European Industrial Policy report calls for social dialogue, shared responsibility for skills training in transition

Industry 2030 just transition graphicA Vision for the European Industry until 2030, released by the European Commission on June 27,  is the final report of a High-Level Industrial Roundtable working group of 20 members from business and academia, and also including the General Secretary of industriAll Europe  and the former Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).  The press release from the ETUC  is titled “Industry 2030 report is a step towards just transitions”, and states: “The comprehensive report puts European industry on a path to an “innovative, sustainable, competitive and human-centered collaborative economy [that] respects planetary boundaries…. It proposes an action plan which includes massive investment in innovation on digital and zero or low-carbon technologies, a commitment to fair and rules-based international trade and to social inclusiveness that leaves no worker or region behind.”

The report is wide-reaching, and includes a strong awareness of environmental and climate change imperatives – for example, amongst the the “game-changing actions” recommended are: Carbon-leakage 2.0 plan: ; a Green Deal with industry which shares risks and benefits, drawing on the principles of the  “Entrepreneurial State” concept outlined by Mariana Mazzucato; standardized carbon reporting; and a Circular Economy leadership role for Europe by 2030.

Some statements on the issue of  Social Dialogue: 

“Climate, energy, raw materials, and bio-economy policies are key areas considered essential for the future of EU industry in terms of challenges and opportunities. They need to go hand in hand with industrial policy and a societal dialogue on what emission reduction and other environmental policies mean in terms of costs, benefits and behavioural changes for everyone. (p. 13)

Considering the speed with which technologies and new business models transform entire industries, planning structural disruption regularly and proactively is key. The establishment of a culture of social dialogue at all levels (company, sector, regional, national) becomes imperative to ensure smooth and just workforce transitions, to help re-train those whose jobs are at risk and to support the regeneration of adversely affected regions.”(p. 19)

Ensure social fairness of industrial transition:  Foster a culture of constructive and effective social dialogue at all levels of the economy (company, sector, country), according to national industrial relations systems and timely information and consultation processes as key elements for anticipating and managing change, i.e. skills.”

Selected statements from the extensive proposals re education and training: 

“Link education and training  policy more strategically to the industrial policy for instance by reinforcing cooperation between companies (especially SMEs), social partners & industry and education and training providers.

Enhance industry’s active role in upskilling and skills development. EU citizens of all ages need to be sensitized to engage in lifelong learning. At the same time, private sector, in collaboration with EU, national and European social partners, should be encouraged to provide training and life-long learning opportunities for all workers. This could be done by establishing new and innovative educational programmes and solutions to complement the role of academia and scaling-up successful existing initiatives, e.g. work-based learning and dual systems , modularized learning offer, e-learning; promotion of quality and effective apprenticeships; promotion of sector-specific training initiatives; providing adult learning opportunities to prevent skills obsolesce and support employability; installing a culture of lifelong learning, including through the promotion of the internal mobility of workers inside the company….

Maintain or increase the employability of the workforce, especially in sectors in transition, by up- and reskilling of the workforce to the jobs of the future, and supporting a smooth transition from one job to another (group outplacement, employment cells, tailor-made training programmes, job search assistance). This should be a shared responsibility between industry and the public sector.”  (p.32)

Build a pan-European coalition involving the EU, Member States, regions, industry, education and training systems and trade unions to take a systemic approach to skills…. Under the coalition, the EU will build on existing instruments to further facilitate flexibility and fast response mechanisms to react to changing labour market needs through procedures for the certification and compatibility of skills
and qualifications across borders and industrial sectors, e.g. using skills badges, which shall recognize informal learning, e.g. by working in a company. (p.33)

U.K. Parliament declares climate emergency; Government committee calls for Net Zero Emissions by 2050

extinction rebellion signThe government of the United Kingdom became the first national government to declare an environment and climate emergency. on May 1 when it passed a motion by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (and Ireland followed suit with its own vote in Parliament on May 10) . Many agree with the headline from Common Dreams, “Activism works: UK Parliament makes history in declaring climate emergency”, reflecting on the huge impact made by the April demonstrations of the School Strikes and Extinction Rebellion in the U.K.

UK net-zero-coverOn the heels of the symbolic victory of the climate emergency declaration, on May 2 the U.K. government’s Committee on Climate Change delivered its long-awaited landmark report, requested by the U.K., Scottish and Welsh Governments in 2018.  Net Zero: the U.K.’s contribution to stopping Global Warming  calls for net zero emissions by 2050, with Scotland to target net-zero by 2045 and Wales to target a 95 per cent reduction by 2050 relative to 1990.  The net-zero target would cover all greenhouse gases, including international aviation and shipping, and allow for the use of emissions credits. The Committee estimates the cost at equivalent to 1-2% of GDP each year, made possible by the rapidly falling cost of new technologies – and balanced by the benefits of a cleaner environment and improved health. In calling for more ambitious targets than the existing one of 80% emissions cut by 2050 (set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act), the Committee states that “Current policy is insufficient for even the existing targets”, and calls for “clear, stable and well-designed policies to reduce emissions … across the economy without delay”.

Links to the research reports supporting the Committee’s report are here .  The Guardian released a brief overview in “‘This report will change your life’: what zero emissions means for UK . More substantial reactions come from:  Carbon Brief, with a detailed summary; and from The Grantham Institute “What is Net Zero?” , and a political wish list in “Urgent response needed from U.K. government on Net Zero Emissions”  .

The Greener Jobs Alliance , a coalition of U.K. unionists and environmentalists, also summarizes what the new report may mean, acknowledging that “The 2050 target date for zero emissions will disappoint many demonstrating across the UK.”, but focusing especially on the breakthrough of the Committee’s call for Just Transition. The GJA states: “It should now reinforce this message by setting up a Just Transition Advisory Group, with union representation from the industrial, energy, public and voluntary sectors….” and “….the absence of a strategic advisory role for unions in the work of the committee is no longer tenable.”

Below is the GJA overview of what the Net Zero report will mean for workers, as published in their news release:

  • Up to one in five jobs across the UK will be affected by a Zero Carbon Britain strategy.
  • Major moves away from fossil fuels – with job losses across oil and gas extraction, power and heating industries, as well as job losses in supply chains for these sectors.
  • Some gas fired power stations could be needed, but they will need to run using hydrogen or Carbon Capture & Storage. All coal-fired stations close.
  • Huge job growth is expected in sectors like renewables, electric vehicles, home insulation and domestic heating.
  • Employment in offshore wind, for example, is predicted to quadruple to 27,000 jobs by 2030. The big prize comes when all three main parts of a wind turbine – the tower, the cell at the top and the blades – are made in the UK. The UK is currently a big importer of renewable technology. The UK has to develop full supply chains across the renewable energy sector.
  • By 2025 at the latest all new cars and vans should be electric, or use a low- carbon alternative such as hydrogen. The automotive industry must transition to electric vehicles, with major implications for jobs, skills and investment.
  • No new homes should be connected to the gas grid after 2025.
  • Retrofitting homes with energy efficiency measures and installing low-carbon heat into new and existing homes will require new skills. This programme could generate many more high-skilled jobs in the installation and construction industries.

Can greener strategies like a Lucas Plan work for GM Oshawa?

gm oshawaReaction to the November 2018 announcement by GM that  it was closing five production plants in North America has been ongoing – as the WCR last reported in December in “GM Oshawa closing – A sign of the disruption to auto manufacturing”.  Unifor, the union representing most of the affected auto workers, has organized a vigorous  Save Oshawa GM campaign , involving demonstrations and rallies; a plant walkout on January 8;  a boycott of GM products, including a boycott of GM cars made in Mexico    (launched on January 24); and a television ad campaign which will include air time on the Super Bowl broadcast.  Unifor also  commissioned an independent economic impact study which found that the closure of GM would  result in an immediate decline of $5 billion in Ontario’s GDP and a subsequent loss of $4 billion per year to 2030.  Both federal and provincial revenues would shrink, and  job losses are projected to reach 14,000 in Ontario and a further 10,000 elsewhere across Canada by 2025.  Unifor President Jerry Diaz has met with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, but Premier Ford’s January 14 press release , “Ontario Advocates for Auto Sector Jobs and Investment”, is silent on the GM closure. Federal Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains and Premier Ford both met in separate meetings with GM executives during the Detroit Auto Show in January, but did not soften the company’s position .

What role can greener strategies play? :  High time for a green jobs strategy in Ontario” in the National Observer (Dec.24) states: “Ontario is correct in supporting the transition of Oshawa plant employees with unemployment and retraining measures, accelerating the return to work of displaced workers. A more strategic approach by Ontario would have been an early response to GM’s prior suggestion that its Oshawa production was guaranteed only until 2020, for example, by creating strategic retraining opportunities in alignment with emerging industries.”

Several newspaper columnists have taken up the idea of re-tooling the Oshawa plant- beginning with David Olive’s immediate reaction to the announcement  in the Toronto Star in November, “It’s time for a truly Canadian automaker”;  Linda McQuaig  in the Toronto Star with  “Trudeau should consider buying GM and making electric cars”; and most notably, Jennifer Wells in the Toronto Star on January 15, “For the GM Oshawa plant, hope is not a strategy” .

Wells has based her brief article on a much more thorough piece by Sam Gindin “GM Oshawa: Making Hope Possible , which appeared in the Socialist Project newsletter, The Bullet, on December 13.  Gindin is a veteran of the labour movement and Ontario’s auto industry, having served as the CAW’s Research Director from 1974 to 2000. He argues that the current reactions are a dead end, and  “larger, more radical aspirations [are]the only practical way out.” He proposes a “Plan B”, under which “the facility and its equipment should be placed under public ownership with no further compensation – the plant and its equipment have already been paid for by the sweat of workers and the $3-billion in unpaid subsidies from taxpayers.” Workers could stage “periodic industrial actions”, including “days of action” and possibly occupation of the plant, to prevent GM from removing its equipment.  And what to do with the plant in the future?  Gindin proposes a New Lucas Plan , following the model of the famous industrial conversion project in the 1970’s, when U.K. labour unions met management’s plans to restructure and cut jobs at Lucas Aerospace with worker-generated proposals to re-tool and produce socially-useful products, using their existing skills.  Among the unions’ proposed products – in the 1970’s !! – were heat pumps, solar cell technology, wind turbines and fuel cell technology.  Gindin’s 2019  list of socially-useful products includes the energy-related products that our current climate change crisis requires.

In the U.S.,  some of these same ideas appear under the “Green New Deal” label. The Detroit Green New Deal is a coalition of labor, environmental, and community groups protesting the GM  plant closures; participants include the Democratic Socialists of America, two groups from Unifor Local 222 (the Oshawa local), Sunrise Michigan, Good Jobs Now, and many others.   Their “rallying cry” is “Make Detroit the Engine of Green New Deal”, and their Official Statement   calls for  GM to honour its labour contracts and its legal and moral commitments by keeping all the plants open, creating more union jobs, and contributing to the building of a green economy.  If GM does not agree to keep the plants open, Detroit Green New Deal demands that the plants be seized and put to public use (similar to Gindin’s “socially- useful products”).

Looking beyond the GM workers and their immediate predicament, the Detroit Green New Deal coalition demands “a Green New Deal that takes us on a path to rapid decarbonization of the economy, implements a federal union jobs guarantee, and ensures a just transition for workers, people of color, the poor, and other marginalized groups.”  These demands are more focussed , but reflect the social justice principles behind Sam Gindin’s closing argument: “…thinking outside the box, engaging in larger struggles and actively involving our members in the discussions and strategizing over what to do and how to do it, carries the promise – or at least the potential – to revive our movement. There is no other way to overcome the demoralization of so many of our members, move to set aside the destructive divisions between unions that are such a barrier, and play the kind of social role that can excite a new generation of leaders and activists.”

Bringing these arguments home to the issue of climate change and work, and the tensions of the green economy,  is the 2010 article, “Can trade unions become environmental innovators?: Learning from the Lucas Aerospace workers” . Authors Nora Räthzel, David Uzzell, and Dave Elliott  concluded with: “We believe that drawing on the Lucas experience – trusting in and building on workers’ skills and desire to produce something useful for themselves and the environment, developing strategies with workers (technicians, and academics), instead of for them – would create a greater chance for the realisation of socially and environmentally just policies.”