No market solutions

Neil Rothnie spent his working life on the North Sea oilrigs.  In this post he looks at Covid-19 and the slump in oil process and how oil workers pay the price for the super profits stolen by the oil companies.

COVID19 exposes that there are no “market” solutions to the real problems that face us.  In fact the, “neo-liberal” market-led society has left us with a precarious health service which has all but had to shut down looking after the health of the majority of people just to be able to cope with this virus.  And it’s left us with insufficient resources in the form of testing kits and PPE and ventilators.  The market can’t lead us out of this COVID19 emergency (no one is even making this claim) neither will it be able to lead us out of global warming and the developing climate emergency.  When the oil & gas industry says that it is the solution to global warming it’s lying.  Their plan is business as usual – produce every drop that can be economically produced from the North Sea and (presumably) worldwide.  Greed, private property and getting rich drive the oil industry.  Co-operation, the recognition of the crucial role of key workers, an end to poverty homelessness and the provision of basic necessities to all has to be the response to COVID19.  No going back to the days when our “heroes” will once again be the “celebrities” that stand in for and apologise for the filthy rich.  Our heroes are health and care workers, supermarket and delivery workers.  Let’s make sure it stays that way.

Under conditions of this Covid19 pandemic, the exploitation of the workforce has taken on a more overt and sinister form, where workers are herded offshore under conditions where it is impossible to maintain social distancing.  Only a virtual news blackout has allowed employers to try and mitigate the risks (to their reputations) by jumping the queue being formed by health and care workers, and privately organising COVID19 testing for oil & gas workers going offshore.  Who knows how effective this is, or whether the infection is spiraling offshore only to come home with these guys at the end of their trip?  Are all the companies quarantining all outward and inward bound workers?  Are they testing everyone every day? Otherwise what possible precautions could be put in place to get workers offshore via helicopter to work eat and sleep (sometimes in shared cabins) cheek by jowl in an atmosphere of endlessly recycled air? 

Belatedly the industry have organised their own “testing” regimes but are still capable of fucking that up by sending guys offshore before results are in and have, in at least one case, ended up sending one guy out who had tested positive to the virus and then disallowed his fellow passengers from self-isolating.  

The testing of oil & gas workers for COVID19 before many health services and care workers could get tests, needs I think to be challenged.  It’s not on as far as I’m concerned.  How essential are oil & gas workers during a pandemic and a global glut of oil? Even a 10% cut in global production isn’t enough to artificially hike the prices that we ultimately pay to levels where the rich can continue to get their “dividends”.  Many of these workers, far from being “key” workers have turned out to not even be essential to the industry.  The industry is sacking workers en mass in the midst of a social crisis that we’re all supposed to be in together.  What bollocks!

Oil that workers have sweated and risked life and limb to produce is trading at negative prices in a market that’s driven by greed and geopolitics and periodically crashes.  Where the workers pay with their jobs, again and again?  An industry that cannot learn the lessons of the periodic disaster and near-disasters and must be very close to another.  What kind of life is that for the workforce?  And all this from the industry that threatens an existential crisis for people and nature.

If the employers can’t/won’t furlough their workers, then the Government should step in and do so directly.  If the Government won’t do it they should come out and explain why.

At every opportunity, and to get out of the holes they’ve dug themselves into, the industry periodically drives up exploitation by driving down wages and increasing offshore work periods.  Dumping whole swathes of the workforce is the traditional method of achieving this. We’re well into the latest phase of this with another 30,000 UK job losses predicted on top of the steady stream of redundancies already underway.

We need to go for the industry by the throat and break this unholy alliance that exists between them and the Government and in which the trade unions have been willing participants or “partners” in sweetheart agreements.  The media has largely failed to be anything more than a propaganda mouthpiece.

Should we not shut-in oil production, furlough the workers and use up the global glut if need be.  Is this not the time to start offering oil & gas workers the chance to retrain for the renewables sector (or for whatever they want) and escape the ongoing nightmare of an industry that is an eater of men and women and a threat to our very existence?

The coal miners, their families and communities were fucked-off in the last energy transition. Oil & gas workers will get the same treatment if they stand by and let it happen this time.

Cromarty Firth – image by Pete Cannell CCO

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