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Police evict Vestas protesters

Friday, August 7, 2009

The remaining six workers staging an occupation in Newport, Isle of Wight, England have left peacefully after police entered their factory.

After barricading the office which has served as a living quarters for 19 nights against police entry, three of the workers, Justin Moody, Mark Smith, and Dave Arbuthnott, exited via a fire escape escorted by security staff; two, Ian Terry and Mark Flower, abseiled down the factory’s wall; and Jaymie Rigby jumped thirty feet from a balcony to the bushes below. Rigby was examined at a local hospital after the jump but was found to be in good condition and released. The six were processed by police but not arrested.

The six, who as part of a group of around 25 entered the factory on the evening July 20, had been conducting their occupation in a bid to get the government to nationalise the factory. Despite rising profits and rising orders, Vestas has decided to close their production facilities in the United Kingdom and most of their facilities in Denmark, at a cost of 1900 jobs, in order to concentrate on growth in North and South America and in Asia. The Vestas factory in Newport does not produce blades for the UK market and the company has refused both a £6 million grant and offers from the government to assist the company in re-tooling the plant for production of British blades.

The company, in turn, blames the British government for making it too hard to obtain planning permission for on-shore wind farms. A Vestas spokesman, commenting to the BBC about the end of the occupation, said, “we have always understood the frustrations of the workers but have been surprised at the length of this action.”

The evicted workers say that, after spending time with their families, they plan to return to the protests against Vestas, joining the impromptu camp of hundreds of protesters which has sprung up outside the factory gates. The Vestas occupiers have received support from a broad coalition of left-wing political parties, trade unions, environmental groups, the Tory-dominated Isle of Wight Council, and a handful of MPs; today, the last major left party which had not joined the coalition, Arthur Scargill‘s Socialist Labour Party, released a statement saying

does it make sense that Vestas should be closed and the green ecology so beloved of this government should be transported here from the far corners of the world? The only sensible demand is for the nationalisation of the entire energy industry.

The SLP’s spokesman, Alan Johnson, went on to tell Wikinews that the occupiers “have our full support.” None of the three large parties dominating the British parliament have backed the Vestas workers, however, although the ruling Labour Party has recently sponsored talks between among the coalition of trade unions supporting the occupiers.

Police served the remaining occupiers notice to vacate the premises yesterday at noon; Vestas’s first attempt at obtaining a warrant was stymied in court when the defence successfully argued that notice requiring possession had not been correctly served to the occupiers.

The occupiers lived in the factory twenty-four hours a day during the occupation, sleeping in a 1600-square-foot (149-square-metre) office, maintaining hygiene as well as possible in the factory’s bathrooms, and eating one small meal a day — initially from the contents of vending machines, then from what the company management supplied supplemented by whatever protesters were able to get over the fence surrounding the factory. The RMT, which has arranged legal representation for the Vestas occupiers, has accused Vestas of violating human rights and at one point said it would arrange to have a helicopter airlift food into the workers.

The end of the Newport occupation does not represent the end of unrest at Vestas’s facilities in the Isle of Wight, however. A number of workers at Vestas’s smaller plant in Cowes occupied the plant there on the evening of August 4, with activists from the RMT and environmental groups taking to the roof and waving flags proclaiming the occupation.

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