Supporters of Vestas workers break into factory to deliver food
Guardian: 30 July 2009
Supporters of workers occupying the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight today broke into the premises to deliver food, accusing the company of trying to starve the men into submission.
The Danish-owned company said it would officially close the Newport factory, the only major producer of wind turbine blades in the UK, tomorrow. However, about 10 workers at the plant remain in a first-floor office space which they have occupied for 11 days in protest at the closure of the factory, which they say will result in about 625 job losses.
Vestas failed in a legal attempt to obtain a possession order from a local court to evict the workers on Wednesday, when a judge ruled it had failed to properly serve papers on the men. He adjourned the hearing until Tuesday.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has raised concerns over the welfare of the men, who have no access to showers or hot water.
The union is seeking legal advice on the obligations the company has to feed the workers, who are receiving a modest breakfast at 9am and a small meal – such as slice of pizza – at night. Occasionally, they have been given drinks.
"It cannot be right that the company are allowed to try and starve the workers at Vestas into submission," said the RMT general secretary, Bob Crow. "This looks to us like a gross infringement of their human rights."
One of the workers left the occupation yesterday, and was told by ambulance staff that his blood sugar levels were dangerously low. Luke Paxton, 20, said a police officer guided him to a waiting ambulance after he emerged from the plant looking "pale and shaky". He said he was advised to go to hospital after a blood test showed his sugar levels were lower than normal.
Vestas activists from the island, who are campaigning alongside environmental protesters at a campsite outside the factory gates, stormed through a security cordon yesterday to deliver food. Steve Milligan, from the Climate Camp protest group, said those outside had become "really frustrated and angry" at the lack of food and decided to enter by force.
A number were restrained by security, he said, but others managed to throw supplies in, including a kettle, rice, tins of tuna and pasta.
Until now, workers inside the factory have relied on additional supplies stuffed into tennis balls and thrown to them from a distance, meaning supplies have been limited to rolled up bags of instant soup, sweets and pound coins for use in a vending machine.
The tennis ball technique – also used to smuggle drugs into prisons – was used by the Guardian to get a USB memory stick into the factory. The workers uploaded video footage they shot of their occupation, giving an insight into their living conditions, and threw the ball back.
The footage, shot on Wednesday, shows the men lounging around on office desks and listening to music on the radio. They react jubilantly when they hear the news from court that enabled an extension of their occupation until next week.
One worker can be overheard saying: "Six days isn't it – something like that? We need to speak to Ian Woodland and they need to start getting us food in properly. They've said they can do it, so we need to get it done now. And maybe the RMT can start getting the food in and putting on the pressure."
Government all at sea on wind power
Financial Times: July 29 2009
By Ed Crooks
As ministers have sounded the fanfare for hundreds of thousands of “green jobs”, the demise of the Vestas wind turbine plant on the Isle of Wight has provided a mocking counterpoint.
The closure of one factory with the loss of 600 jobs does not in itself say much about the success or failure of the government’s strategy. However, the decision by Vestas is an uncomfortable reminder that the vision of a vibrant industry growing up to meet the challenge of cutting carbon dioxide emissions for Britain and the world is little more than an aspiration.
The sales pitch for the “low-carbon industrial strategy” is plausible. The transition to an economy with much lower carbon dioxide emissions – the official commitment is a 34 per cent reduction by 2020 and an 80 per cent cut by 2050 – will demand structural change. Many old jobs will disappear, and new ones will be created.
Relative to many other countries, however, Britain is starting at a competitive disadvantage.
The standard source for claims about green job creation is a report from Innovas, a consultancy, which found that about 880,000 people worked in the broadly defined low carbon and environmental industries.
Over the next eight years, it went on, 400,000 jobs in those industries could be created. Focusing on the green jobs is misleading, however. While they are being created, plenty of other non-green jobs will be being destroyed, in part because of the rise in electricity and gas prices that will be necessary to pay for the investment needed in low-carbon energy.
The net effect will depend on whether the jobs being created have a higher value than the ones being lost. The government’s definition of “green jobs” is drawn very wide to catch as many occupations as possible, from dustmen to clean-tech venture capitalists.
Manufacturing jobs such as the ones at Vestas are among the ones that are likely to strengthen the economy.
An ill wind
In attracting those jobs, however, Britain is hampered by the size of its market, its high costs compared with China and other emerging economies, and its lack of skills, which has given other countries a head start.
Britain’s emphasis on offshore wind power – forced on the nation by the difficulty of securing planning permission for wind farms on land – may also be a handicap.
Other countries investing heavily in wind power, with more space and less effective local opposition, still see the greatest potential in onshore developments.
Explaining BP’s decision not to join in the UK wind industry, but to focus on the US, Tony Hayward, the company’s chief executive, talked wistfully this week about spaces the size of English counties available for wind farms in the US.
The right jobs can be brought to Britain, but the same considerations apply to green employment as to any other kind. There must be a skilled and capable workforce and confidence that there will be a market for the product. Also, costs have to be low enough to make the business viable.
So, it is no coincidence that Nissan has chosen to base its European centre for making batteries for electric cars in Sunderland, where it has had outstanding success in manufacturing vehicles powered by good old petrol and diesel engines.