Two bastions of unionist domination of employment in the North, Harland and Wolff and Wrightbus, are threatened with closure.
The demise of the shipyard is a direct result of the geopolitical struggle to control the price of oil, in which the present owners, Dolphin Drilling, have been heavily exposed.
Workers around Ireland have been crying out for the unions to get out of defensive mode and, instead of going cap in hand to employers for redundancy payments, to go on the offensive and fight to protect the workers and their jobs. This is exactly what has happened, as the workers in Harland and Wolff, rather than the usual exercise of trying to negotiate the best redundancy deal, have occupied the shipyard and are demanding that it be nationalised and for the jobs to be saved.
The workers have received support and solidarity from the whole community in this fight, despite the bigoted history of work in the shipyard, with the common class enemy being exposed and challenged by all workers.
This change in tactics may be due in part to Brexit, because if the British state does choose to respect the referendum result and leave the EU it would be free to nationalise the shipyard, something that is not possible as an EU member. Already, leaving the EU is opening up options for workers.
The situation in Wrightbus is quite different. This company has been in existence for more than seventy years and for most of that time has been a very profitable business. It continues to have orders and contracts on its books. The problem seems to be at least partly due to links between the owners of Wrightbus and evangelical Christianity that have surfaced and have now come into question.
The owners have donated millions of pounds to Christian causes over the years. They even went as far as having a 2,500-seat church built in the grounds of the factory. The company’s most recent accounts show that it donated £4.15 million to Christian and charitable causes in the same year that it posted a loss of £1.17 million.
The workers in Wrightbus should be emboldened by those in Harland and Wolff and attempt to force the state to step in and take this business also into public ownership. This would make a welcome change in direction for workers and their unions. It has great potential to raise class-consciousness among these workers, as they would be doing battle against the forces of capital, the common enemy of all workers, no matter what their race or creed.
If Wrightbus were nationalised the profits could be used to benefit the workers and society as a whole, rather than financing the owners’ religious whims and the belief that, in the words of Joe Hill, “you’ll get pie in the sky when you die.”
A battle like this has the potential for sections of the working class to realise that their enemy is not their Protestant or Catholic neighbour or workmate. That is a manufactured division created by colonial rule to keep the workers in their place while protecting the owners of capital.
No matter what happens to the bus company, the Wright family will continue to live a life of luxury while the workers who created all that wealth through their hard labour will end up on the dole. And no amount of praying will change that.