Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Which side are you on?

Received an interesting press release a few days ago, from the GMB union, entitled "Tony Blair on visit to Sellafield told that it should become a centre of excellence for Britain's nuclear industry"

Gary Smith, GMB National Officer for the energy industry told the Prime Minister, "GMB consider that Sellafield should be home to two new nuclear reactors and provide the skills and facilities to deal with the entire nuclear cycle. The site should manufacture MOX next generation nuclear fuel. It should burn that fuel in these new reactors. It should reprocess spent fuel. It should be the core centre of excellence for decommissioning existing nuclear power stations in Britain and overseas. It should be the site of deep underground storage. It should house advanced R&D facilities. It should be the home of a nuclear skills academy."

This kind of thing regularly crops up with unions who represent workers in industries that should, essentially, be scrapped or at least fundamentally transformed. There are around 12,000 workers on the Sellafield site whom the GMB hopes to represent and clearly they would have difficulty recruiting if their main slogan was "end nuclear power now".

There is a strong tension between wanting well paid, secure employment but probably not making the world uninhabitable in the process. I interviewed the (then) shop steward Jerry Hicks once, when Rolls Royce were victimising him, about how he felt about his job in an arms factory. He told me that he was opposed to the Iraq War, a member of the Stop the War Coalition and then, surprisingly for an older chap, quoted Morrisey "It pays my wage but corrodes my soul."

The T&G in the Eastern Region represent workers who are employed dredging offshore, a practice which increases coastal erosion and will directly impact where they themselves live, something I would have thought would be difficult to support, even without climate change - but criticism of the practice has been continual squashed by the TUC precisely because of this need to attend to the "interests of their members".

I suppose it comes down to cognitive dissonance, where if your beliefs and the way you live your life conflict, its far easier to change, or forget about, the harm you know you're doing than it is to do ditch your job. It's not that I blame a union for trying to protect the jobs of their members.

However, I do think it would be healthier if they recognised that whilst the worker needs to work and does not have an entirely free choice about where, a union can have a social impact and as such should use that power to make the world a better place, not just serve short term parochial interests that are not doing anyone any favours in the long run - including union members and their families.

1 comment:

Matt Burge said...

Yes, this theme is a tricky one Jim! It could also apply to workers on car and aeroplane assembly lines and, well, the list is endless. Whatever economic activity humankind carries out it impacts, often negatively, on the wider environment. Guess these situations have to be dealt with on a case by case basis but, I've never really thought of the unions as the guardian of the environment, at least not in the 'west'.