Green cuts

Issue section: 
(338)

The irrationality of capitalism was starkly exposed in April when, despite massively increasing its profits for the first three months of the year, the manufacturing company Vestas announced that it was to shed 1,900 jobs.

Of these, 450 were to go at its plant on the Isle of Wight.

Such a news item would perhaps not excite much comment in these difficult economic times - except that Vestas is the world's largest manufacturer of wind turbines. Given the urgent need to deal with climate change the announcement caused disbelief and anger throughout the environmental movement.

Many European governments, including Britain, have committed themselves to a huge expansion of wind power, yet Vestas' management announced that supplies of the turbines exceeded demand. Only the previous month, Gordon Brown was claiming that 400,000 jobs would be created over the next eight years as Britain moved towards a low carbon economy.

Unfortunately there is little in the way of concrete plans as to how these jobs are to be created. As the recession deepens, it would seem logical to pump government money into green industries. But the only action that we have seen is Lord Mandelson's deal offering motorists £2,000 to trade in their old car for a new, more "eco-friendly" model.

This arrangement led to some in the environmental movement to argue that the car industry shouldn't get subsidies. George Monbiot argued in the Guardian, for instance, that if "recession reduces the number of cars on the roads, this opens up the possibility of setting aside motorway lanes for intercity coach travel, catalysing the public transport revolution".

But arguing that the closure of whole industries is a good thing if it reduces emissions will do nothing to win those workers facing unemployment to the environmental movement. Instead we need to offer a different strategy. The potential for this was shown by the Visteon workers who occupied their car components plant in the face of redundancies. One press release stated, "Our skills - we can make anything in plastic - should be used to make increasingly needed parts for green products: bike and trailer parts, solar panels, turbines, recycling bins, etc."

As the environmental threat grows, the urgency for new strategies grows by the day. The Campaign Against Climate Change, the RMT and TSSA transport unions, and unions representing communication workers, civil service workers and university and college workers have got together to develop a detailed plan for how and where green jobs could be created.

The report will be launched at the TUC Congress and the plan is that trade union branches around the country will sign up to it. But unless the fight for green jobs is linked to real struggle, we will wait in vain for government action. This can be taken up by trade unionists facing redundancy, workers in occupation or the unemployed.


Martin Empson is from the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group