Saving the Future of Barnoldswick

After striking twice in twelve months, workers at Barnoldswick's Rolls Royce factory have secured their jobs until 2025 – a significant victory, won through the power of collective action.

Rolls-Royce Barnoldswick workers have been out on strike twice in the past year. Credit: Unite the union

Exactly one year ago, I was standing on the Rolls-Royce picket line in Barnoldswick with our Unite convenor Mark Porter and a group of members we had specifically selected for targeted strike action. The company had recently announced that it was transferring fan-blade production to Singapore and the future of the site was in serious doubt.

The company was planning to reduce the site to a technical centre and make hundreds of redundancies, but Unite members, led by their Union reps, had made it clear that they would do whatever it took to fight for a future for the site.

Credit: Unite

The factory in Barnoldswick is physically part of the town. It is situated at the end of a row of stone-built terrace houses that sweep round to form the security office for the site. It is also the fabric of the community, who are proud of the fact that the site was opened to develop jet engines that helped to defeat Nazi Germany.

The solidarity from the local community was a special part of the campaign. Everyone seems to know someone who has worked on the site, and I will never forget the day an elderly man stopped to tell us that he had stood on strike on the same spot as us over forty years earlier fighting for jobs, and that whatever we did, we had to continue to fight.

The dispute ended in January 2021 following a campaign that included three months of targeted strike action, car rallies, virtual picket lines with Labour MPs in lockdown, and linking up with other striking workers across the UK. An agreement was reached guaranteeing a manufacturing future and opportunities for a just transition to green technologies.

Just months later, workers raised concerns that the company would renege on the deal. Meetings were arranged locally and nationally to secure tangible commitments, but these meetings only led to more concerns and a new dispute. Written on the whiteboard of the site Union office was the phrase ‘We have not come this far just to come this far,’ and on 19 July, workers from the maintenance department walked out on strike for the second time in twelve months.

Credit: Unite

The solidarity from the local community and trade union movement was quickly rebuilt. Rolls-Royce convenors from across the UK, the Chair of Unite, and assistant GS Steve Turner all visited striking workers on the picket line.

A key part of both strikes has been a strategy that was formed years earlier when the national convenors set up the Rolls-Royce strike fund. Every member pays an extra 25p per week so the fund can generously support workers on strike. The other part of the strategy is to find choke points and target small groups of workers to have minimum impact on the fund but maximum impact on the employer, who is left paying people in work that cannot produce.

This small group of workers were on strike for three weeks, and over this period the Union spread the ballot across both bargaining units on site, but before any further notice was given, there was a breakthrough in negotiations when the company committed to bringing in new work to the site. Since August there have been countless negotiations to hammer out a deal, and it is a credit to everyone who has taken part in those negotiations that an amendment to the original agreement has been accepted via a ballot of all Unite members on site.

The amendment will see the two years no compulsory redundancy agreement extended to five years and a ten-year commitment to viable manufacturing and the retention of buildings on-site. Workers have agreed to a labour cost reduction to support the in-load of new work with insurance of a company furlough scheme to assist the transition.

There are currently around 450 workers on-site. One member told me in a mass meeting that he just can’t believe how good the deal is; another, while shaking my hand, said, ‘I can’t believe we are finally here.’

Credit: Unite

This time last year workers in Barnoldswick didn’t know if they would still have a job at Christmas. There is an endless list of workers who have been in that position, but very few have the imagination, organisation, and resilience that the Unite members at Rolls-Royce Barnoldswick have shown.

I spent almost four months on the picket line across both disputes. One rep has been on strike every one of those days. He told me that he was walking his dog last year and got talking to another dog walker who called him an idiot for going on strike to save jobs as he would only be out of work sooner.

We now know as a minimum that workers in Barnoldswick will still have a job at Christmas 2025. The reps across both bargaining units see this deal as new foundations for the site—they have worked tirelessly to build these foundations, and the aim is now to build a just transition to a new long-term future for the site.