Fife, fighting for our future

An important march and rally for the local community, trade unionists and environmental activists in Kirkcaldy on Saturday – fighting for climate jobs and a sustainable future.  The ScotE3 banner will be there.  Assemble 11am at Kirkcaldy Town Square.  Facebook event at https://www.facebook.com/events/228664054720454/

IMG_4675

Harland and Wolff: occupying for nationalisation, jobs and the climate

As workers at Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyard fight to save their jobs, demanding nationalisation as the employer goes into administration, Brian Parkin from ScotE3 reports on the response from the UK Construction Rank and File group, argues for solidarity and highlights links with action to tackle the climate emergency.  This article was first published on http://www.rs21.org.uk

The mighty shipyard of Harland and Wolff, whose enormous cranes, Samson and Goliath, dominate the Belfast skyline, is now facing the final phase of closure. Most famed for being the shipyard that built the ill-fated Titanic, these yards and their local supply companies employed up to 30,000 workers at their peak. Now, after repeated capacity and job-sheddings, only 121 workers remain.

The remaining workers have been given redundancy notices, but have said no to the supposed inevitability of market forces and the whims of hedge-fund capital. In a bid to save their jobs, they have mounted a workplace occupation. These men and women of the Unite and GMB unions are not looking back to the days of mighty ocean liners and battleships. Instead, they have evaluated the productive assets of the yards and have seen them as part of the vital industrial capacity that can begin to turn the tide in the battle against climate change. They have combined their technical skills with their knowledge of the Harland and Wolff production potential with a vision of how they can fabricate the structures and internals of wave, wind and tidal units that can harness the vast renewable resources that can provide clean, affordable and abundant energy.

All too aware of empty promises and crocodile tears of politicians and would-be investors, the workforce have played their ultimate hand: they have occupied and taken over the means of production in order to prevent asset strippers and bailiffs moving in and destroying further the productive potential of their sole means of production – and with it the hope of clean energy technologies so badly needed as climate change accelerates.

But these workers cannot fight alone. So far their unions have promised official support. But that support will be conditional – until a prospective bidder comes along with the any rescue bid inevitably demanding further flexibility and productivity promises of the workforce. Which is why the example of the UK Construction Rank and File in promising solidarity is so important. And now, within weeks of the global climate strikes and protests on 20 September, the climate change movement has a concrete example to put workers’ action centre stage.

Harland and Wolff and an emerging campaign of former BiFab workers in Fife are at last bringing together the issues of jobs worth having within a campaign for a planet capable of being saved.

The UK Construction Rank and File passed the following motion at its annual general meeting on Saturday 3 August:

  1. The Annual General Meeting of the UK Construction workers rank and File note the heroic factory occupation of the Harland and Wolff plant in Belfast in their bid to save jobs.
  2. We further note their demand that the present plant and jobs therein be turned over to the production of renewable energy technologies that will not only meet the growing demand for clean renewable sources of energy, but will also make a vital contribution to the fight against impending and potentially catastrophic climate change.
  3. In their present struggle the H&W workers are showing the way by which in the fight for jobs, the conversion of employment and means of production can be redeployed into both socially and environmentally dedicated ends.
  4. We commend the leadership on Unite for the official support that they are extending to the H&W occupation and call upon the wider labour movement to take up the fight for jobs, communities and the energy needs and environmental responsibilities of future generations.
  5. Furthermore, we urge all workers to support next month’s climate strikes and protests, both as a show of solidarity with H&W, but as a sign of the commitment to the working class’s vital role in the fight against climate change and our planets environment and eco-systems.

Save-Our-Shipyard-e1565021353605-696x431Photo: Unite construction branch on twitter

Sea Change – a review

In May we welcomed the publication of an important report on North Sea Oil and Gas. Ann Morgan shares her reflections on the report here.

Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction

Introduction

Sea Change highlights the tremendous potential for a just transition and in outlining the scale of the potential increase in new climate jobs provides convincing evidence that trade unions, activists, politicians and economists can utilise in designing a sustainable economy.

Bella Caledonia calls the report a ‘landmark’.  A landmark is defined as a’ turning point’ or a ‘critical point.’ However, as the report is released there are very mixed messages from policy makers.  On the one hand the declaration of climate emergency by the Scottish Government and many local authorities and on the other the Oil and Gas Authority press release on 10thJuly 2019 announcing new licences for exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons.

The Gas discovery by the Chinese State Owned CNOOC in January this year is said to be the largest in over a decade.  Exxon Mobil and Shell and other oil companies are busy extolling the virtues of Natural Gas, greenwashing thus

‘This versatile and abundant resource is contributing to emissions reductions all over the world’

No word of emissions of methane (research is currently underway to assess methane emission underestimated previously in the North Sea).  As we know methane is a potent greenhouse gas and natural gas is not a ‘bridge’ fuel as the report emphasises.

Just transition

The ScotE3 draft manifesto defines a just transition as

‘One that ensures no individual or community suffers economically or socially as old jobs end and new jobs are created’.

Sea Change makes it clear that a just transition to renewable energy is manifestly possible with the potential that three new climate jobs could be created for every North Sea job at risk. 

Just transition is the way to win hearts and minds and the Sea Change report gives an informed and detailed bridge to that improved working and living environment.  An effective campaign is needed to turn around the Oil and Gas Authority (OAG) insistence on opening up applications for the 32ndround of licensing.

Alternatives

To end fossil fuel dependence and move to the alternative, a clean and safe working and sustainable environment, will not be easy.  However the structured and planned transition that Sea Change describes cannot be ignored.  The report notes that oil and gas was developed with Government support and intervention.  Indeed the big energy companies continue to attract subsidy for their hydrocarbon activities. It argues that it is now high time for intervention and investment to enable a renewable transformation.

Sea Change is an outstanding analysis of the importance of energy at the ‘production’ level and has relevance in the systemic changes required, in public ownership, in governance and accountability and in designing new social models.  The report further illustrates a point also made by Asbjørn Wahl that solutions cannot be made on an environmental/scientific analysis alone.  Action is required to change the power imbalance nationally and internationally.

The need to end extraction

Sea Change documents the current impact of North Sea Oil and Gas and demonstrates in the starkest terms that the continued practice of Maximum Economic Recovery (MER) Is incompatible with the Climate Change Act and emissions reduction.  Mary Church Head of Campaigns at FoE (Scotland) puts it succinctly

‘ Climate Science is clear that we urgently need to phase out fossil fuels, yet the government and big oil companies are doing everything they can to squeeze every drop out of the North Sea … we must ban further exploration and redirect the vast subsidies propping up extraction towards creating decent jobs in a clean energy economy.’

The report finds that:

  • The Uk ‘s 5.7 billion barrels of oil and gas in already operating oil and gas fields will exceed the UK’s share of carbon emissions agreed in the Paris Climate goals. Currently Government and industry aim to extract 20 billion barrels.
  • The additional oil and gas extraction enabled by recent subsidies will add twice as much carbon to the atmosphere as the phase out of coal power saves.
  • Given the right policies, clean industries could create more than three jobs for every North Sea oil job lost.

The authors call for the withdrawal of the OAG authority’s 32ndlicensing round.  They recommend that the UK and Scottish Governments work with affected communities and trade unions in a managed phase out of North Sea oil and gas, investing in education, retraining and reskilling (although it is acknowledged that many existing jobs are highly skilled and transferable) and influencing the priorities of the Scottish National Investment Bank with a significant degree of public ownership. Infrastructure costs can be met with a rapid phase out of oil subsidies underpinned by a fiscal policy of support for clean energy to at least the level to which the oil and gas industry have been supported.

Otherwise the future looks bleak.  The report notes that

  • Offshore oil industry increasingly pressurised (See RMT union’s report on North Sea working conditions)
  • Renewables – currently no significant UK jobs creation with manufacturing jobs going overseas
  • Oil and Gas extraction from newly developed fields would push the world beyond climate limits

In short, the Westminster and HolyroodGovernments face a choice between two pathways to stay in climate limits.

  1. Deferred Collapse: Continue to pursue Maximum Extraction through subsidies until worsening climate impacts force rapid action to cut emissions globally. The UK Oil industry collapses pushing workers out of work in a short space of time.
  2. Managed Transition. Stop approving licensing permits and tax breaks and phase out extraction.

Climate jobs

The report argues that a National Energy Strategy can mean an energy transformation that meets climate commitments while protecting livelihoods and economic well being.  Local manufacturing and workforce participation needs to guide this transformation with new approaches in economic development, strong trade union rights and sectoral bargaining.

‘Clearly it is an ambitious project to transform the UK energy sector within a couple of decades, just as the rapid development of the North Sea was an ambitious project …’

The report models the impact on the oil and gas workforce of ending the development of new fields.  Taking into account the jobs created through decommissioning and forecast retirement in the existing workforce, it estimates that 40,000 existing oil workers (direct and support chain) may need to be in a different job by 2030. To examine the scale of jobs that can be created in compatible clean energy industries and the level of policy ambition necessary, it models the numbers of new jobs that would be created in offshore wind, marine renewables and energy efficiency retrofits, sectors that have strong overlaps with existing oil and gas skills and finds that the number of jobs created will be at least three times more than the number lost.

Social Justice

The report also highlights the international justice commitment to ensure transition is fastest in wealthier countries and end operations, which harm poor communities and workers (Jake Molloy in the RMT report notes the harsh working conditions for Asian migrant workers in decommissioning in the North Sea for as little as around £3 an hour).  Decommissioning should be paid for by oil companies and decommissioning plans should detail and provide for a Just Transition for workers.

Overall, Just Transition plans, guided by climate limits, should provide structured pathways for the existing workforce, new workers and communities.  Terms and conditions of workers must be safeguarded and accountability to trade unions and local stakeholders in place.

Finally, the authors report that in other policy arenas restrictions on the supply of harmful substances (e.g. ozone depleting chemicals and asbestos) targeted the substances, whereas with fossil fuels only measures to slow the consumption have been taken leaving the market to determine extraction.  This is beginning to change.  It is to be hoped the banning of fracking in Scotland and UK wide in future will serve as an example of legislative measures to make unsafe practices unlawful.

It is worth noting that the authors place no great faith in carbon negative strategies such as capture and storage.  While these technologies may have their place in future developments, philosophy of enabling business as usual must be guarded against.  To finish with the words of the authors

‘Oil and Gas sucks investment …’

Investment in renewables could swiftly move us to reduction in emissions within climate limits.

‘Today’s decisions shape the long term energy future’.

Let’s begin the sustainable revolution.

38460797761_54baa9052f_z

Confronting corporate power

A month ago we reported on the launch of the “Fife Ready For Renewal” campaign to insist that production work for the new Neart na Gaoithe wind farm should take place at the currently unoccupied Bifab yards in Burntisland and Methil.  On Friday 5th July the campaign stepped up a notch when 100 pickets assembled in Edinburgh.

IMG_4674Ex-Bifab workers, reps of 5 or 6 unions, School Strikers, ScotE3,  Friends of the Earth and others surrounded the EDF Renewables HQ in Morrison Street, Edinburgh. An expert bugler, echoing his fanfares round the tall buildings, attracted a lot of passing attention. No uniformed police. Four School Strikers were lined up behind a very long banner. They were shy so we got them to go to the front. Good speeches. The plan had been to present a letter to EDF, listing questions and demands. But we arrived to find their door locked. So the questions and demands were magicked onto two long scrolls, which were displayed at the front of the protest and photographed. Then it was decided we should march round the side of the building  to see if there was a back door open so the original letter could be presented. There was a back door – a big revolving one, behind which four large security guards retreated when they saw us coming – a lot of loud music and chanting by this time on a good PA system. Good large flags, multiplied by reflexion in glass walls. Two people were allowed inside to give the letter to the guards, then one worker managed to push his way backwards through the door with a big flag, which he waved at us through the glass with a big smile, while the guards pinioned him. There was a point when it looked as if the crowd would push through the door, but not this time. The guards nudged the worker back though the door, then decided to lock it. This was the best bit – a guard on his knees inside struggling to lock the door with a ground-bolt, but failing to get any of his big bunch of keys to fit. This gave a great photo opportunity, and was greeted with hilarity by the crowd, who offered technical training for EDF workers.

IMG_4675Thanks to Mike and Eileen for words and images.

Fife – Ready for Renewal

EDF renewables have the contract for the new Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm. Although the turbines will be located around 15.5 km off the Fife coast the company plans to source much of the infrastructure for the site from South East Asia.

The project aims to generate 450MW of renewable energy (enough to power all of Edinburgh) – this makes the decision to manufacture the jackets that the turbines rest on in the far east and then ship them around the world all the more ludicrous. It will create huge additional carbon emissions – the STUC reckons this would be the equivalent of putting 35,000 additional petrol or diesel cars on the road.

Simply on the basis of its carbon footprint, the argument for dropping the EDF plan and building the jackets at the BiFab yards in Fife is incontestable. But in the context of a climate emergency it also raises other fundamental issues about how Scotland plays its part in the transition to a zero carbon economy. Mary Church, Head of Campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland puts the case very well:

We urgently need to build the clean energy economy in Scotland to do our fair share of tackling the climate emergency. But the new clean economy must be created in a way that ensures the benefits and costs are shared fairly, both internationally and here in Scotland.

Crucially, it also means losing the opportunity to create decent manufacturing work in Fife, that could help kick start the badly need Just Transition for workers and communities currently dependent on high carbon industries here in Scotland.

38428649232_90588eacd5_z

The skills of the BiFab workers are critical to a Just Transition. Fundamentally this is about social justice and about the contribution that Scotland can make to the global response to the climate crisis. We have abundant resources for sustainable energy production and workers with the skills required to build the new sustainable economy. However, if we are serious about dealing with a climate emergency it is essential to develop policy and institutions that enable public control and accountability.

The STUC together with Unite the Union and the GMB have launched a campaign, ‘Fife – ready for renewal’ to bring the work to Fife. And Nicola Sturgeon is backing appeals to EDF to move production to the BiFab yards. This is really welcome.  But taking the climate emergency seriously surely requires going beyond call to the ‘social conscience’ of the big energy companies. There is a pressing need to develop a publicly owned energy company. Such a company could invest in production through new offshore wind, wave and tidal, take control of the grid and update it with new subsea connections and a smart distribution system and end the dependency on the market.

There is a public meeting in Buckhaven on June 20th to build support for the campaign – details on Facebook.

Reflections on BiFab

…working people, their lives, livelihoods, skills and commitment are central to tackling the climate crisis …

Occupying for jobs

In December 2017 BiFab workers from Burntisland, Methil and Lewis staged the biggest industrial protest in Scotland for many years. With site occupations and a mass protest to Holyrood, they forced the Scottish government to secure funding for the remaining contracts building jackets for the new Moray Firth wind farm. For a brief moment it seemed that jobs had been saved and BiFab might become an exemplar of the much-needed transition from offshore oil and gas to wind and tidal energy.

26683868759_9d8dfe867c_z

Hopes dashed

Hope was short-lived. Of a workforce of 1,400, only some 390 workers were in direct employment: the rest were on short-term agency contracts. In early 2018 there was a rapid run down of employment as contracts were not renewed and the Moray Firth contract was completed. A Canadian company acquired BiFab and the Scottish government converted its loan into equity, but no new orders were found. By May 2018 only 43 workers were left and a further 35 redundancies meant that only a handful were left to maintain the yards.

The need for political intervention

Behind the scenes the new owners, with the support of the Scottish government have been bidding for contracts to produce turbine jackets and platforms for the new Moray East and Kincardine offshore wind developments. But this month hopes of renewed large-scale employment were dashed when it emerged that these contracts had gone to companies in the UAE, Belgium and Spain. All that remains is 82 jobs at Arnish on the Isle of Lewis. Unite Scotland Secretary Pat Rafferty commented:

“Ten years ago we were promised a ‘Saudi Arabia of Renewables’ but today we need political intervention to help level the playing field in Scottish offshore renewables manufacturing. The truth is that state funded European energy and engineering firms, backed by Far East finance and Middle East sovereign wealth funds, are carving-up thousands of jobs and billions of pounds from our renewables sector, and firms like BiFab are left fighting for scraps off our own table.”

Missed opportunity

We are at a critical moment, when rapid action to mitigate catastrophic climate change is essential. To move towards a zero carbon economy the marine engineering skills of the BiFab workers are vital. We know that transition needs around 100,000 new climate jobs in Scotland. BiFab is a missed opportunity for action that effectively sets us back by more than a thousand jobs.

A just transition

Could things have been different? For a few days in December 2017 the BiFab workers inspired many beyond their ranks. The Scottish government’s rapid response reflected the strength of feeling and the severity of the jobs crisis. But fatally it depended on the private sector. In our view the scale of the climate crisis cannot be left to the vagaries of the market. We are not alone in this view and indeed the Scottish Government’s proposal for a state run energy company is in part recognition that public intervention is required. However, the current proposals are limited to taking the role of an alternative energy supplier. Much more is needed. We argue for a strategic, integrated and planned approach that encompasses production, infrastructure and distribution. BiFab could have been the first building block of this strategy.

The point of this article, however, is not to muse about might have beens. The school student strikes and the growth of Extinction Rebellion have highlighted the need for urgent action. In our view urgency requires that every possibility for action be pursued. Just Transition isn’t an abstract idea. It means understanding that working people, their lives, livelihoods, skills and commitment are central to tackling the climate crisis. Vast sums of money were used to bail out the banks, trillions of dollars were spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – the cost of keeping the BiFab workers in publicly run, regulated and decently paid employment would have been trivial in comparison. Let’s learn from this and ensure that the agenda in the coming months becomes the creation of new jobs and not a lament for jobs laid waste.

37574204465_97e9e271a4_z