A retained fire service station in Brough, East Yorkshire, which is responsible for the fire safety of 26,000 people, could close as part of the consequences of huge job losses at the local BAE Systems aerospace plant.
The station is staffed by BAE workers trained as retained fire fighters. The Fire Brigades Union is demanding talks with BAE management to discuss the station’s future.
BAE, which was at one point Brough’s largest employer, is axing 75% of its workforce as part of nationwide job losses of 3,000. The Brough site manufactures the Hawk Jet, which is largely used as a training aircraft by militaries worldwide. BAE is currently bidding for a £5 billion contract to build 500 new jets for the US military; it appears these many now be manufactured in North America.
BAE’s plan for Brough would leave just 400 workers in research and development at the site. The other 900, which includes people with 30 years of history in aircraft engineering as well as apprentices who had worked at the plant for just three weeks, can look forward to the dole queue.
The job losses demonstrate capitalism’s contempt for workers’ lives; the system sees us as expendable commodities. But the issue is more complex than straightforwardly “defending” the existing jobs and work at BAE. Capitalism’s contempt for life is also demonstrated by the purpose to which BAE workers’ skills are currently put — building weapons of war for capitalist states to kill other workers.
BAE Systems is one of the largest military contractors in the world and has large contracts with the UK, US, Australia Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. BAE’s equipment has helped to end the lives of Afghans, Iraqis and Bahraini protestors this year alone.
Sadly the responses of Unite and GMB, the unions organising BAE workers, have predictably reactionary and defensive. Rather than fighting for an urgently-required expansion of socially-useful work for BAE’s highly-skilled workforce, the unions have used the job losses to slam defence cuts and praise the UK’s “proud” military history.
The unions’ campaign plan consists of:
• Lobbying the Government to invest in new technology that could bring more work to Brough
• Calling on the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to sign a partnership agreement with BAE to build new aircraft
• Urging ministers to do more to persuade other countries to invest in the UK’s defence industry
The labour movement should not side with warmongering powers and neither should it be proud of the UK’s reputation for great innovation in military hardware, when that hardware is used to kill our fellow workers in other countries.
There is a precedent from the aerospace industry for workers developing their own plans to resist job losses and repurpose their factories. Workers at the Lucas Aerospace plant developed a radical workers’ plan to reorganise their workplaces to produce socially-useful products such as medical equipment and renewable energy resources rather than military hardware.
Their fight for jobs was turned into a broader fight for a world where workers’ skills are not used to make weapons to kill each other. Workers at other factories producing socially and environmentally destructive products followed their example, including workers at the Hawker-Siddeley plant in Brough (which later became part of BAE), who contacted the Lucas workers to discuss repurposing and diversification.
Our unions must build on the lessons of the Lucas Plan, and the other workers’ plans it inspired, to provide BAE workers with radical alternatives to both job losses and continuing to allow bosses to put their skills to use in the service of imperialist warfare.
• More on Lucas: bit.ly/oh1Cq6