Climate campaigners reach out to Hazelwood workers

The “Switch off Hazelwood” campaign organised a public meeting in Victoria’s Latrobe valley, prior to last month’s 500-strong rally at the Hazelwood power plant, to explain the aims of the protest and try to win local workers to supporting the climate movement. Solidarity spoke to Mark Ogge of Beyond Zero Emissions, who spoke at the meeting.

“The message of the campaign is, rather than just a negative campaign of switching off coal, [that] you transition people into renewable energy jobs.
We really wanted to communicate that to the local people of the Latrobe valley who would be affected by transitioning away from coal jobs.
About forty people [came] mostly who worked at Hazelwood or were connected to the power industry.
I don’t think the local people supported the protest. People were a bit angry actually. You’re dealing with your most sceptical crowd possible—people really identify with what they do for a living.
If we go down there and say Hazelwood’s a dirty power station and it needs to be switched off people who have spent their entire life working there feel like that’s having a go at them.
They can see the writing on the wall—there seems to be an acceptance that we won’t be able to keep burning coal for power and there will have to be a transition.
But they’re a bit sceptical about promises of green jobs, because they’ve been through privatisation where they were made a lot of promises about new kinds of jobs and retraining, and were let down.
If you’re building big solar plants they’re likely to be in other parts of the country because the solar incidence is higher in other areas.
So it would have to be a conscious decision on the part of the government to build wind turbines and components for solar thermal plants and hot water systems in the Latrobe valley. You’ve got a lot of transferable expertise but the community and the unions and environmentalists would really need to get behind that as an objective to safeguard the jobs.
I think it’s essential we go down there and explain our point of view to people, to make our position clear that we see a transition for workers into proper power industry jobs as being an essential part of the picture.

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