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Energy and Climate Change Minister Ed Miliband was taken on by Vestas workers at a packed meeting in Oxford last Monday.
The meeting was attended by over 500 people. Hosted by Oxford Friends of the Earth, it was originally billed as a chance to question the minister on his newly unveiled plans for a low carbon Britain, ahead of the Copenhagen talks in December. Also speaking were climate specialists, including Mark Lynas (author of Six Degrees), Oliver Tickell (author of Kyoto2), Ian Leggett (Director of People & Planet) and Dr M. A. Khalid (Earthwatch).
However, workers at the Vestas wind turbine plant on the Isle of Wight travelled to challenge Mr Miliband over the governments refusal to provide meaningful assistance to keep their threatened factory open. In a last-minute change to the agenda, the Vestas workers led the meeting with an opening address, followed by a response from the minister and questions and views from the floor.
Greeted with loud cheers, plate technician David Hughes explained that, though they are the countrys only wind turbine manufacturer, they have been forced to close by Vestas. "Im here today," he said, "to ask Mr Miliband and the government why they havent stepped in to save us?"
He drew attention to the contradiction between the promises of "thousands of green jobs and thousands of turbines everywhere" and the reality of factory closures and redundancies.
On the announced £6 million that is to be handed over to Vestas, he explained that it is for "a new research and development facility" and spoke about the workers not seeing any of it.
Referring to the Vestas argument for closure being that planning laws in this country mean that Britain does not have the market to be viable, and a different kind of blade is needed for the US market, he told the meeting that "I can assure you that we have built these kinds of blades in the past."
Thanking everyone for their support, he finished with the call to "Save our jobs! Save the island! Save the planet!"
In reply, Ed Milibands justified the position of Vestas that it will cost them too much money to convert the plant to make blades for the US. "But the truth is, what they're telling us is that government money won't make the difference to Vestas," he said; Vestas biggest problem has been that planning has been refused.
In this way, Miliband attempted to both divide people on the basis of so-called nimbyism and to make the people, rather than the monopolies, the problem. "We can't be the centre for onshore wind manufacturing if all around the country people are saying: 'We don't want onshore wind.'"
Further attempting to create disunity, this time over ideology, he rejected calls to "expropriate" the factory. Though there are people that might not like the fact that we live in a capitalist world, that is the reality, he said, and such acts would discourage companies such as Siemens and Mitsubishi to invest in Britain. Nationalisation will do more harm than good, he claimed.
Accepting the factorys closure, he simply offered a "very sorry"; he has done all that is possible. "We want to do all we can for the workers. We want to help them with retraining."
The Vestas workers should be congratulated for their political stand of taking centre-stage and challenging Ed Miliband at the Oxford meeting. Their eloquent opening showed that they are fully capable of becoming worker-politicians, exposing the futility of the government and proving that yes, there is an alternative.
Ryde Trades Council analyst, July 30, 2009
One important aspect of the Miliband interjection on Vestas on the BBC Newsnight programme with Nick Robinson was Miliband saying that the government "cant reverse commercial decisions".
This is in fact the crux of the matter: the neo-liberal agenda, which goes back to Thatcherism and Reaganomics (and the Chicago School Monetarist/Milton Friedman economics). It is for market forces to prevail and not government intervention or command economy. The New Labour programme is a continuation of this agenda and is the reason why all governments are the same when it comes to policy. It is the basis of EU policy. It is the essence of capitalist globalisation. The cartel parties all sing off the same song sheet. The fact that this has failed is neither here nor there. The banks have been bailed out and there has been quantitative easing to allow state intervention in the economy. Already there is talk about re-privatising the banks.
The point is that Miliband is saying "Cant" but in fact he can. In this instance, there is not only the need for alternative politics, which includes environmental issues of enormous proportions, to rescue a crisis in terms of suggested climate issues but also the future of economy. There is a special case. This is because renewable energy products and low carbon technology cannot be allowed to fail. Remember we were told that banks could not be allowed to fail.
Cant is not the issue it is more likely to be wont at this point. But this can turn around into will. There is no such thing as "Cant"; there is always another way. Miliband can, because the political issue is now directly in his face and he cannot dismiss it any longer. The public eye is now in focus. Companies can be told to change and monopoly right can be restricted. The Danish company Vestas should be told, in no uncertain terms, that whether they stay or leave production of wind turbines on the Isle of Wight actual continuation of production is not for negotiation. It stays.
In one form or another, whether the company keeps the building open, does not destroy the moulds as it has wantonly threatened, or whether the government realises that it is the skills, the minor production facility is not the main issue, the government can decide to employ these skills. The production can take place in various forms. If necessary on a different site (but that should not be necessary). Forms could be public ownership, another company, a consortium or a co-operative. The point is that the government should suggest or enable something like this to happen. If not the workers will probably do it anyway with interested associates.
Miliband is lying down and serving his multinational masters when he says there is "nothing you can do about the situation" or its a "decision for the company". This is downright capitulation and bears nothing in resemblance to the heroic deeds of the workers who have taken their stand along with the people who are supporting the occupation of the Vestas plant.
From the inbox
Below is a selection from the email messages sent to firstname.lastname@example.org on just two days: Wednesday and Thursday, July 30 and 31. A lot of messages come in each day the Save Vestas campaign saves the contact details and posts some of them on the "solidarity pages". All of these messages are available for the workers inside the plant to read.
GREAT NEWS that the bosses attempt to evict workers backfired! My partner & I are public sector workers myself in education & she in housing we send our best wishes. We are coming to the IoW on Friday & will be joining the demo on Sat & Tues. The struggle continues! THE WORKERS UNITED WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED! love, Tim & Deni
YOU WILL feel more alive in these fraught days the meaning of solidarity the friendships forged and the life lessons learned will be with you always. Stay strong. Fran Griffiths
SOLIDARITY AND Greetings from Huddersfield Socialist Party:
We continue to follow your struggle for jobs. This evening we lobbied and spoke to Kirklees Council (West Yorkshire) to support the occupation and for nationalisation. Unfortunately, the resolution on the order paper from the Greens and Save NHS councillor was ruled out of order. However, the leader of the council pledged to raise the matter with Ed Miliband (!!) and the cabinet member who replied to our lobby demanded nationalisation. Your struggle inspires us all.
AS GREEN representative of the PCS North Wales Area Inland Revenue Group Branch, I am writing to offer you support from this branch in your protest against closure of the Vestas Wind Turbine Factory. Our branch includes offices throughout North Wales and the arrival of the wind turbines in rural Wales has become a common sight. Renewable energy is essential for modern society and the closure of the turbine factory goes against everything the government is trying to achieve in the promotion of its global policies.
Janet Price, PCS Green Representative, North Wales Area IR Group Branch
AS AN ex SR Technics worker in Dublin, I know exactly what way you are being treated, stick together!
Paul b., Dublin, Ireland
WELL DONE for taking a stand against the governments continuing assault on workers and indeed the planet. As a member of one of the university occupations this winter, I know that direct action of this sort is effective (and indeed necessary) in achieving change keep it up, and I wish you the very best of luck!
MY NAME is Nick OBrien. I am a member of the SWP/ NUT and chair of the Norwich LGBT Pride Collective. It was our great pleasure to welcome Tracey to Norwich yesterday. She spoke brilliantly at our Trades Council and is coming back with £270.
THIS IS sent from the IoM where we are campaigning for a wind farm here as the island is totally reliant on fossil fuel for our power needs. Once again all good wishes to you and the best of luck. Phil
Message from Visteon Occupation Belfast Spokesperson
Congratulations and full support to the Vestas workers who are standing up for their rights and have occupied their factory.
Visteon & Ford tried to do that with us and when they put the company into administration on 31/3/09 they thought that workers were so demoralised and afraid of anti-trade union laws that we would just meekly disappear.
We were told to get out with 5 minutes notice and no redundancy or retirement benefits.
They threatened us with eviction but we never left, even after they brought us to court.
They threatened us with bailiffs but the local community rallied to our support, moral, financial and physical presence on the site.
After 7 weeks Ford and Visteon were forced to negotiate a redundancy deal, but they still stole our pensions, which what this is really all about.
We left the factory with our heads held high and our dignity intact.
The products from the plant were still needed, but instead the work went to South Africa.
We will continue to fight them until they honour their own agreements, but we would never have got anywhere had we not kept the occupation going.
I listened to one of the wives of the workers who expressed her pride in the stand the workers have taken.
That pride will grow over the next few weeks, but you would never forgive yourselves had you meekly left the plant.
Stay strong and united.
We would like to offer support for your Struggle for JUSTICE. As you might be aware, we went into solvency on the 1st March this year with no redundancy package. We did not except this and started an occupation, it was the best thing we done because it created so much publicity of the way we had been treated by an American corporation. Ron Clark our ex. (Unite) convenor at Enfield has already been to the Isle of Wight to offer support. He will be returning very shortly with more support. Hope we can organise a larger support group very shortly. Hope you are getting support from all Vestas workers and not being left to a few to fight for Justice.
Bob Benham Ex. Shop Steward Visteon Enfield
Received by Ryde Trades Council:
Fraternal Greetings from Lindsey Strike Committee
Please find enclosed a cheque from Lindsey Strike Committee for £500 in solidarity with Vestas' workers who are fighting to save jobs and to retain the sole wind turbine factory in the UK.
As the messages of support rain in from Trade Unionists and members of the public be assured they know that your occupation of the Vestas Factory is to protect jobs and to produce the machinery that will fight climate change.
Your call for nationalisation will find echo amongst working class people because like the bosses 'we know that we cannot control what we don't own'.
Please pass on our solidarity to all Vestas' workers. You fight is our fight. Please keep in touch and let us know if there is anything else we can do.
Keith Gibson GMB on behalf of Lindsey Strike Committee.
Support for Vestas Occupation from Thomas Cook Occupation
This is a message of solidarity from the Thomas Cook workers in Dublin who are occupying their shop after the companys announcement to close them down. 77 young men and women have locked themselves in for the third day and have resisted a court order and nasty bailiff visits.
We are with you!! We will be giving you a ring this evening on loudspeaker when we have our end of day meeting!
Keep it up! We will win!
Workers Climate Action Meeting Sends Solidarity Greetings
Over 20 folks met in the RMT Boardroom, in the unions "Unity
House" HQ in London, discussing practical solidarity with the Vestas
Occupation. Victory to the Vestas Occupation, Up the Revolution, Peace &
Tim Dalinian Jones
Court Hearing Tuesday 4 August
This Tuesday, August 4th, legal representatives of the Vestas workers will be appearing at Newport country court to answer a possession order against the workers in occupation.
9.30am, Newport County Court, Quay Street, Newport, IoW
As Vestas tries for a second time to get a possession order, march from the St Cross plant to the court, rally outside, then march back to the plant
+ Bristol Tues 4 Aug, 8am-2pm, Bristol Environment Agency, Rio House, Waterside Drive, Aztec West Almondsbury, Bristol, BS32 4UD
+ Brighton Tues 4 Aug, 5.30pm, leafleting and collection at
Brighton Train Station
ALSO Brighton Support for Vestas Workers next meeting Weds 5 Aug, 7pm, The Cowley Club, London Road, Brighton. Tel John, 07845 183407 for details on these events.
Saturday, August 1
On Saturday 1 August, about 200 demonstrators marched in the rain from Newport town centre to the occupied Vestas wind turbine blade factory on the St Cross industrial estate. As they rallied outside the factory entrance after the march, the police and Vestas security guards, for the first time, allowed Vestas workers to take food in to the occupiers.
Sunday was a family funday outside the plant for families and supporters of the occupying workers.
RMT reports Vestas to police legal opinion backs right of factory occupiers to food
Offshore energy union RMT made a formal complaint to the police over the actions of Vestas private security guards at the wind turbine factory occupation who have denied the workers inside the factory access to adequate supplies of food.
A legal opinion obtained by RMT from leading human rights lawyer Louise Christian says that: "There is a positive obligation under the Human Rights Act on the State and its agents i.e. the police to prevent private individuals from depriving others of their liberty (see the case of Storck v Germany ECHR). It therefore appears to me that the local police have a positive obligation to prevent the security agents employed by Vestas stopping people coming in to deliver food to those in occupation."
In addition the opinion states that: "In the circumstances I advise that a formal complaint be made to the local police about the actions of the security guards as soon as possible asking that the police take action to ensure they allow deliveries of food through and that if they refuse to do so they are prosecuted for an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Alternatively it would also be open for an urgent application to be made to a judge for an injunction against the security company and Vestas to prevent them from breaching the provisions of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997."
RMT have immediately acted on these instructions and papers were handed in to Newport Police Station last night.
RMT are seriously concerned at the health implications of the lack of food reaching the workers inside the Factory. One has already been forced to leave on medical advice after his blood sugar levels were found be at seriously low levels.
Bob Crow, general secretary of Vestas workers union RMT said: "Its disgusting that Vestas are trying to starve the workers out and we are calling on the police to take urgent action against their private security company to stop this outrageous affront to basic human rights. We will fight with every tool available to get food into the workers on the inside whose only crime is to fight for their livelihoods and the future of green energy."
Factory Closure Postponed
RMT press release:
The occupation of the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight today passed another significant milestone with the workers holding back the scheduled closure date of the facility and with the company writing to staff this morning confirming that the consultation has been extended indefinitely a move described by Vestas union RMT as a massive victory.
Vestas had planned to close the factory today Friday 31 July but as a result of the occupation, and the global campaign in support of the workforce, they have been pushed back and the extension of the consultation with the workforce means that there is a serious opportunity to draw up a rescue package similar to the one supported by the Scottish Parliament earlier this year which saved the Vestas factory in Kintyre.
This weekend will see a further show of the strength of the growing support for the Vestas workforce with crowds from the cancelled Big Green Gathering diverting to the Isle of Wight in what will be another important boost for the Save Vestas campaign.
Tomorrow, Saturday 1st August, there will be a major demonstration in support of the campaign starting at 1pm from St Thomass Square in Newport town centre.
RMT have also congratulated Gerry Byrne who took the Vestas protest to the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square for an hour this morning between 5am and 6am.
Bob Crow, general secretary of Vestas workers union RMT, said:
The fact that the Vestas campaign has held back the scheduled closure date today is another significant milestone in the fight to save the factory and 625 skilled manufacturing jobs in green energy. The extension of the consultation with the workforce this morning gives us a real chance to work up a rescue plan.
This weekend will see a major demonstration of the growing support for the Vestas campaign which has fired the imagination of the labour and environmental movements all around the world.
RMT remains deeply concerned as to the well being of those in occupation and we will be taking further legal and health advice today. This brave group of workers continue to be denied access to their basic human rights to nutritional food and liquids and we are making every effort to get supplies through.
Caroline Lucas to IoW Council
The Isle of Wights Green Euro-MP is to submit an urgent proposal to the Leader of the Isle of Wight Council for support for a workers co-op at the Vestas wind turbine manufacturing plant to be established under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007.
Dr Lucass submission, which offers a practical and sustainable solution to the current dispute over the proposed closure of the plant, will be delivered tomorrow at 4pm to Cllr David Pugh by Brian Lucas from Isle of Wight Green Party and a representative of the workers at the Vestas plant.
Under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, councils and communities have the opportunity to put forward proposals on sustainable improvements to local economic, environmental and social wellbeing. Once established, individual councils proposals are sent to the Government via the Local Government Association. The deadline for current submissions to the LGA is 31st July 2009.
In a last ditch attempt to keep the Vestas plant open, Dr Lucas will call on the IoW Council to ask for Government support under the terms of the 2007 Act to ensure that:
- The workers of the wind turbine company Vestas are permitted to form a
Workers Cooperative, and are supported in doing so by the government.
- Financial support (at the very least unemployment benefit) is paid to the workers of Vestas until such time as the proposed Workers Cooperative is financially viable.
Dr Lucas commented: "If the government is serious about tackling climate change, helping to protect the future of UK manufacturing, and safeguarding local jobs, it must act now to keep the Vestas facility open for business.
"By submitting a proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act for a workers co-op, the Council can demand that the government provides the investment and assurances necessary to save this facility on the basis that it plays a crucial economic and environmental role in the local community.
"Failure to keep the Vestas plant open will represent a spectacular failure by the government to match its rhetoric on green jobs with real policy action. It should be seizing the opportunity to create a renewable energy revolution that can see us through a transition towards a more environmentally and economically stable economy. Allowing the IoW plant to close now would be a massive embarrassment for ministers and devastating for the IoWs workers."
Radical folk band Seize the Day have been supporting the occupation and providing entertainment at the site. Theyve written a Save Vestas song Boys on the Balcony
"Vestas weve got news for you
This is our families future too
Its our power nationalise it
Better let the workers organise it
Wind mill turn it on
The boys on the balcony standing strong
For work in a world where the turbine spin
This is a battle we all must win "
Text of a speech written by a Vestas worker for delivery at trade union and environmental movement meetings, edited only slightly for style.
Hello there my name is Matt and Ive come today to speak about a little factory called St. Cross on the Isle of Wight otherwise known as Vestas; you may have heard about it before
It is currently in occupation as its due to close at the end of the week. Over 625 jobs will be lost at the three plants of St. Cross (Newport), Venture Quays (East Cowes) and Merlin Quays in Southampton (just across the water). There is also a resin factory called Gurit opposite us which is reliant on Vestas and is currently discussing its options, although they do not look good. Many other industries will suffer if Vestas ups and leaves and many more jobs will go. The islands fragile economy will be plunged back twenty years into reliance upon the tourist trade with its low-paid, season jobs.
We want to keep these factories open, even expand them and build new ones. But not because of our love for Vestas. A few things about Vestas:
Vestas bought out NEG Micon in 2003, and since that time things just got worse as it tried to squeeze the last drop of work out of everyone, sapping them dry. Long hours in a highly stressful environment and fear of RSI amongst other conditions have given it a very high staff turnover. It is extremely anti-union and some workers who have joined unions in the past have been singled out and fired on various grounds. The nearest thing to a union was a consultation network imposed by European law, where supposedly elected representatives (but in reality hand-picked by management) attended meetings where they had no input whatsoever, and were forced to simply absorb and relay management diktat to the rest of the workers. The workers have been given an offer of a pitiful redundancy payout for all their years of conscientious labour, and this has not even been confirmed in writing. This is classic of these multinationals, and the feelings of everyone on the Isle of Wight are running high.
Everybody threatened with unemployment for no reason other than one or other corporations desire to move their capital around the world, or find the cheapest sources of nonunionised labour, or the newest set of government subsidies, is by necessity obligated to take action and stand up with their brothers and sisters, or else fall by the wayside and be complicit in the exploitation of them and theirs.
A change in mindset is spontaneously taking place all over the world, from South Korea to Enfield, from Paris to Chile. For too long have the corporations imposed their will on the common man and driven them down without a care for their personal security and livelihoods, their families and their dignity. There is a change that is happening as rapidly as we have seen. Now is the time, and achieving action is easier far easier than we would ever have imagined. Lets look at how our factory occupation began.
At the end of April, the Vestas employees were gathered together and told they would all be at risk of redundancy, and the factory was due to stop production at the end of July.
Naturally we were all shocked and upset at this news, that came out of the blue. We had been told we were the most profitable factory Vestas had! Everyone carried on working as normal; we felt powerless and confused.
A few activists from Workers Climate Action began leafleting the factory gates and talking to workers. A public meeting was called. From this, a small group of workers formed a committee and began talking about occupying the factory to prevent closure. These workers began recruiting other workers to the plan, all the while trying to keep it secret from management.
Managers heard about possible direct action and went to one of the sites to attempt to persuade workers to sign a document against any such action. Only two workers signed.
We heard of this and decided to strike quickly. Meeting up, 30 of us split into 3 groups and slipped into the factory unopposed. Working quickly, we secured our chosen area the management and admin offices at the front of the building. We had successfully outflanked the managers!
We had an ex-union legal man outside who liaised with the police and managers, reminding them of the law and that this was a peaceful protest. We spent the first night sleeping in three-hour shifts. The next day the crowd started to gather outside; workers coming to work were turn away but stayed to show us support, the crowd building by the hour. The managers and police started to give us two-hour deadlines to leave, telling us trespass was a criminal offence. We knew it was a civil matter and they would need a court injunction to remove us. We were threatened with private thugs storming the building and "being heavy handed with us".
The factory manager Paddy Weir then threatened to go to a DIY store and buy boltcutters to remove us. We laughed at him as the police told him he couldnt!
By the end of the first day, things had calmed down as the police and managers had exhausted their threats with no effect on us. The police then promised not to storm the building after video footage of riot cops was sent by us to the media. The factory manager then appeared outside, accompanied by security guards, to talk to the media. He dipped his head and spoke into the two microphones in front of him in the quietest voice possible. Only the media could hear him, none of the workers who were pressed around straining their ears could hear a word. The workers in the crowd booed and jeered as he scuttled back inside the factory.
Supplies were running low by lunchtime of day two. A big crowd had gathered outside to deliver food, demanding to be let through the police and private security lines. When they heard the police would not stop them, they rushed to us throwing food up to the balcony.
On day three, a 7ft fence was erected around the site to stop food coming in. The managers were not providing food at this point. We responded by hanging a banner out accusing the management of trying to starve us. This looked bad for them as local and national media were outside with a sizeable crowd, now in a semi-permanent camp. Then, suddenly, they announced that they would take responsibility and provide food to us. When this food arrived, however, it turned out to be peanut butter sandwiches, snack bars and fizzy drinks in minimal quantities.
On day three, Bob Crow the leader of the RMT union arrived and gave a rousing speech. He even told us of a helicopter on standby ready to airdrop food to the occupiers. At 7:30pm, an aeroplane flew low and circled trailing a banner which read "save our jobs, save our community!" The rally now numbered over 300, consisting of workers families and local supporters. At the same time, an injunction was served on the occupiers. The RMT pledged to handle this in court with their legal team. A mass demonstration has been planned for the day of the hearing Wednesday 29th July outside the Magistrates Court in Newport between 9 and 10am.
On day four, a march set off from Newport town centre. 600 people made their way up to the factory site in a show of support. Meanwhile, two workers travelled to London giving a speech at University College London to trade union officials, environmentalists and other groups. Sharing the platform was Chris Baugh, the deputy head of the PCS union, Jonathan Neale, the International Coordinator of the Campaign against Climate Change, and Seamus Milne, a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Guardian. We raised almost a thousand pounds.
On day five, the occupiers were suffering from the lack of a hot meal. This was relayed to the crowd at 6pm. They spontaneously surged forward, shaking the fence and shouting for food to be let in. Within fifteen minutes, a hot meal of spaghetti bolognese had been provided by management. The total arrests now stood at seven people, mainly for suspicion of breach of the peace whatever that means
This brings us up to the weekend of the 25/26 July. As you can see, there have been a few things that have been very important to this occupation. Number one having a group of committed workers with the courage to take action to defend their jobs. Two having someone with legal training immediately available on the outside, to negotiate with the police and management in the first hours and early days of the occupation. Three using the media to full effect, providing video footage and interviews from inside the occupation.
This occupation is ongoing, and the support is building every day. What we desperately need from everybody is continued pressure on both the government and Vestas to retool this factory and keep it in operation. It is the only blade manufacturer of wind turbines in Great Britain. The technology we have been so proud of developing is being shipped to America, where Vestas will enjoy Barack Obamas apparently more serious and determined commitment to clean, green energy. We cannot afford to let this happen. We must stop it now.
None of us involved in this occupation ever thought we would take part in anything like this. We quickly realised that we were at the centre of a perfect storm; we had a golden opportunity to seize the factory and force the issues of green energy, massive job losses and corporate responsibility into the international spotlight. We knew we had to step up and take action, as this was bigger than all of us put together.
Anyone that joins us in this action through coming along and supporting us in person, online, or through taking direct action themselves in their own workplace is participating in a much wider, greater movement. A movement that is truly global, sweeping across the planet and uniting environmentalists, workers and union movements as one force. The ecological movement and the trade union movement have long been divided by ones desire to protect all jobs, and the others desire to scrap some and create others. Now they have come together to demand the maintenance and creation of green jobs for all.
The Vestas factory occupation combines the two wills in one fight for a cleaner, safer future. A future with jobs for all.
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