The Magic Roundabout has been alive four months now: a continuous show of solidarity with the spirit of working-class direct action that brought it into life. Today, it is under threat with a repossession order filed by the landlords, the Hanslips, to the county court.
It started with people wanting to maintain a constant presence in support of the group of workers who had gone out on a limb and taken the rare and bold step of occupying the offices of the management of Vestas Blades UK. This, to protest against the unilateral closure of the biggest private employer in an area of high unemployment, in a time of recession. This, a factory that had been producing blades for wind turbines on a would-be “eco-island” in an era of man-made catrastrophic climate change. The campaign website was named Save Vestas, and the accompanying slogans, Save Jobs, Save the Planet.
The campaign and its aims have been supported by thousands of people around the world. The Roundabout was the focus of local support with daily meetings and rallies and a continual hub of campaign activity. From the outset, a gazebo was erected as a kitchen, a donation from the local branch of the Fire Brigades Union and the workers finally unionised by the local RMT branch. Since then, it has survived and thrived through the presence of committed people, the donation of food, tools, materials and funds from individuals, union branches and campaign groups. Its presence has been key to keeping the issues of unemployment and climate change high on the political agenda, locally and nationally.
The campaign holds regular educational events and protests and outreach work to bring ordinary people together to champion their right to socially useful work, with a union recognition and freedoms. For a month after the eviction of the occupation, there was daily leafleting of the remaining workforce with information and union forms. With “Vestas Blades” due to hand over to “Vestas Technology” and reopen next month in a limited form, Vestas are determined to reinstate their former regime where workers were treated with disregard and contempt, and remove union organisers from the scene. Likewise with Gurit management next door, who are expected to push on with a programme of redundancies that were stalled by the arrival of the camp and the unionisation drive that it initiated.
The documents filed to the courts include more or less identical submissions from Hanslip and the managing director of Vestas, Paddy Weir, who is unlikely to cash in on the £70,000 bonus he was granting himself for the smooth closure of the factory, until the protests die away. Indeed the statement by Paddy Weir is dated before that of the landlord himself and the photos of the camp submitted taken by staff employed by Vestas, suggesting strongly that the pressure for this repossession is a further desperate political move by the shamed company to be rid of a protest-site designated by the police under Section 14 of the Public Order Act.
The main grounds for repossession are that that our activities suggest that we have no intention of leaving the industrial estate anytime soon and that we are an ongoing nuisance to Vestas!
It is true that in the aftermath of the gales last week, we now have a new solid kitchen built by workers and local supporters recycling the wood from the pallettes on the industrial estate and rain-proofing from previous structures. It is true that our main tent has survived this extreme weather and still hosts visitors to the campaign locally and nationally, including last months’ lunch event with Green MEP Caroline Lucas. They submit as evidence last Saturday’s successful “Push the Green Button” event in town, supported by local unions, that provided information, free soup and tea, and a straw bale forum to discuss Vestas, Climate Change, working-class political representation and jobs and services: the main issues for the ongoing campaign. It is also true, as a protest site, that we do intend to maintain pressure on Vestas, while they continue to deny the occupiers their redundancy. The RMT union is still appealing against their dismissal.
We are also accused of causing health and safety issues and access issues for Gurit, which is laughable after months of 24hour operations at the site. The police visit or dirve round daily and we have complied with the minor adjustments that have been required of us, removing a a gaffer-tape smile face from a road traffic sign, and a small picnic table from the roadside.
Our favourite allegation is that we are deterring prospective employers from setting up on the industrial estate! Ours is a campaign for job creation, for the opening of the factory at the St Cross Business Park. We shall have little reason to camp on a roundabout when the factory is reopened with indoor union facilities. Apart form this, it is ironic that Hanslip can make this claim. Many of the buildings on the industrial estate have stood empty for years since they were built. The mock-facade of a construction site on the wasteground adjacent to the Vestas site was designed to spur Vestas into securing a freehold on the site before another company – this failed.
The campaign has been trawling through the opaque evaluations of the whole development of of the industrial estate, which more or less confirm what local people knew, that millions of public money have been thrown away to the Hanslips and Vestas, regeneration money that should have guaranteed long-term skilled employment opportunities on the island. The subsidy-chasing, socially irresponsible conduct of Vestas, and the lack of safeguard set-down by the Lib Dem council of the time and the regional development authorities, mean that the Isle of Wight has been set back more than a decade. The secretary of the Newport Trades Council is in the process of meeting the current council leaders to to put to them a report detailing the loss of thousands of skilled jobs over the last 50 years.
A third statement by a Rachel Fiddler of HTP Training, further up the estate, parrots these allegations and makes the ridiculous assertion that we pose a risk to vulnerable young working-class people who come to their offices. A major achievement of the camp has been its accessibility. It has been a safe, welcoming and supportive place for all, with children’s days, and an open-door policy. We have provided food and tea to local homeless people and to company for those staying at the Seven Acres mental health facility.
Ours is a camp(aign) that is developing a grassroots vision for socially useful work, and a society more broadly that values care, cooperation, justice and dignity.
The move today to evict us, is nothing more than a cynical and dishonest attempt to remove from the scene a new and positive part of the moribund industrial estate, which until the protests began were a symbol of the failure of the powers that be to deliver.