By Joe Thorne
An important struggle is brewing on the Isle of Wight: we all need to take note, both of what has happened so far (and the lessons we can learn from it); and the possibilities in the coming weeks.
A factory, the only remaining manufacturer of wind-farm turbines in the UK, is due to be closed by its owners, Vestas, who are making all 500 workers redundant. The company, like so many of those making redundancies at the moment, is using the recession as cover for cuts which are motivated by nothing other than ordinary cost cutting. Jobs are being moved to the USA.
But this is not only about jobs. News of the planned closure has also ignited outrage in the movement against climate change. When we should be converting to an economy based on renewable, low-carbon energy, the closure of the Vestas factory is just what doesn’t need to happen. So Vestas is not just a class fight – though it is that. It is a class fight which raises issues of climate change, and the tension between capitalist production, and social production.
Workers are now discussing occupying one of the two sites on the Isle of Wight, and need the support of workers and climate change campaigners everywhere.
The green shoots of militancy
Despite dictatorial management and unsafe working conditions, Vestas workers have never been organised in a union. But when Workers Climate Action activists heard of the planned closure it was mid June, and the spectre of the Visteon occupations still loomed large. Would it be possible to encourage Vestas workers to draw lessons from the struggles at Visteon? Would it be possible to encourage these workers to take similarly militant action?
Workers Climate Action members made contacts on the island through union networks and using the internet. They travelled to the island, and begun to talk to workers outside factory gates, finding bitterness, but resignation. Slowly, they began to agitate and gather contacts, built a meeting in conjunction with the trades council, and are living on the island, cooperating with groups of workers who are now considering an occupation. Read a report here.
It is worth stopping briefly to emphasise how exceptional this is – at least in the current environment. Revolutionaries generally assume that it is the ‘job’ of the unions to directly organise and inspire workers, and their job to ‘intervene’ through propaganda when (inevitably, almost), the union vacillates, or directly turns against workers. But – though nothing at all is certain – it is clear already that progress has been made beyond what most would have dared hope.
The member of Workers Climate Action and AWL who has been most closely involved in organising on the island also drew other lessons. “This has really been a lesson in the importance of left unity. It’s been really useful to have support from Jonathan Neale, a member of the SWP who had been involved in hospital occupations during the ‘70s, and members of the SWP and Socialist Party who have begun to make contact with workers at the Vestas warehouse in Southampton where turbine blades are stored.”
What the movement needs to do
So far, what has been done is impressive. Nothing is now certain, everything is possible.
- Send a message of solidarity to the Vestas workers: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Activists with workplace organising experience, particularly with experience at occupations, are particularly and urgently needed over the next week or two. It is less than three hours from London to the Isle of Wight (though you are advised to book the ferry in advance), and basic accommodation is available there. Get in touch with Ed on the Isle of Wight 07775 763750 if you think you may be able to help.
- If you would be prepared to join an occupation, be prepared for alerts at short notice. Write to us at email@example.com with your mobile number and stating if you’d be up for joining an occupation or helping in any other way.
- If you are near Southampton, get in touch with Ed (number above) if you would be able to help organising there.
- Vestas also lists ‘sales’ sites in Warrington on its website. Please get in touch if you may be able to visit the Warrington site to talk to workers there.
Solidarity with workers at Vestas!