The US International Trade Commission will decide on 1st February whether to uphold 300% tariffs on Bombardier’s innovative C-Series jet as a result of complaints made by Boeing. If upheld, this effectively blocks sales and leasing of the C-Series within the US, which represents 50% of the market, and puts in jeopardy the entire programme. Without the C-Series programme, the future of Bombardier in Northern Ireland is very much at risk.
Currently, 30% of the remaining 4,000-strong Bombardier workforce in Northern Ireland are engaged on C-Series work. This was anticipated to quickly rise to 60%. The loss of these jobs would have a hugely adverse effect on the NI economy. Bombardier accounts for 10% of the economy and represents 38% of manufacturing GDP. But, most importantly, it would be a hammer blow to the thousands of direct Bombardier workers and also to the 20,000 more across the North and Britain who work in its supply chain. Added to this and despite Boeing exploiting the US administration’s ‘America First’ policy, there are also currently 23,000 workers in the US engaged on C-Series work.
It’s hard to go to a local shop or takeaway in Belfast and surrounding areas without seeing the red Unite posters which workers have been posting to build support for the union demand to ‘defend jobs & skills’. There is a developed understanding that if these jobs go – on the back of other major losses at Michelin, JTI Gallagher and many others – they will not be replaced with similarly paid, skilled jobs or the opportunity for apprenticeships.
Gallingly, while workers and their unions are fighting to save jobs, Bombardier are continuing to implement their earlier cost savings which have seen a further 300 workers in Northern Ireland facing redundancy. Companies like Bombardier and Boeing will always do what’s best for them.
Political parties here and in the UK have been exposed as incapable of managing their own chaotic system. All the parties and the UK government are under pressure to avoid job losses of this magnitude but, not surprisingly, May & Co are impotent to act as they are heavily indebted and bound to Boeing for long-term defence contracts and are desperate to secure favourable trading terms with the US.
The skills, techniques and graft of workers, here and internationally, are what has made the C-Series possible. In the face of political ineptitude and corporate greed, the battle to defend jobs and skills must now broaden its scope to raise the need for nationalisation with workers’ control of sectors such as aerospace. If private industry means constant threats to workers’ livelihoods and endless exploitation, most sharply seen in supply chain, it’s essential that our trade union movement advances arguments and fights for a solution that can actually provide jobs and a secure future to working class people.