The Korean company CS Wind makes wind towers in Phu My. They’re much bigger than barrels. They’re hollow, tapered columns of thick, painted steel, hundreds of feet tall and hundreds of tonnes in weight, which raise wind turbines high off the ground and give their immense rotor blades space to turn. The Hanna was delivering newly made wind towers, in sections, to Hull, where they would be put on installation vessels and taken out into the North Sea. There, they would be fixed to foundations in the seabed and have turbines mounted on them, becoming part of the world’s biggest offshore wind farm, Hornsea Two, due to become fully operational next year. The towers could have been made much closer to hand. A factory in Campbeltown, on the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland, made towers for Hornsea One. But it shut down in 2019 after its owners said they couldn’t turn a profit. In a small town with diminishing opportunities, a hundred people lost their jobs. It’s a familiar story: small British firm loses out to cheaper products made by low-paid workers overseas. Then again it wasn’t as familiar as it seemed. The British factory and the Vietnamese factory belonged to the same company: CS Wind. Western industry wasn’t brought low by a nimble competitor from the east. CS Wind came west, set up shop and undercut itself. All CS Wind’s factories – the Scottish one and the Vietnamese one, along with others in Taiwan, Malaysia, China and Canada (the Canadian factory was shut down like the Scottish one) – are really one vast factory, in which workers doing the same job are paid wildly different salaries, work radically different hours and get painfully different levels of support from the state. The CS Wind story is one of politicians and electorates in wealthy countries trying to reconcile the irreconcilable goals of cheap green energy, free trade and secure, well-paid green energy jobs for their own workers. There’s something more unsettling involved too: an inspiring, utopian, internationalist movement to save humanity from climate emergency comes across a once inspiring, once utopian, once internationalist movement to save humanity from capitalist exploitation, and walks on by.
London Review of Books 15th July 2021 read more »