Vestas: Timeline of an occupation

The occupation of Vestas wind turbine factory on the normally conservative Isle of Wight (IoW) in Britain is an inspiration to all workers facing redundancy. Reprinted from workersliberty.org, here is the story so far…

28 April: After telling workers, in 2008, that they planned to re-fit the factories in 2009 to produce larger blades with a better production process, the Danish based multinational Vestas announces instead that it will close the IoW wind turbine blade factories, the only such factories in Britain.

15 June: Socialist activists from the group Workers’ Liberty arrive in the IoW to start leafleting and talking to workers about the Vestas factory closure and ways to resist it.

3 July: Anti-capitalist environmentalists from Workers’ Climate Action (WCA) and the local Trades Council call a public meeting to discuss campaigning against the closure of the Vestas factories.

Two weeks starting 6 July: A minority of workers begin to discuss action. As the conversations spread, the idea grows that there are alternatives. Meanwhile public campaigning against the closure continues on the streets of the IoW.

15 July: Government publishes a White Paper calling for 7000 extra wind turbines in Britain in coming years. (3000 are currently operating or being installed).

20 July: Vestas management hear about the conversations and try to forestall action by threatening workers. 7.30pm: workers decide that they should move before the management try further pre-emptive action, and occupy the St Cross factory.

From 21 July: Vestas bosses tell all other workers, at Venture Quays as well as St Cross, to stay home (on full pay) instead of working. Workers rally outside the St Cross front gate. They elect a committee to organise their campaign. Management make repeated empty threats against the occupiers. They also refuse to let in food. Support comes in from a number of unions, and especially from Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union’s Portsmouth branch, which organises the Portsmouth-IoW ferries.

22 July: A Families and Community Campaign is set up to back the Vestas workers.

23 July: The Vestas story reaches the front page of the national press (the Independent). Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband writes an evasive letter to the Guardian about Vestas. Vestas bosses start supplying food to the workers, but serve summonses for a court hearing on 29 July for a possession order. RMT leader Bob Crow comes to Vestas and offers RMT lawyers to help the workers.

24 July: Many Vestas workers join RMT so that it can represent them with the Vestas bosses. 300 people march from Newport town centre to the St Cross factory.

25 July: Vestas bosses start giving the occupiers hot food.

28 July: Vestas bosses issue notices of dismissal to eleven workers.

29 July: Court hearing on Vestas bosses’ claim for a possession order. Case adjourned to 4 August.

1 August: Police and Vestas bosses allow RMT to take extra food into the factory. (However, this proves to be a one-off).

3 August: WCA activists show solidarity with workers by supergluing themselves to block the entrance to the government Department of Energy and Climate Change. The Trades Union Congress puts out a statement calling on the Government to intervene to save jobs.

4 August: Sixteen union leaders publish a stronger statement of support. Vestas bosses win their “possession order” in court. Activists occupy the roof of the Vestas factory at Venture Quays in East Cowes, and use its prominent waterfront position to display solidarity banners.

6 August: Climate change minister Joan Ruddock meets RMT and Vestas workers. She offers warm words but no commitment; claims that Government tried to buy the Vestas factories, but Vestas refused. Government agrees to continue talks with RMT.

7 August: Occupiers evicted, despite WCA mobilising 25 activists from London to join the IoW picket from 3am. Occupiers remain defiant. At the 6pm rally at the St Cross factory gate, they call for the pickets to be continued and built up into a blockade.

8 August: Workers and supporters, marching from a rally in Newport town centre, briefly reoccupy the factory grounds.

9 August: Well-attended meeting of Vestas workers and supporters in Newport debates strategy for the next phase.

10 August: Workers and supporters start a presence at the back gate of the Newport factory. Vestas bosses responded by erecting fences all across the back of the factory.

12 August: National day of action. Five rallies on the IoW; meetings and protests all over the country; WCA activists occupy South East England Development Authority offices.

14 August: The East Cowes occupiers come down from the roof. Back pay and redundancy money goes into workers’ bank accounts. The workers continue the campaign with a continued picket, a demonstration in Ryde on 15 August, and plans for a national day of action on 17 September.

17 August: Vestas brings in its “clean-up” team, but workers picket the factory gates in protest. Workers and supporters stage “sit-in picnic” protest at local Job Centre

18 August: Vestas bosses announced their latest financial results. They expect revenue to rise by 20% to 7.2 billion euros this year, and the operating margin (of profit) to be between 11% and 13%.

Since then workers have continued the campaign by blockading the “marine gate” at the Newport factory to prevent the shipment of nine turbine blades worth £700,000, and they occupied cranes at Southampton docks to prevent the loading of blades. For updates, check savevestas.wordpress.com – Spark editors

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