An energy transition – and the workers get shafted.

The last group of workers in the UK who fell foul of an energy transition were the coal miners.  And when I say “fell foul of”, I mean got utterly fucked by.

The miners’ strike was a while back.  1984-85.  Unless you were part of a miner’s family or lived in a pit village I’m guessing that you won’t really remember it unless you’re at least 45 years old.  Doesn’t mean you won’t have read about it or watched film footage.

This is – and is not – like 1985.  Back then the miners’ communities didn’t know they were in an “energy transition”. They thought they were just being fucked by Thatcher because they wanted a decent wage and stood up to her and her bullies, and that she wanted to destroy them and their union – all the unions.  With hindsight that’s what the Thatcher Government did pretty much do.  Certainly the miners union is no more and the offshore unions never functioned worth a fuck, with one notable, but short lived exception. And you’d have to be at least over 52 today and have been on the North Sea when Piper Alpha went up to have any experience of that time.

Maybe back in the mid 1980s some people did know about global warming and the fact it was caused by burning fossil fuels.  I certainly didn’t.  Mind you I hadn’t even begun to give global warming much thought 30 years later when I retired from offshore Norway in 2015.  But everyone at least “knows” about global warming these days.  

But whatever the reasons, and whatever we think about global warming, we do know one thing – coal’s gone and the transition from oil & gas to renewables is well under way and there’s no way back thanks to global concern about global warming.  But the transition can still be botched, and if it’s left in the hands of our industry the chances are pretty high that it will be.

In all the years I worked offshore – my whole working life – I met one ex-miner offshore.  Why would that be?  I can think of a few possibilities.  The employers wanted trade union militants offshore like they wanted a hole in the head.  Specially most of the “Yanks “who came over and who dominated the drilling industry.  They came predominantly from the Deep South and most thought that black skinned people and trade unionists were sub-human.  OK!  Maybe the majority of miners weren’t carrying skills that were immediately transferrable to the North Sea, but then again neither were the butchers and bakers, painters and teachers that came into drilling.  Maybe it was a bit different on the hook-ups where they needed the guys with engineering skills.  Still not many openings there for most miners I guess.

The point I’m trying to make, rightly or wrongly, is that the transition is happening and it’s not going to stop.  On top of that the industry is dysfunctional and periodically fucks off workers when the oil markets slump.  And as long as the decisions about the future of the energy transition and the North Sea oil industry is the exclusive property of the Government and the oil industry, there is absolutely no guarantee that the majority of oil & gas workers will not go the way of the coal miners – onto the scrapheap.

Who knows how this situation will pan out?  I don’t!   And I’m not saying that all we have to do is start talking to each other and that’ll be the solution to a looming jobs crisis where 30,000 workers are predicted to go in the next year and a half.  

But if we don’t begin to speak and begin to work out what we want out of this transition, we’ll get shafted just as the miners were before us.

Join the conversation.  You don’t have to know the answers. 

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