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.
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