Trade unions and climate change
The challenge of climate change is primarily portrayed and understood as a threat, not an opportunity. The consequences for our future prosperity and security will indeed be devastating and indeed fatal for many if we do not act decisively now. But at Green Alliance we believe that it is the stories of the opportunities presented by climate change that will lead us to victory in this struggle.
The publication we’ll be introducing at Congress is a potentially hugely important one because it provides a fascinating glimpse into the opportunity that climate change provides for modern trade unionism, and the prize that lies within all of our reach. The contributions by Jack Dromey (Unite) and Sally Hunt (UCU), by Paul Noon (Prospect) and by John Sauven (Greenpeace) all tackle this head on. They highlight the scale of the manufacturing and employment opportunities in the transition to the low carbon economy, in a range of industrial sectors. We are grateful to Unison and the TUC for their support of this publication, and recognise this as further evidence of their strong and growing commitment to this agenda.
These opportunities have, however, been sketched out before. The challenge to the union movement is to broaden and deepen union engagement with the green new deal. There is a strong positive case for trade union leadership on climate change, and the level of union ambition must continue to increase in line with the challenges we face.
To make this a reality, some of the risks and challenges to a different approach must be directly addressed. It must be recognised, not least by environmentalists, that there are companies and industries for whom climate change policy may well be more a threat than an opportunity. The concept of the ‘just transition’ articulated here is an important way to address these potential conflicts. It is imperative that workers who may be impacted in these sectors are given opportunities to retrain and to improve their skills, so that they can take up the many opportunities of the just transition. The current economic recession brings challenges of this kind into sharp focus. It is a painful and powerful reminder that it is essential to focus on creating the industries and jobs that can and will succeed in the low carbon economy of the 21st century.
The contribution by Keith Sonnet (Unison) and Dan Shears (GMB) demonstrates that there is also a significant agenda here for public sector unions and employees. They highlight the opportunity to use community and public solutions in areas like renewable energy and energy efficiency to deliver public benefit and public support for the low carbon transition, and also the benefits that the commitment and participation of public sector employees can provide in tackling climate change in the public sector. And Paul Hampton (LRD) makes the case for tapping the significant potential of union representatives in workplaces across the economy to be green champions and lead change in their organisation and among their fellow employees.
The most uplifting contribution comes from Bob Baugh, executive director of the American AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council. He tells an inspiring story from across the Atlantic. The Blue-Green coalition in the US has united over six million workers and many of the key environmental groups in the US in the fight for the tremendous manufacturing and employment opportunities of the transition to a low carbon economy. Their efforts have yielded rapid and impressive dividends following the election of President Barack Obama, in particular through the stimulus package and the Clean Energy and Security Act.
We at Green Alliance are excited by the growing engagement and commitment of trade unions here in the UK to the opportunities presented by action on climate change. We hope this can be the start of the creation of a movement of the American scale and impact here in the UK.