Three young members of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty headed up the Workers' Climate Action campaign to mobilise workers at the Vestas plants against the closure of the factories.
We used the skills that we had been taught as members of Workers' Liberty to plan a campaign of agitation on the factory gates; and to write effective agitational materials to hand out to workers. These bulletins were the lynchpin of the intervention that we made in the first weeks of the campaign on the factory gates. They served as a 'prop' to initiate conversations with workers, to be sure - but they carried the basic ideas that we wanted to get across, and served to sow some seeds of mutiny in the workers who read them.
We had learned some of the basics of organising first-hand, as student activists active in anti-cuts and anti-fees campaigning as well as in anti-war movements on our campuses (only a few weeks before coming to the Isle of Wight we had played leading roles in occupations in our respective universities, around the Gaza war). But what we knew of industrial organising of the kind we were about to embark on, we had learned from older comrades in Workers' Liberty - from having seen Tubeworker published, from attending organising schools, from reading accounts of industrial battles past and present in Solidarity, and from visiting picket lines to distribute strike bulletins written by comrades in the affected industry. Without the training provided to us by Workers' Liberty, we wouldn't have been equipped to mount any sort of serious campaign at the factory gates; let alone have the confidence to put pen to paper and make arguments for a group of beaten-down workers to take militant action. And without the political perspectives that Workers' Liberty espouses, we wouldn't have had the political motivation to do this in the first place, or had any expectation that we could get results.
The single most important thing I learned from those early weeks of the campaign, where we would stand at the gates, hand out what we had written the previous afternoon and talk to workers, was that effective agitation is about listening as much as it is about talking. As one comrade put it, a lot of what we were doing consisted of repeating back to workers what they were telling us. For workers to take a bulletin seriously, it needs to reflect a detailed, accurate knowledge of the situation in their workplace. You can only develop a feel for that by talking to workers - and engaging critically with what they say! Of course, listening isn't all that we did. The idea was to come to a demoralised workforce and raise its political level, introduce ideas that previously weren't present or were only dimly held. What a socialist organisation does amongst other things is to distil the lessons of the historical experience of working class struggle and transmit those to the rest of the class. By drawing on the knowledge of organising that Workers' Liberty imparted to us, and on the experience of previous occupations (in particular Visteon), that is what we attempted to do here.
It wasn't easy. These bulletins aren't perfect by a long way and experienced trade unionists will find much to criticise here. They were produced in a hurry, by relatively raw militants and under less than ideal circumstances (we were living in a tent in a field!). Nevertheless, these bulletins are important documents of the struggle at Vestas, for two reasons. Firstly, they show that a small group of Trotskyists can have a decisive impact in a struggle, and they show, concretely, how that process happens - they show that there is nothing magical or obscure about what we did, we just talked to people and then gave them this stuff. Secondly, it is important to keep these documents as evidence of what really happened, how the occupation came about. Various commentators have already begun to misrepresent how the Vestas campaign started. The Anarchist Federation claims that the occupation was the result of a spontaneous initiative of workers; and that leftists only turned up later, to parasitically piggyback off the campaign and sell papers. The SWP prefer to simply airbrush the involvement of socialists other than themselves out of history. No mention of precisely how the campaign started has appeared in their newspaper, and in an article in ISJ Charlie Kimber makes a vague reference to "some other socialists" who hang around for a bit and don't have much luck until the SWP save the day... The rest of the Left appears to have ignored this story entirely. At the other end of the scale, some right-wing pundits on the Isle of Wight have tried to dismiss the occupation as purely the result of firebrand rabble-rousers filling the heads of honest, gullible workers with rubbish!
At the end of the day, the occupation at Vestas was the result of the courage and conviction of a militant group of workers inside the plant who made the decision to make a stand. No-one could have made that decision for them. Their actions and their choices were their own. But the role that we played, as a small group of trained revolutionary agitators, was to plant the seeds of the occupation in the minds of those workers, and prove to them with examples taken from the recent history of the working class, that they could fight and hope to win.
Download - Three bulletins we handed out at the factory; a report written to the NC at the start of our presence on the Isle of Wight; a call-out for help distributed at a Climate Camp national gathering
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