Organizing for Social Justice in the Fossil Fuel Transition – Bella Caledonia
Despite the immediate urgency and universal importance of the climate crisis, organizing around it has proven difficult. Youth strikes, while hard-hitting, have too often placed unrealistic expectations on young activists with inadequate support and little regard for power. Likewise, movements like XR have been criticized for their lack of race awareness and the class politics of their campaign. In this context, the work of Friends of the Earth Scotland, or FoES, – organizing a divestment from fossil fuels in a way that focuses the needs and agency of those most affected by the industry – provides a clear and much needed vision. . and the analysis and exploitation of power.
Ryan Morrison is the Just Transition Campaign Manager with FoES. For him:
“A Just Transition is a rapid shift from dependence on fossil fuels to a fossil-free economy which is led and shaped by workers and communities across Scotland and the UK, to build an alternative approach for the future that prevents planetary destruction and social inequalities caused by our current economy ”.
He underlines the importance of considering who takes priority and who will benefit as we move away from fossil fuels to mitigate the climate crisis.
The campaign is only in the early stages of organizing offshore workers, but their aim is “to get the people who need to be involved around the table to come up with an initial plan, then to monitor and be able to adapt the plan as it goes forward. ”This means working with communities and unions to build power and collaboratively develop a map of the way forward that responds to concerns of these communities and workers.
This is very different from the approach currently taken by the Scottish Government. Ryan explains that at the moment a huge amount of power remains in the industry: “the Scottish government has adopted the term just transition, without really embracing what it means, its roots and where it comes from”. The government’s Just Transition Commission has “two union representatives, but then you have four people from industry – so you have someone running the meat industry, someone from the oil and gas industry, someone from the industry. one of Scotland’s renewables – people who should represent a very wide range of interests, but ultimately represent the interests of the industry which, even in the case of a representative of the renewables industry trying pushing for the growth of renewable energy does not necessarily mean pushing for a just transition. For the FoES campaign, workers, unions and communities are the relevant stakeholders, and the Scottish government needs to be ‘much more engaged, involved and essentially hands-on’.
Conversely, FoES uses its campaigning skills and power analysis to connect with the concerns of local communities. They work with communities and unions to formulate concrete policy proposals and facilitate meetings with MPs and PSMs. Ryan notes that this relationship is reciprocal – unions and workers in the industries involved bring with them knowledge of the industries of the conditions that would make a successful transition.
Scotland enjoys a reasonably green public image, but FoES is clear that they are not doing enough and approaching their carbon and energy targets in a way that successfully meets the needs of communities . “The perception of Scotland is difficult because some of the benchmarks are so low,” says Ryan. He points out that Scotland’s net zero target is 2045 – five years ahead of the UK’s in 2050 – but that both targets were set by the UK’s Climate Change Committee: ‘It’s not that one is more ambitious than the other, because it was just on the basis of this committee, really. It was not based on any understanding of carbon budgets for 1.5 ° C or how fast you have to move or how fast you can move. “
Ryan notes the contradictions that characterize the Scottish approach to climate action:
“We’re going to host the COP and say we’re doing absolutely brilliant. And then, at the same time, our energy strategy is to support the oil and gas industry, until it is no longer profitable to extract […] they can get away with it because certain accounting measures make it very delicate; they do not need to count all the emissions from UK production. You can export that oil and gas, and it might be someone else’s problem.
“The fact that there is no clarity and that there is often a total contradiction is probably the biggest risk for a just transition,” he continues. For example, the Scottish government allocated £ 62,000,000 to an energy transition fund, but did not attach any conditions to it – “no decarbonization targets, no minimum guarantee of employment opportunities, no requirement that pathways be opened for people working in fossil fuels to switch to the renewable energy sector.
It is an important problem. Ryan uses the example of Longannet – a power plant in Fife that closed its doors by removing “a significant portion of industrial emissions from the equation.” But it was not a very well planned transition; he came earlier than expected. Some of the workers moved successfully, but to other oil and gas industries, and the local community was kind of left behind. Clearly it could have been handled differently; whether the site had found a new owner as part of the process, and the transition had been made with “a plan to move workers, ideally to safe and sustainable industries rather than fossil fuel industries, the community also having an industry on which its local economy can count.
FoES works to ensure a transition away from fossil fuels that protects those most affected – workers in the fossil fuel industry and the communities around them. During the pandemic, many of these unions were faced with the immediate material demands that workers face right now – health and safety issues and severe precariousness. The oil and gas industry is teeming with precarious workers: “the story we heard was that like maybe 30 years ago you’re talking about the workforce that is 75% employees, 25% subcontractors and today it’s completely reversed: 75% of people will be independent contractors, 25% will be employees. They also often have no access to sickness benefits and little or no information or communication about when and how long to work. Ryan notes that this precariousness is currently reflected in the renewable energy sector. He says workers are responsible for paying for their own training in both sectors, which can add up to around £ 5,000 every two years. For those looking to make the transition, that means paying the same amount again for renewable energy training, even though the work is often less reliable. Under these conditions, it is clear that workers must be at the heart of a successful transition.
With that in mind, FoES, along with Platform and Greenpeace, communicated with these workers and their unions, using surveys and meetings to build confidence and find out what a worker-led campaign would require. They organize workshops and similar processes to better understand the conditions and needs of the sector: why working conditions have been declining for 40 years, why workers think we are fighting to end dependence on fossil fuels within climatic limits; what obstacles are and how can they be overcome in a way that meets their common interests; what are the concerns and needs of the communities and what types of strategies could address them. The stated requirements and techniques will be informed by what comes out of these workshops.
In the future, they plan to be able to speak directly to communities, knocking on doors and organizing meetings. They also plan to engage with workers in other high-carbon industries, such as the transportation industry.
With the looming climate crisis, it’s easy to feel that management is not in the hands of the average person – developing a strategy to resist it is difficult when a small number of companies are responsible for so much. Protests are a valuable way to make the voice of the public heard, but they lack a fundamental analysis of power or insight into industries. FoES’s Just Transition Campaign is key to addressing these issues. Their commitment – “to empowering workers and communities by which a just transition must in fact be defined” – is not just activism; it is a vision of organized and informed resistance.