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Hazelwood Power Station and Green Jobs

There is a discussion underway here and here on the GLW list about the attitude of the trade union movement to the protest against the Hazelwood Power Station in Victoria's Latrobe Valley.

It is pointed out that the issue of Green Jobs was being tackled by the Socialist Alliance in a leaflet/statement as part of "a process to explain a just transition." This publication is being discussed with the SA's friends and allies in the various movements so that it put forward "the best position possible." Like the SA  did with its Climate Change Charter.

As Margarita Windisch explains:" The environment movement has made some big steps forward and matured a lot on the question of jobs versus the environment. The demand 'green jobs' has become a central demand at many environment actions now. And people in the movement are seriously thinking on what a just transition needs to look like and starting to develop concrete ideas and plans for it - which of course need to be varied form place to place (eg the La Trobe Valley will be different to the Hunter Valley)"

Text of Socialist Alliance 1st Green Jobs leaflet (with view to be amended and improved).Draft only.

The transition from a fossil fuel dependent society to renewable energy is perhaps the most urgent question facing humanity.

The public debate about climate change has shifted from a discussion about the reality of global warming to a discussion focused on how to transition to renewable energy.

In large part the debate has focused on using a price signal to shift private investment from carbon intensive industries to renewable. While a variety of schemes are being argued about the logic is the same – by making carbon intensive economic activity more expensive private investment will shift into the green economy. “Green jobs” it is argued will be a product of this new investment and will replace jobs lost in industries like coal fire power.

Green economy

The logic behind these arguments makes a number of flimsy assumptions about the way that capitalism works and how private capital makes decisions about investment. Firstly increased costs do not necessarily mean investment will flow out of carbon intensive industries. The first response will be to push these costs onto consumers, such as increased energy bills, as part of the climate change response.

Secondly the oil and coal industries and their powerful corporations have made mega-profits for more than a hundred years. Investment in these industries in unlikely to shift without a massive reduction in profit levels. The current carbon trading and tax schemes do not even come close to achieving this result.

Assuming that the profitability of carbon intensive industries is significant impacted via schemes like carbon trading, there is no guarantee that this investment will flow to into renewable energy production and other sustainable industries. Moreover there is no reason to expect that these new industries would spring up in the communities effected by the closure of carbon intensive industries. Private capital always seeks the highest return which maybe not be in renewable energy and is unlikely to be in the Latrobe or Hunter Valley.

Green Jobs

Parts of the Australian union movement have come behind big corporations seeking to protect dirty industries. They claim that these industries should be shielded in order to protect the jobs of their members and maintain communities. These views reflect the legitimate concerns many working people employed in carbon intensive industries have raised about employment security. The promise of a “green job” provided at some point in the future by “green private investment” understandably does not inspire great confidence. In communities already devastated by unemployment the concern is even greater.

A real “just transition”

In the Socialist Alliance we believe that all us active in the union and environmental movements need to urgently pursue a serious discussion about how to move to renewable and maintain well paid jobs in local communities. We need to turn the phrase “just transition” into a practical discussion not just a motherhood statement tacked on the end of our leaflets.

We believe that it is possible to rapidly transition to renewable without causing large scale unemployment in communities like the Latrobe Valley. This means not relying on the vagaries of “the market” to spontaneously replace lost jobs. Government must develop a comprehensive plan to create industries in communities that will be most impacted by the closure of fossil fuel intensive industry. Part of this plan must include a skilled audit to assess what training is needed to shift workers from carbon intensive industries into alternate employment.

The fact is that a government with the political will, has the capacity to set up wind turbine, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic factories and run them in the interest of the community. This work could begin within months not years.

Public ownership is essential

Public ownership of new green industries would enable government to ensure that jobs are created where people currently live. With a government commitment to public ownership, communities reliant on coal mining and coal fired power could be sure that ‘green jobs’ are going to be there for the long haul, not just for a few years.

The perils of relying o private business to provide green jobs was demonstrated by the recent decision of the Danish wind turbine company Vestas to close down their United Kingdom operations and move to the United States. Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine company, had three factories in the UK producing the different parts of wind turbines; these were the only wind turbine factories in Britain and were running at a
profit.

Vestas as a whole has been growing rapidly over the last few years and recorded an after tax profit of 56 million euros in the first quarter of 2009 alone. The company from the outset was hostile to unions and tried to screen unionists from getting jobs at the UK plants. This year they announced that due to insufficient government support they were going to close their UK plants and move offshore. Workers at the Isle of Wight blade factory heroically staged a factory occupation demanding the factory be nationalised and kept operating; their campaign enjoyed the support of unionists and climate activists across the UK and around the world.

Rudd aint gonna do it

The Rudd government has decisively failed to take any real action to tackle climate change, which the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) is living proof of. They have avoided even the most minor of confrontations with the coal corporations. They don’t want to set up an industry which makes those profitable coal mines and power stations redundant.

History has saddled ordinary working people with the responsibility to force governments to challenge powerful vested interests and to take action to cut emissions. Its no good telling our grandchildren that because we weren’t game to take on the corporations their planet is a permanent disaster zone. We want to be able to tell our grandchildren the story of how we took on those companies and won, and built the new sustainable infrastructure necessary for our survival. We can do it.

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