Viva the green industrial revolution!

Steve Turner
Monday, August 23, 2021

Steve Turner, assistant general secretary for manufacturing at Unite, argues the case for a reshaped economy that is built around green jobs, and points out that the printing industry is well-placed to successfully shift to greener technologies, production methods and materials.

Shaping the future of work and greening our economy is the challenge of our generation. The demand for full employment and millions of new green jobs – well-paid, skilled, unionised jobs – is at the heart of my programme to put workers and our communities at the centre of a modern economy.

Such jobs bring much needed cash into our communities, help to reverse inequality and fund our public services. And they help our kids to breathe fresh air.

We’re on the brink of a green industrial revolution and we cannot miss this moment. I am determined to make the governments of all our nations deliver millions of new green jobs alongside the investment and skills required to rebuild our industrial heartlands.

I plan to kickstart a union-wide conversation about our priorities as we shape the future of work

and a new, greener, fairer economy for all. Our printing and papermaking industry members must be at the heart of the debate about how we rebuild our economy and communities out of the pandemic in a way that ensures no one is left behind.
Under my leadership, Unite will work with print and paper industry bodies and employers, and all our manufacturing sectors, to lead a green jobs revolution that will be the backbone of a zero-carbon economy.

While digital technologies are of course important in achieving this, print is an industry that understands well the centrality of innovation in the successful move to greener technologies, production methods and materials.

In this, the sector has led the way, with initiatives such as the Two Sides campaign, which Unite supports, working to promote the sustainable and environmentally responsible ways in which the sector’s supply chain operates.

We know that paper and packaging production is a green industry and an industry with a strong future. It’s not the dirty work of old. There’s huge, clean, green innovation happening, which in turn is creating new, good, skilled, unionised jobs and skilled apprenticeships.

We’re working with companies and employers’ federations, including the BPIF and the CPI, to create those new apprenticeships – ones that will encourage more young women in particular into these industries.

Print and packaging desperately needs enthusiastic, visionary young people, but for that to happen we need schools to understand that it’s a cutting edge, high tech career and to encourage school levers to consider a skilled apprenticeship.

But the government’s Apprenticeship Levy isn’t working, certainly not for young workers. Vast sums of cash – at least £3bn – are standing idle in the Treasury, with employers unable to access it to fund recognised apprenticeships for either their workforces or those of their supply chain partners.

I will never stop demanding the chancellor gets that cash working to give our young people and planet proper hope of a brighter tomorrow.

Iggesund’s Workington Mill in Cumbria is just one example of the transformation of paper production. The move away from fossil fuel with the installation of a biomass boiler has not only resulted in it becoming carbon neutral, but has been hugely beneficial for local farmers and has returned over £1.5m to agriculture in Cumbria and Scotland.

My 10-point Greenprint for a Million Jobs* calls for massive public investment and ownership to rebuild our economy, our industries, infrastructure and public services for a low-carbon, high-skilled economy to create the confidence necessary to attract billions in private sector and direct investment into renewing our industrial heartlands.

Iggesund is a shining example of what can be achieved to create green jobs and implement retraining while supporting resilient local supply chains and a make and buy local strategy.

But the sector also knows and feels the impact on jobs of the myths that abound around digital being greener than print. It’s an issue that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with financial companies and utility companies moving business and personal customer statements online as default, using the cover of Covid and a certain amount of ‘greenwashing’, which claims electronic communication is more environmentally friendly than paper, to remove consumer choice.

This has been a major loss to the print industry, but the impact on the low paid and elderly is rarely considered. For those unable to afford, or use, broadband, being without internet access and therefore unable to access online statements leaves them much more vulnerable to getting into debt, while the ability to opt-in to paper is made all the more difficult without being able to get online.

A mixed upside of the pandemic has been seen in corrugated and packaging industries where Unite members have worked non-stop throughout the lockdowns, trying to keep pace with escalating demand for online deliveries. With a corresponding drop-off in recycling during this time, capacity in the market has all but been wiped-out.

But while packaging has seen something of a Covid boom, the devastating impact of the pandemic on sectors including aviation, events and hospitality has had huge ramifications for print. Menus, flyers, security products, printed manuals, in-flight magazines, signage and promotional materials – some will return, but without the support I’ve been demanding from the outset for these industries, many won’t.

And we know that the bigger names, the ones that do rebuild their businesses, are unlikely to continue to outsource their print work down the supply chain in the way they did before.

That any of them have survived is in no small part due to the job retention scheme that I’m so proud to have battered down ministers’ doors to help secure.

Throughout this crisis, Unite has fought for our members’ jobs, safety and wages. I worked, from the moment the virus hit our shores and lockdown looked inevitable, with both the CPI and the BPIF to secure not just furlough, saving millions of jobs in the industry, but also sufficient PPE and safe systems of work.

Unite’s work during this extraordinary time has shown that strong trade unions are needed by working people more than ever. But unions cannot be strong without strong leaders. I am that union leader.

Steve Turner is Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing and a candidate in the union’s upcoming general secretary election. *The Workers’ Greenprint for a Million Jobs can be read here:

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