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Wind Powered Occupation

by In Wales Thu Jul 30th, 2009 at 05:30:49 AM EST

The Socialist Worker reports on an occupation of the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight as the trade union movement spread the message to call for support in saving the jobs of those who are being threatened with redundnacy there.

The occupation at the Vestas wind turbine factory in Newport, Isle of Wight is still solid as it nears the end of its first week.

The "solidarity camp" outside the factory is growing all the time, and public support across the island - and the world - is building.

The focus for workers and activists over the next few days will be on making the demonstration outside the court case on Wednesday as big as possible.


An email being sent around trade unionists outlines the situation:

Faced with the closure of the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight, the workers are occupying their factory to step up the fight to save the factory and their 600 jobs. This follows threats and intimidations from management. The workers are calling for nationalisation of the factory - the bosses have been making a profit so just want to make even more profit by relocating the work.  Also the factory is the only one in the country that produces wind turbines which should form a key part of the Government's plan for sustainable energy.

Add that to the arguments that if the bankers can be bailed out with millions of pounds of taxpayers money then they should support 600 workers who will otherwise end up on the dole with 15,000 others on the Isle of Wight. It does make the valid point that the Government has been looking at the Green Economy as a means to recover from the recession so it would make sense to support the factory under these plans.  But that said, I know little of the background to this.

wikinews provides some more information:

Vestas attributes its pullout from the UK to difficulty in obtaining planning permission for wind farms. The Independent quotes a senior company executive as saying, "We needed a stable long-term market and that was not there in the UK. We have made clear to the Government that we need a market. We do not need money."  Vestas's income is up 59% in the last quarter, although its stock has dropped 4.4% on the Copenhagen Stock Exchange since the occupation began.

This occupation also forms the basis for a critique from the Guardian on the rise of occupations and boss-nappings recently:

The four day Vestas sit-in, which is an embarrassment both to the world's biggest turbine manufacturer and a government trying to launch a low-carbon jobs revolution, follows a similar occupation in April at three Visteon (car parts manufacturer) plants in the UK in addition to action at Waterford Crystal in Ireland and Prisme Packaging in Dundee.

Tony Woodley, the joint general secretary of the Unite union, whose members were involved at Visteon, said: "I think it is absolutely understandable and justified for workers to fight back where they feel there are no other alternatives and employers act badly." Asked whether he thought that Britain could see more sit-ins of the type seen at Vestas, where the staff are not unionised, Woodley said: "I would not be at all surprised. Labour laws do not protect people here and it's all too quick and easy for employers to sack people."

Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT union, who addressed Vestas workers yesterday, said: "The Vestas occupation, and the action at Visteon earlier this year, show that workers under attack can develop tactics that drive a coach and horses through the anti-union laws rather than just bending at the knee and accepting their fate.

"Occupations are immediate, focused and high profile and can force a dispute right into the headlines at short notice."

When workers have less to lose, why not occupy in these situations?  

Public backlash will arise when strikes and occupations interfere with public service delivery, and the concept of solidarity is becoming ever more alien along with the concept of being a union member.  But unions don't just strike and arrange direct action - there is a huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes before such action is taken.  None of this hits the headlines though reinforcing the perception of unions as old dinosaurs.

Unions have been hugely important in negotiating with Government to speed up provision of funding for skills training for those facing redundancy, for pushing the message of developing the green economy, raising issues that others aren't tackling well enough such as 'what are you doing to prevent the need for future bailouts?' and 'wtf are those welfare reforms about in a time like this?'

What should or shouldn't unions be doing right now?

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Funny. It's nice to see union action and a bashing of the UK's insufficient renewables policy at the same time. I'm not sure how honest Vestas's claims are: as sluggish as the on-shore business is, the off-shore one is up and running.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 06:59:47 AM EST
Oh, and where is the tip jar?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 07:00:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Offshore is up and running, but very expensive, slow, and accompanied by higher risks. The real push is still a ways off.

What is far more important is that Vestas is absolutely correct in faulting the UK onshore situation. Far cheaper, far less risk, and in Europe's strongest wind resource by far.  In fact, offshore in UK is partly to fill the void left by the UK's insanity not to be focused onshore.

In the past months an umbrella group encompassing all the onshore opponents has been created and is exceptionally well-funded. I wish i had time to go into the details, perhaps tomorrow or...

The real culprits in this story are the entrenched energy interests controlling the fight against onshore development, and pulling government strings.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 07:06:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Crazy Horse:
The real culprits in this story are the entrenched energy interests controlling the fight against onshore development, and pulling government strings.

strings that want nuclear power, correct?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 07:11:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
against a week at yours that the main funding comes from the usual suspects, who are mainly involved in gas and oil.

paul spencer
by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 07:21:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that much of the opposition comes from the scale of the wind-farms proposed.

IMHO an approach such as that of Maitland Mackie which is along Danish lines of a myriad small developments is both more achievable, and also consistent with a decentralised economy.

Solveig and I had a really interesting afternoon with him, but he was already set on a conventional (Victorian era) Cooperative model using genetically modified companies and failed in his ambitious (but perfectly achievable) strategy.

He ha d already installed off his own bat 3 Vesta V52s - Margaret, Matilda and Mirabel.

If locals genuinely share in the benefits and cash flow - rather than developers giving them a new bus shelter and fucking off with the loot - then we would get somewhere.

IMHO the Vesta workers should do a bit of Venture Communism solve their quality problems with some expert help, and participate in creating a network of a few hundred local Community Energy Partnership schemes.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 07:38:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks for posting this In Wales. This story needs to be discussed, particularly for its relationship to windpower.  I am very under the gun today, with only a few hours before I leave on a journey this evening.

I do think the windpower issues are specific to this factory, and relate to very poor quality, not discussed in the media. I think they are separate issues entirely from the general union and employment issues.

I am not comfortable with how Vestas has been handling this takeover, but I am also not comfortable with the serial defects this factory produced.

Sadly, i can't yet go into detail due to today's time constraints.  (Just finished a session advising Goldman Sachs Asia, for example, hah!)

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 07:00:04 AM EST
Thanks, I was hoping that those of you with a little more understanding around what has been going on would chip in.  It is never as simple as one side or the other claims it to be!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 08:30:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Crazy Horse:
I am not comfortable with how Vestas has been handling this takeover, but I am also not comfortable with the serial defects this factory produced.

Both of these are ultimately management failings.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 01:44:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
dvx:
Both of these are ultimately management failings.

I agree. If there are quality problems, they should fire the management and launch a quality/global productivity improvement program and retrain the workers (and the managers!).

If there is a local market, there is no reason to close the factory, unless its location poses a major logistical problem.

If the technology/design is flawed, they better change it, but then, I doubt it would be limited to this factory.

Indeed, the way they handle the conflict tells a lot about their vision/practice of management...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Thu Jul 30th, 2009 at 11:14:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This was a factory which Vestas acquired through acquisition of NEG-Micon. it was previously Aerolaminates Ltd, and came out of both the Howden and Wind Energy Group attempts of the mid-80's.  The problem blades were to my knowledge the only blades using both carbon fibre and wood laminate, and had serious problems.

The blades are only for one turbine type nowhere near state-of-the-art, the stall-control V82 (formerly NEG Micon 82), currently being phased out anyway.  Had there been a serious onshore market in the UK Vestas could have reconfigured the plant to make other blade types.

So this was a QC problem specific to this particular blade at only this factory.

The fact that Vestas has indeed set up new factories already in the US shows that they could have done it in the UK if conditions warranted.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Thu Jul 30th, 2009 at 11:32:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, thanks for the info. I can understand that, being uncertain about the potential market, they hesitate to make heavy investments to restructure a plant with quality problems.

But then, knowing that, they should have anticipated the closing of the factory and adopted a responsible approach to restructuring (i.e. find a company willing to buy the plant / help workers to find new jobs or create their own business, retrain them and, first of all, negotiate with the trade unions...)

Seeing how despicably they behave, I doubt they tried hard...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Thu Jul 30th, 2009 at 11:52:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Though i don't have any inside info on the decision-making process at Vestas UK, i can't understand their program. it doesn't fit with the Vestas way of treating employees globally.

Then again, even if the problem began with the UK managers, Vestas central should have over-ruled them. Whatever the mistakes were, they now have a nightmare problem which should have been avoided, and seems to be getting worse.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Thu Jul 30th, 2009 at 12:49:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 (Just finished a session advising Goldman Sachs Asia, for example, hah!)
Did you advise cyanide?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 05:07:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not unrelated that another top wind turbine manufacturer, Enercon, is infamous for union-busting. Charitably, it could be viewed as a repercussion of the US government endorsed industrial espionage against it (support from the NSA), but that doesn't suffice.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 07:01:51 AM EST
I can't comment on Enercon labor policies, being in the dark, but there are some very key points to consider here.

  •  Enercon is not like a real corporation, in that it is completely owned by its founder, who is the archtypical iconoclast. (i don't know how the employees get a stake, but assume they do.)

  •  In some respects, Enercon more resembles a personality cult than a business, because the genius founder wants everyone to remember he's a genius.

  •  Enercon produces the best performing turbines in the world.


"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 08:01:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, Enercon is special that way. Sometimes it is quoted that Enercon is also special in fearing industrial espionage if any co-control is allowed to workers; but that doesn't seem to be the main reason.

Three links worth to read in German: profile at Greenpeace where Aloys Wobben expresses his opinion that unions are the main culprit for the downfall of midsize enterprises(...), taz article with examples of union-busting at Enercon (the end of that article claims, without naming names, that other eco-technology leaders think Enercon's practices are damaging the reputation of the whole industry), and another taz article about the firing of 70 employees in Turkey for joining a union (a decision of the local manager the company headquarters refused to comment).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 08:57:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, didn't know about Wobben's comments, though i am very aware of him, have been attacked personally by him at a conference. will comment tomorrow, now off on a very professional assignment...

Werder - Valencia testspiel in Mdeppen.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 09:56:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
..oh, and,

Enercon produces the best performing turbines in the world.

I heard so, too.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 12:26:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just because a company is not listed doesn't mean it's not a real company, I'd rather call it ideal. Strong long term owners, often the founding family, is a recipe for success in the long term and an antidote to quarter capitalism. See Enercon, Bechtel, Cargill, IKEA, Bosch, Tetra Laval and so on.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Jul 29th, 2009 at 12:41:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this.

An interesting slant is that a union would probably get their ass handed to them on a plate if they were to have invoked an action such as this.

Wasn't their a comment on an earlier thread that this factory had produced parts that got Vestas in warranty trouble? ...of course, it could have been a design flaw, and not something that the plant or workers could have done anything about.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 07:05:58 AM EST
on which to support the union and the company is that the government should support the wind power market - whether distributed as Chris suggests or concentrated in areas that: 1) support 'wind farms' and 2) have sufficient wind.

paul spencer
by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 07:29:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well this weekend the Big Green Gathering (The most ecological of themajor UK summer music festivals) has been cancelled. Various reasons have been suggested.  However there has been a call put out for the more activist inclined who were going to instead travel to the Vestas factory and join the camp there.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 07:18:47 AM EST
Good. The more the merrier I'd say. A good thing to salvage from the awful decision to cancel the Gathering.

I get the idea from CH that this factory was a bit of a fish out of water and probably made no economic sense, but it will embarrass the govt over its attitude to windpower and green energy economy.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 09:32:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, and i'll try to post more info tomorrow.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 09:56:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Tippety tip jar.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 28th, 2009 at 08:30:50 AM EST
Wow. Talk about a class act:

Vestas in court today to end factory sit-in | UK news | guardian.co.uk

Last night, Vestas sacked 11 employees it has identified as participating in the "sit-in", a move that will prevent them from receiving compensation for their redundancy.

The workers were informed in letters inside food parcels delivered to them by the company.

"Underneath each slice of pizza we had a letter saying we had been sacked and we're not receiving any money," said Michael Godley, 26, speaking from inside the plant on his mobile phone.

"Everyone's gutted - there's some people in here who have lost a lot of money. But it hasn't deterred us in any way - we're still as determined as ever and we're going to carry on fighting."

The letter from a representative of Vestas had yesterday's date scribbled in pen, and stated: "As a result of your participation in the industrial action and refusal to give up that action, you leave this company with no choice other than to terminate your contract of employment with immediate effect."



The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Wed Jul 29th, 2009 at 03:01:41 AM EST

My Labour List Blog today was going to be on something else,but I couldn't resist the Vestas story.

Despite the outbreak of Vestas diaries, I felt I had to post on this subject as well, since I'm actively working on a municipal wind turbine project myself, have a background in the energy world, and have a good network of people with comprehensive industry knowledge.

The first thing to say is that the Danish owners are quite clear that if there were decent orders in the UK then the plant would not be closed. This means on-shore orders, because off-shore orders are only just beginning to become "bankable". So while an off-shore project like Sheringham Shoals may be going ahead, being financed by Norwegian state entities, many of the rest in the pipeline rely on bank financing which is not easy to find right now.

The conventional government response in respect of on-shore is - as ever - that "Big is Beautiful" ad therefore that what is needed is massive fields of turbines plastered in high places developed and built by big corporates.  There is a pretty powerful, and reasonably well funded, coalition formed against these industrial scale developments, and frankly I'm not surprised.(continued)



"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Jul 29th, 2009 at 01:41:21 PM EST

It's magic! Food gets into Vestas occupation
by Tom Walker

At 2pm today activists got more food into the Vestas occupation in the Isle of Wight. The workers have been going hungry as management are not supplying enough food.

Climate camp activists dressed as wizards managed to get past the management's new fence and the police blockade of the plant. They threw a bag full of food and a kettle up to the occupiers on a balcony above.

This is the first food the occupiers have got from anyone other than the management since Wednesday of last week.

I'll bet in the old days Socialist Workers would not have accepted help from wizards.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Thu Jul 30th, 2009 at 03:01:17 PM EST
Miliband a coupla days ago on Vestas here.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Thu Jul 30th, 2009 at 03:32:37 PM EST
Hot from the TUC press office:

"Even at this late stage we are calling on Vestas to halt its closure plan and think again. Business, unions and Government must get around the table and make every effort to secure a future for wind turbine manufacturing in the UK.

"Ed Miliband has proved himself to be a champion of the green agenda and the drive to create new jobs. Now we are asking him to go the extra mile for the 600 workers and the production facility, the only one of its size in Britain, which is vital to building our low carbon future. Everything must be done to look for positive alternatives."

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 31st, 2009 at 11:41:50 AM EST


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