The Vestas Occupation – An Example for the movement


The Guardian recently published an article about the ‘green and red’ coalition of environmentalists and trade unionists that has formed to oppose the Vestas closure. Bob Crow is quoted, saying ‘this is a unique situation [on the Isle of Wight] involving globalisation, recession and the kind of low-carbon manufacturing jobs that everyone can relate to.’ One might be forgiven for seeing one of only five factory occupations in the UK in recent years as a ‘unique situation’, but in fact the action at Vestas demonstrates something fundamental about the way our failing economy functions, and points the way towards the building of a new sustainable economy.

Capitalism can’t save the climate – It couldn’t even eradicate poverty, provide decent education for all, or make the trains run on time.

Climatologists have told us that we may have only a few years to transition to a low-carbon economy. We have an ageing population, and stubbornly persistent levels of poverty here and all over the globe.

Yet, at a time when there is so much work to be done in society, factories are closing. Offices and shops are closing, as are schools, university departments, and call centres. Unemployment is on course to hit three million next year, and even that prediction may prove too optimistic. Our current system appears woefully incapable of solving the social and ecological problems that humanity faces; the only real debates among mainstream economists and pundits consider how many social programmes and research programmes will have to be cut in order to pay for wasteful PFI schemes, bankers’ bailouts and increased military spending.

The government are handing money to those who have been destroying the planet and exploiting its people for the last three decades, while taking money from those who have the capacity to save both from oblivion. On the surface this may appear to be madness, but the logic behind it is simple: the state will seek to maintain short-term social stability at all costs – this means maintaining capitalism. Shareholders and company bosses, who can pay to protect themselves from the effects of climate change, and who have never had to encounter the debilitating effects of exploitative work, will take whatever they can from the state, will squeeze whatever they can from the worker and the ordinary consumer, and will oppose any productive technology that challenges centralised capitalism, high profit margins, and easy exploitation of labour. The recent CBI report, which supported ‘clean’ coal and nuclear power, using outdated assumptions that the National Grid report (PDF) released a week earlier had thoroughly debunked, should only confirm this.

From Vestas to Total, corporations seek the highest profit margin (Vestas’ profit margin, and the price they have been charging for wind energy systems, have both been rising for the past few years) – there is no necessary link between this aim and sustainable production for social need.

We can decide what is socially useful, and only we can build a sustainable economy.

So how can we haul ourselves of the sorry mess of environmental degradation, falling wages and worsening social services into which we are being dragged by capitalism? We have to use our own social power to change the way production occurs. The source of all power lies ultimately in production – products are just as often used as tools of oppression as they are ‘goods’ for consumption, and the profits made in production are split between ensuring on the one hand the luxury, and on the other hand the power, of individual capitalists. Profits not are not only used to buy ivory backscratchers and cocaine, they are also used to re-arrange workplaces and society to make social change more difficult, and to devise complex strategies and systems to squeeze the most out of every individual worker, whilst keeping preventing the worker from fighting for higher wages.

It is only seizing control over production – by deciding what is produced, and how it is produced that we can take back control of society, and defeat the destructive logic of profit.

The Vestas workers have taken the first step towards this – when their jobs were threatened by management, they answered ‘why do you get to decide who is useful and who is not?’ The workers occupying their plant, all the people on the picket lines, and everyone demonstrating and supporting the campaign have taken action that questions the right of a private owner to determine what society produces.

Workplaces are closing all over the country – on the say-so of bosses, bank managers, or the government – workplaces that could be doing some of the vital work that needs to be done over the coming decades. Corus faces closure when steel will be needed for turbines and tidal power stations, Nortel closes when thousands of call centre workers are needed to give medical advice about the flu virus, car-plants at Visteon close when they could be converted to producing wheelie bins and recycling technologies.

‘Green jobs’ are not just jobs in wind energy or conservation – a green job is any job that we, as the vast mass of ordinary, rational people decide is useful to society. The only way we will obtain such jobs is by occupying our workplaces, and by planning with each other to build a sustainable future, fighting the boss, the bureaucrat and the capitalist every step of the way.


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