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Strong union presence in renewables is key to future

12 December, 2018IndustriALL Global Union affiliates from the mechanical engineering sector met in Gothenburg, Sweden, on 10 and 11 December 2018 to explore organizing in the rapidly growing renewables sector.

Participants from Austria, Belgium, Germany, India, Japan, Poland, Spain, Sri Lanka and Sweden shared their experiences. Development of the renewables industry is uneven across the world, but there is a clear direction of travel, and a lot to learn from countries where development is advanced.

Opening the meeting, Rainer Wimmer, president of Austrian affiliate Pro-Ge and sector co-chair said:

“As mechanical engineers and trade unionists, technology is the most important contribution we can make to mitigating climate change. We need wind, we need solar, we need biomass. And we need strong unions to ensure that energy transition is just.”

Angelika Thomas of German affiliate IG Metall said:

“I was a delegate at COP24. We are very happy with the Silesia Declaration, which is a commitment to address the social dimensions of climate change through a Just Transition.”

Equipment manufacturing is an essential part of the renewable energy supply chain, which is why IndustriALL affiliates in mechanical engineering are keen to organize employees in this growing sector. The meeting discussed opportunities to use global framework agreements and trade union networks with energy and equipment manufacturing companies.

Matthias Hartwich, IndustriALL director for mechanical engineering, said:

“This is new work. We’re bringing together experts from the mechanical engineering sector who work in renewables to discuss the jobs of the future. This meeting is a laboratory, where we organize learning experiences from each and discover which direction our unions need to move in.”

The renewable sector in Sweden is comparatively mature, especially when it comes to hydro-power. IF Metall president Marie Nilsson explained the growth potential, saying:

“We’re not afraid of new technology – we’re afraid of old technology. Gothenburg is the industrial backbone of Sweden, and we are seeing big investment in the region. The population is growing, and Industry 4.0 is changing jobs. Unemployment is at a record low. Our problem is a skills shortage.”

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, addressed the meeting by video conference, and said:

“We need a network for the renewable sector that works in close cooperation with the energy and electronics sectors.

“The network must have a strong focus on organizing, and be able to respond with solidarity support where there is conflict.”

The meeting included a visit to the SKF bearing factory, established in the city in 1907. SKF bearings are used in wind and tidal turbines, as well as in transport, robotics, processing and every industrial field that contains moving parts. Slight efficiency improvements in rotation result in cumulatively tremendous energy savings.

The SKF factory is highly automated, with the workforce shifting from blue to white collar. But the blue collar union on site, IF Metall, believes that work will change rather than disappear.

“To paraphrase an old saying from the workers’ movement”, said local IF Metall president, Zarko Djurovic, “the worker of the future will program a machine in the morning, talk to customers in the afternoon, and develop a new production process in the evening. This is an evolution of work.”

2017 was another record-breaking year for renewable energy, characterized by the largest ever increase in renewable power capacity, falling costs, increases in investment and advances in enabling technologies. According to reports, 10.3 million people were working in renewable energy in 2017, with 60 per cent of the jobs in Asia. Of renewable energy jobs, solar power was the largest employer with nearly 3.4 million jobs.

All participants at the meeting agreed to continue with the work and cooperate closely with neighbouring sectors like energy and ICT, Electrics and Electronics to organize and ensure union power in future-oriented workplaces.