Defending Vestas workers

IssueSeptember 2009
Feature by James Beecher

With the Big Green Gathering cancelled at the last minute, a few Bicycology activists visited the Isle of Wight to support Vestas workers occupying their wind turbine factory to protest against its closure.

The workers were about 200 metres away with access to a large balcony. When we arrived, they were being effectively starved out by Vestas, surviving on one small evening meal. This was supplemented by whatever could be stuffed into tennis balls and thrown to them. About 1 in 20 balls reached them.

Vestival

We took our pedal-powered, tandem-pulled sound-system “Pedals” to amplify speeches, music from mp3 payers and live performances by Seize The Day, the Carbon Town-Cryer band, and a ceilidh band. We also showed pedal-powered films – including one about the Visteon occupation, and The Take - Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis’ documentary about the successful factory occupation movement in Argentina.

“Vestival”, as it briefly became known, was a mix of Climate Camp-affiliated groups and factionalist lefty groups all making a sterling effort to put aside ideological differences and pull together a volunteer vegan kitchen, various events, mountains of leaflets, and interviews with the press.

Unions and other support

There were also of course a large number of Vestas workers, many of whom joined the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union because they appreciated its helpful but non-controlling support. (Joining a union had been banned previously.) Other workers - including the final six occupiers - felt no need to join any union.

Bob Crow of the RMT attended the eviction proceedings in court, and spoke at rallies early on, and rank-and-file members of unions such as the PCS, Unison, Unite, FBU and others came down with flags and banners. Outside court, an activist sang a beautiful rendition of “There Is Power in a Union”, having heard that Billy Bragg was dedicating his US concerts to the occupiers.

The local Lib Dem parliamentary candidate was regularly in attendance, and brought Simon Hughes along for a day of fine words (and finer evasion of difficult questions!) Local teenagers and children came to enjoy the music, face-painting and craft workshops – including, one night, a bunch of boy racers who showed up to rev their engines in support! Support came from the local industrial estate in the form of cheap print runs of T-shirts and leaflets, and forklift deliveries of pallet-wood. It felt that the whole island was supportive, and different strands of “the movement” were coming together.

So often it feels as if we are banging our heads together or against brick walls, but at Vestas we saw people taking truly inspiring direct action and being almost universally respected for it. James Beecher is in the climate action affinity group, Bicycology.

The Vestas workers ended their 18-day sit-in on 7 August after the company were granted eviction orders. 425 workers lost their jobs as the wind turbine factory was closed – production is being moved to China and the US.

Topics: Climate Change