The GMB union is turning up the heat on Labour leader Keir Starmer and demanding that he backs North Sea oil and gas projects. It’s a development that shows how flawed the positions of both the GMB union and the Labour Party are.
Labour has confirmed it will block all new domestic oil and gas developments if it wins the next general election. More details of the party’s proposals are set to be revealed soon. But firms that already have permission to extract at sites will be able to continue to do so.
The GMB, which represents some workers in the oil and gas industry, is coming out swinging against the plans. Gary Smith, GMB general secretary, claimed there was a “national security imperative” to keep extracting and burning fossil fuels. “It would be self-defeating not to maximise extraction from our own oil and gas, and that’s going to be a difficult debate but it’s one we’ll have to face down,” he said.
Smith claimed that more effort should be made to build a domestic energy supply by giving out licenses to fossil fuel firms. “There are ethics involved; are we going to keep funding these regimes in the Middle East and the likes of Russia, or do we take responsibility for our own carbon and create jobs and investment here?” he said.
Despite Smith’s reaction, Labour’s plans are not that radical. The party is planning to limit funding projects to green energy, and block already approved schemes, Cambo and Rosebank. On closer examination, the party wants to use fossil fuels for far into the future.
A party source said, “Labour would continue to use existing oil and gas wells over the coming decades and manage them sustainably”. Yet the time to stop using oil and gas wells has long since passed. Using them “over the coming decades” is a surefire way for Starmer to play his part in locking in impending climate catastrophe.
It’s a mistake for trade unions to insist that the only jobs their members are entitled to are ones involved in industries destroying our planet. And it’s a false dichotomy to pit green initiatives and workers’ standards of living against each other.
It is possible for workers to be retrained into highly skilled, well paid jobs in the green energy sector. But these opportunities are not going to come from private firms, who care only about their profits. Instead, it would take state intervention—nationalisation under democratic control—that considered both climate catastrophe and workers’ jobs as priorities.
Labour’s plans are weak not because they go too far in tackling fossil firms, as Smith suggests. They are weak because they attempt to appeal to both those concerned about the climate crisis and energy fat cats worried about their profits. But that’s to be expected from a Labour leader who is cosying up to the bosses.
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