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Pushing for a Green New Deal at Rolls Royce

By Mika Minio-Paluello - Trades Union Congress, October 28, 2021

Union members and reps in aviation manufacturing are campaigning to retool their sites to produce zero-carbon technology.

Across three Rolls Royce sites, union reps have developed plans for green manufacturing that could future-proof jobs by providing a long-term future and security.

The reps described that the best way to get buy-in and members excited about a just transition was to:

  • include union members in discussions from the start
  • present a vision where the Green Industrial Revolution will be delivered by workers and communities, not by managers
  • place workers in the driving seat in coming up with ideas for new products.

Keeping the plants open

Union representatives in Rolls Royce across three UK sites, together with local environmental and community activists, have developed their own transition plans for sustainable and green manufacturing, and lifted threats of closure. Their plan covers three Rolls Royce sites, in Ansty (near Coventry), Barnoldswick (Lancashire), and Inchinnan (Renfrewshire), that currently produce turbine blades and other parts for jet engines.

In May 2020, in the middle of the shut-down of aviation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the three sites were targeted by the company for closure as part of a major restructuring plan that would have cut at least 9,000 jobs globally.

After protest and strike action by Unite and GMB members, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was finally negotiated for each site in February 2021. The company agreed to keep Barnoldswick open for at least 10 years, and Ansty and Inchinnan open for five years.

What’s more, the union agreement secured a commitment by Rolls Royce to open a ‘centre of excellence’ training school at the Barnoldswick site to support the development and manufacturing of zero-carbon technologies.

Kevin Wright, Inchinnan Unite convenor, described the agreements as a short-term solution to stop the site closures and temporarily save jobs: “The danger we've got is we've got five years left, there are small little bits and pieces of work coming in, but it's all legacy work.”

Creating sustainable jobs

In the autumn of 2020, while the agreements were being negotiated, Derek Texeira, Unite convenor at the Ansty site, began working with Zarah Sultana (MP for Coventry South and Coventry) for a Green New Deal that would keep jobs and secure a long-term future for the plants.

Texeira explained: “We got the team together the Green New Deal team, which was based on the Lucas plan. And then it grew arms and legs when I started talking to Kevin in Inchinnan and Mark in Barnoldswick.”

Together, the combine designed a series of workshops to explore diversification at the Ansty site toward alternative and sustainable production, inspired by the much-celebrated ‘Lucas Aerospace’ alternative plan for jobs developed by shop stewards in the 1970s.

Wright explained, “We built up a framework…what we designed is a series of three workshops where the workers themselves would come up with ideas and develop ideas for new products and commodities that we could start to manufacture.”

The combine’s workshops are designed to use workers’ skill and knowledge to develop alternative production plans.. In a trial run of the workshops with Coventry GND, Unite convenors discussed manufacturing wind turbine gearboxes at the Ansty site.

The combine presented their proposal of workshops to Rolls Royce management who “were pretty lukewarm” according to Texeira, taking issue with it being a worker-led initiative. Six months on, management are still yet to reply. Despite “hitting a brick wall”, the combine continues to push their just transition campaign inside the workplace, amongst politicians, and across the communities.

“We’ve got a lot of community support in all of our sites,” according to Texeira. “A lot of people didn't know what was going on, that’s the thing…We’ve had to reach out to various community groups. And that work will continue”.

This blog is part of our Just Transition series featuring union reps who are leading the climate transformation in their workplaces.

Researched and written for the TUC by the Global Labour Institute.

To begin the conversation about future-proofing your own workplace, take the TUC’s 15-minute online primer! Click here to begin.

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