North Sea Oil – Defend jobs & for a workers’ and socialist energy transition

The issue of oil and gas jobs has become a major issue in the election Photo: Gary Bembridge - CC

Unite, one of the UK’s largest trade unions with over 1.2 million members, is campaigning in six vital oil-dependent constituencies in Scotland during the general election.

This comes as a reaction to a key policy for Starmer’s Labour Party in the upcoming election, that it would “not grant licences to explore new fields” in the North Sea.

In a further effort to appease the oil bosses and try to keep union criticism at bay, the party insists that it will honour existing licenses. This will include the Rosebank development almost certainly, a controversial and large project approved by the Tories in 2023.

Unite’s focus is rightly on the prospects of massive jobs losses caused by this policy without any guarantees for replacement jobs in the renewable energy sector. Sharon Graham, Unite General Secretary, stated: “Labour needs to pull back from this irresponsible policy. There is clearly no viable plan for the replacement of North Sea jobs or energy security. “We should not be letting go of one rope until we have hold of another. These types of transitions must have workers at the heart. Unite will not stand by and let these workers be thrown on the scrap heap. North Sea workers cannot be sacrificed on the altar of net zero.”

Unite’s ‘No Ban Without a Plan’ involves the erection of billboards and advertising displays, as well as the canvassing of residents on the issue. Unite also remains a crucial funder for Labour’s election campaigns, with £3.5m donated in the run-up to the 2019 general election, making it by far their biggest contributor.

It’s clear that Starmer’s Labour will never be a party that defends workers or the environment. Unite could therefore play a vital role in building a new workers’ party after the general election. Unite is describing the campaign as a “grass roots mobilisation of Unite members organised in the constituencies delivering leaflets and organising events, and lobbies to raise the debate”. The union said that the ban was “premature and irresponsible” and could lead to us importing more oil and gas from other countries at a time when we have it on our doorstep.

The concern that Unite is raising is that Labour has no real plans for the fallout. Massive job losses are on the cards with this policy with zero guarantees for replacement employment. Industry moves to renewable sources of energy are virtually non existent. The threat from the energy giants to refuse to invest unless their taxes are reduced and they are allowed to continue to exploit north sea fossil fuels only adds to the necessity of nationalising the energy sector. The number of jobs gained from low carbon enterprises has risen by just 2,500, whereas nearly 40% of oil and gas jobs have been lost, amounting to 50,000 in Scotland in just over a decade.

What are the choice for workers given this? There are certainly no answers to be found in the Westminster’s third largest party. The SNP have a long history of emphasising the role of Scotland’s ‘black gold’ as a route to independence, yet since the 70s the benefits promised have been seldom seen. The massive revenue generated has headed straight into the oil bosses’ pockets and funnelled to prop up the ailing UK economy by a series of capitalist governments at Westminster.

For over a decade the SNP-led Scottish Government have espoused the desire to be the green energy capital of Europe, with several plans for sustainable transition away from fossil fuels. Current roadmaps detail plans for 77,000 green jobs by 2050. Yet the SNP and Scottish Greens recently handed over licences to the big energy companies for off-shore wind projects.

Defending the environment and protecting the interests of big business are completely contradictory aims. The OEUK’s estimates based on government data and industry modelling show that in 2013 there were 117,900 employed by oil and gas in Scotland, both directly and indirectly.

Following the disastrous oil crash of 2014-2015 that had fallen to 74,100 by 2022. The reality of this collapse was a complete decimation of local economies – not least in Aberdeen.

These economies were largely left by both local and national-level governments to rot. Attempts at rejuvenation have been inadequate and invisible for most workers.

Associated jobs that were previously propped up by the role of oil and gas in local economies, such as restaurants and shops, have seen a 61% fall of over 30,000 in just over a decade.

No party of the capitalist establishment is prepared to offer a concrete plan of a so-called just transition away from the environmentally destructive fossil fuel industry.

They all agree that the energy multinationals should be asked to lead the way in such a transition. Achieving such a thing within the profit-driven capitalist system is not feasible.

It cannot be ignored that some of the biggest donors to the Tories are oil and gas companies.

A workers’-led transition

Socialist Party Scotland and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition have consistently raised the vital need for a transition based upon the needs of working class people and, unlike the major parties, not prioritising the protection of the bosses’ profits.

Scottish TUSC calls for the nationalisation of oil and gas, including the Grangemouth oil refinery, to ensure a sustainable transition to green energy that truly protects jobs is achieved.

These industry assets must be put under the control and management of those who build, run, and maintain them, the working class.

The trade unions who organise in the energy sector have a vital role to play in demanding the public ownership of the entire energy sector which then could open up massive investment in renewable energy alternatives.

Unite and the other unions could lead the way in ensuring that central demand is featured as part of the election campaign.

Public ownership and democratic workers’ control cannot be limited to energy. As a start, the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition calls for the nationalisation of the top 150 companies. Through moves like these, a massive programme of job creation can be achieved.

In addition to this, for the general election we’ll be making the case for the trade unions to build a new workers’ party, for socialist policies to tackle the cost of living crisis like the nationalisation of the rip-off energy companies, for an immediate increase in the minimum wage to £15 an hour, for an end to the slaughter in Gaza and for the abolition of all anti-union laws, among many more policies.

We invite trade unions, socialist organisations, young people and workers to campaign with us for these crucial ideas in this polarising election.

It has never been more important to raise these arguments, the most vital of which is the building of a socialist society in which, unlike capitalism, the needs of workers and the environment are put before the profits of the capitalist class.

GB Energy: Starmer doubles down on capitalist solutions

Labour’s plan for the creation of a publicly owned energy company has been exposed as a sham.

Launching the idea of GB Energy at the start of the election campaign, Starmer described it as an “investment vehicle” for renewable energy projects.

It’s now clear that at best it will be seed money – a subsidy to big business to encourage them to invest in off-shore wind and solar energy alternatives.

A form of PPP – it will be a partnership model which sees energy multinationals working jointly with a Labour government under the guise of GB Energy.

It will allow for big business to extract profit from the arrangements. And has nothing in common with the need for public ownership of the entire energy sector as the only way forward to deal with the climate emergency while guaranteeing the jobs and livelihoods of workers.

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June 2024