Last week around 50 rental companies in Germany received emails from residents and supporting activists in the small village - or rather hamlet - of Lützerath, North Rhine-Westphalia between Aachen and Dusseldorf. The email asked them to refuse to supply aerial work platforms or telehandlers for use in the impending demolition of the village to make way for the expansion of the adjoining lignite mine.
Entitled No work platforms in Lützerath!!! the email, sent to companies operating in the region, asks them not to supply any material for the clearance and demolition work. "Distance yourself from the eviction of Lützerath and do not make any offers to the police, RWE Mining or the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Don't rent work platforms or other equipment for the clearing, demolition and clearing of Lützerath! "
The activists have already posted a list of the companies online that have been involved with the project so far, with names, addresses and telephone numbers. A similar situation arose when the Hambach Forest was cleared for a mine expansion in autumn 2018. Some rental companies such as Gerken and Cramer withdrew any equipment they had there on the basis that they did not agree to their machines being used on the clearance. The following month, ‘mysterious fires’ broke out at companies which did supply equipment, including Boels and Wasel - See: Boels depot fire.
In 2013, the German Federal Constitutional Court ruled in favour of the expansion of the Garzweiler opencast mine which included the removal of the village of Lützerath, replacing it with a lake. A local farmer unsuccessfully contested the plans and was support by climate activists who moved to the village, occupying any empty farms and houses, while building treehouses. In October the federal government and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia announced that RWE would phase out coal mining in the region by 2030, but that Lützerath would still be demolished. The demolition work has now started.
This sort of protest poses a real challenge for rental companies. It is not new of course, we saw legal threats and even action against companies that supplied equipment, unwittingly or not, for the wall Israel was building between Palestine and occupied territory of the West Bank in 2010, and anther against a manufacturer whose machines were used to destroy Palestinian homes in 2020, while some of the companies that did supply equipment for the Hambach forest in 2018 suffered from vigilante action.
While protests are a hallmark of a civilised democracy, and some of the causes may be admirable, threats of legal action or worse still aggression or other illegal action, cannot and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. Polite requests such as this, and even highlighting participants is OK in my book - as long as it is strictly limited to company names and contact details. Companies can then make an informed choice as to whether they service that project or not.
Companies already do make these kinds of decisions on whether to supply equipment, such as refusing to supply equipment for work that is likely to be particularly hard on the machines, such as sand or water blasting etc...
And if a company received a request to rent a telehandler for a crime, they are hardly like to respond: “Well best you take a heavy duty model with a good travel speed it is well worth the extra cost for your job.”
I am joking of course but would be interested to hear how you might react to requests such as the one received by those companies in the vicinity of the RWE mine.