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Building a green future with mechanical engineering

6 November, 2020Over 60 participants from all continents attended the first online IndustriALL Global Union seminar on green technology in the mechanical engineering sector.

Opening the meeting, the president of Austrian affiliate PRO-GE and sector co-chair, Rainer Wimmer, referred to the devastation caused by the pandemic, and remarked that even after the virus has been dealt with as a public health crisis, the financial and social consequences will remain.

“Parts of our industry will come under severe pressure, particularly the parts related to the internal combustion engine. But there is potential for growth in building the green world. We need to be part of the process to ensure that green jobs are good jobs.”

Wolfgang Lemb, member of the executive board of IG Metall in Germany, said that there is a clear need to transform the global economy. Unions need to make sure that the change is socially acceptable, and happens according to social, ecological and democratic principles.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan noted how dramatically the pandemic had sped up processes that were already underway. The world had been thrown into turmoil, and many countries had seen significant attacks on workers’ rights.

IndustriALL sector director Matthias Hartwich explained that the UN Sustainable Development Goals need engineered solutions. The goals create a pathway to a world with abundant clean energy and water, sustainable cities, innovative cities, sustainable consumption and more. To achieve this, the world needs better technology.

Hartwich stressed that although the trend towards a massive transformation of the working environment in connection with greening industries and digitization had been apparent for some time, the Covid-19 pandemic had radically changed the situation in two ways: by intensifying the pace of change, and with the return of governments to direct intervention in the economy. Current workers – particularly those in blue collar jobs – need opportunities to retrain, and the trade union movement needs to be prepared to recruit and organize a new, highly skilled and mostly white-collar workforce.

Benjamin Denis of industriAll Europe explained the proposed European Green Deal, explaining that this must be translated into Industrial strategy. Klaudi Frieben of PRO-GE, who is a member of the IndustriALL women’s committee, explained that the process is not gender neutral. Mechanical engineering is a male dominated sector, and the shortage of women studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics means that unless action is taken, the sector will remain male dominated.

In a debate on trade union strategy, Wimmer introduced a Greentech Manifesto, prepared by the sector co-chairs and IndustriALL office. The Manifesto is an aspirational document meant to guide union strategy in coming years. The challenge will be to translate its ideas into concrete action.

Closing the meeting, Hartwich said:

“The work we have done so far is a first step. Discussions about green technology are very advanced in only a few unions. Our challenge is to take the best insights from these unions, and make them available around the world. We need to do regional work to prepare unions for green tech.”