Britain: Support Vestas workers

Nationalise to save jobs and the environment


The 25 Vestas workers occupying the wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England, have created an international furore over jobs and the future of the environment. They have huge support from their work colleagues, families and workers on the Isle of Wight and beyond.

Mass rallies every night have sustained morale, with over 500 at a demo on the evening of 24 July. Decisively, the support of local transport and offshore union RMT (Rail Maritime and Transport union) officers and the commitment of the RMT to provide legal support has given the Vestas workers a huge boost.

Three times Vestas management have tried to intimidate workers with threats of forcible eviction and the removal of redundancy payments if they don’t leave. Each time the occupation has stood firm and the decision to stay has been applauded by hundreds attending the evening rallies.

On 23 July the company served a court injunction on the occupiers to appear in court on 29 July. This coincided with the visit of RMT general secretary Bob Crow who pledged the full support of the union to assist their legal representation.

He said to warm applause: "These people just can’t come along and use us like pieces of lemon – squeeze the juice out of us when they want us to work for them and then toss us to one side when they don’t. This government tells us they are a green government… If you’ve got a bowler hat and you’re a banker you get their support. If you build wind turbines you should get the same support."

Large numbers of Vestas workers – previously without union representation at the plant – have now joined the RMT. They have established a strike committee and elected reps.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow speaks in support of the strikers

Workers “here to stay”

"Should we stay or should we go?", was the question raised by Steve, one of the workers, at the mass rally in response to Vestas chairman Peter Kruse saying that Vestas would not change their minds and workers should go home. The unanimous response was: "We are staying!".

This was echoed by Mark Stringer, one of the original occupiers who made an emotional speech to the demo: "I got involved because there is little chance of another job on the Isle of Wight and I have a family to support. We are here to stay."

Solidarity messages and cash have poured in. Visits from Unite Linamar convenor Rob Williams and Socialist Party councillor Rob Windsor, as well as Visteon workers and Unite activist Jerry Hicks, have helped build the confidence of the Vestas workers.

PCS (Public and Civil Service union) assistant general secretary Chris Baugh has issued a statement on behalf of the PCS national executive: "The government has just announced plans to create 400,000 green jobs over the next five years and a huge expansion of renewable energy – yet it seems unwilling to step in to save 600 jobs at Vestas… We call on the government to intervene to save the plant in the interests of the Vestas workers, the regional economy on the Isle of Wight, the future of the renewables industry in the UK and to show that it is serious about meeting the UK’s climate change commitments."

The best solution to the current crisis at Vestas is nationalisation. From the start this has been a clear demand of the occupiers and the Vestas workers.

This fight has enormous support, the occupiers are determined, as are the Vestas workers outside. A victory for the Vestas workers would be a victory for all workers facing the bosses’ knife!

Editorial from the Socialist 29 July 2009, issue 589

Vestas – build mass action for victory

As we go to press workers at Vestas Blades on the Isle of Wight, the only wind turbine plant in Britain, have been occupying the plant for over a week to try to prevent its closure. The twenty five workers inside the occupation have faced repeated threats of sacking, legal action, and removal of redundancy payments to try to force them to end the occupation. So far they have stood firm in the face of this intimidation.

Every night hundreds of Vestas workers and others have rallied outside the factory to show their support for the occupiers. The RMT – the transport and offshore union – which already organises the workers who erect wind turbines – has stepped in to give full support, further increasing the confidence of this determined group of workers.

Now, in a clear escalation of their bullying tactics Vestas, an anti-union company, have served an injunction for the occupying workers to appear at the Isle of Wight magistrates’ court on 29 July. The workers are calling for a mass mobilisation outside the court and, later in the day, outside the factory gates.

Worldwide, as factories face closure and workers are told they are to be thrown on the scrap heap, occupations are becoming a frequent means of fighting back. As the Visteon workers showed earlier this year, even in situations where the workers do not seem to have much power, occupations can succeed in winning concessions.

At Vestas, the heroic action of the workers means that victory is possible. The government, having promised hundreds of thousands of new green jobs, is under massive pressure to act in defence of the Vestas workers. At the time of writing they have ’found’ an extra £6 million grant for Vestas – however, they admit this will not save the factory, as profit-hungry Vestas is still determined to move the plant to the US. As things stand New Labour are just giving more money to a company that is throwing more than 600 workers on the scrapheap.

Demand for nationalisation prominent

Demand for nationalisation prominent

Step up the action

The response must be to step up support for the occupiers’ demands for the nationalisation of the plant, under democratic workers’ control, as part of creating a building block for a new, democratically planned, publicly-owned, green sector of the economy. As the occupiers have declared: "If the government can spend billions bailing out the banks – and even nationalise them – then surely they can do the same at Vestas."

In reality New Labour, despite its abhorrence for nationalisation, was forced to effectively nationalise banks to prevent the collapse of the capitalist finance system. This was not genuine nationalisation – RBS and Northern Rock are still being run in the interests of big business, rather than those of the majority of the population. These banks are being propped up by the tax payer in order to be sold back at a bargain price to the financiers as soon as possible!

However, this does not mean that the government cannot be forced to act in the case of Vestas, on the basis of determined struggle. The trade union movement must step up its support for the Vestas workers. If attempts are made to physically remove the workers from the factory a massive national trade union demonstration outside the plant should be immediately organised in their support.

The labour movement in Britain needs to learn lessons from South Korea, where more than 800 workers have been occupying the Ssangyong car plant in Pyeongtaek since May. Despite three thousand riot police storming the car plant to try to force them out, the occupation has continued. The Korean Congress of Trades Unions has responded by calling a two day general strike in support of the occupiers.

Mass movement

In Britain, in 1972 five dock workers’ leaders, the Pentonville five, were jailed. Immediately, a mass movement developed from below with widespread discussion amongst workers about the need for a general strike. Under huge pressure, the TUC general council called a 24 hour general strike. As soon as the government and the capitalists saw the scale of working class opposition to the jailings they intervened to secure the release of the dockers.

The situation is different today in a number of respects, but any attempt to act in a similar fashion against the Vestas workers would again lead to enormous anger from workers, many facing threats to their own jobs. The trade union movement would need to harness that opposition, including organising industrial action in defence of the Vestas workers.

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July 2009