Green capitalism can be just as deadly

WIND HARM Don't have kids if you work for Gamesa, doctors warned.

WIND HARM Seven women repairing Gamesa turbine blades were warned not to have children for two years.

If you are one of those employed in the rapidly expanding green jobs sector, don’t assume your green employer is any less likely to exploit and endanger you. This is the message from Laurent Vogel, director of the European TUC’s health and safety research arm, HESA.

In an editorial in the latest issue of the organisation’s Just Transition newsletter, he cites the example of Spanish multinational Gamesa, “one of the finest examples of green capitalism, certified, labelled, and making much of its commitments to the environment, its ‘collaborators’ – in other words its staff – and ‘communities’. The company is posting enviable profits. Is it a success story for a win-win-win scenario?”

The answer, it seems, is “no”. According to Vogel: “On wind farms, upkeep and maintenance are outsourced. For example, Gamesa has hired the company Guascor to repair the blades at its wind farms. This involves injecting resin to seal the cracks, filing them down and then repainting them. Women were recruited from rural areas to do what the company described as ‘rapid and well-paid work’.”

The real story was less rosy. “A few months after having started work, several women were showing symptoms of poisoning: irregular periods, nosebleeds, headaches and so on,” writes Vogel. “Tipped off by the trade unions, the factories inspectorate investigated and discovered that these women were handling extremely dangerous substances and no protective measures whatever had been put in place. Seven women were advised by their doctors not to have children over the next two years because of the risk of birth defects!”

Vogel concludes: “Green jobs do not always involve such dramatic conditions, but private management of environmental protection activities does sacrifice working conditions for the sake of competitiveness. Whether it be health and safety or control over their working conditions, workers in green jobs often find themselves in very precarious conditions.

“The case of the Gamesa women illustrates an important aspect of the conflict between capitalism and nature: dangerous and dehumanising working conditions because of the division of labour and its hierarchical organisation.”

It’s a sentiment that will ring true with former UK employees of the Danish multinational wind turbine blade manufacturer Vestas Blades UK Ltd. The firm was fined £10,000 in June 2009 and ordered to pay £25,000 costs after 13 employees developed occupational dermatitis. The workers had suffered symptoms including severe itching and swellings and rashes on their arms, wrists, hands and face, caused by epoxy resins used in slapdash fashion in the production of the blades.

In July 2009, workers occupied the plant in a trade union campaign to keep the factory open after all the 500 plus staff were issued redundancy notices by the firm, which said it intended to transfer production to the US and China. After an August 2009 court ruling the last remaining workers were evicted from the Vestas factory.

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