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UK: is the ‘dash for gas’ frackturing the labor movement?

By Francesca Sullivan and Karen Viquerat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 24, 2015

Unfolding story:  Proposal to frack in North West England leads to a minor earthquake

Just days after the UK’s leading union in the gas industry signed on to a charter with the gas industry to develop fracking, other unions are stepping up efforts to make sure the drilling never starts. The GMB’s Central Executive Committee issued its statement on fracking on June 8. The UK’s largest union, UNITE issued a press release in support of an anti-fracking demonstration organized by ‘Frack Free Lancashire‘ and Chris Baugh, Asst. General Secretary of Public and Commercial Services union, responded to the GMB’s argument.  See below for more details.

Unite Press Release

For immediate use: Monday 22 June 2015

Unite urges councillors to keep Lancashire ‘frack free’

Britain’s largest union, Unite will be joining campaigners and local groups tomorrow (Tuesday 23 June) in a demonstration to support a ‘frack free Lancashire’ and halt Cuadrilla’s fracking plans.

The ‘don’t frack Lancs’ demonstration outside Lancashire county council hall in Preston coincides with a council meeting where county councillors will decide whether to accept or reject Cuadrilla’s fracking applications.

Chair of Unite’s executive council, Tony Woodhouse is among the speakers at the demonstration being organised by Friends of Earth. The county hall demonstration runs from 17:00 to 19:00.

Last week council planning officers recommended that fracking should go ahead at Preston New Road, but permission should be refused at Roseacre Wood due to a severe impact on road safety due to heavy lorries.

Councillors tomorrow will decide on whether to accept or reject planning officers’ recommendations.

Unite North West regional secretary Mick Whitley said: “Fracking is a huge issue for communities across our region and a cause for deep concern.

“A moratorium on fracking is in place in Scotland and the Welsh assembly government is following suit such is the depth of concern in other parts of the UK.

“Here in Lancashire, county councillors need to listen to tens of thousands of people from across the county who have objected and reject all applications for fracking.”

Unite is committed to supporting and lobbying for a moratorium on all fracking activities across the United Kingdom.

Twitter: @unitetheunion   Facebook: unitetheunion1   Web:

Notes to editors:

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.

Karen Viquerat, Communications Officer

Unite the Union | 2 Churchill Way |Liverpool L3 8EF

Follow Unite on Twitter @unitetheunion

Is opposing fracking an easy option?  (blog June 24, 2915)

“Confronting the corporate multinationals rather than the easy option of locking energy policy into a new fossil fuel future, is what ultimately will protect our members’ jobs, and our planet.”

By Chris Baugh, Public and Commercial Services, assistant general secretary

In a previous blog I quoted Marcus Trinick, a partner of Eversheds law firm who said that: “There is no such thing as objective truth in energy policy. Truth is the first casualty of the discussion. Everyone has a position.”

As the recent statement from the Central Executive Committee of the GMB on fracking (hydraulic fracturing for shale gas) shows, this is as true in the trade union movement as anywhere.

In moving their statement, GMB National Officer Gary Smith said opposing fracking is an easy option and it would be wrong to oppose fracking as other unions – PCS, UCU and Unite – have done. We respect GMB democracy to support fracking and enter into agreement with the industry body UKOOG. Our position of opposition based on a researched assessment and reached by similar democratic processes, should likewise be respected rather than caricatured as jumping on a bandwagon.

It is right to celebrate the proud history of the GMB organising unskilled gas in the face of “scandalous, brutal and inhuman” working conditions. And if the shale gas industry does develop, we fully support organising workers within it. Indeed the inherent health and safety risks to workers in the fracking process via exposure to silica and hydrofluoric acids will be the only way to ensure protection for workers. But ultimately shale gas is an unconventional fossil fuel which PCS believes has no place in our future energy mix.

On the cusp of the industrial revolution we did not know the climate catastrophe the development of fossil fuel capitalism would unleash on future generations. Now in the 21st century we do. We are facing a global humanitarian crisis due to global warming as a result of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from fossil fuels and have limited time left to do something about. The only rational conclusion to draw is that accepting the science of climate change can never be reconciled with supporting the current level of CO2 emissions in Britain; before any shale gas has been extracted.

There are no easy solutions when the tentacles of the fossil fuel industry reach into every corner of our society and economies. This is a fact well illustrated in our anti-privatisation campaign at the National Gallery in London, which is one of many public cultural institutions that are sponsored by multinational fossil fuel companies such as Shell and BP who we believe have no role in running our public services.

The Pope’s encyclical on climate change is the latest evidence that it is not just environmentalists opposed to all fossil fuels. Announcements by the G7 to phase out fossil fuels by 2100 may be welcome as recognition of the need to end fossil fuel extraction for good. However this is sugar coating in the face of the prevailing expectation that the COP21 talks in Paris will fail to live up to their task of concluding a radical agreement on carbon emissions reductions.

PCS recognises that we have an increasing dependency on imported gas since natural gas production peaked in the UK in 2000. However this so-called energy and climate crisis provides the opportunity to have the hard headed debate on energy policy that PCS has consistently called for through the TUC.

Meeting a shortfall in gas through imports from Qatar does create difficult ethical questions given the country’s record on trade union rights. Liquid Nitrogen Gas (LNG) imports also carry their own emissions risks through methane leakages – a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 that stays in the atmosphere longer. But posing this as a moral choice between Qatar or shale gas is a false debate.

Even if shale gas is able to be extracted commercially in the UK, research by the UK Energy Research Council for example contests the development of a UK shale industry “as a solution of domestic security of supply concerns.” The environmental and climate change impacts of shale gas are as much an issue as are LNG imports given fugitive methane emissions from fracking. Academic peer reviewed research concludes that “to replace some fossil fuels (coal, oil) with another (natural gas) will not suffice as an approach to take on global warming”.

The issue for the trade union movement is not as the GMB assert whether we will use gas or not. There can be no compromise between our trade union role and taking decisive action. Rather it is how we honestly confront the energy debate and map out a just transition for energy workers into a unionised, democratically and publically owned renewables sector. Taking on this difficult challenge and confronting the corporate multinationals rather than the easy option of locking energy policy into a new fossil fuel future, is what ultimately will protect our members’ jobs, and our planet.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

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