Report: work-in by engineers looks to save jobs at BiFab

Pete Cannell and Willie Black report on the battle in defence of workers’ jobs at
Scottish engineering firm BiFab.

Hundreds of workers from the troubled engineering company BiFab marched
down Edinburgh’s Royal mile to the Scottish Parliament on Thursday. BiFab
manufactures infrastructure for the offshore oil industry and for offshore wind
platforms. The company is in financial difficulties as a result of contract
disputes, and is on the verge of administration. It is unable to pay the wages of
its 1400 workers, who are based in Burntisland, Methil and the Isle of Lewis.

Although the demonstration was called at short notice, there were contingents
from unions other than GMB and Unite, which the BiFab workers belong to. The
banners present included those of Prospect, PCS, Educational Institute of
Scotland, UCU and Fife Trades Union Council. There were also banners from the
Labour Party.

The workers have responded to the threat of redundancy with a work-in,
barricading the fabrication yards to ensure that orders and machinery can’t be

SNP minister Keith Brown spoke to the rally at the parliament, arguing that there
is a possibility of the company being saved. Given the scale of the crisis, his
words were hardly a call to arms!

BiFab is a real test for the Scottish National Party (SNP). On paper, the party is
committed to developing a sustainable economy based on renewables. The
skills of the BiFab workforce are critical to such a transition. But the SNP’s
strategy relies on the market to deliver, and BiFab is a sharp example of how
such reliance allows the big energy and construction companies to call the shots.

Scotland is well placed to blaze a trail in combatting climate change. It has the
natural resources and the skilled workforce that’s needed. Every job is precious
in the process of transition to a low-carbon economy. An organised transition
requires coordination across education, training, construction and other sectors
to put people and the future of the planet before profit. The SNP have made
some moves towards the idea of a green bank but relying on the market will not
deliver. An integrated approach including a state energy company to coordinate
a transition towards a zero-carbon economy is needed and taking BiFab into
public ownership should be the first step.

There is one comment

  1. Graham Campbell

    To be more precise the SNP’s strategy does not ‘rely on the market’ but has actually been one of Keynesian style state intervention into failing markets. To quote Nicola Sturgeon the First Minister “Our decision to make available if it’s necessary a commercial loan facility [to BiFab] demonstrates we think that where there is a role for the government, the government should play that role,” Check the recent SNP track record – a) The saving of Ferguson Shipyards in Port Glasgow has paid dividends. It has just launched a new publicly-owned Scottish government contracted ferry to be used on a state-run island ferry crossing. b) Liberty Steel plants in Lanarkshire and Fife now producing steel and taking on new workers; Given the lack of control of a devolved administration over the full economic levers of power which lie at Westminster, the SNP Scottish Government has stepped in using the powers it does have in order to protect the jobs in strategically vital industries necessary for a future independent Scotland’s economy. Scotland is also the developed world’s most active country aiming for a zero carbon future and which has met its carbon reduction targets way ahead of schedule. So saving these jobs was entirely in keeping with an SNP political strategy for independence. It is of course within the context of a market economy – we don’t currently have a non-market alternative available since the SG does not have the powers – but public ownership, public investment and public intervention into the economy (as the Scottish Govt has done) all have a role to play. Public ownership Yes but to nationalise it Scotland needs to become an independent state.

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