Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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.
Corbyn just won a prize for peace activism - so why is the Labour Party still committed to renewing trident? Lily Sheehan investigates.
Connor Devine writes that whilst Brexit might be a car crash, we can't just side with an institution responsible for enforcing austerity.
Michael Coates reviews a new film revealing the shocking state of housing inequality in the UK.
The vicious media campaign against trans people is part bigotry, part strategy, writes Roz Kaveney
Jon Trickett MP reports on 'Dickensian' levels of poverty and hardship felt across the UK.
Natasha King busts some myths around the No Borders debate
He was once a radical icon, but now he's a mouthpiece for racism and nationalism. Time to get off stage, writes Michael Calderbank
Consensus seems to have shifted, but austerity is far from over. The chancellor has committed us to yet more years of misery while the rich get richer, writes Richard Seymour.
Frustrated at the idea of another royal wedding? You're not alone. Joana Ramiro argues we should stop idealising a fundamentally undemocratic institution.
Liberal elites are using Russian interference to minimise their own political failures, writes Matt Turner
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny