Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The "Magic Roundabout" under threat

The "Magic Roundabout" protest camp on the Isle of Wight arose in support for the workers occupying the Vestas wind turbine factory back in July. When the occupation ended, it remained as a show of continued defiance against the job losses and disdain for environmental issues that the plant's closure represents. Now, however, even this encampment is under threat.

According to the Save Vestas blog, "the people remaining on the ‘Magic Roundabout’ protest camp down on the Isle of Wight outside the now closed Vestas factory have been officially handed their eviction order by the land owner." Their analysis of the injunction and the accusations contained therein was scathing;
The documents filed to the courts include more or less identical submissions from Hanslip and the managing director of Vestas, Paddy Weir, who is unlikely to cash in on the £70,000 bonus he was granting himself for the smooth closure of the factory, until the protests die away. Indeed the statement by Paddy Weir is dated before that of the landlord himself and the photos of the camp submitted taken by staff employed by Vestas, suggesting strongly that the pressure for this repossession is a further desperate political move by the shamed company to be rid of a protest-site designated by the police under Section 14 of the Public Order Act.

The main grounds for repossession are that that our activities suggest that we have no intention of leaving the industrial estate anytime soon and that we are an ongoing nuisance to Vestas!

It is true that in the aftermath of the gales last week, we now have a new solid kitchen built by workers and local supporters recycling the wood from the pallettes on the industrial estate and rain-proofing from previous structures. It is true that our main tent has survived this extreme weather and still hosts visitors to the campaign locally and nationally, including last months’ lunch event with Green MEP Caroline Lucas. They submit as evidence last Saturday’s successful “Push the Green Button” event in town, supported by local unions, that provided information, free soup and tea, and a straw bale forum to discuss Vestas, Climate Change, working-class political representation and jobs and services: the main issues for the ongoing campaign. It is also true, as a protest site, that we do intend to maintain pressure on Vestas, while they continue to deny the occupiers their redundancy. The RMT union is still appealing against their dismissal.

We are also accused of causing health and safety issues and access issues for Gurit, which is laughable after months of 24hour operations at the site. The police visit or dirve round daily and we have complied with the minor adjustments that have been required of us, removing a a gaffer-tape smile face from a road traffic sign, and a small picnic table from the roadside.

Our favourite allegation is that we are deterring prospective employers from setting up on the industrial estate! Ours is a campaign for job creation, for the opening of the factory at the St Cross Business Park. We shall have little reason to camp on a roundabout when the factory is reopened with indoor union facilities. Apart form this, it is ironic that Hanslip can make this claim. Many of the buildings on the industrial estate have stood empty for years since they were built. The mock-facade of a construction site on the wasteground adjacent to the Vestas site was designed to spur Vestas into securing a freehold on the site before another company – this failed.

The campaign has been trawling through the opaque evaluations of the whole development of of the industrial estate, which more or less confirm what local people knew, that millions of public money have been thrown away to the Hanslips and Vestas, regeneration money that should have guaranteed long-term skilled employment opportunities on the island. The subsidy-chasing, socially irresponsible conduct of Vestas, and the lack of safeguard set-down by the Lib Dem council of the time and the regional development authorities, mean that the Isle of Wight has been set back more than a decade. The secretary of the Newport Trades Council is in the process of meeting the current council leaders to to put to them a report detailing the loss of thousands of skilled jobs over the last 50 years.

A third statement by a Rachel Fiddler of HTP Training, further up the estate, parrots these allegations and makes the ridiculous assertion that we pose a risk to vulnerable young working-class people who come to their offices. A major achievement of the camp has been its accessibility. It has been a safe, welcoming and supportive place for all, with children’s days, and an open-door policy. We have provided food and tea to local homeless people and to company for those staying at the Seven Acres mental health facility.

Ours is a camp(aign) that is developing a grassroots vision for socially useful work, and a society more broadly that values care, cooperation, justice and dignity.

The move today to evict us, is nothing more than a cynical and dishonest attempt to remove from the scene a new and positive part of the moribund industrial estate, which until the protests began were a symbol of the failure of the powers that be to deliver.
Mesages of support for those camped at the magic roundabout can be sent to is vital for the campaign, which now stands as a potent symbol of the fact that class-based action is the only way to face down the threat of climate change and as a vital, ongoing resistance to the callous, dehumanising profit instincts of capitalism.