Socialist Worker

Vestas occupation: A beacon for all workers

by Siân Ruddick, in Newport, Isle of Wight
Issue No. 2163

Workers and supporters rally outside the Vestas plant on Tuesday after protesting at the court  (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/» Guy Smallman )

Workers and supporters rally outside the Vestas plant on Tuesday after protesting at the court (Pic: » Guy Smallman)


Vestas workers are continuing their inspirational struggle for jobs and justice.

They have occupied their plant in Newport, Isle of Wight, for over two weeks—in defiance of management hostility, legal threats and government indifference.

A battle by a small group of workers has become a beacon for workers everywhere who are facing attacks on their jobs, pay, conditions and pensions.

The workers are currently defying a court ruling ordering them to leave the plant.

There have been several points throughout the occupation when it seemed the sit-in was about to end. Yet the workers remain determined.

Vestas bosses made an initial attempt to use the law to evict the occupiers on Wednesday of last week. But the judge adjourned the case after lawyers acting for Vestas admitted they had failed to serve proper notice of the case to the workers.

That gave activists another week to build the campaign.

Food became a central issue. Teams of people frequently overcame fences surrounding the plant to rush bags of food up to the workers.

Local charities donated much of the food to show their support for the action.

Delay

Workers were due to receive their redundancy payments into their accounts on Friday. But Vestas managers were forced to delay the shutdown of the factory and employ workers, on full pay, for an extra two weeks.

Not all of the workers have been so fortunate. The “boys on the balcony”, as they have now come to be known, have been sacked with no redundancy payments.

But they remain defiant. Ian Terry, one of the occupiers, said, “We’re happy and we’re doing well. The food bags are making a real difference. We feel like we’re winning.”

The action is having a serious impact. It has already cost Vestas millions.

Solidarity has been crucial. Vestas workers, their families and supporters continued to campaign tirelessly to build support and to keep up the spirits of the occupiers (see below).

People gathered in St Thomas’ Square in Newport last Saturday for a rally in support of the occupation.

Phil, a Vestas worker, spoke at the rally. “This show of support is brilliant,” he said. “Numbers are growing and you’re all making such a difference.

“Those guys in the occupation have been treated like criminals, but they’re our heroes. They’re standing up for everyone.”

Mark Chiverton, branch secretary of the Unison union on the island, said, “I’m a Labour Party member but the hypocrisy of the government is astounding. It is up to all of us, Labour members and not, to stand up to the government and oppose these cuts.”

Spirits were high as the rally marched to the Vestas plant with cars hooting their horns in support along the way.

Simon, a socialist and climate activist from London, had come to support the workers. He told Socialist Worker, “The government should nationalise this plant and keep it going.

“This just shows the destructive logic of capitalism where everything is judged on price, not worth.”

Occupying workers came onto the balcony of their plant to cheer the march as it arrived.

The RMT union negotiated with the police, in front of the crowd, to let bags of food, sandwiches, fruit and juice into the occupation. Supporters chanted, “Let it in, feed our boys.” The police were forced to concede.

But battles over getting food into the workers continue on a daily basis.

The island is abuzz with talk of the action. People on buses, in cafes and in shops talk about the need to build support and the best way forward.

The media attention has taken lots of people by surprise, as Danish and Japanese TV crews as well as newspaper reporters have descended on the island.

Focus

Continuing to build solidarity with the struggle at Vestas, and putting pressure on the government to nationalise the plant, has to be a major focus for supporters over the coming weeks.

Regardless of any court rulings, workers have made it clear that their fight will continue.

Vestas workers have called on supporters to take part in national days of action this Saturday and on Wednesday of next week.

They are calling on other workers in the Isle of Wight to strike in solidarity and escalate the dispute.

“People are asking what they can do,” said Seb, one of the Vestas workers. “We are asking for people to be part of the national days of action on Saturday and Wednesday. Down tools for an hour or hold a rally.

“Vestas bosses have let people down. We want to make changes in the factory to benefit people, not to make money.”

Keep an eye on Socialist Worker's website for further updates


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

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