From the TUC

Building our green economic future together

29 Nov 2013, by in Environment

It has long been argued that the Greens and the trade union movement have little in common: but I think the opposite is the case. Both movements are about creating a fairer society, more decent jobs where workers are treated with respect, making life easier for all of us – and solving global crises as we do so.

We face multiple crises in the world today: climate change, spiraling personal debt, rising unemployment and falling wages, mass cuts to public budgets – especially those for health and social care and benefits, growing inequality and poverty, to name just a few.

Of course, these are crises for everyone – and the solutions are, often, the same: a move towards a Green economy.

Take climate change, for example: the scientists are clear – we simply must reduce global greenhouse gas emissions if we are to reduce the risks and impact of runaway climate chaos.

But, crucially: that doesn’t mean doing less – it means doing different.

We’ll need a massive effort to insulate all our homes, for example, in order to reduce the amount of energy we spend heating them in winter and cooling them in summer.

We’ll need to build and maintain all the necessary renewable infrastructure for renewable energy generation.

We’ll need to redeploy all the engineers currently working in the fossil fuel industries to make this happen.

We’ll need to create jobs for teachers and lecturers to give our workers the skills they’ll need – and all these will have to be decent jobs, with decent pay and conditions to ensure our newly-trained workforce feels secure enough to continue working in the green energy industry when alternatives present themselves.

Already the low carbon sector provides about 165,000 jobs – and is worth just short of £30bn a year – in London alone: it could be much bigger, with the right combination of investment and political will.

And that’s just the domestic energy sector. There are, of course, many more sectors of the economy, where similar arguments work: agriculture, for example, or transport: where a shift to a more ‘green’ way of doing things could create thousands of decent jobs – and tackle global, political, crises. Providing a win-win, in other words.

But this argument is all-too infrequently made by some trade unionists. Of course, that’s changing, thanks to the work of the Climate Change Trade Union Network, and the Green Party Trade Union Group and others. The Trade Union Congress itself has excellent policies and positions on climate change, and the opportunities that tackling it presents to its members.

It’s to try and change this narrative that I’m hosting an event today – ‘Building Our Green Economic Future’ – to bring together greens, trade unionists, policy-makers and employers.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, EU Commissioner Laszlo Andor – and Andrew Raingold, Executive Director of the Aldersgate Group (which describes itself as ‘an alliance of leaders from business, politics and society that drives action for a sustainable economy’) will be outlining some of the shared challenges we face, and their will be sessions of how best to work together to meet them, and the skills workers in various relevant economic sectors will need.

A truly sustainable economic recovery will only be possible with investment in key industries, new skills and new jobs – and that will only happen with the support and active engagement of trade unionists, employers and policy-makers. I hope today’s event can play a significant role in making that happen.

GUEST POST: Jean Lambert has been London’s Green MEP since 1999. Jean is one of the UK’s two Green MEPs and one of nine cross party MEPs representing the Greater London region.

One Response to Building our green economic future together

  1. Markus Petz
    Nov 29th 2013, 4:35 pm

    Jean I think that you are correct that Greenness and unions go together. Other have said this too, for example RESPECT – includes Environment in their name. But reaching unionized workers and getting them to see that an ecological way of thinking and sustainability in particular includes them is a real challenge.

    This is not an impossible task as we move from a 3 pillars model of sustainability – which includes social as well as economic and environmental we increasing move to a systems approach and circles of sustainability, which makes the links more transparent in public policy of why unions should be Green.

    I hope that we can work together to build vortices of sustainability for better qualities of life for all. This is starting to be realised in policy matters, especially at the UN level where rather than looking at Quality of Life we this year have had a Happiness Report. Rather than vague emotional well being in the report it instead is broken down into clear metrics of which satisfying worklife is part of that. An additional aspect in the 2013 report is the alternative economics that value people rather than only financial capital.

    I am also please to see Jean recognize the jobs aspect. An old trope that often presented is jobs v the environment. A perfect example found on this blog is how house building is framed. Houses need to be built as old houses are retrofitted is not enough, but in London building palaces for foreigners and tax exiles is very different from the communal housing complexes that have been demolished and residents forced to move out via compulsory purchases.

    Unions could show solidarity by struggling with their members like teachers, doctors and drivers for affordable housing co-operatives that are worker owned, possibly also built by ethical building firms that meet quality standards not only on worker employment, with things like a living wage, but also the impact of the house building on the health of the environment.