Alexander Dennis – time for action

Alexander Dennis, based in Falkirk, is internationally important as a manufacturer of double decker buses.  In the wake of Covid19 it faces a short-term decline in orders.  The response of its new owners, Canadian firm NFI, is to cut 650 jobs.

Clean, sustainable public transport is a critical part of the transition to a zero-carbon economy and Alexander Dennis is a world leader in building all-electric and hydrogen powered buses.  The skills of the workforce at Alexander Dennis will be essential in reshaping the way we use energy, the way we produce and the way we live in response to the climate crisis.  Sacking 650 workers will blight lives, wreck futures and set back the struggle for a just transition to a new sustainable economy.  

In an excellent article in today’s Source Direct Ben Wray notes that the company is asking the government to buy the buses that private operators are not buying at the moment.  We do need government action, but as we argued recently in ‘Save Lives, Save Jobs, Save the Planet’ such action needs to be planned and systemic.  It needs to tackle issues of safe public transport and it needs to look forward to the zero-carbon future.  The private sector is incapable of this kind of joined up thinking.  Saving jobs, skills and livelihoods at Alexander Dennis should be seen as part of the broader campaign of taking public transport into public control.

All the signs are, however, that any Scottish Government action is unlikely to measure up to either the immediate crisis in Falkirk or the longer-term crisis of climate.  There is a huge gap between the government’s rhetoric on just transition and just recovery and their actions.  So how do we turn this round?  I’d argue that to make progress we need to think in terms of a ‘worker led just transition’.  It’s hard, but collectively we need to take every opportunity to turn the slogan into real action.  At a time of public health and climate crisis, when the wealth of the super-rich is rocketing up, and the Westminster government is spending billions on contracts to their friends and bailouts to big business, redundancies in carbon-saving jobs are unacceptable.  One option would be for Alexander Dennis workers to refuse to accept redundancy and occupy the factory.  Combined with a public campaign for socially useful production as a part of a just transition this would have huge resonance in Scottish society and could provide common cause to the trade union and climate movements.  The 1971 occupation of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders is a model – but this could be so much bigger.

Save Lives, Save Jobs, Save the Planet

Support Alexander Dennis Workers

Take Public Transport and Public Transport vehicle production into public ownership

Pete Cannell

Dennis Enviro 400XLB by dmilburn007 CC BY SA 4.0

Public transport use in Scotland in decline

The decision by the Scottish Government to extend free bus travel to under 19 year olds is a small but positive step.  However, the latest Transport for Scotland Report published yesterday (27th February 2020) shows that the number of bus journeys undertaken is continuing to fall while car usage is rising.  The steepest fall in bus use is in the Highlands and Islands while the decline is least in South East Scotland.  The data in the report doesn’t break down regions by public transport provider but the relatively small decline in the South East is almost certainly a result of increased numbers using publicly run Lothian Buses.

In 2107 transport accounted for 36.8% of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions.  Cars were the biggest contributor accounting for almost 40% of the total.  Cutting the use of polluting car transport is a critical part of shifting to a zero carbon future.  Simply replacing petrol and diesel by electric would put huge pressure on natural resources that are in short supply and whose extraction causes major environmental damage.  The answer must surely be a comprehensive, flexible and well connected public transport system that has electric buses as a key component and is free to users.  There is good evidence that low or free fares results in a massive increase in public transport use.

800px-Lothian_Buses_Envrio400XLB_1071

One of Lothian’s new 100 seat Envrio400XLB buses.  CC-BY-SA 4.0