Monday, 3 August 2009

Nationalise Vestas to save jobs!

(Photographs from RMT TV)

Now nearing the third week of occupation, working class people across the UK are looking towards the lads occupying Vestas as a source of inspiration for how to stand up and fight in defence of jobs. In the face of a viciously anti-union employer, Vestas workers have stood firm and stared down management. Is it any wonder, however, that Vestas workers are compelled to struggle? There are 625 jobs on the line at Vestas and currently only 124 job vacancies on the entire island!

The economic crisis that greedy bosses and pro-market politicians have helped mold means this fight is more critical than ever. But Vestas workers have got the employer on the back foot; the adjournment of the court hearing to obtain an injunction last Wednesday doesn’t just represent Vestas management’s incompetence but also the popularity of the occupation – which has made New Labour hesitant to use the courts against it. The support of the local transport union – RMT – and their commitment to provide legal support for the court hearings has been a huge boost to the occupiers; now is an opportunity for trade unionists from across the island and further afield to express solidarity with Vestas workers – we need to build mass action to bring Vestas bosses to their knees and force the hand of the weakened New Labour government!

Vestas diet plan
Prisoners in Camp Hill get three hot meals a day, yet Vestas bosses have been allowed to try and starve out occupying workers! When once of the occupiers, Luke, was forced to leave the occupation on Thursday, he was pale and shaking and paramedics found his blood sugar levels to be unusually low. How can Vestas bosses sleep at night when they know that they have sanctioned a brutal siege? We need to make sure that vital supplies get to the occupiers – not through short-term stunts, but by mobilising hundreds of people, occupier’s families, trade unionists and others to put pressure on everywhere we can. The employers have dragged Vestas workers to the courts for occupying; we should drag them to the courts for starving people! This, alongside mass action, could force supplies in.

Mass action for victory
If attempts are made to physically remove the workers from the factory a massive trade union demonstration outside the plant should be immediately organised in their support. The workers' movement in Britain should learn the lessons from South Korea, where more than 800 workers have been occupying the Ssangyong car plant since May. Despite riot police storming the plant, the occupation has continued. The Korean Congress of Trade Unions has called a two day general strike to support them. There are differences in the situation, but any moves to clamp down on the occupiers would have deep reverberations. The trade union movement needs to be prepared to harness the anger that any moves against Vestas workers would create, including organising industrial action in their defence.

Nationalise to save jobs and the environment
If this factory goes, what does the future have in store? Occupiers who’ve been separated from their families for over two weeks fighting for a decent future would be forced to up sticks and leave the island. To find work and support a family there’s no other option, and even then nothing's guaranteed. Vestas management have callously made it clear that they have no interest in keeping the plant open when it's easier and cheaper to screw workers in the United States. In that context, appealing to the government to increase subsidies, as Green MEP Caroline Lucas has, makes no sense – Vestas have already said they don’t care about the subsidies! We have to be clear about it – this plant should be nationalised to ensure a future for workers on the Isle of Wight and the environment.

Across the country, over 80 per cent of people support wind power – but none of us want unemployment in our back yard! Yet the government, and Tory local councils, are allowing a very small minority to block turbines being built. Contrast this to their attititude to nuclear power stations, which endanger local peoples' health, that the government just impose. Brown and Milliband might make the occasional green noise, but they’re so wedded to the ‘free market’ that they’re desperate to avoid further nationalisations. But this economic crisis has shown that the market doesn’t work and New Labour have been forced to nationalise – Northern Rock, RBS, the East Coast trainline; the list is getting longer and longer! As the lads in the occupation have put it: “If the government can spend billions bailing out the banks – and even nationalise them – then surely they can do the same at Vestas.” The government's hand can be forced, and we need to be clear that this is what we’re demanding. Of course, what happened at RBS and the like wasn’t genuine nationalisation – we’ve taken the risks off the bosses for them. What we really need is socialist nationalisation – where working people have a direct say in how companies are organised and run. Vestas needs to be retooled for the British market – who knows how to organise that best? The workers on the shop floor? Or managers who can’t even fill in an injunction application properly who want to shut the factory down?

Workers need a political voice
None of the establishment parties support the action that Vestas workers have been forced to take – a Labour MP in Pompey has refused to even sign a petition supporting them! This is hardly much to ask. Workers at Vestas have waged a heroic struggle and shown their strength on the industrial front. But imagine how much easier the fight would have been if a political party with a national profile had thrown its weight clearly behind them. Criminally, there isn’t a mass political party in Britain that stands in workers interests! Rather, New Labour helped push through the liberal employment laws that make it legal for Vestas to dump workers in the Isle of Wight and move to the US without a bye-or-leave. That’s why the Socialist Party along with others, including the RMT, who’ve played an important role in this dispute, participated in a list of working class candidates in the European elections. We’re hoping to get a workers list together for the General Election when it happens, so workers have candidates who stand in their interests to vote for. This could be an important step towards the sort of mass working class party that could play a decisive role in struggles like this in the future.

For more information on the Vestas campaign click here...