On the 20th July, around 25 workers at the Vestas wind-turbine blades plant in Newport, Isle of Wight, moved to occupy offices in protest at the planned closure of the site and the possible loss of 625 jobs. 18 days later, on 7th August, the Vestas workers ended the factory occupation after a court order authorised bailiffs to remove the occupiers.
Throughout the occupation Vestas workers, trade unionists, climate campaigners and the general public assembled outside the site to show their solidarity with the occupying workers and to demonstrate against the closure of the plant. Following the eviction of the occupiers, a picket has been set up outside the Newport factory, whilst a rooftop protest at another Vestas building on the Isle of Wight, in East Cowes, has also recently ended.
Despite the actions of the occupiers and the protestors, Vestas have confirmed that the Isle of Wight factory will be closed, with 425 workers to be made redundant. One Vestas worker, when interviewed by Socialist Appeal about the redundancies, revealed that, “Some of the guys up there in the factory now are going to get just £200”. He went on to say that, “The Isle of Wight is a poor economy; this job pays extremely well, so a lot of the guys put up with shoddy safety conditions”. 11 of the occupying workers, who were informed of their dismissal during the occupation via letters attached to food parcels, are also facing the prospect of having their redundancy benefits stripped from them due to their involvement in the occupation.
Vestas workers have spoken of the aggressively anti-union stance adopted by the bosses. Management had made it clear in the past to workers attempting to organise and unionise that it would not be tolerated. Those that went down this path were identified by management and were the first to go when redundancies came round. A number of individual workers are members of Unite, but the majority are not members of any union. Without the presence of a trade union the management were able to impose their will against the workforce with greater impunity.
The Isle of Wight is one of the most deprived areas in the South of England, and already suffers from high unemployment. Vestas Blades, one of the largest employers on the island, are moving production of turbine blades away from the site to China and the USA. The Vestas management claim that the blades manufactured at the site are not suitable for wind-turbines used in Britain, but are instead used for the American market as component parts of a different design. Disgracefully the UK Government have accepted this argument. If there is a skilled workforce that is facing the dole queue, along with an existing factory and transport infrastructure, what should be happening is the re-equipping of the factory as necessary for the British design, using the available skilled workers to maintain production. Vestas Blades is a profit making factory. Production should not be stopping and the workers should not be losing their jobs. It is the bosses who should pay, not the workers.
The workers at Vestas Blades had thought their jobs were secure. Green-energy is a new industry of ever increasing importance – the Government recently announced its plan to create 40,000 “green” jobs over the next 5 years. Meanwhile, turbine blades should be in increasing demand – Britain enjoys the best wind resources in Europe and the Government's target is to increase the proportion of the UK’s energy supply generated by wind power from 5% to 35% by 2020
Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, in the Guardian writes "Despite a 67% increase in offshore wind generation last year and 29% increase in onshore wind, they [Vestas] do not yet have sufficient orders. We need to grow the market further to help". New Labour's ideological devotion to the “market” – the same “market” economy that has given us recession we are now in – is wheeled out in excuse of the closure. The occupying workers have called for the nationalisation of the factory to ensure it stays open; this is the correct position and is what should be happening. Vestas management have made it clear that they want to up sticks and try and make more money elsewhere. If they are not prepared to keep the factory open then it must be taken into public ownership and put to use.
Vestas have also cited the existence of a larger market in America and by closing the site they are removing "excess capacity". It is not the case that they are making a loss here, but that they think the company could make more profit elsewhere. In the first quarter of this year sales were up 59%, bringing in £950million. What doesn't appear on the bosses' balance sheet is the cost in terms of damage done to ordinary people – 425 workers losing their livelihoods and the wider effect it will have on the Isle of Wight’s economy.
The public on the Isle of Wight are overwhelmingly in favour of wind-turbine blade production continuing on the island, and there is substantial support on the mainland for the only major facility manufacturing blades in the country. However, what the general public think has no influence over the greedy bosses who own the means of production, and who operate on only one principle: profit. Private ownership of the economy, as in this case, means putting working people's lives at the whim of these bosses.
Against the bosses our only defence is our collective strength and solidarity. Organised in a trade union we are stronger and can stand up to the bosses. This is the first step that should be taken by all Vestas workers and workers elsewhere. One Vestas worker, interviewed by Socialist Appeal, summed this up by saying, “You don’t have to just sit and take it. You can stand up and fight”.
In the long run the only way to ensure a decent standard of life for all is to do away with the capitalist class altogether. The power of the bosses over our jobs must be removed altogether. The immediate demand must be for nationalisation to ensure the livelihoods of the workers at Vestas. The bigger fight – encompassing not only Vestas, but every workplace – must be for public ownership and the direct control of production by the working class as a whole, exercised in the first instance by the shop floor. This is the only way to guarantee everyone's jobs and ensure our lives are not put at the mercy of the bosses and their never-ending search for greater profits.
- Keep the jobs – no to redundancies
- For immediate trade union recognition
- For the nationalisation of the factory under workers control
- For a planned green-energy solution