Workers at Bombardier faced a major challenge in 2017/18, following the threat by the US Trade Department to impose up to 300% tariffs on the new C-Series Jet. If upheld, this had the potential to close Bombardier in Belfast with the loss of 4,000 direct jobs and thousands more in the supply chain. The tariffs were raised following a complaint by rival company Boeing, who accused Bombardier of underpricing and the Canadian and British governments of anti-competitive measures.
On 26 January, the US ‘International Trade Commission’ ruled that there had been no injury to Boeing, and workers breathed a sigh of relief, albeit a brief one. The following Monday, Bombardier issued redundancy notices to a section of the workforce.
Boeing’s challenge was robustly supported by the Trump administration and fit neatly into its ‘America First’ policy. The British government is the fourth largest customer of Boeing and is hugely dependent on it for its privatised defence sector. Demands from workers for action and support for Bombardier jobs were met with horror by Theresa May who couldn’t and wouldn’t challenge either Trump or Boeing.
The decisive role was ultimately played by workers, shop stewards and Unite the Union, who together ran a local and international political and community campaign to highlight what was at stake. A key turning point was the mobilisation of thousands of Bombardier workers at gate meetings at all of the sites. These actions showed, not just to politicians and Bombardier bosses but to the workforce itself, the potential which lies in the workers’ hands when they act collectively.
The ongoing threat of outsourcing of work at Bombardier and the current redundancies, linked to outsourcing, are a huge challenge to the workforce. However, having led the battle to save jobs and skills, Bombardier workers have shown what they are capable of when united and mobilised and are now in a stronger position to deal with future threats, whether political or from the company.
By Susan Fitzgerald,
Unite Regional Industrial Officer (personal capacity)