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Belfast shipyard workers demand transition to renewable energy production

Signal of change / Belfast shipyard workers demand transition to renewable energy production

By Anna Simpson / 30 Aug 2019

Around 130 ship builders, steel workers, welders, and riveters are occupying the famous shipyard in Belfast, where the Titanic was built in 1909, demanding that the docks be both nationalised and used to produce renewable energy infrastructure. 

The shipyard currently risks closure, with ship builders Harland & Wolff expected to go into administration as its parent company Dolphin Drilling, an oil and gas rig operator, files for bankruptcy. But Harland & Wolff's workers are staging a sit-in: according to the trade union Unite, they believe a transition to wind turbines and tidal energy could create thousands of jobs. Having built parts for wind turbines in recent years at Harland and Wolff, they argue their skillsets are valuable to such a transition, and that the site's infrastructure is amenable. 

The workers have the support of Gerry Carroll, a member of Northern Ireland’s parliament for the socialist party, People Before Profits. Carroll is working with the local unions to call for green energy jobs. 

So what?

The demands of the Belfast shipyard workers demonstrate that impetus for the renewable energy transition can be driven by demand for jobs, as well as other factors such as the falling costs of renewable energy, emissions regulation and consumer interest. The question is, how successful will they be? And could success encourage other workers to take similar action?  In the UK, jobs in renewable energy fell by 30% between 2014 and 2017, due to government cuts to incentives and support schemes. However, this does not reflect the global outlook for the sector. Earlier this year, BP, the UK-based oil company, said wind, solar and other renewables will account for about 30% of the world’s electricity supplies by 2040, up from about 10% today. Forbes also reported a renewable energy job boom in the United States, as the costs of running existing coal plants exceeded those of building new wind and solar farms.  What level of action will it take for the UK government to harness the clean energy transition as an opportunity? Or can industry overcome the lack of government support? 


What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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