It’s clear which side most people who read this blog (government and company spies excepted) are on: the side of the Vestas workers, who occupied their factory and have blockaded it since their occupation was forced to end by the courts backing the Vestas company.
We thought the Vestas workers’ cause was just, and most of us still do. However, from the North London support group meeting which I attended last night it’s clear that opinions differ about the way forward for the Vestas campaign and about the place of the Vestas campaign in the overall political scheme of things.
This difference is reflected in the relative weight different people give to (1) building the day of action this Thursday 17 September and what you do on the day of action; and (2) getting people to the Isle of Wight to support the blockade.
It will be obvious from the content of this blog, that the view of most of the people involved in producing it is that the focus of the campaign remains the blockade. Why do we say that? The Vestas struggle was the most courageous workers’ struggle in the UK in many years, and especially important in the context of the economic crisis and ongoing jobs cull. It exposed in a way that nothing else has the gap between the government’s rhetoric on the environment and its actual achievement. It has been, in practical terms, a tremendous school for the workers who took part in and supported the occupation, and for all their supporters, in labour and environmental struggle.
Crucially, the Vestas struggle is still on, and still has many lessons to teach us. The outcome in this dispute – whether we can win something – still depends on people mobilising to get to the Isle of Wight to support the blockade. The more people, workers and supporters, that go through this stage of the struggle, the better our position will be coming out of it: a better chance of winning something from the government and from Vestas; more chance to try out campaign and direct action tactics; more hands-on lessons for more people in labour and environmental struggle.
What do other people think? They think that Vestas is now one among many strands in the large and diffuse struggle for jobs, against cuts, against war; the campaign at Vestas can benefit from large numbers of people being mobilised around broad, general demands, but, by itself, getting bodies to the Isle of Wight is largely a waste of effort.
I believe they are wrong. By itself, getting bodies to the Isle of Wight is not a waste of effort. In fact it is crucial to this particular struggle, which could be snuffed out if the security guards and police decide to get heavy and numbers at the blockade are depleted one evening. The workers who, with little activist or political experience, took the brave decision to occupy their factory, stuck it out for 18 days in spite of isolation and hunger, and only left because the court made them, have maintained the blockade for weeks, witnessed former colleagues doing the company’s dirty work ‘cleaning up’ the factory ready for closure, lost their redundancy pay, and experienced the increasing harassment of police and security… They don’t deserve to be left on their own at this stage in their campaign.
We are supporting the day of action, we are building it, but we want it to have a purpose beyond simply using the Vestas example – their cachet – to boost a large, diffuse political campaign. We will be using the day of action to remind people that the issues on which the Vestas workers fought – jobs, the environment – are still live, that the Vestas workers’ struggle is still live, and that people need to give support to the blockade – by going to the Isle of Wight themselves or, if they can’t personally, by raising funds and doing the organisation necessary to help people who can to go.