Vestas workers keep up blockade: day of solidarity 17 September

Submitted by martin on 8 September, 2009 - 7:31 Author: Martin Thomas
Vestas

Vestas bosses moved four wind turbine blades from their Venture Quays factory, in East Cowes, on Friday 4 September, but backed off from moving the nine blades in the St Cross factory, in Newport, after workers and supporters picketed the "marine gate" there.

The blades are those left unfinished when workers occupied the factory on 20 July to oppose Vestas bosses' plans to close the factories - Britain's only wind-turbine blade factories - and to demand that the Government nationalise the factories, upgrade the production processes, and save the jobs.

Since bailiffs evicted the occupiers on 7 August, workers have been picketing the St Cross factory against the movement of those blades and other materials from the site.

The blades are due to go to Denmark - the home base of Vestas, which is a major multinational in the wind-turbine business - to be repaired and finished, and probably from there to the USA. Too big to travel by road, they have to go by barge, within about two hours either side of high tide, out of the "marine gate" at the factory, and across a cycle path which is a public right of way.

We do not know exactly when Vestas will try to move the blades. There is good reason to suppose it will be soon. These blades, after all, were due to be out of the factory before 20 July, and the nine are worth about £700,000. There is also other stuff - including a mould - that Vestas are likely to want to move from St Cross by barge. Probably Vestas are delaying
in the hope that the picket line will wither away.

Workers and supporters are now keeping up a 24-hour picket both at the roundabout at the factory's main gate and at the “marine gate”. Many workers unable to be regularly at the pickets are ready to turn out to the marine gate when we have notice of the barges moving, but supporters are urgently needed to keep up the 24-hour coverage at both sites.

Over the period since about 31 August, when the workers first learned that Vestas bosses had the blades ready to move, the necessary support has come mainly from a few dedicated local activists, climate-campers who responded to efforts by Workers' Climate Action at Climate Camp, and AWL people. The SWP has also had a small presence there, and mobilised a few from Portsmouth on 4 September, but regrettably SWPers say that they consider the blockade only a "gesture".

Although the RMT - the union which many Vestas workers joined after the occupation started - for some time had full-time organisers stationed in the Isle of Wight to help with the dispute, it does not now have organisers there, and, sadly, has not helped mobilise for the pickets.

Support is urgently needed.

Pressure on Vestas via the blades is unlikely to be enough to win the original demands of the occupation. But it could win some concessions, Vestas boss Ditlev Engel has already said that he would consider reinstating the redundancy pay for the eleven men among the occupiers whom Vestas sacking for occupying, thus depriving them of redundancy pay.

Unfortunately, at a Campaign Against Climate Change meeting in London on 7 September, RMT general secretary Bob Crow called for people to donate to the Vestas campaign fund on the basis that donations can make up the money the occupiers are missing, not on the basis that donations can help a militant campaign to force the Vestas bosses to "consider" further.

On the island, Vestas workers and supporters have shown that they understand solidarity by marching to join the picket lines of Newport Royal Mail delivery office workers on 28 August, and of drivers in the island bus company Southern Vectis on 3 September.

Workers and supporters are also beginning to discuss the next steps for activists and the local labour movement after the industrial action at Vestas ends, one way or another.

Mapping practical plans can help maximise the number of Vestas workers who will take the flame lit by the occupation forward into continued campaigning, and minimise the number who sink exhaustedly back into individual efforts to cope with unemployment or scraps of casual or part-time work.

The Vestas dispute has stirred up the island's labour movement as not for many years. Almost every union which organises on the island has become active in support at some level or another.

A relaunched county Trades Council could take forward those revived contacts into a permanent organisation, stronger than the current Trades Councils (Cowes, Newport, Ryde) maintained by the brave efforts of a small number of retired trade-unionists.

It would be in line with TUC rules, which state: "counties which have unitary [local government] authorities [as the Isle of Wight does] usually have county trades union councils. These are not county associations, but trades union councils which represent union branches
throughout the county. County trades union councils operate as normal trades union councils..."

That Trades Council could start by launching a general campaign for jobs - for green jobs, for unionised jobs, for jobs on decent wages and conditions, and for jobs with openings for young people - on the island.

The postal workers' dispute is about job cuts. 45 jobs are due to be cut soon at a tax office close to the St Cross factory, and several more at the Gurit factory just across the road from it. Jobs in schools are under threat from a big reorganisation. The Isle of Wight's Tory council is likely to follow other councils by cutting jobs in its 2010-11 budget.

Meanwhile, the South East England Development Agency has piles of money in the bank, will have the Venture Quays site (rented out to Vestas) empty and back in its hands soon, and has land earmarked for a technology park just outside Cowes. The local labour movement should campaign for decent jobs to be brought there.

Workers' Liberty organised a public meeting in Newport on 6 September about "how to fight for socialism, and win", in which we discussed the lessons of past defeats of the British labour movement and the ways to make sure that the next big political stirring-up of the British working class - which may well be triggered in the coming years by the huge economic crisis - ends in victory rather than defeat.

Learning the lessons of past struggles is the essential preparation for future struggles. But those lessons are never fixed once and for all. At the time, hundreds of thousands or millions of people learned inspiring lessons from the 1984-5 miners' strike. Some retain those lessons. But, twenty-five years of working-class defeats and disorientation on the left later, many young people know nothing of the miners' strike, and many older people now have "the lesson" in their heads as "don't try to take on the Government, or you will get crushed".

We need to work to make sure that the best lessons are learned from Vestas, and retained. To help with that, Workers' Liberty will be sponsoring a socialist discussion group in the Isle of Wight, open to all, to study British working-class history and its lessons.

  • If you're willing to go to the Isle of Wight to help with the pickets even for a couple of days, phone Ed Maltby on 07775 763 750.
  • Tide tables for the river Medina: click here.
  • If you're interested in the socialist discussion group, contact Duncan Morrison on 07840 750 508.

Vestas workers are calling for solidarity across the country on 17 September, a follow-up to a first national day of action on 12 August. On the Isle of Wight, there will be a demonstration at 12.30 on 17 September from Church Litten Park, next to the library in the middle of Newport; in London, the Campaign Against Climate Change has called a protest at 5.30pm at the Department of Energy and Climate Change in Whitehall Place.

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