still more than capable of defending our member’s interests.