On July 20, a couple of dozen young workers at the Vestas wind-turbine factory on the Isle of Wight occupied their factory after the management had decided to close it with the loss of over 500 jobs with about another hundred going on the mainland.
This action occurred outside the framework of a trade union, indeed the mainly young workforce was for the most part not in a union. By their action they demonstrated a combativity and a degree of self-organisation that is a characteristic of workers facing factory closures and unemployment. A fortnight into the occupation, the danger is that this struggle will be isolated and strangled by a combination of leftists, environmentalists and the trade unions.
For the company, producing these particular turbines is unprofitable in Britain, thereby, through the logic of capitalism, the factory has to close, full stop. For the environmental argument, this factory is a special case, it has a ‘green' product and therefore Britain should be using it as part of its climate change strategy. Some workers have taken up this line, not surprisingly given the amount of hot air that the British bourgeoisie has expelled on being ‘really serious about tackling climate change'.
But it's no good basing a workers' struggle on the blatant lies of the ruling class and its baseless statement that it will be creating nearly half-a-million ‘green' jobs. There will not be one ‘green' job unless there is profit in it and the attitude of the government over Vestas has made this very clear. This is a workers' fight, a fight for all workers, a class issue, and illusions that there can be ‘green' reforms within capitalism can only be a drag on the struggle.
Working closely with the Greens, has been the RMT union, again pleading the ‘special case' argument and, along with the TUC, appealing to the Labour government for ‘green' jobs. The role of the RMT union is instructive here: parachuting in and saying it would represent all workers in the plant, it signed up a number of workers and initially seemed to provide an impulse to the struggle and help to the workers. But a visitor to the site (see below), expressing solidarity, reports the workers being kept in the background and the union taking over, only allowing RMT officials to their meetings for example. This excludes the families and elements of the community as well as any elements wanting to express solidarity and speak. It cuts off a wider discussion that must confront the need to go to other workers.
In the meantime, the police have acted with their usual ‘impartiality', dressing up in riot gear and interpreting the law as they see fit, intimidating supporters and trying to stop food getting to those strikers still in the factory. They have now been complemented by private security forces. The management have acted ruthlessly in sending in dismissal notices hidden in pizzas; effectively denying the workers involved any redundancy pay or possibly any state allowances - as well as being a wider threat to the whole workforce - which is all perfectly legal.
The legal action by Vestas against the workers was put off and this was hailed as a victory by the leftists and the unions. This could have given them just enough time to strangle the fight, and bury the imperative need for the struggle to spread. Today, 4 August, Vestas got a court order to end the occupation and evict the workers.
A supporter of the struggle who visited the factory and saw the need for it to spread made this clear in a post under the name of Jason Cortez on the libcom website: "the need (is) for some workers to be going to these workers (local factories, hospital, etc) and other workforces to discuss with them how they widen the struggle is urgent". He also made the point that the resin factory next door to Vestas is itself threatened with closure and this would be the obvious starting point.
There is the danger that what's positive about this struggle - the involvement of the young workers - will be incorporated in and exhausted by the whole circus that's been created round the occupation. But the main danger lies with the union, which is now on the ‘inside', taking over the fight. What's needed by the workers is a mass meeting open to all workers and supporters and from here delegated workers to go out and discuss and extend the struggle to other workers. This would be a victory in itself.