Saturday, 19 December 2009

2009: the whiff of woodsmoke

As another birthday hoves into view (yawn), I thought I would write a brief review of the year. I am calling 2009 the year of woodsmoke.

I got my first whiff of it at the Visteon Enfield occupation in April. Workers sacked by Visteon, a Ford spin-off company, occupied their former workplaces in Belfast and Enfield, and made an attempt at occupation in Basildon. In Enfield, with their union reps threatened with imprisonment, the workers agreed to leave the factory but immediately blockaded the factory entrances. They manned them 24 hours, kept warm at night by braziers, hence woodsmoke.

The plan was that if the company wanted to take machinery out they would have to honour the contracts they had made with the sacked workers regarding redundancy pay and pensions. The workers were also, but only half-heartedly, asking for jobs elsewhere in the Ford empire.

I visited Enfield Visteon several times, and on one occasion, a freezing cold night, with a stalwart of the Barnet sheltered housing wardens campaign who must remain nameless in order to avoid victimisation by his employer.

The Visteon workers won something (you can't imagine how good it feels to say that): their redundancy money. The company quickly struck a deal - better than people had hoped - when the Visteon workers threatened to go and talk about their case with workers at the profitable Ford factory in Bridgend.

However, the issue of pensions was left aside and today many of the former Visteon workers - now re-named Visteon pensioners - are battling to get the money they are due.

My second whiff of woodsmoke was during the Vestas campaign on the Isle of Wight. More than 400 workers at the Vestas wind turbine blade factory on the Isle of Wight faced the sack, when the company decided it could make bigger profits mothballing the factory and shifting its focus to Colorado.

A small group of workers, with some prompting from environmental and labour activists, occupied the administration suite of the factory, until made to leave by a court injunction. They too set up a blockade, although it was always much looser and more symbolic than that at Visteon. This was shown when the company finally moved the remaining blades out of the factory in September.

I helped to administer the Save Vestas blog and visited the Isle of Wight for one or two days every week, for two months, in order to meet the people involved in the campaign and understand the lie of the land.

An important feature of the Vestas campaign was the so-called Magic Roundabout - a camp of Vestas workers and supporters on a small traffic island in front of the Vestas factory. Braziers and woodsmoke loomed large in that experience. Below is a picture of me breaking up a pallet to feed into the brazier (this photo should destroy any chance I might ever have had of being elected to anything in Barnet).

We got a whiff of woodsmoke at the Climate Camp on Blackheath in the summer, but I personally only visited for one afternoon and evening just to see what all of the fuss was about.

When the Vestas campaign moved into a new phase (some of my friends will insist on this formulation), after the blades were removed, I thought I was done with woodsmoke for the year. But, no!

The remaining Magic Roundabout residents were recently evicted, and, together with some Climate Campers and others, some of them have been camping out in Trafalgar Square while the Climate Summit was on in Copenhagen, in order to draw people's attention to the issues.

I visited them on Monday 7 December, the day of the national sheltered housing wardens march, which set off from Trafalgar Square for Downing Street; and again last night, after some inevitable Friday-before-Christmas boozing.

The main feature of last night's visit was a brush with a security guard employed by Chubb - we had a friendly chat, once she'd cleared me off the base of Nelson's Column. I thought I would go up and have a look at the panels (one of them celebrating Nelson's sea battle off Copenhagen in 1801). I suspected that this is not allowed, but apparently it is - so long as you do it before 11pm. You can clamber about on the Landseer lions, etc, with impunity up until then!

I didn't stay long last night - it was too ruddy cold and a welcome N5 came along. But I did get that whiff of woodsmoke again - and, boy, does it cling! To hair, to clothes...

1 comment:

Rog T said...


Contrary to what you think, the picture will do your chances of election no harm at all. Strange as it may seem, we'd like to have a few people elected who actually are prepared to roll up their sleeves and do a bit of work.