Global Trend for Sit-Ins and Occupations as Mass Redundancies Continue

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by
The Guardian/UK

Global Trend for Sit-Ins and Occupations as Mass Redundancies Continue

by
Terry Macalister

A mini-climate camp is growing up around the protest at the Vestas plant. The sit-in at the Isle of Wight wind turbine plant was the latest in Britain, and is seen as a part of a wider trend of militant tactics being used as far afield as the US, South Korea and China.(Chris Ison/PA)

Trade union leaders warned tonight that the direct action seen at
the Vestas factory was likely to be repeated elsewhere as workers
refused to "bend their knee and accept their fate" in the face of mass
redundancies caused by recession.

The
sit-in at the Isle of Wight wind turbine plant was the latest in
Britain, they said, and was part of a wider trend of militant tactics
being used as far afield as the US, South Korea and China.

In
France, where such tactics have been more common, the manager of a
British company was taken hostage by workers today in a dispute over
redundancies. About 60 workers at Servisair Cargo at Roissy airport in
Paris prevented the director, Abderrahmane El-Aouffir, from leaving the
firm's offices after he refused to meet their demands in the latest
case of so-called "boss-napping" to hit France.

The four day
Vestas sit-in, which is an embarrassment both to the world's biggest
turbine manufacturer and a government trying to launch a low-carbon
jobs revolution, follows a similar occupation in April at three Visteon
(car parts manufacturer) plants in the UK in addition to action at
Waterford Crystal in Ireland and Prisme Packaging in Dundee.

Tony
Woodley, the joint general secretary of the Unite union, whose members
were involved at Visteon, said: "I think it is absolutely
understandable and justified for workers to fight back where they feel
there are no other alternatives and employers act badly." Asked whether
he thought that Britain could see more sit-ins of the type seen at
Vestas, where the staff are not unionised, Woodley said: "I would not
be at all surprised. Labour laws do not protect people here and it's
all too quick and easy for employers to sack people."

Bob Crow,
the general secretary of the RMT union, who addressed Vestas workers
yesterday, said: "The Vestas occupation, and the action at Visteon
earlier this year, show that workers under attack can develop tactics
that drive a coach and horses through the anti-union laws rather than
just bending at the knee and accepting their fate.

"Occupations are immediate, focused and high profile and can force a dispute right into the headlines at short notice. "

In
all cases of such action, the workforce came away with either improved
severance arrangements or a reduction in the number of planned job
cuts, trade union leaders said.

One of the more unexpected
sit-ins outside the UK involved a company called Republic Windows and
Doors in Chicago where a traditionally peaceful workforce bit back
after managers announced a shutdown.

Workers, who assembled vinyl
windows and sliding doors for a market hit hard by the housebuilding
recession, refused to leave the premises, saying they were given three
days instead of the legally required 60 days' notice of closure and
were owed holiday and severance cash.

Even though the staff were
breaking the law when they took action last December, they won support
from Barack Obama, then president-elect.

"When it comes to the
situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their
benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely
right," Obama said.

Union militancy of this kind in the US is
rare but 500 staff at the Hartmarx suit factory in Des Plaines,
Illinois, authorised a sit-in over a threat that the company's largest
creditor may close it down.

In South Korea, up to 600 car workers
are continuing with a two-month occupation of a plant in Pyeongtaek,
south of the capital Seoul. They are in dispute with their employer,
Ssangyong Motor Company, which has been in court-approved bankruptcy
protection since February.

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