The workers’ occupation at the Vestas wind turbine blade factory at Newport, Isle of Wight, is the centre of three great battles: on jobs, on the environment, and on renovating the labour movement.
Workers occupied the factory on Monday 20 July to stop the bosses’ plans to shut the factory. Vestas bosses and police have been able to stop all but a few extra workers entering the factory to join the occupation, but hundreds of other workers and supporters have gathered outside the factory entrance to support the occupiers and demand the nationalisation of the factory to save jobs.
Vestas bosses have told workers at its other Isle of Wight plant, in East Cowes, to stay away on full pay, for fear that if let into the building they would occupy that too.
On Wednesday 29 July Newport Crown Court refused the Vestas bosses’ claim for a “possession order” to make the occupiers leave, remitting the case to a new hearing on 4 August.
The workers are determined. Both Vestas bosses and the Government - which says it wants 7000 more wind turbines in Britain in the coming years, to add to only 3000 already in operation or under construction - are under pressure. Vestas is the only wind turbine blade manufacturer in Britain, and 600 jobs are at stake.
Vestas workers are not just demanding better redundancy pay, though they want that, too, for those workers who choose to leave. They are not just demanding government hand-outs to assist the bosses and soft-soap them into cutting not quite so many jobs.
They are putting the responsibility fair and square on the Government, demanding that it nationalise the factories to re-equip them, save jobs, and continue socially-useful production.
They are demanding that the Government intervene against the crazy capitalist logic which says that because “too much” of one thing — dodgy financial dealings — has been produced, and the economy is consequently in crisis, then workers should be thrown on the scrap-heap instead of doing socially-needed productive work for which they are trained and ready.
That makes Vestas the centre of the jobs fight.
Our planet will not be saved from climate change unless low-emission energy technologies, like wind power, are expanded very fast. In words, in dozens of reports and documents, governments accept that. But wind turbine blades cannot be installed unless they are first produced!
Vestas workers are at the centre of struggle to make transition to a sustainable way of life an immediate guide to action, rather than an ideal to pay lip-service too. They are the very embodiment of the motto of the Workers’ Climate Action network - “a worker-led just transition”.
Vestas is also the centre of the struggle to renovate the labour movement. For too long unions have concerned themselves mainly with supplying damage-limitation to the minority of the workforce which they have in membership, leaving vast unorganised sectors in the “too hard” basket.
The Vestas workers were un-unionised before this battle began. With the help, primarily, of some lay activists from the RMT union, they have organised themselves. They have shown how organisation can grow out of their initiative and struggle, rather than being something to be brought to workers by benevolent union officials.
Workers’ strength always depends on three things: numbers, organisation, and awareness. Within a matter of a couple of days, at the beginning of the occupation, a previously weak, atomised workforce was turned into a powerful collective force, simply by virtue of getting organised. Organise, organise, organise! is the slogan which can win this battle.
In the coming years, many other groups of workers - including in the public sector, now the unions’ heartland — are likely to face job cuts similar to those at Vestas. Either the workers will organise and fight back as at Vestas, or the unions’ “damage-limitation” strategy will turn into a disorderly retreat. The labour movement cannot stand still.
A lot hangs on the Vestas struggle. Every socialist and trade unionist should help the Vestas workers — if possible, by going to the Isle of Wight to join them; if not, by raising money, organising meetings and demonstrations, sending messages of support.