Tireless union campaigning has paid off, as Unite and its Bombardier members celebrated a massive victory at the weekend after US trade authorities ruled against crippling tariffs on imports of the company’s C-Series jet that would have risked thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland.
The US International Trade Commission rejected Bombardier rival Boeing’s complaint on Friday (January 26), which claimed that Bombardier had benefited from illegal subsidies from the Canadian and UK governments.
The final ruling follows previous decisions late last year by the US Department of Commerce to slap nearly 300 per cent tariffs on imports of the C-Series, whose wings are manufactured in Northern Ireland. Production of the wings directly employs about 1,000 workers and a further 3,500 are employed by Bombardier in Northern Ireland.
Despite the initial rulings, Unite members and reps piled on the pressure on politicians here in the UK, in Brussels and across the pond and pressed their case that Boeing’s complaint was baseless and amounted to corporate bullying.
Blow to Trump
The USITC’s final decision was to rule whether or not Boeing had been harmed by Bombardier’s sale of its C-Series to American airliner Delta.
In what many considered a surprise decision, the independent government trade body unanimously voted 4 to 0 that Boeing had not been harmed and so overturned the tariffs.
The USITC agreed with Bombardier’s argument that the C-Series never posed a threat to Boeing because the US aerospace company does not produce planes similar to Bombardier’s C-Series – it never put in a bid for the Delta order to begin with.
The decision is seen as a blow to the Trump administration’s nationalistic ‘America First’ rhetoric – in a statement Bombardier called it “a victory for innovation, competition, and the rule of law.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner hailed Friday’s decision and congratulated Unite members for never giving up.
“Bombardier workers in Northern Ireland and throughout the supply chain in UK will be breathing a huge sigh of relief that the International Trade Commission has seen through Boeing’s baseless complaint,” he said.
“It is a right and just decision which is in no small part down to the tireless campaign by Unite members and shop stewards.
“Unite left no stone unturned in our campaign to protect jobs in Bombardier and the supply chain across the UK,” Turner added. “When the going got tough Unite did not throw the towel in, our members and shop stewards redoubled their efforts in bringing pressure to bear on politicians in Washington, Westminster, Brussels and Northern Ireland.
“The C-Series is a world beating aircraft made by world class workers. There can be no backsliding from the US government on this decision.”
Turner went to say that Unite looks forward to continuing work with Bombardier to secure future sales and investment to ensure a “a bright future for Northern Ireland workers and the thousands across the UK in the supply chain.”
No gov’t support
Unite regional officer Susan Fitzgerald agreed – and highlighted the remarkable victory won by workers even in the absence of support from the UK government.
The decision, she said, “shows the power of our union and of a mobilised workforce.
“When the story is told of this dispute it will be one of how, in the absence of a genuine effort by politicians and the UK government, workers themselves had to take the fight on,” she noted.
Unite has long criticised the UK government for standing on the side lines as the trade dispute unravelled.
Whereas Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau took decisive action and cancelled a multi-billion dollar order of F-18 fighter jets from Boeing – vowing to not work “with a company that is trying to sue us, eliminate tens of thousands of jobs and put our companies out of business” – UK prime minister Theresa May reportedly only made two phone calls to US President Donald Trump.
Fitzgerald said instead that it was the workers who stepped up to the plate as the UK government stood by.
“It was workers who walked the halls of Westminster seeking politicians support, or speaking before parliamentary scrutiny committees raising their awareness,” she said. “It was workers who relentlessly travelled to Brussels, Montreal and Washington to make the case, workers who took the campaign to every council in Northern Ireland and who mobilised in their thousands.”
Unite shop steward Gaye Partridge said Friday’s news of the ruling was “amazing” and that the workforce was “elated.”
“Up until the final decision there was really a feeling that we might lose,” she said. “That it was a unanimous 4-0 decision just goes to show the strength of our case.
“It shows what we can accomplish when we all get together – we put a lot of work and got local councillors and executives on our side and ultimately we got the right result.”
Unite shop steward Kieran Ellison agreed.
“In the absence of support from the UK government we took up the fight ourselves,” he said. “It shows what can be achieved with solidarity and single-minded determination.
“The unanimous decision from the USITC leaves little room for appeal so we’re pretty confident the decision will stand.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey congratulated members for their tenacity in fighting against the odds.
“I am so incredibly proud of our union tonight,” he said in a recent tweet. “We never gave up. Our reps are a credit to this movement…Saving these jobs and supporting this community is what we strive to do day in, day out @UniteunionNI . I am honoured to be their general secretary.”
Celebrations over the weekend were marred by news that Bombardier would be following through with 100 jobs cuts today (January 29) and would be moving the posts to Morocco.
Fitzgerald said that after Friday’s good news, “we must take nothing for granted.
“Bombardier itself now must reiterate its commitment to the Northern Ireland workforce and end the outsourcing of jobs to low-cost centres.”
Both Gaye and Kieran expressed deep disappointment over today’s job cuts.
“We thought after Friday’s fantastic news, the company might decide to pull back from the redundancies and reassess the situation,” Gaye said. “After all, it is the workers who worked so hard to publicise our plight. We deserve better than this. It’s a very bittersweet moment.”
“When we got the news Friday, we were elated,” he said. “But in the face of these job losses despite the good news it shows we have to roll up our sleeves and get back to work negotiating with the company to stem any future job losses.”
“Aerospace is a rapidly expanding sector and we have to make sure we keep the necessary skills in Northern Ireland so we can be a central part of that expansion – and that means stopping job losses. Otherwise we’ll go the way of the shipyards in Belfast – those world class skills were developed over centuries but once we lose those skills in the area they don’t come back.”