Vestas occupation continues; left-wing political parties voice support

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Morale is “fine” inside the Vestas plant in Newport, Isle of Wight, England, as an industrial occupation of the wind turbine factory finished entered its fourth night, says one of the occupiers.

“Mark,” who prefers not to give his last name for fear of management reprisals, spoke to Wikinews and gave an update on the situation inside the plant, where 30 of the 525 workers whose jobs are slated to be lost at the end of July occupied management offices on Monday evening and issued a call for the British government to nationalise the plant.

A double fence now rings the plant, surrounded by police in riot gear. Five people have been arrested for attempting to enter the plant grounds. According to Mark, while police are now letting food onto the plant grounds, Vestas’ private security have been halting it at the gate; food for the occupiers is now being provided by Vestas management after the occupiers accused Vestas in the press of violating the Human Rights Act; commenting on the quality of the food, Mark said “it’s not been that good”. According to the BBC, the content has been mostly sausage rolls, pasties and crisps.

The occupiers were informed yesterday that if they did not leave the plant by 10:30 p.m. on July 22, they would be fired. They have since been served with papers charging them with aggravated trespass and are seeking legal representation; the court papers give them until July 29 to vacate, but according to Mark, the occupiers have no plans to leave: “we’re going to be in here for a while”.

Vestas has given no comment to the press about the occupation.

Political parties in Britain have begun responding to the Vestas situation, with the Green Party adding its support to the occupation following the early declarations of support, previously reported here, by the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party. Green Party Leader Dr Caroline Lucas MEP gave her “full support”, and said in an online statement, “We should be seizing the opportunity to create a renewable energy revolution through a favourable policy environment and massive investment in the new technologies that can see us through a transition towards a more environmentally and economically stable economy. The Government can make a genuine start along this road by pledging financial aid to help keep the Isle of Wight’s Vestas plant open for business”. The Greens held a demonstration in London supporting the Vestas workers on July 22. Environmentalist protesters have established a climate camp with dozens of people outside the perimeter of the fence and a mass demonstration is planned for Friday evening in Newport’s St Thomas’s Square.

In parliament, meanwhile, five MPs of the ruling Labour Party have signed a motion protesting the Vestas plant’s closure and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg stated, “This closure exposes the hollow truth of Labour’s climate change strategy”. Labour Party left-wing veteran Tony Benn is expected to appear with RMT general secretary Bob Crow and address a rally at the factory Thursday night. Opposition leader David Cameron of the Conservative Party has not yet commented on the Vestas situation, but Conservative MP Andrew Turner, who represents the Isle of Wight, held a confidential meeting with Vestas management, after which he said that nationalisation was “not on the table”. Earlier in parliament, Turner said that he found Vestas’s lack of negotiations with its employees “totally unacceptable”.

Late on Thursday, Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Minister, published an editorial in The Guardian, writing:

[W]e have to win a political argument that environmentally and industrially, onshore wind is part of the solution. In the meantime, there must be a strategy for the Isle of Wight to do all we can to help and there is. Not just support for the workers who are losing their jobs, but a strategy to work with Vestas.

Milliband went on to promise £120 million in government investment in offshore wind power production and £60 million in marine manufacturing.

Vestas attributes its pullout from the UK to difficulty in obtaining planning permission for wind farms. The Independent quotes a senior company executive as saying, “We needed a stable long-term market and that was not there in the UK. We have made clear to the Government that we need a market. We do not need money.” Vestas’s income is up 59% in the last quarter, although its stock has dropped 4.4% on the Copenhagen Stock Exchange since the occupation began.

Meanwhile in the United States, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick cut the ribbon at the opening of a 300-turbine, 800-megawatt capacity wind farm built by Vestas in Holden, Massachusetts. Vestas is a finalist in a multi-million dollar government contract to build a new offshore wind farm to be constructed in Nantucket Sound by 2012.

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