Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Vestas - unity in action

Developments in the Vestas dispute have come thick and fast in the last 24 hours. Occupying workers at the plant on the Isle of Wight were given their redundancy notices yesterday evening, for "gross misconduct", i.e. their industrial action to save over 600 jobs. They were told they are to receive no redundancy pay. This morning hundreds of protestors lobbied the court hearing to determine whether Vesatas could go ahead with removing the occupying workers. An injunction was refused, which means the occupation - which began last Monday - can continue for at least another few days.

The fact that workers at the Newport factory manufacture wind turbines, which are vital for developing a 'green economy', is profoundly embarrassing for the government, from whom there has been little sign of determination to ensure the plant remains open. Market forces are ultimately allowed to govern whether workers keep their jobs and, at the same time, scupper efforts to make the energy industry more environmentally friendly.

It is inspiring to see how trade unionists have rallied to support the non-unionised Vestas workers, but it's even more significant that the unions have linked up with green campaign groups and anti-capitalist activists in a common struggle. This is an economic dispute with a very political dimension to it, raising profound questions about how we reduce climate change and - an even bigger issue - the kind of economic system we need.

The highly impressive solidarity protests and meetings - bringing together unions (especially the RMT), environmentalists, socialists and local people - indicate the potential for the climate movement. The movement is at its strongest when it is united, broad-based and takes on specific campaigns tied in to the bigger politics of climate change and capitalism.

For a more detailed commentary on the background and significance of the Vestas workers' militancy, and the solidarity campaign, I recommend Elaine Graham-Leigh's analysis (which advocates nationalisation of the energy sector).

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