The anti-fracking struggle is well alive in the UK and protesters across the country have made the headlines with their brave resistance against this extreme method of extracting gas by pumping large amount of water, sand and chemicals into the ground. Many communities supported by environmentalist and climate campaigners are resisting the fracking industry and the labour movement is playing an increasing role in supporting those struggles, writes Clara Paillard.
The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership included a ban on fracking as part of its 2017 General Election programme.
Trade unions have regularly mobilised at some of the fracking sites in Lancashire, Yorkshire and other places as well as building international resistance against fracking. The first time the issue was debated at the Trade Union Congress was in 2012 when a motion tabled by the Trade Union Councils (generally known as Trades Councils) was passed supporting the principle of precaution and calling for fracking to be “condemned unless proven harmless for people and the environment”. Since then, a number of unions have adopted anti-fracking policies, sometimes forced by the grassroots against the unions’ leaderships.
PCS union has long opposed fracking as well as playing a key role in raising the issue of climate within the trade union movement. In 2014, Unite the Union adopted a similar stance at their policy conference not without a power struggle and GMB decided to support fracking and sign an agreement with the industry lobby UKOOG while most unions took the opposite view. Fracking was banned in Scotland in 2017 in the face of widespread opposition, including from the Scottish Trade Union Congress since 2015.
The issue of jobs, housing and the economy has always been central in the thinking of trade unions and the left and so it has around the issue of fracking. While the Tories are widely supporting the fossil fuel industries, they also misleadingly used the jobs argument to push fracking ahead in many parts of the UK.
From the late 2000s, a number of unions have been mobilising over the issue of climate change mainly via the One Million Climate Jobs campaign – which has now published 3rd version of their pamphlet and has grown out into a global campaign. Corbyn himself supported the One Million Climate Jobs campaign at the Paris COP 21 international Climate talks when he spoke alongside Naomi Klein to a crowds of 700 people at an event organising by the international network Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED). TUED also coordinated and produced research showing the impact of fracking on communities and the environment in the US as well as showing that US claims of jobs creation were exaggerated.
In September 2017, a groundbreaking motion on Climate Change was passed at the Trade Union Congress in 2018. Moved by Bakers Union (BFAWU), it was unanimously supported and called for energy democracy and a number of other energy demands.
The labour movement campaign against fracking must be seen in the wider context of climate change and should also focus on renewable energy production and energy democracy, away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy as the solution. It can create jobs and provide a key argument to bring back the energy sector into public ownership as in the Labour Party Manifesto. Jobs must be socially useful and they can be as shown by the Lucas Plan produced by workers in Lucas Aerospace 40 years ago. Those jobs must be of quality with decent wages and terms and conditions. They must be unionised jobs – the way to best ensure the workers have good wages and conditions.
Trade unions against fracking event coming up:
Trade unionists are stepping up the fight on the ground with this event. Trade union and Labour Party banners as well as activists more than welcome.
Saturday 9th June 2018