Arms industry behemoth British Aerospace Engineering (BAE) has announced plans to axe 7.5% of its UK workforce with 3,000 job losses slated, mainly from sites in the north of England.
The BAE factory at Brough, near Hull, will lose 900 workers from a workforce of just 1,300.
Responses from politicians and union officials alike have been mainly characterised by sympathetic but insubstantial grumbling and calls to “mitigate the impact” of cuts. Labour’s Shadow defence minister Jim Murphy MP has described the cuts as a “body blow”. His comment comes soon after a speech at Labour Party conference in which he attacked the government over its cuts to the defence budget.
A socialist campaign against the job cuts cannot limit itself to a defence of the status quo or, like much of Unite’s material, descend into quasi-jingoistic paeans to “British manufacturing”. The 3,000 BAE workers set to lose their jobs must be kept in work, but is producing machinery for capitalist governments to kill other workers with really the best use to which their skills could be put? Demands to increase defence spending, to order more military hardware from companies like BAE, are a short-sighted and dangerous response. The labour movement should demand that military budgets are reduced even further, and that workers currently employed in the defence industry should be retrained, and their factories repurposed, to produce desperately-needed products such as rolling stock for railways or renewable energy resources. BAE workers should link up with workers at companies like train manufacturer Bombardier to demand a massive expansion of socially and environmentally sustainable jobs.
There is a precedent for this kind of action; in 1976, workers at the giant Lucas Aerospace plant responded to a management job cuts plans with their own workers’ plan to convert the plants’ productive capacities to make medical equipment, hybrid cars and integrated road-rail vehicles. Within a framework where profit comes first, no job can remain safe forever.
BAE workers need a plan that puts the needs of our class and our planet ahead of the needs of bosses’ profit margins.