Thousands took to the streets of Derby last Saturday to defend jobs at the Bombardier rail manufacturing firm.
There was deep anger against the Tory government, which has refused to give the £1.5 billion contract to build Thameslink rail carriages to the company.
This will mean that 1,400 workers at Bombardier will lose their jobs, and thousands more at firms across the area could go too.
Derby saw its biggest demonstration in generations. Up to 10,000 marched. The TSSA, RMT, Unite and GMB unions organised the protest.
Workers are determined to continue the fight to keep the factory open.
Bob Benjamin, a Bombardier worker, told Socialist Worker, “People are angry more than anything, but we also feel disappointed, frustrated, confused and are in disbelief.
“We are skilled tradespeople and the government should be keeping people in work.
“The future of Derby is at stake. My oldest son works at Bombardier, and I would like it still to be there if my youngest son wants to get a job there when he is older.”
Ken Shipley, who has worked at the plant for 36 years, added, “Everyone has to make a stand—it’s what it’s come to.”
Jay Marriott said, “The level of support we’ve had from the public is giving us a lot of hope. I’m still thinking that the decision could be overturned.
“Every generation of my family has worked at the plant since it opened. My wife had a baby three weeks ago so this is very worrying for us.”
Susie Gothridge, whose partner Karl Hawbrey has worked at the plant for 27 years, added, “The worry since this was announced is making me feel really bad.”
Workers and supporters from across the East Midlands joined the march.
“We’ve got a government that is prepared to see 1,400 jobs go at Bombardier and thousands more across Derby,” said David Keaton, a Unite member at the city’s Rolls Royce factory.
“It needs to change its decision.”
“I’m out of work at the moment as I injured myself working,” said Simon Barker, whose father works at Bombardier.
“It’s hypocritical of the government. It claims it wants to get people off the dole and then throws workers onto it.”
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, said at the final rally, “We have to get down to the Tory Party and Liberal Democrats’ conferences and ask them where they stand.
“We have to do the same to Labour Party people.
“We need a different society. There is enough work for people in every country. I don’t want to see Germans on the dole but we have a duty to protect people where we come from.”
The size of the march was a good sign of the mood for a fightback. But there are a number of issues with the campaign.
While the union leaders all targeted the Tory government, a number of them also used the divisive “British jobs for British workers” slogan.
The government has made the Siemens company in Germany the preferred bidder for the contract.
Gerry Doherty, general
secretary of the TSSA union, told a rally before the march, “Mr Cameron, we are all in this together—to take you on.
“We’re in the fight of our lives and this is just the start.”
But he ended his speech saying, “This is a British fight for British jobs.”
Tony Woodley, former joint general secretary of Unite, said at the final rally, “The government gave £90 billion to the bankers that ruined the economy.
“If they can do that, they can find the money for train manufacturing in Derby.”
But he also said that “we should be giving British jobs to British workers in Derby”.
The use of such a slogan opens the door to the idea that workers in other countries are to blame for job losses.
The unions should be training all their fire on the real enemies—the government and the free market system that lies behind the Bombardier decision, and the bosses.
This is a fight against the attacks that workers across Europe face—and those in other countries back Bombardier workers here.
Bob Benjamin said, “Some of us played an international football tournament in France just after the decision was announced. Bombardier workers from across Europe told us how shocked they were and how they supported us.”
Des joined the march to show “solidarity with the fight to save jobs”. He said, “We have to fight for jobs.”
The march was made up mainly of workers and their supporters, but local Tory MPs and councillors, Liberal Democrats and the Bombardier management team also joined it.
Bombardier chairman Colin Walton and Phillip Hickson, the Tory council leader, both spoke at the final rally.
Maintaining this unity of bosses and workers is a dead end for the campaign. Everyone spoke of the need to keep up the fight—but no one at the rally raised any concrete ideas for it.
It seems that some are looking to a legal challenge or public pressure to force the Tories to change their decision.
Workers at the factory will need to take action themselves to force the issue and save their jobs—including more protests, strikes and sit-ins.
Bombardier is a profitable firm that could afford to keep the workers on rather than sack them. Pressure should be put on the government to nationalise it to save jobs. If the banks can be saved, then why not manufacturing jobs?
Bob Benjamin said, “People have started to realise what Thatcherism has meant and they’re making a stand.
“The public is fed up. I think we all need to march on parliament next.”