Vestas workers challenged Climate Change Minister Ed Miliband at a packed public meeting of 600 people at Oxford Town Hall on Monday evening.
Protesters supporting the Vestas workers heckled Miliband earlier in the day when he met the public at Oxford train station. Local trade unionists and environmentalists forced him to agree to an impromptu personal meeting with one of the Vestas workers.
Later, local campaigners gathered signatures from the public as they entered the public meeting, demanding that a Vestas worker be allowed to address the meeting from the platform.
Just as Miliband was about to speak it was announced, to much applause, that “due to popular demand” the meeting agenda would be rearranged to allow a Vestas worker to speak to the meeting.
Vestas worker Dave Hughes addressed the meeting. He explained what had happened and why the workers were occupying the factory – to save their jobs and to show the government that they have the skills to make wind turbine blades for the UK market.
He asked Miliband, “Why has the government stood back and allowed 600 workers to be fired?” and said that if the government was serious about tackling climate change it should save Vestas.
Miliband replied that Vestas management had told him that government money would not save the plant and that the biggest problem was UK planning laws – laws that he said the government was going to change. Several Vestas workers and others challenged Miliband from the floor.
They asked why, if the government could find billions to nationalise the banks, they could not nationalise Vestas to save jobs and help save the environment. Miliband argued that, “If I nationalise I don't think it will encourage others to come here and invest”.
A speaker from People and Planet lambasted the government’s new energy white paper saying it was “incoherent and does not have a long term strategy behind it”.
To much laughter people pointed out that, while the government claims to be a global leader on carbon reduction, it now owns the Royal Bank of Scotland—the biggest funder of fossil fuels in Britain.
Miliband urged us all to “suspend our pre-existing views” to find ways to deal with climate change. Yet when challenged again from the floor as to why the government won't step in and save Vestas he replied, “It’s not about the amount of money from us – to nationalise will do more harm than good”.
New Labour is clearly not prepared to drop its ideological belief that the free market is the answer to solving climate change and creating much needed new green jobs during the biggest recession the country has faced since the 1930s.
Many people left the meeting unconvinced by Miliband’s lukewarm response – but inspired by the Vestas workers’ action.
A collection for the Vestas workers raised £200.