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From The Socialist newspaper, 29 July 2009


Vestas - build mass action for victory

Vestas wind turbine plant workers occupy to protest against redundancies, photo RMT television

Vestas wind turbine plant workers occupy to protest against redundancies, photo RMT television

As we go to press workers at Vestas Blades on the Isle of Wight, the only wind turbine plant in Britain, have been occupying the plant for over a week to try to prevent its closure. The twenty five workers inside the occupation have faced repeated threats of sacking, legal action, and removal of redundancy payments to try to force them to end the occupation. So far they have stood firm in the face of this intimidation.

Every night hundreds of Vestas workers and others have rallied outside the factory to show their support for the occupiers. The RMT - the transport and offshore union - which already organises the workers who erect wind turbines - has stepped in to give full support, further increasing the confidence of this determined group of workers.

Now, in a clear escalation of their bullying tactics Vestas, an anti-union company, have served an injunction for the occupying workers to appear at the Isle of Wight magistrates' court on 29 July. The workers are calling for a mass mobilisation outside the court and, later in the day, outside the factory gates.

Worldwide, as factories face closure and workers are told they are to be thrown on the scrap heap, occupations are becoming a frequent means of fighting back. As the Visteon workers showed earlier this year, even in situations where the workers do not seem to have much power, occupations can succeed in winning concessions.

At Vestas, the heroic action of the workers means that victory is possible. The government, having promised hundreds of thousands of new green jobs, is under massive pressure to act in defence of the Vestas workers. At the time of writing they have 'found' an extra 6 million grant for Vestas - however, they admit this will not save the factory, as profit-hungry Vestas is still determined to move the plant to the US. As things stand New Labour are just giving more money to a company that is throwing more than 600 workers on the scrapheap.

Step up the action

Bob Crow, RMT general secretary speaks to Vestas wind turbine workers occupying to protest against redundancies, photo RMT television

Bob Crow, RMT general secretary speaks to Vestas wind turbine workers occupying to protest against redundancies, photo RMT television

The response must be to step up support for the occupiers' demands for the nationalisation of the plant, under democratic workers' control, as part of creating a building block for a new, democratically planned, publicly-owned, green sector of the economy. As the occupiers have declared: "If the government can spend billions bailing out the banks - and even nationalise them - then surely they can do the same at Vestas."

In reality New Labour, despite its abhorrence for nationalisation, was forced to effectively nationalise banks to prevent the collapse of the capitalist finance system. This was not genuine nationalisation - RBS and Northern Rock are still being run in the interests of big business, rather than those of the majority of the population. These banks are being propped up by the tax payer in order to be sold back at a bargain price to the financiers as soon as possible!

However, this does not mean that the government cannot be forced to act in the case of Vestas, on the basis of determined struggle. The trade union movement must step up its support for the Vestas workers. If attempts are made to physically remove the workers from the factory a massive national trade union demonstration outside the plant should be immediately organised in their support.

The labour movement in Britain needs to learn lessons from South Korea, where more than 800 workers have been occupying the Ssangyong car plant in Pyeongtaek since May. Despite three thousand riot police storming the car plant to try to force them out, the occupation has continued. The Korean Congress of Trades Unions has responded by calling a two day general strike in support of the occupiers.

Mass movement

In Britain, in 1972 five dock workers' leaders, the Pentonville five, were jailed. Immediately, a mass movement developed from below with widespread discussion amongst workers about the need for a general strike. Under huge pressure, the TUC general council called a 24 hour general strike. As soon as the government and the capitalists saw the scale of working class opposition to the jailings they intervened to secure the release of the dockers.

The situation is different today in a number of respects, but any attempt to act in a similar fashion against the Vestas workers would again lead to enormous anger from workers, many facing threats to their own jobs. The trade union movement would need to harness that opposition, including organising industrial action in defence of the Vestas workers.

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In The Socialist 29 July 2009:

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Vestas - build mass action for victory

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