Report: TUC Congress 2011; Bombardier – How Government is Failing the ‘March of the Makers’

Posted on September 14, 2011

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12.45pm: Rooms 11-12, Radisson Lenisworth Hotel, Great Russell St., WC1 London

Speakers: Diana Holland from Unite; RMT-member and Vice-Chair of the Works Committee, Darren Barber; General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), Bob Crow; Unite-member and Secretary of the Works Committee; all chaired by Industrial Editor of The Guardian, Dan Milmo.

Half-way through today’s talk, Tony Barrable, TSSA Regional Organiser for the Midlands, gave the assembled audience a brief history lesson. It went further back than June this year, when the government chose German behemoth Siemens over Bombardier for its £1.4 billion Thameslink deal, thereby condemning the UK’s last train manufacturing factory to a less than certain future.

It went further than March 7, when the Con-Dem Cabinet met in Derby “to show that we’ve got an economy which is going to manufacture things again in Britain and it’s going to grow in all parts of the country, including the East Midlands”.

It even went further than Tory cuts and belt-tightening. Because history was repeating itself in a very obvious way, and to see it, Barrable had to go back a couple of decades more.

Barely able to hide the venom in his voice, Barrable began his speech. “I remember because I was made redundant under the Thatcher regime” he spat. “This is where it winds back to; when the demise of the railways and the manufacturing in this country was started. All that’s happening now is Cameron is finishing that job off.”

This was the anger and steely spirit that typified today’s TUC Fringe event – “March of the Makers”. The Guardian’s Industrial Editor, Dan Milmo, directed discussion well with the facts and figures, news and rumours. But it was the trade unionists at the table who expressed an outrage, bitterness and determination more than 3o years young.

Jo Woods has worked at the Derby works for 45 years. He reminded the audience of the harder facts to swallow. Like the case of Michael Queen, a managing partner in the 3i Group, who formed part of the successful Siemens consortium. Mr Queen was also one of the Prime Minister’s chief business and economics advisers at the time the contract went through.

Siemens also has a naughty corporate record. In January 2007 the European Commission fined Siemens €396 million for price fixing, the largest fee out of 11 other companies involved, including Fuji, Hitachi Japan, AE Power Systems, Mitsubishi Electric Corp and Toshiba. According to the Commission, “between 1988 and 2004, the companies rigged bids for procurement contracts, fixed prices, allocated projects to each other, shared markets and exchanged commercially important and confidential information”. Siemens was fined most for its alleged ringleader role in the scandal.

It was RMT Secretary, Bob Crow, who presented the real vanguard of traditional leftist unionism today. “I’ve got more in common with a Chinese labourer than I have with a City of London stockbroker”, he said. Crow warned that the real losers in the Bombardier deal were not the company; they were the families, the children, being left behind in Derby as a result. “How do you cost social deprivation?” he asked. “How do you cost kids that are going to have no hope? That’s the real cost of this at the end of the day.”

The Conservatives will be dead in the water in Derby, and probably the East Midlands, at the next general election. David Cameron’s insistence not to meet a local delegation last month will definitely do the trick, if all the original Siemens jazz hadn’t.

Others warned that the ramifications of June’s decision would go far beyond Derby. Diana Holland, Assistant General Secretary from Unite, called for the struggle to be taken forward based on the wider affects the Siemens deal would have on Bombardier’s supply chain. “We have companies across this country, over 800, and the qualitative research we’ve done, talking company-by-company to those who are part of this supply chain, has said they believe the awarding of this contract is detrimental to their business.”

Business will suffer, but so too will jobs. “Already up to half of them, now and within the next year, are saying they will have to be laying people off – or, they’ve already done so”, she said. “There are some companies saying they’re closing altogether.” The Siemens contract will cost Bombardier 1,400 jobs in Derby. Some fear the works will close completely, costing another 1,600 jobs. On top of this, another 3,000 may go from the supply chain. Siemens claimed the Thameslink deal would create 2,000 jobs in the supply chain.

Some murmurs of smaller contracts going to Derby were refuted by today’s panel. The Guardian’s Milmo suggested they might keep manufacturing “ticking over” in the city. But this would only maintain engineering work. It won’t save the 1400-plus jobs already at risk.

Support is now spreading much further than the East Midlands too. Darren Barber, RMT-member and Derby worker, celebrated July’s 10,000-strong march in Derby. Now a conglomerate of workers, MPs, politicians, councillors, trade unionists, campaigners and journalists have come together to protect Bombardier and its workforce. Today the TUC Congress voted on an emergency motion to support the workers at Bombardier. “It’s going wider than Derby now”, Barber said. “It’s national.”

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