Green jobs: not uranium and bombs
Posted by Bill, July 18th, 2009 - under Australian Workers Union, BLF, Big business, CFMEU, Cap and trade, Capitalism, Climate change, Emissions Trading Scheme, Environment, Global Warming, Green bans, Green energy, Green jobs, Nuclear power, Peter Garrett, Uranium mining.
Here in Australia the Construction, Mining, Forestry and Energy Union has green banned development at the proposed Pyrmont Metro Station in Sydney.
The ban protects 4 heritage listed Victorian terraces and the people who live in them. Members of the union will vote soon on making the ban permanent.
This will force the New South Wales Labor Government to move the station to another site.
The Builders Labourers Federation pioneered green bans in the 1970s to protect Sydney’s heritage.
After Labor smashed the BLF its members eventually became part of the new ‘super’ union, the CFMEU.
The Pyrmont green ban shows the power of workers to defend their built environment. Without the CFMEU no redevelopment can take place.
This got me thinking about Peter Garrett’s decision to approve the Four Mile uranium mine in South Australia.
A CFMEU green ban on uranium mining to protect our environment has the potential to destroy the industry in Australia.
But there are major differences between banning uranium mining and banning a re-development project that will go ahead elsewhere.
The CFMEU is a an amalgam of unions. While the construction side is more militant and often environmentally aware, the Mining and Energy section are more conservative and put immediate jobs above all else.
They are also in competition with the Australian Workers’ Union whose leadership is more receptive to the entreaties of the bosses.
All of this is a long winded way of saying that the CFMEU is not going to ban uranium mining.
That too got me thinking about how to stop this industry of death.
The CFMEU will argue that they are about jobs, not some environmental and utopian nonsense from armchair socialists like me.
First, to imagine the mining bosses are about jobs is to misunderstand them. They are about profits.
In fact the Great Recession has seen the major mining companies in Australia sack thousands already, with more to come.
Socialists are about jobs.
But we have to think long term as well as short term. To use the language of bourgeois economists like Ross Garnaut the cost of doing nothing on climate change will be much greater than the cost of any mitigation action.
This means that in the drive for profit we could well be destroying future jobs for current ones. Uranium mining is very much part of that destruction.
There are a number of problems with mining uranium.
It is about creating fuel for nuclear weapons. It produces waste that is highly toxic for thousands of years. It is uneconomic and job destroying.
And if uranium mining is the asbestos industry of the 21st century, we may well be condemning some workers to early deaths.
The alternative is green jobs. A rational society would develop renewable energy – solar power, wind energy, tidal power and the like. And it would do it now.
Doing this on a massive scale to power households and industry would create more jobs across Australia than the mining and energy sectors currently employ.
Add to this a planned and fully funded re-training program and the legitimate fear of workers about their jobs and livelihoods can be addressed.
For example the $52 billion the Rudd spent on the stimulus package in Australia could have funded instead a spending program on renewable energy to save the environment and create jobs.
This would ready us for the future, not trap us in the past.
Transferring wealth from the polluting companies and their class more generally would be a rational way for this to occur.
These are the sorts of arguments that environmentalists and socialists must put to workers and their unions day in and day out.
A successful response to global warming can only be a communal one.
Yet the present ’solutions’ – for example nuclear power, and cap and trade systems – are market based and don’t challenge the cause of the problem, the market itself and the competitive drive for profits.
If it is the profit system that is a fundamental impediment to a green and secure future, then the solution seems evident too. As Marx and Engels put it in the Communist Manifesto, in drawing the lessons of history:
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-masters and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
Global warming is leading us to common ruin. To avoid that we need a revolutionary reconstitution of society.
One small step for mankind must be a massive development of renewable energy now.
Green bans are one small part of that. Workers banning uranium mining would be an important move in that direction.
Every day that argument becomes stronger and more urgent.
Jonathon Neale’s Socialist Worker article Create green jobs and save the planet ,Peter Jones on Why Kevin Rudd is heating up the planet and Saving the planet or selling off the atmosphere? and Liz Ross on Emissions Trading: a trading and pollution bonanza are also relevant.