Home | Monday 27th July 2009 | Issue 685
After sticking their heads out of the Westminster windows for a quick climatic analysis, Britain’s politicians have earmarked wind power as our best option in the race to prevent climate catastrophe. Yet, in April, when the worlds largest manufacturer of wind turbines, Vestas, announced plans to close its sites in the Isle of Wight and Southampton, the government remained silent - about both the loss of Britain’s most significant turbine manufacturing facilities and the loss of hundreds of jobs. Faced with a wall of silence, apathy and hypocrisy, the non-unionised Vestas workers on the Isle of Wight had little option but to take action and, last week, they occupied their factory in protest.
The occupation began on Monday night (20th) when 30 workers took over the management offices in the factory. The Vestas management immediately locked down the site and called in the police. Workers arriving for their last few days of work the next day were turned away from the gates, but when they realised why, many stayed on and established a picket outside the factory, which has since been manned by up to 150 people.
Vestas took a hard line in response to the protest. Riot police who turned up on the first day threatened those inside with arrest for aggravated trespass and huffed and puffed but failed to force their way into the offices. They also prevented people from joining the protest or providing food to the occupiers. Although the riot shields have since been put away, police have continued obstructing attempts to deliver food. On Tuesday two people were arrested for breach of the peace after protesters staged a mass walk-in, in an attempt to resupply the workers inside.
Hoping to starve the protesters out, Vestas imposed a food ban after the failure of their initial cunning plan of offering the workers food as long as they came out to get it. Following the success of the walk-in however, they changed their stance and are currently offering to provide the workers with food, as long as they accept no more from supporters.
The company has so far refused to negotiate - preferring threats instead. They’ve told the occupiers that they faced arrest and being fired without redundancy pay (a measly three weeks), if they didn’t leave the premises immediately. Two workers have left the occupation but the others remain strong despite having been given four ultimatums.
Energy and climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, recently promised the creation of 400,000 new ‘green’ jobs as part of his plans to meet his hot air target of “over 30%” of Britain’s energy being produced by renewable sources, most notably wind power, by 2020. Passing wind on the Vestas situation, Miliband, without a trace of irony, blamed insufficient orders for the turbines and the difficulty in obtaining planning permission for wind farms.
A similar situation arose in Scotland earlier in the year when Vestas closed a plant in Machrihanish, Kyntyre, for similar reasons. However, the Scottish government negotiated a takeover by another company, (the hilariously named) Skykon, who, with the help of government subsidies, are planning to adapt the plant to purpose before expanding production as part of a push to meet the Scottish government’s renewable energy targets.
While the government has been happy to give the ‘green’ light to airport expansion plans and the construction of new nuclear and coal powered power stations on the premise that they will create desperately needed jobs, not to mention pouring rivers of cash into the failing banks and propping up the car industry, it seems that stepping in to save 525 jobs in a hard hit island economy is out of the question. Up to their necks in hypocrisy, Miliband’s feeble protestations have shown once again that the government’s action on climate change amounts to little more than pissing in the wind turbine.
* See www.savevestas.wordpress.com
* Send messages of support to: firstname.lastname@example.org
* The workers are calling for solidarity actions – specifically at Vestas UK head office in Warrington at 302 Bridgewater Place, Birchwood Park, WA3 6XG