As we were preparing for today’s eviction of our campaign centre for green job creation, we heard about BAE’s announcement that it intends to lay off another 642 workers across the country, including 125 from the 385 at Cowes: that’s 2,300 announced job losses this year. And, of course, a further unacceptable cull to the numbers of skilled, unionised, and relatively well-paid jobs on the island. It has been leaked to us that this number will rise to 250.
At the Newport and Cowes Trades Council meeting on Wednesday, which was addressed by guest speakers from the Job Centre, the theme of the discussion was the continuing decline of the manufacturing sector on the island; at Broadlands House, the highest number of jobs opportunities are in the low-paid, privatised care sector. ( In fact, as I also found out yesterday, jobs losses are also quietly being planned in these civil services buildings).
There was no good news on the horizon. The welding course, which has been taken up primarily by ex-Vestas workers, was described as a one-off; and, even then, the six-month intensive course is training on the cheap for the companies that will benefit, while trainees subsist on measly benefits.
The Vestas campaign was never only about one factory. It was seen as part of a fight for the right to work for all, and more importantly the right to socially useful work, especially in jobs that deal directly with climate change.
The Workers’ Climate Action network which helped intitiate the Vestas occupation, was set up following the Heathrow Climate Camp, in the knowledge that it was all well and good opposing airport expansion or new power stations, but it was also necessary to address alternative employment for workers in these industries. We largely drew on the example of Lucas Aerospace workers from the seventies who championed through their own actions, and in their own name, what is now being called a “just transition” thirty years on.
Lucas workers, who had battled for years against rounds of redundancies and closures, came to the conclusion that they didn’t want a future based on the turbulent fortunes of the destructive military-industrial-complex. Through a democratic union structure, they sought out ideas from across the workforce – from the shop-floor, research and development, engineering and admin. They came up with an alternative production plan, with 250 prototype technologies that would meet the needs of a peaceful, just and sustainable society, that they wanted to work for. Their plan, along with other workers’ plans of the period, championed the idea that workers should be able to choose how we use our skills, and that given the choice, we don’t want technologies of destruction.
They advanced the design specifications for combined-heat-and power technology, road-rail transport, tidal power, and even turned their skills to designing mobility devices for people with spina bifida. They were defeated by the same kind of corrupt alliance of the powerful that we have been facing these last months: the ir company, the union bureaucracies, the Labour government of the time, who were all determined that any initiative of the workers themselves should be crushed.
On 7th December, the secretaries of the three island Trades Council shall be meeting the IOW Council CEO. They will be presenting a report detailing the loss of skilled jobs over the last fifty years, of course including the hundres of jobs gone from the current BAE site when it was Plessey Radar. They will also raise the issue of democracy in the process of job creation. The Isle of Wight Economic Partnership, which had already dispensed with representation for working people, is now handing over its functions and responsibilities to another costly and unaccountable consultancy, WM Enterprise.
I hope that Unite the union do not capitulate. Whether or not these job losses can be met by so-called ‘voluntary’ redundancies and ‘natural-wastage’, the island needs jobs. Tomorrow, young people across the country will demonstrate in London with the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign. I hope that BAE workers will fight for the interests of their community, and also the interests of a peaceful and sustainable planet, and join the growing wave calling on the government to create a million climate jobs now! BAE workers have our solidarity, for a defensive fight to protect existing skilled jobs and for a positive fight for alternative use of their skills.
Robin Sivapalan, Isle of Wight