Posted by: VM | 30 July 2009

Caroline Lucas MEP proposes a workers’ co-op

The Isle of Wight’s Green Euro-MP is to submit an urgent proposal to the Leader of the Isle of Wight Council for support for a workers co-op at the Vestas wind turbine manufacturing plant to be established under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007.

Dr Lucas’s submission, which offers a practical and sustainable solution to the current dispute over the proposed closure of the plant, will be delivered tomorrow at 4pm to Cllr David Pugh by Brian Lucas from Isle of Wight Green Party and a representative of the workers at the Vestas plant.

Under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, councils and communities have the opportunity to put forward proposals on sustainable improvements to local economic, environmental and social wellbeing. Once established, individual councils’ proposals are sent to the Government via the Local Government Association. The deadline for current submissions to the LGA is 31st July 2009.

In a last ditch attempt to keep the Vestas plant open, Dr Lucas will call on the IoW Council to ask for Government support under the terms of the 2007 Act to ensure that:

– The workers of the wind turbine company Vestas are permitted to form a Workers’ Cooperative, and are supported in doing so by the government.

– Financial support (at the very least unemployment benefit) is paid to the workers of Vestas until such time as the proposed Workers’ Cooperative is financially viable.

Dr Lucas commented: “If the government is serious about tackling climate change, helping to protect the future of UK manufacturing, and safeguarding local jobs, it must act now to keep the Vestas facility open for business.

“By submitting a proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act for a workers’ co-op, the Council can demand that the government provides the investment and assurances necessary to save this facility – on the basis that it plays a crucial economic and environmental role in the local community.

“Failure to keep the Vestas plant open will represent a spectacular failure by the government to match its rhetoric on green jobs with real policy action. It should be seizing the opportunity to create a renewable energy revolution that can see us through a transition towards a more environmentally and economically stable economy. Allowing the IoW plant to close now would be a massive embarrassment for ministers – and devastating for the IoW’s workers.”


Responses

  1. Great idea, having done something similar with NFC it can be done when the will is there, in 2003 they were hours from closure, 2009 they are still going, let nobody tell you it can’t be done.
    There’s no reason why a community buy-out couldn’t be achieved, the time to think big is now.

    The Island really needs to come good on the Eco deal, otherwise the measage locally is a valid to the comments directed at Ed Milliband et al. A serious bid to allow Vestas to walk away can be achieved, the skills are there, the market is there, and above all, the recognition is there on a global scale. Speaking of the UK, many do get it as they can see that the Eco clock is ticking…

    As a former worker there myself, I’m with you guys in spirit. A good bunch of guys and gals deserve better than you’ve had thus far. Believe in yourselves, you’ve achieved so much already.

    Going back a bit in the factories history, the Aerolaminates way was to think the impossible and then achieve it. The then CEO Emma Brown saw the vision and made things happen, that mentality is in evidence with this keep it going.

    My thoughts are with you brothers and sisters, fight the good fight, and let there be light.

  2. Great idea and I hear IWC are supporting the plan too…
    Stay Strong…
    People Power…!!!
    United you stand…!!!

    Love & Light x

  3. Yes, I was at the council meeting and the whole room voted on trying to get another company involved.

  4. THE CO-OPERATIVE MOVEMENT

    The earliest Co-operatives were mainly attempts by groups of workers to break the monopoly of the millers and to provide cheap flour for their members. Examples were the Hull Anti-Mill So¬ciety of 1795 and the Devenport Union Mill of 1817. Then came Owenite Utopian Socialism and the Co-operatives were hailed as the key to the peaceful supersession of Capitalism.
    The `new model’ Co-operative was that of the Rochdale “Equitable Pioneers” having founded their Co-operative shop in Toad Lane in 1844. Twenty-eight men started it with twenty¬eight pounds. They survived by paying a divi¬dend on purchases. The greatest single benefit that the “Co-ops” brought to the workers was pure food. There were `sand in the sugar’ gro¬cers, and other adulterators commonplace then.
    In the 1860’s the Co-operative wholesale so¬ciety came into being to supply goods to the re¬tail societies and in the next decade it began ac¬tually to produce goods in its own factories.
    In 1869 began the regular series of annual Co-operative Congresses, which has continued.
    From the second congress sprang the Co-opera¬tive Central Board, which developed into the Co¬operative Union, the co-ordinating body for propaganda and education. The first central board contained Owenite and trade union Junta (forerunner to the TUC) mem¬bers. Also there were sympathisers from the mid¬dle class who became less needed as time went on.
    On many occasions the Co-op’s supported the wider working class movement including strike struggles.
    Eventually people who had become success¬ful traders in commerce got to the top. The be¬lief that the movement would peacefully put an end to the competitive system, while never for¬mally abandoned, became more of a pious dream than a reality.
    The Co-operative movement took in thou¬sands of workers who learned how to organise and administer large-scale business enterprise at the time. This demonstrated conclusively that the ability to do so is not confined to the Capitalist Class.

    There are many co-operatives in operation and working successfully throughout the world today.

    Legacoop in Italy has 414, 383 employees, 7, 736, 210 members and turns over €50Bn per year growing at a steady rate of 4.41%

    Japan has a very large and well developed consumer cooperative movement with over 14 million members; retail co-ops alone had a combined turnover of 2.519 trillion Yen (21.184 billion US dollars [market exchange rates as of 11/15/2005]) in 2003/4. (Japanese Consumers’ Co-operative Union., 2003).

    Migros is the largest supermarket chain in Switzerland and keeps the cooperative society as its form of organization. Nowadays, a large part of the Swiss population are members of the Migros cooperative – around 2 million of Switzerland’s total population of 7.2 million, thus making Migros a supermarket chain that is owned by its customers.

    Coop is another Swiss cooperative which operates the second largest supermarket chain in Switzerland after Migros. In 2001, Coop merged with 11 cooperative federations which had been its main suppliers for over 100 years. As of 2005, Coop operates 1437 shops and employs almost 45,000 people. According to Bio Suisse, the Swiss organic producers’ association, Coop accounts for half of all the organic food sold in Switzerland.

    United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man

    British co-operative movement

    Co-operative Group, including
    Co-operative Bank
    ArtZone Co-op Ltd
    Anglia Regional Co-operative Society
    Baywind Energy Co-operative
    Bristol Wood Recycling Project
    Brixton Cycles
    Calverts graphic design & print co-operative
    Channel Islands Co-operative Society
    Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society
    Colchester and East Essex Co-operative Society
    Coniston Co-operative Society
    Co-operative Press
    East of England Co-operative Society
    Eighth Day co-operative[84]
    Footprint Workers’ Co-op[85]
    Heart of England Co-operative Society
    Highburton Co-operative Society
    Ilkeston Co-operative Society
    John Lewis Partnership (employee-owned business, not formal co-op)
    Langdale Co-operative Society
    Lincolnshire Co-operative Society
    Lupine Adventure Co-operative[86]
    Magpie Recycling
    Manx Co-operative Society
    Midcounties Co-operative
    Midlands Co-operative Society
    New Internationalist
    Penrith Co-operative Society
    People’s Press Printing Society
    Phone Co-op
    Plymouth and South West Co-operative Society
    Radstock Co-operative Society
    Ruskin House
    Scottish Midland Co-operative Society
    Seeds for Change Network
    Shared Interest
    Shepley Co-operative Society
    Southern Co-operatives
    Substance Co-op
    Suma Wholefoods (Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd)[87]
    Swann Morton worker co-op
    Tamworth Co-operative Society
    Total Coverage Co-operative Design Consultancy
    Veggies of Nottingham
    Wooldale Co-operative Society

    Football and rugby union supporters’ trusts are incorporated as co-operatives of supporters. Several own the football club outright and many hold equity in the club.

    One contemporary co-operative was The Meridan Motor cycle factory back in the 1970’s. In difficult economic circumstances, after the three day week of Ted Heath’s government, the workers stepped in to rescue an important marque.

    NVT institigated a program of works closures, deciding to concentrate production on Wolverhampton and Small Heath. Poorly handled in communications, the announcement caused a sit-in at Meriden, which as it produced parts for other factories caused Small Heath to shut down. With the election of the 1974 Labour government, the Meriden workers’ co-operative was formed with NVT its sole customer for its production of 750cc Triumph Bonneville T140V and Triumph Tiger TR7V models.

    Break up and closure

    In July 1975, Labour Industry Minister Eric Varley recalled a loan for 4 million pounds and refused to renew the company’s export credits. The company went into receivership, and redundancies were announced for all of the staff at the various sites. Ironically slated by management for closure, the Meriden site survived on Eric Varley’s predecessor, Tony Benn ‘s plan to derive benefit from Triumph Bonneville by a worker co-operative with a substantial Government loan. The capitalist market pilloried the the co-operative from its inset and made trade difficult. Nevertheless it continued to survive.

    NVT was eventually liquidated in 1978. Even though Norton Villiers Triumph is no more, motorcycles bearing the Triumph name are still being made; the marketing rights to Triumph being sold to the Meriden worker’s co-operative in 1977 and upon its having gone into receivership in 1983, sold onto a new Triumph Motorcycles Ltd company situated in Hinckley, Leicestershire. Dennis Poore became Managing Director of Maganese Bronze, until his death in 1987.

    The workers’ buy out from redundancy packages of Tower Colliery in Wales was seen as heroic after it had been run down from 14 seams at its height. The Miners strike of 1984-85 was difficult in terms of market. What choice did the workers have in terms of defending their community and local jobs?

    Although the mine remained financially viable and continued to provide employment to the workers, by the time of the buyout the only seam worked at Tower was the Seven Feet/Five Feet, a combined seam of several leaves which offered 1.3m of anthracite in a mined section of 1.65m working directly under the shaft of the former Glyncorrwg Colliery’s “nine feet” workings, the four faces worked in the western section of the lease were considered uneconomic by British Coal.

    As the worked seam reduced in capacity, the management team considered three possibilities to extend the length of mine production:

    • Work another nine faces in the existing workings, in coal classed only as mineral potential
    • Address the water problem in the Bute seam, to the northwest
    • Open new developments in the Nine Feet seam, 100m above the existing seam; the Four Feet seam, a further 30m above
    • But none of these prospects seemed economic, so the board recommended that work be concentrated on coal to the north of the existing workings, which had been left to protect the safety of the existing shafts. Accepted by the workforce and shareholders in an open vote, this decision effectively accepted the end of Tower as a deep mine.

    Having mined out the northern coal extracts, the colliery was last worked on January 18, 2008 and the official closure of the colliery occurred on January 25. The colliery was until its closure, one of the largest employers in the Cynon Valley. In difficult historical circumstances in a changing world keeping a mine open in the first place was brave. But considering it lasted so long and provided a further 23 years of working it has to be seen in that context too. Also the discussion on energy reserves and the market increasing for coal, prior to the recession, the jury was still out on further exploitation of British reserves and the prospect of clean coal technology advocated by the NUM. This is seen as increasingly a viable proposition.

    Once more we have the Vestas occupation with suggestions made for its continued existence. We are in a recession but the situation is different in the sense of there being a viable market if the government were to take the proper course in supporting the production of wind turbines and their distribution. Renewables and low carbon technology are seen as an important aspect of coming out of recession. It is necessary to encourage and assist viable arrangements for the production of Wind turbines. There is no reason why it should fail.

    Ryde Trades Council

    rydetcouncil@yahoo.com

    http://rtuc.wordpress.com/

  5. If Ed Miliband is not willing to nationalise the plant to help the Government hit its targets on wind power, Caroline Lucas’s suggestion for a workers co-operative takeover with partnership funding from outside bodies, seems a real positive idea.

    It seems crazy to lose all those wind turbine manufacturing skills from the UK.

    Wishing the Vesta workers all the best in their campaign!

    Chris

  6. While I appreciate that setting up a workers’ cooperative will save jobs in the short term, I’d like to point out an inherent danger to this plan that the Green Party has failed to see:

    Just as with the ‘strike bike’ battle in Germany over the last few years (Google ‘strike bike’), workers who take over factories to save their jobs simply become the bosses and develop the profit-making and capitalist mentality of trying to keep the business viable in a free market economy. The Vestas workers will simply turn into the current Vestas management who may one day decide to shut the plant on the IoW because it may no longer be making a profit.

    Workers’ cooperatives can provide welcome relief to those involved in the short term. But an island of socialism in a sea of capitalism will not last for long as the external capitalist pressures of the economy at large do not work favourably in the interests of businesses that do not have the profit, wage-exploiting motive as its driving force. Otherwise, why aren’t all companies run like this?

    The longer term solution for the Vestas plant, one that the workers themselves have agreed on as the best option to save the jobs, is government nationalisation – democratic public ownership. This provides the huge financial stability for the factory to continue to operate, whether profits are made or not, because the primary aim is to produce something which the world needs. This is not about statisfying the profit needs of a few shareholders which the workers would become under the Green Party’s plan, but providing the ecological needs of everyone and the planet. People not profit!

    Continue the fight! Up the Vestas workers!
    Nationalise this Gordon!

  7. What I fail to understand is what will the coop build?

    I want to begin by saying I support the idea of workers coop’s infact favor them over a plan to nationalise industries however, in this circumstance I don’t understand how it will help?

    As Vestas is not going into recievership and only off shoring to the US. Then there is no possibility for the workers to own the company they would only the site?

    Therefore, all they would be running would be the factory. All the products would be designed and built under patents by Vestas based in Denmark?

    Surely this ideological without any policy reality????

    Maybe I am wrong?

    • For one they’d have the facilities to build blades, not just for Vestas but for any other company building turbines in the UK.

      Given they’ve already testing facilities there too, (the breaking of one these for strength rating and is something else) They can also be a facility in the long term building both the onshore and offshore blades. If the UK is serious about building these windfarms and the numbers suggested they will need 1000’s of these blades, at least a decades work that needn’t come from abroad.

      For the Island, then there’s Gurit, next door to the Vestas factory, supplying the factor with materials, I’d say there’s potentially 100+ jobs at risk there too and the other businesses that work with the companies in one way or another, you’d be looking at 250+ aditional jobs at risk should Vestas close.

      The facilites and training provide by Vestas can serve the Island as a whole. The local college had set up, with (amongst others) Vestas help, courses involving the composite processes, no Vestas would see the courses under threat, thus affecting boatbuilding and other industries where composite manufactoring technology is being used on the Island.


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