The campaign to save the Vestas wind turbine factory hit the headlines this summer when 20 workers occupied an upstairs office.
Their protest lasted for just under three weeks, but in that time they managed to make their cause a national and international issue. It highlighted two of the hottest political topics of the moment: renewable energy and unemployment, and combined them up in a single campaign.
So what is this campaign? The wind turbine factory, in Newport on the Isle of Wight, is being closed down, meaning around 600 jobs have been or will be lost. In addition to this the factory was central to creating the kind of renewable energy our government has promised to expand. Vestas, the Danish company who own the factory, claim that there is ‘a lack of demand’ for the products. However, as many of the campaigners argue, if the government is so committed to green energy and fighting unemployment, surely they should be prepared to commit public money to keep the factory open.
The Isle of Wight already has one of the worst rates of unemployment in the UK, with nearly 3,000 occupants out of work. Closing Vestas would add another 600 to that list and have a serious knock on effect on other local businesses, reliant on the factory. Bobby Noyes, President of the Southampton Trade Union Congress (TUC), told the Wessex Scene that, ‘there are skilled, experienced workers, being made redundant in the Isle of Wight. In Scotland, in a very similar situation the government was prepared to take over the factory temporarily until it recovered. We want to see our government do something similar now to save the jobs and save the factory.’
But has this apparent clash of workers rights and environmental issues led to a fractured campaign? Not at all according to Noyes, as ‘both campaigns are a united front’, she said, “we are a red and green alliance”. Indeed, the success of the campaign probably owes a lot to the potent mix of trade unions and environmentalist activists working together.
But where next? And what about students who want to get involved? The best place to find information about the ongoing local events is the website,www.savevestas.wordpress.com. On Sunday 27th September a coach will be taking many campaigners from Southampton and the Isle of Wight to Brighton, to join a national demonstration against the Labour party. Save Vestas banners are likely to be at the front of that demonstration. Noyes encouraged Southampton University students to attend, ‘We’re fighting for everyone’s jobs and everyone’s future. It’s crucial that students are involved.’ Coach tickets are available from £5 in October Books, Portswood.