On Friday 3 July, Workers’ Climate Action and the Cowes Trades
Council held a public meeting attended by around 100 people, to oppose
the closure of the Vestas plant, Britain’s only wind turbine factory,
on the Isle of Wight.
Two months ago, Vestas announced over 500 job cuts and is seeking to move production to the USA
The room was packed with workers from the factory as well as people
from the wider community. By the end of the meeting, there were people
seriously discussing the tactic of a factory occupation to save jobs
and force much-needed investment in wind energy. How did this come
The Isle of Wight is, for the most part, staunchly Conservative,
with very little history of class struggle or environmentalism. It has
one Labour councillor, no branch of any left group, and an apparently
inactive Green Party branch. The previous campaign to save jobs at
Vestas was very small, based mainly on a Facebook group and a petition
had ground to a halt, lacking direction and the confidence to take
A small number of activists from Workers’ Liberty heard the news of
the closure began getting in touch with people on the Island three
weeks ago. We managed to get a hold of the few local trade unionists
from the Trades Council. Most of these turned out to be past retirement
age, but many with militant histories.
As impressed as these old heads of the labour movement were and as
glad as they were to see a bunch of energetic young people having come
down to set up a campaign, no one expected it to go anywhere. The
wisdom was that this was a workplace that had never been unionised, the
closure had been announced, the ball was in motion; we should try by
all means but that we shouldn’t get too disappointed if we got nowhere.
Despite this, we went out and simply stood outside the factory
waiting for people to come out of work, we had no leaflets other than
the basic WCA ‘Climate Change is a Class Issue’ one. As the workers
went past we got chatting, heard stories of people having to move house
as a result of the redundancies and various attempts over the years to
get trade union recognition met with victimisations and sackings.
People felt betrayed, many of them young, many had thought that this
was an industry with a future, many genuinely felt they were doing
their bit to save the planet. All this was down the drain.
People were pissed off, all that was lacking was the sense that
anything could be done to do anything, to fight back, we decided at
that point to try and pull together a meeting. We got the Trade’s
Council to sort the venue, came back to London and knocked up a leaflet.
We then mobilised a small but diverse group of Workers’ Climate
Action activists (environmentalists, socialists, and anarchists) from
across the country to come down.
We spent a week intensively building for a public meeting. We
leafleted the gates of the two factory sites at least twice a day, did
stalls in the main towns, and constantly spoke to people about their
concerns – the impact of the closure on jobs and the local community,
environmental concerns, the poor state of health and safety at the
Vestas plants, and raised the appropriate political questions – who
should determine how jobs are provided and how energy is produced? How
should the transition to a low carbon economy be achieved? What is to
be done about harsh management practices, job losses, and factory
Working in a political environment not usually best suited to
revolutionary politics, we found that our concern for jobs and the
environment was immediately taken on by the many of the hundreds of
people we spoke to.
Not only are Vestas management cutting jobs, they are also a highly
exploitative employer. In the tradition of post-fordist management,
they sought to generate a high turnover of employees to prevent
unionisation, and to prevent the workers from building up significant
redundancy packages. The air conditioning in the factories is
inadequate, many workers contracted contact dermatitis, an allergic
reaction to the resin used in moulds, and the company operates an
unofficial ‘three strikes and you’re out’ disciplinary procedure, as
well as regularly denying workers days off and sick days for no good
reason. The exploitation of the worker for profit provides us with an
analogy for environmental exploitation and degradation.
We succeeded in talking to the local media, including BBC radio
Solent, the Isle of Wight County press, and Meridian News, and we were
able to voice ideas like the just transition to a low carbon economy,
and democratic workers’ control of industry in forums where they had
not been heard in a long time.
Using contacts made during the Visteon occupation, we persuaded the
former convenor of the Enfield Visteon plant, Ron Clarke, to speak at
the public meeting. Ron spoke about the experience and the tactics of
occupation, telling the gathered crowds that physical control of the
factory was the only way to bargain with the bosses. The experience
gained by the Visteon workers, and their resounding success provided a
galvanising example of what can be achieved if workers take action and
We encountered problems and obstructions from all the usual sources.
Just before the public meeting, a police inspector phoned the secretary
of Cowes trades council, informing him that the Workers’ Climate Action
had published a piece exhorting Vestas workers to chain themselves to
machinery. This was, of course, a lie. The police were, nevertheless,
very visible outside the public meeting.
In addition to this, many of the speakers brought to the public
meeting by the local trades council revealed themselves to be
bureaucrats. They told workers to simply join UNITE and get official
recognition, but were disdainful about the idea of occupation. These
business unionists and social partnership bureaucrats brought little to
the campaign, but they certainly alienated a lot of workers with their
elitist talk of letters written to ‘Lord Mandelson’.
Despite the politically questionable character of the meeting, we
managed to get workers and people on-board to expand the campaign
further into the factory and the local community. The Socialist Workers
Party and Socialist Party are already organising public meetings in
Southampton and Portsmouth with speakers from Workers’ Climate Action
and workers themselves. A protest in the centre of Newport is planned,
with the possibility of a happening outside Downing Street in London to
put pressure on the government.
National groups are expressing an interest in getting involved, and
we are following up contacts in Denmark, where Vestas have their
headquarters, with a view to encouraging solidarity actions. Watch this
space, and the Workers’ Climate Action Website (www.workersclimateaction.co.uk) for more information as it comes in.
Our actions to oppose the Vestas closure will demonstrate that,
though energy and enthusiasm are essential to achieve results, we must
also, as Lenin says ‘be able at each particular moment to find the
particular link in the chain which you must grasp with all your might
in order to hold the whole chain and to prepare firmly for the
transition to the next link; the order of the links, their form, the
manner in which they are linked together, the way they differ from each
other in the historical chain of events, are not as simple and not as
meaningless as those in an ordinary chain made by a smith.’
Already messages of solidarity are pouring in via email
(email@example.com), and a motion will be circulating around
trade unions who wish to offer their support to the Vestas workers. The
campaign is already snowballing, but it must be held in mind that this
situation could be brought into existence anywhere – at Corus, or in
the car industry, or at Nortel where 2,000 redundancies were announced
today. Go to where jobs are being lost, talk to a few workers,
collaborate and draft a leaflet, call a big meeting. Raise the
experience of Visteon. Raise the possibility of direct action: it can
Workers Climate Action are holding an organising meeting in
Cambridge on Friday 17 July. Come and get involved. The WCA website
should have more details soon.
Save jobs at Vestas wind turbine plant
Over 600 workers at the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight are on the brink of losing their jobs after the company announced they intend to move production of wind turbine blades to America. The workers have been offered an insulting redundancy package of less than £1,000 and at a public meeting last week a call for action was raised.
Ben Norman, Portsmouth Socialist Party
The meeting, called by the Isle of Wight trades council and a local campaign group called ‘Workers Climate Action’, was attended by around 150 people, made up of Vestas workers and local residents.
The ideas raised by the seven speakers, none of whom were Vestas workers, varied enormously. Members of ‘Workers Climate Action’ called for immediate direct action and factory occupation. Speakers from the trades council simply urged workers to join their local union.
These demands are not enough, especially as the factory bosses do not recognise the trade unions. Members of the Socialist Party raised the need for a clear programme of demands to accompany coordinated action and urged both the meeting organisers and the workers to learn the lessons of Lindsey, Visteon and Linamar.
The job losses at Vestas are not unique on the Isle of Wight. There has been a 15,000 increase in the number of people forced to claim unemployment benefit since last year.
Currently the island is the lowest wage economy in the UK. Closure of a factory of this size would be a disaster for the entire Island.
The workers of the island will not find allies in the bosses or even in their elected MPs.
Tory MP Andrew Turner effectively turned his back on the workers by saying: “My job is not to solve this problem!”
The representative from SEEDA, the regional development agency, said that although they have a budget in excess of £169 million, there was no will to use it to save Vestas jobs.
One member of the trades council even announced that they had written to Peter Mandelson to petition him to save the plant.
We say that the answer will not be found with Lord Mandelson or an unelected government quango.
We pledge our support to and call for clear demands for the workers of Vestas, including:
- No to job cuts.
- Re-invest in the factory – Keep production going.
- Full trade union recognition.
- Take the factory into public ownership under democratic workers’ control and management.
- Form an action committee to take the campaign forward.
- Organise a demonstration on the Isle of Wight as soon as possible to build solidarity for the Vestas workers.