English workers keep up fight to save ‘green’ jobs

By Martha Grevatt
Source: Workers World Online. 3 September 2009.

“They’d made an announcement ... that we were going to have our jobs for years to come. So people went out and got mortgages and cars and all that. ... Then they came and said it’s not happening. They turned around and said, ‘Actually, we’re sacking you all.’ It was a big shock.” (savevestas.wordpress.com)

These could be the voices of autoworkers in Detroit, St. Louis or even at this writer’s plant in Twinsburg, Ohio. They could have been working in steel or any other “dying industry”—one so-defined by those who are killing the jobs of workers considered expendable.

Instead, these are the words of Mike and Tracey, who worked in the branch of manufacturing deemed key to revitalizing the capitalist economy. Their jobs were the so-called “green jobs”—the jobs laid-off autoworkers are told they should get training for if they want to make it in a changing economy. On Aug. 12 the Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas made Mike, Tracey and 600 other workers “redundant” when it ceased operations at a plant on the Isle of Wight in Britain. (Redundancies is the English term for layoffs.)

Vestas’ official excuse for closing existing plants is that the wind-turbine blades currently produced there are not designed for turbines used in Britain. That raises the obvious question, why not retool? Vestas, which has profited from the labor of European workers, is now moving manufacturing to the U.S., where the company anticipates bigger markets and stimulus grants from the government—in other words, a larger profit margin.

There is no reason for workers here to expect lifetime employment either, should they get jobs with “green” businesses like Vestas. Down the road, if government subsidies run out, these companies could easily shut down again and decide to set up shop where wages are lower. Under capitalism, no job is safe—nor is the world’s fragile environment.

Fight for jobs unites workers, environmentalists
Vestas workers have made it clear that the company’s attitude toward them is unacceptable. The redundancies came after an 18-day occupation of the plant that drew worldwide attention.

Originally, about 50 workers were in on the plan to occupy, developed over several weeks of meetings. “On Tuesday [July 21] morning we were going to take the factory. We were going to go into work, and then hand out the leaflets saying, ‘We are occupying this factory.’ We thought it’d be that simple, according to Mike. When two snitches went to management, however, we had an emergency meeting as soon as we finished work. We said it’s not going to happen tomorrow, it’s got to happen today. ... By chance, one of the managers rode past on his bike with his wife and kid. He saw us with the ropes, chains and sleeping bags and camping gear. We wanted to hold on to see if others were coming, but we knew that management had heard about our occupation plans, so we had to go there and then.”

There were only 17 workers inside, but they had mass support on the outside from their coworkers and neighbors in the town of Newport. A second group of workers occupied the roof of another Vestas plant—now also closed—in nearby Cowes. Over a dozen solidarity actions were held around Britain. The folk band Seize the Day composed a song, “Boys on the Balcony,” especially for the sit-downers and performed it outside the plant.

When Vestas finally obtained a court eviction order, the last six workers still inside emerged. Three made dramatic exits—two scaled down the walls, one jumped off the balcony. Finally the last three walked out. All six were received by cheering crowds.

The struggle to force Vestas to cancel the redundancies is by no means over. Solidarity groups have formed all over Britain. They held coordinated actions on Aug. 12 and have declared Sept. 17 a second “national day of action.” On Aug. 29 environmental activists joined trade unionists in leafleting a rugby tournament at Wembley Stadium in London, demanding the Warrington Wolves dump Vestas as a team sponsor.

The Isle of Wight Council and the Isle’s Member of Parliament Andrew Turner have urged the South East England Development Agency to “apply stringent conditions to Vestas ... to ensure that a brand new Vestas facility, to be supported with substantial public money, provides long-term benefits to the local economy.” While Vestas is shuttering manufacturing facilities on the Isle, the company is in line for a six-million-pound government grant to open a research and development center there.

The fight against the Vestas plant closings has united the labor and environmental movements. “Climate Camps”—held in England, Scotland and Wales to demand action to reverse global warming—have demonstrated their support for Vestas workers and for continued production of wind turbines in Britain.

As of Aug. 29 supporters are traveling to Newport from all over, answering a call for help from the Vestas occupiers. “At the moment we are trying to stop Vestas getting blades out,” occupier Mark Smith told a London meeting. “They are shipping out blades from Southampton to the U.S. We think they want to get the nine blades in St. Cross [Newport factory] out. Direct action will be needed.”

To support the Vestas workers, visit savevestas.wordpress.com.