Rachel Reeves made a strong commitment to boosting the UK auto industry while cutting carbon emissions during her first speech as Phantom Chancellor earlier this month. She called on the UK to become “world leaders” in the production of electric vehicles and committed the Labor Party to plans for three gigafactories of electric vehicle batteries by the end of this parliament.
The speech echoed Ed Miliband’s call for an “electric vehicle revolution,” who also pledged interest-free loans for households to purchase an electric car and accelerate the deployment of charging stations. charging across the UK. It is clear that the massive deployment of electric vehicles is at the heart of Labor’s industrial and climate strategies.
Yet behind the promise to revive the industry and create jobs lies the threat of devastating impacts on communities and workers across the globe. Human rights abuses and environmental devastation are rife throughout supply chains for key metals and minerals needed to make electric vehicle batteries, especially at the point of extraction. By not even acknowledging these impacts, these plans are clearly out of step with social and climate justice, and should be fought by anti-imperialists across the labor movement.
Cobalt and lithium are two essential materials in the construction of lithium-ion batteries, the dominant renewable battery used in electric vehicles. Last year the World Bank estimated this demand for both materials will increase by 500% by 2050, largely due to the demand for electric vehicles, which would push the demand beyond existing reserves.
This has raised concerns among capitalists and politicians in the north of the planet over access to what they call “critical minerals”, as they seek to minimize political disruption in the accumulation of capital that manufacturing of batteries and vehicles would bring. Like a recent report by War on Want and the London Mining Network described in detail, so a global rush is underway to secure access to new reserves and mining licenses.
The prospect has sounded the alarm for communities around the world already affected by lithium and cobalt mines. The majority of the world’s cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both informally in small-scale mines and industrially by âWesternâ and Chinese mining companies. Child labor is widespread and workers face extreme threats to their health, both from frequent accidents resulting from the collapse of unsupported tunnels and from chronic exposure to dust containing cobalt, which often results in fatal lung disease.
Despite the immense value of cobalt in battery supply chains, the IndustriALL Union, which represents Congolese miners, mentionned: “Almost all this wealth disappears in foreign countries, or locally through corruption, with the complicity of foreign companies.” Indigenous communities in Chile’s Atacama Desert have long rallied against lithium mining, which has caused an artificial water shortage by consuming 65% of the region’s water in the production process.
In 2019, an alliance of 18 local indigenous communities blocked roads used to transport lithium, timing their action to coincide with national rallies against inequality and neoliberalism. Maria Cariola, researcher working for a Chilean NGO, analyzed the protests against lithium as being “very linked to national protests for greater democratization and economic redistribution”. The blockade highlighted not only water shortages, but also the fact that the local community “has no influence on the development of their territory”.
This issue of consent is at the heart of conflicts around mining projects across the planet. In 2018, a broad alliance of mining affected communities, labor unions and smallholder farmers, among others, gathered from 28 African countries as well as the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe to thematic social forum. They warned against a process of ârecolonization and stampede to control scarce strategic resourcesâ. Their key message was that they had âthe right to say NO to extractive activities in our territoriesâ, while calling for âreparations for the historical, ecological and social debt of the peoples of the Southâ.
By calling on the UK to become a ‘world leader’ in the production of electric vehicle batteries, with gigafactories co-funded in collaboration with the private sector, the Labor Party is advocating a transition that greatly benefits UK green capitalists at the expense of black and brown communities in the global south. The alternative is clear. Workers must push for supply chain justice by showing solidarity with workers and communities through renewable energy supply chains. On the demand side, mineral recycling needs to be massively scaled up as part of a larger push towards circular production to reduce extraction.
Basically, Labor should call for massive investments in free, electrified and state-owned transport, as called for in 2019 green new deal motion adopted at the party conference. Not only would this reduce material demand by decreasing the number of road vehicles, but it would help create the well-paying, unionized green jobs needed while ensuring that quality transportation options are available to everyone, not just those who can afford it. allow private vehicles.
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