We need a ban and a plan - and a mass movement for a worker-led transition

A CACCTU response to Unite’s “No Ban Without a Plan” campaign.

Launched on 17th of May, Unite’s No Ban Without a Plan campaign aims “to ensure that a future Labour government drops its planned ban on new licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, until a genuine programme for the just transition of work is operational”. 

As an organisation campaigning for climate justice, our response to this is unequivocal. 

We stand in full solidarity with militant action to ensure that the transition away from oil and gas is one that is fair to workers and their communities: protecting incomes, providing good new jobs on at least equivalent terms and conditions, and guaranteeing furlough where there are unavoidable gaps in employment or where a worker needs to retrain. 

Equally, we stand in solidarity with the millions of workers, worldwide and in the UK, whose livelihoods, homes and lives are threatened or have already been destroyed by the climate impacts of fossil fuel burning. A ban on new licences, as part of a phase-out of fossil fuel extraction, is therefore non-negotiable; it is not a bargaining chip, a 'concession' to be granted or withdrawn, but an existential necessity for all of us.

On the positive side, the campaign hints at movement in Unite’s position on oil and gas - a recognition that a transition away from fossil fuels is both necessary and inevitable, and can, with the right policies and investment, be achieved without mass job losses. A move towards identifying and bargaining around the terms of such a transition certainly looks like a step forward.

However, we have serious concerns about the rhetoric framing the campaign. We also feel that it misrepresents the situation in the North Sea in some significant ways:

1. A ban on new licences, as promised in Labour’s election manifesto, will not in itself make a significant difference to continuing extraction. It usually takes more than ten years from licence issue for a field to start production, and they have said they do not intend to revoke the large number of licences already issued. These include the vast Rosebank field, whose reserves, if burned, would generate more than the combined annual emissions of the 28 poorest countries. This is not a particularly strong climate policy, nor is it in any way an immediate threat to jobs. 

2. North Sea oil and gas are already in sharp decline. The Scottish Herald reported last November that 200,000 jobs supported by the North Sea oil and gas sector had been lost over the last decade. The real threat to jobs is not having a transition plan for the energy sector and its workforce.

3. As regards ‘energy security’, even the UK government acknowledges that 80% of oil from new fields such as Rosebank would be traded on international markets, making very little difference to prices or to the proportion of oil products used in the UK that come from UK waters. The amount of oil from new licences sent to UK refineries would account for less than 1% of the fuels used in the UK in 2030.

As for the language used, we believe it plays too readily into the populist demonisation of climate action as an authoritarian assault on workers’ freedoms and standards of living, which ignores both the threat climate breakdown presents to workers and their own agency in shaping a transition.

Port Talbot and the future of steel

The recent decision by TATA to close down its two blast furnaces at Port Talbot steel works over the coming year, with loss of around 2,800 jobs, is a devastating blow to both the workers and to their wider community. 

What is happening in Port Tabot is precisely the “cliff edge” of sudden mass redundancies, the threat of which is often ruthlessly weaponised to create opposition to climate action 

But despite the rhetoric about decarbonisation, TATA’s decision to shut down the blast furnaces ahead of starting production with an electric arc furnace is based purely on financial not climate considerations. 

Their decision not to install the additional technologies needed for low carbon primary steel production (as opposed to recycling) is not a decarbonisation plan, but a business plan.

In contrast to this disaster, a worker-led, socially just transition plan would determine the most effective way to decarbonise across the economy, whilst meeting the immense labour needs of new or growing sectors vital to the transition. 

It would do this whilst fully protecting the pay and conditions of all workers affected by technological transitions, whether work is currently available for them or not, as well as during any re-training.

The level of coordination and planning required across numerous sectors is not possible within the context of private companies vying for markets, but implies a need for public ownership of key industries, with full worker participation in planning, and delivery overseen by a public National Climate Service.

Below is a motion of support for the TATA steelworkers written for urgent adoption by union branches, regions and trades councils. 

General Motion on Climate Change

Latest news

In June the motion will be voted on at BFAWU conference and Unison conference (see agenda pdf download, p83 onwards for the motion as adapted by NEC and brought by branches)

The motion has been passed at PCS conference, May 2024 

It has been passed at the NEU conference, April 2024 (amended text here)

Background to motion

Below and in printable form is a General Motion intended for wide circulation across the trade union movement, and adoption by branches, regions, trades councils and annual conferences, with an ultimate aim for it to be heard at the 2024 TUC.

The motion is deliberately pitched at a high level, starting with the basic assertion that climate change is a class issue and a trade union issue.  It sets out the fundamental elements that should underpin the climate policies of every union in order to achieve a common understanding of the crisis, and how to respond to it in the interests of climate justice for workers, public service and the planet.  Many of these elements will already be clearly understood, but there is a need for a consistent and coherent articulation of these across the movement.  

The reason this General Motion is being raised now is due to the fragmented and inconsistent responses of different trade unions, within unions, and between members and their leaderships.  In particular, the climate-related motions passed at recent Trades Union Congresses have been deeply regressive, producing a narrative that runs counter to the long term interests, and job security, of workers, both in the U.K. and globally.  This motion seeks to redirect that narrative towards more progressive and radical solutions that will produce and secure thousands of jobs, restore a public service ethos, and make genuine progress towards countering the climate emergency.

Adaptations to the motion are welcomed to incorporate specific local, sectoral or international factors; the motion needs to be relevant to each constituency while ensuring that the fundamental elements are retained.  It purposely avoids specific references in order to be universal, and it is envisaged that details of specifics would be covered in complementary motions.

Finally, this motion is not viewed as the property of any one union, climate organisation or political faction.  It has emerged from a common analysis among activists across a number of trade unions, many of whom are also involved with the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union group (CACCTU), Greener Jobs Alliance (GJA) and other climate networks.