Socialist Worker

Vestas: The story of the struggle

by Tom Walker in Newport, the Isle of Wight
Issue No. 2162

The occupying workers greet their supporters  (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/» Guy Smallman )

The occupying workers greet their supporters (Pic: » Guy Smallman)


On Monday 20 July, 25 workers at the Vestas wind turbine factory in Newport, Isle of Wight, went into occupation. 

The sit-in has now entered its second week. It has electrified the environmental movement around the world and is a beacon of resistance for workers fighting back everywhere.

The struggle had reached a critical stage as Socialist Worker went to press, with Vestas bosses due to seek an injunction against the occupying workers in court on Wednesday.

But the mood inside the occupation and among supporters outside is getting more determined.

What is happening at Vestas did not just fall out of the sky. It is the latest stage of a campaign that goes back to 28 April, when 600 workers at the factory were told they were being sacked and the plant closed.

Mike Godley, one of the occupiers, said, “We were devastated. There were people who wanted to fight but after the way we’d been treated we thought nothing could be done.”

A core group of workers started to organise with help from local trade unionists, socialists and climate activists.

More than 100 people—many of them Vestas workers—came to a trades council meeting on Friday 3 July where the idea of occupation was raised.

And on Saturday 12 July, more than 50 activists gathered 500 signatureson a petition in just a few hours and held a rally in Newport town square.

Getting names on petitions had no visible effect on Vestas bosses or the government. But it showed the workers the mass public support they had and raised their confidence to fight.

“At first I thought, ‘I can’t do anything because the managers will just sack me’,” said Mike. “But when it started to gather so much support a couple of weeks ago I knew I had to get involved.”

On Monday, 25 workers walked onto the site and occupied the managers’ offices More than 100 pickets quickly gathered in support outside the factory. Pickets defied a police blockade and threw food to the occupiers.

Siege

Tracey, a Vestas worker, was one of those outside the plant trying to break the siege. “I think they’re trying to starve them out,” she said.

Bosses responded with an ultimatum to the occupiers—leave immediately or face the sack and lose their redundancy money. “Stay!” the crowd outside screamed. The occupiers put it to a vote—and stayed.

Thursday morning saw bosses make a huge climbdown by starting to bring food to the occupying workers.

That day 300 came to the evening rally, which has been established as a regular fixture. And on Friday, more than 400 people—the biggest protest yet—marched from Newport town centre to join the picket.

The rally heard that the workers inside were still only being given snacks to eat, leaving them hungry and ill. In response the crowd chanted, “One hot meal”.

By Saturday the demand was gathering pace. As many as 200 pickets surged forward and banged on the steel fence demanding the occupiers get proper food.

Again, Vestas bosses gave in under mass pressure and the occupiers were given a hot meal.

As the news was announced the crowd chanted, “We are winning!”

As the occupation enters its second week activists have shifted their focus to building as much solidarity as possible.

As Socialist Worker went to press hundreds of supporters were planning a protest outside Newport county court for Wednesday.

Supporters have set up camp outside the factory which is home to an inspiring red-green coalition of activists.

There are gazebos put up by the RMT union and the Socialist Workers Party.

Ron Clark and Linda Bartle, who were part of the successful occupation at Visteon, came to show their solidarity.

Ron said, “Seeing people turn up to support you is a real morale booster when you’re in occupation. You’d be surprised how much it lifts you.”

Mike added, “Whatever happens, we won’t go away. This definitely won’t be over on Wednesday.”

Workers have built an inspirational fight using their own organisation, strength and initiative. They should refuse to be cowed by legal threats—because it is unofficial, militant action that has the power to win.

Join the picket outside the factory at St Cross Industrial Estate,

Monks Brook, Newport. Rally at 6pm every day


If you enjoy Socialist Worker, please consider giving to our annual appeal to make sure we can maintain and develop our online and print versions of Socialist Worker. Go here for details and to donate.

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.