Beautiful flames shoot up from the metal barrel where the strikers burn the remains of an old piece of furniture. In mid-November, the cold of Lancashire, in the north-west of England, is starting to bite. On the sheet metal of the barrel, the workers cut out the letters summarizing the fear that binds their stomachs: “Save our site”.
They’ve been working here for eleven, twenty-two and thirty-one years here at the Rolls-Royce plant in Barnoldswick. Since November 6, for the first time in their lives, they have been on strike. The survival of this historic place of British industry is now on the line. “It is clear that the management wants to close the plant. We feel betrayed ”, explains John (all the employees cited have assumed names), hired directly out of college, twenty years ago.
The manufacture of aircraft engine blades, carried out here for seventy years, will be relocated to the Singapore plant, the group announced in August. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, global aviation is practically immobilized on the ground, and Rolls-Royce must “Adjust your size in the face of reduced demand”. “No one could have predicted the unprecedented situation we are in”, the management is justified. She promises that he “There is no plan to close the plant”.
More than just social conflict
The workers do not believe it. Two years ago, there were 1,200 employees working here. Before the health crisis, following a series of technical problems with an engine, the number had fallen to 740. When the pandemic broke out, 180 voluntary departures were organized. The relocation of blade manufacturing will cut 350 additional jobs. Even if some will be saved by retraining, there will only be an ethical workforce left after this radical treatment, with barely 200 people on site. “Look at this factory, annoys a worker, pointing to the vast site, with its series of buildings aligned. Keeping it running with so few employees would not make economic sense. “
The company alone accounts for 0.6% of UK gross domestic product and 2% of the country’s exports
The battle for the survival of the Barnoldswick factory is more than just a social conflict caused by globalization and the pandemic. It concerns one of the most symbolic industrial sites in the United Kingdom, whose origins date back to the Second World War. It also affects Rolls-Royce, “The last great British industrial company”, according to David Bailey, an industrial expert at the University of Birmingham.
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