A significant victory in the fight for manufacturing jobs has been secured at the Bombardier rail works at Derby. The Canadian-owned firm has defeated Japanese (Hitachi) and Spanish (CAF) bidders to win a £1 billion contract for 65 new Crossrail trains. This now raises the expectation of up to 1,000 directly related British jobs in the area, with many more on the supply side, as well as engineering apprenticeships.
National and local union campaigns and, most importantly, the determined fight put up by the people of Derby to save their 175-year railway heritage after the Department of Transport shamefully allowed the Thameslink contract to go to Siemens of Germany in 2011, has shown what workers can achieve when there is a clear unifying objective. This news follows the decision of Transport for London to buy the new trains directly using public money, rejecting the alternative of putting themselves in hock to expensive train leasing companies owned by banks.
After the Siemens debacle Bombardier managed to retain around 1,500 jobs at Derby, but as many jobs were lost too. The subsequent contracts with Southern Rail and Transport for London were a fraction of what was needed. There should never have been a competition putting British jobs at risk to satisfy the quest for the lowest wages.
The government has never satisfactorily explained why it was so willing to boost German rather than British manufacturing. This would have meant admitting how servile it is to EU procurement rules and German shareholders. As well as jobs, £140 million was lost to Britain because the Siemens bid was made and accepted in euros, and its value sank as the euro declined relative to the pound.
An engineering and technology hub ever since the first passenger train ran from Derby to Birmingham in 1839, Derby still has the largest cluster of rail-related businesses and expertise in the world. Bombardier still provides rolling stock for London Underground. Yet the Derby workers will need to do more than simply celebrate their history if they are to survive. With the Crossrail contract Bombardier may have won a stay of execution, but it is still only one plant, and a foreign-owned firm at that, under attack from its competitors and from governments, both Canadian and British, which put finance capital above manufacturing.
As recently as 3 January 2014 the firm lost its £350 million contract with London Underground to provide new signalling. For two years it has employed 100 engineers in London doing surveys and setting up a control centre, but it has failed to come up with a signalling system compatible with the existing one.
For a secure future, the Crossrail contract needs to be viewed by trade unions as a fresh start. If they are serious about members’ jobs they need to call for the rebuilding of British locomotive engineering in the hands of British firms. ■