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How did Vestas first break the news that the factory was going to be closed?
The company held a meeting of all 600 of us at the factory. They brought someone from high up in the company from Copenhagen to break the news. Up until that point we had been told that we were getting an upgrade for the factory and that our jobs were secure. It was a shock when they told us, no one was expecting it.
What was people’s reaction to the closure?
It was a very bullying management at Vestas, so initially people didn’t think there was much they could do. Since Vestas took over the factory there has been a culture of intimidation and fear here; a number of people have been sacked for minor misdemeanours after they joined a union. On the Isle of Wight mistreatment of workers is very common. But it became obvious that we needed to take action if we were going to get anywhere. Some of the workers from the Visteon car parts plant, who had occupied their factory, came down to meet us. We started talking, and held a small meeting to discuss how to launch our occupation soon after.
What were conditions like when you were occupying?
It was a surreal experience. Initially Vestas brought in security guards, who stopped us from getting any food in – although that soon stopped once the media picked up on it. The factory was very uncomfortable. We had sleeping bags because we had been planning the occupation for a while, but we had to put them on the floor and there were no showers. I took a camera in too, mainly for safety – to make sure the police stayed within the law and didn’t drag us out.
We kept sane by keeping organised – we had regular meetings – and finding ways of relaxing. We even made a musical when we were in there, about the occupation and what it was like inside the factory. It’s only half finished but it’s already a big hit with the rest of the workers and is soon to be YouTube’d.
You were one of the employees sacked for taking part in the protest. How did you feel when you received the letter?
It was quite liberating in a way – the decision was made for me that I would have to stay and fight. There was nothing left to lose now, they had taken it all away. My redundancy package was pitiful anyway, only £2,500, and I would pay that any day to have this cause in front of me now. I care about the environment and the local economy and this fight is worth having.
Your occupation attracted a great deal of attention, both from the national press and the ‘red-green’ coalition of protesters who supported you. Were you expecting that?
We knew it would be big, but we didn’t know how big. It has so many different strands to it that people can support: it’s a workers’ struggle, a local campaign, a fight for green energy. There’s something for everyone. I didn’t think the left would work with the greens on such a large scale, even though for them both to exist they need each other, so it was brilliant to see. We’ve also received a lot of support from local people. In a lot of ways it is a very local struggle.
It appears that the government was engaged in a secret behind-the-scenes effort to rescue the factory, but that the company rejected all the proposals. What do you make of these efforts?
We are campaigning for full nationalisation of the factory, so we weren’t satisfied with the government’s efforts, or its secretive approach. We are still fighting for compulsory purchase – it’s doable and it should be done. We need a national initiative in green energy led by a government with teeth.
The government has pledged to create 400,000 new green jobs. What impact do you think this occupation has had on Labour’s green credentials?
Vestas has been awarded £6 million by the government to build a new research facility on the Isle of Wight. It is completely unacceptable to give this amount to a profitable company that just sacked 600 people. A balance has to be struck with the local community, otherwise the government can claim to be working for a sustainable future, but in reality they are sending a load of people to the Jobcentre.
What’s next for the campaign?
We are launching a national day of action and we are calling for anybody and everybody to take some action in support. It could be a big gesture, like occupying a factory for 24 hours, or something smaller like everyone taking their tea break at the same time. This isn’t just our fight, it’s everybody’s.
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