CCCTU Conference Resolution

Conference fully endorses the aims of the Campaign against Climate Change (CCC)*. We recognise that trade unions have a central role to play, both in developing just and equitable solutions to climate change and also in building a mass movement around the issue. We therefore urge all trade unions to use their full industrial, political and organisational strength to force government and employers to take urgent and effective action to tackle this potentially catastrophic threat. As a first step, we urge all trade unions to:

· Affiliate to the CCC** and encourage members to support and participate in its actions, particularly the National Climate March in December 2008.

· Develop union policies on:

(i) Securing effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within each industry, workplace and local area, and across the economy as a whole.

(ii) Defending the interests of members during the transition to sustainable production.

In pursuance of this aim, conference calls for the establishment of an open, national Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Working Group, which shall meet once per quarter and which shall elect at its first meeting***, and subsequently re-elect annually, officers comprising at least a chair, vice-chair, secretary and treasurer. As a first step, this group will aim to organise CCC fringe meetings at as many national trade union conferences as possible.

*Aims of the Campaign against Climate Change:

1/ The CCC exists to secure the action we need – at a local, national and, above all, international level – to minimise harmful climate change and the devastating impacts it will have.

2/ In particular the CCC brings people together to create a mass movement to push for our goals, including street demonstrations & other approaches.

3/ The CCC seeks a global solution to a global problem and aims to push for an international emissions reductions treaty that is both effective in preventing the catastrophic destabilisation of global climate and equitable in the means of so doing.

4/ The CCC recognises that the issue of the destabilisation of global climate has enormous implications in terms of social justice and global inequality.

** Current trade union affiliation fees: National £250; Regional £100; Local £25.

*** The first meeting of the CCCTU Working Group will take place at 11am on Saturday 1st March 2008. Room 2A, University of London Union , Malet Street . All welcome.

Campaign Against Climate Change TU Conference Report

This report is from Greenman’s blog.

I attended the CACCTU conference yesterday and it was one of the best day conferences I have attended. 250-300 people from a variety of Unions, political and environmental groups took part in the day and (despite some wrangling over the lack of time to debate and amend the final resolution) there was a very good atmosphere of a historic coming together of greens, the labour movement and the left. This was similar to those high points of the global justice movement like the “Teamsters and Turtles” of Seattle.

It was good to meet comrades, colleagues and fellow workers old and new.

There was unity of purpose around building a meaningful broad based movement with working people’s organisations in a prominent role – and agreement on specifics like the importance of workplace action (“greening the workplace”) and taking the arguments around what needs to be done into every workplace and organisation.

There was debate around issues like how to relate to workers in nuclear, coal, energy and aviation industries and the practicalities of how the economies of the world might be shifted – but this was generally good natured and open minded. There was still a little Trotty “interventionism” (always amusing to hear some plummy voiced, upper middle class, very recent ex-student declaiming with absolute certainty what the Working Clarrss need to do) but generally members of the various sects were in very best non-sectarian behaviour mode.

The morning plenary at the University of London Union was chaired by London Green MEP Jean Lambert and welcomed by CACCTU Coordinator Phil Thornhill with dry wit. Frances O’Grady, Deputy General Secretary of the TUC talked about a “just transition to a low carbon economy” and called for a windfall tax on the £9 billon profits of the energy companies since 2005 to fund energy efficiency measures to benefit the poorest. She also talked about green workiing practice and how to make Climate Change campaign work “part and parcel” of our everyday work as trade unionists.

The next speaker was Caroline Lucas, Green MEP and the Green’s best hope for their first MP in Brighton Pavilion at the next election. Caroline is Honorary Vice President of the the Campaign. She said that climate change is as much a question of social and economic organisation as it is an environmental question. She talked about global equity and the contraction and convergence model. She talked about how moving to a zero carbon economy would create more work, quoting New Economics Foundation work on jobs per terawatt of various forms of energy production. She condemned the mixed messages coming from the UK govt and said that they were jeopardising the predicted new jobs in renewable energy. She also mentioned the “Finance For The Future Group” and their idea of a “Green New Deal” involving massive investment in green jobs. She concluded that our campaign and the unfolding situation present a clear challenge to the unsustainable dominant economic model and raised the demand for social and environmental justice.

The first speaker from an individual union was Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack. He talked about how climate change was already affecting his members through increased grass and heathland fires and flooding. He talked about the threat to public services and livelihoods and said that the evidence of climate change was clear evidence of massive “market failure”. He called for a broad campaign at national and international level and the empowerment of working people in planning and implementing the best solutions. He said that Hurricane Katrina showed what we could expect to be the result of continuing neo-liberal policies.

Mark Serwotka from the PCS could not attend, but his replacement, Chris (whose surname I did not catch) gave a stirring speech and focussed on promoting a “bargaining agenda” and creating sustainable workplaces. He called for green reps and a wider environmental agenda for the unions, whilst recognising the tricky questions for some unions around aviation and nuclear power.

The speaker from the Universities and Colleges (UCU) union was Linda Newman who talked about UCU passing policy and forums for sharing best practice. She said that UCU were trying to get the employers in their sector to recognise the carbon footprint of their workplaces and siad that their new HQ was going to be a sustainable building.

Christine Blower for the NUT (National Union of Teachers) said that schools accounted for 2% of UK CO2 emissions, but 15% of overall public sector emissions. She said that 14% of the emissions that schools created were accounted for by the “school run” and called for more walking buses to good, local, schools. She said, that after New Labour’s “Education, Education, Education” slogan we had to focus on “Mitigation, Adaptation, Education”

Michael Meacher MP echoed Caroline Lucas on job creation and detailed some of the areas where massive investment was needed in renewables and energy efficiency measures. He backed the Friends of The Earth “Big Ask” demands on the Climate Change Bill – that there should be a tougher target of at least 80% reductions by the target date, annual targets for emissions and inclusion of aviation and shipping in the calculations. He said that the government needed to realise that dealing with climate change was not a “bolt on” option, that it called into question the entire economic status quo.

There were 6 workshops covering carbon trading and market mechanisms, greening the workplace, alternative energy, sustainable cities, sustainable transport and global treaties.

I went to the ones on energy and global treaties. At the energy workshop Nick Rau from Friends of The Earth gave a positive and upbeat account of current technological developments in this field and talked about FOE’s recent report on how energy production might be transformed over the next 20 years. Phil Ward, energy spokesperson of Respect (Renewal) and the ISG gave an interesting and detailed illustrated talk on how energy use might be cut and talked in ecosocialist terms of a move from exchange values to use values.

The global targets workshop was chaired by Green Party Cllr Romaine Phoenix and had representatives of the TUC, CWU (Jane Loftus) and Suzanne Jeffrey from Respect. Jane Loftus talked about the importance of international networking and the CWU’s attendance at the World and European Social Forum meetings. The TUC rep, Environment Officer Philip Peason talked about how the US unions were coming round and how the Australian unions had helped sway the US reps at Bali. He said that whilst the US unions had joined together with corporations to block the Clinton administration from signing up to Kyoto, he felt that the US unions were now more likely to agree to a new global agreement under an incoming Democrat administration. He echoed Frances O’Grady on the need for a “just transition”. He also talked about reforestation, for example in Indonesia where the unions were losing thousands of members a year due to deforestation. Suzanne Jeffrey said that the US had previously distorted the science and blocked action on behalf of their corporations, but their new strategy was to agree that something needed to be done but try to shift the blame onto China and India. She said the debate around this was vitally important as it was clearly an issue of social justice and the US arguments ignored per capita emissions in favour of meaningless National emissions.

There was debate over Carbon Capture and Storage with an audience member pointing out to Philip Pearson the New Scientist article this week saying that the US government was pulling the plug on much of the research in this area – and suggesting that much of the hype around CCS had been promoted by the Fossil Fuel industry corporations to justify continued emissions, with no intention of actually implementing CCS. The TUC man replied that there were 8,000+ locations around the world emitting 100,000 tons of CO2 a year and the TUC believed we had to deal with CCS and promote its development – if only for export to China where their economic expansion had largely made use of coal fired power stations.

In the closing plenary Jonathan Neale gave a very moving speech on the challenge we faced and the possible consequences of climate change for humans and all other species on the planet. Neale has a book due out in May, “Stop Global Warming – Change The World”.

Defeated left Labour Party leadership contender John McDonnell gave a passionate speech focussing on airport expansion and the campaign against the 3rd Runway at Heathrow in his constituency. He urged maximum support for the coming demonstration in May on this issue.

Elaine Graham Leigh of Respect talked about not allowing the movement to be divided (somewhat ironic given the recent events in Respect!) and quite rightly said we should be suspicious of dodgy solutions, particularly those that relied on market forces.

Derek Wall, Green Party Principal Speaker, ecosocialist and Green Left supporter quoted Dorothy Sayers and Marx and then gave an inspiring rundown on TU involvement in green campaigns from the Australian Building Workers union’s “Green Bans” to the National Union of Seamen in the UK acting against nuclear dumping at sea. He talked about the positive examples in Latin America and the need for a new social and economic paradigm.

The motion was then voted on after an amendment was accepted (mentioning the next Climate March in December). There was some annoyance in certain quarters that the motion was not fully discussed or other amendments allowed, but the proposers of other amendments were allowed to read them out whilst the organisers explained it was not meant to be a detailed policy motion but an action motion to set up and prepare for the development of a permanent CACCTU group.

Tony Kearns of the CWU gave the rousing final speech in which he echoed some of Derek’s comments about the need for a different economic settlement and the inspiration of worker’s conversion programmes like the Lucas Aerospace plan in the 1970s. He called for everyone to go out and build the movement and take it into every workplace.

The Climate Change Trade Union group will meet on 1st March to take things forward nationally.

One of the next mobilisations on a relevant topic is the protest against Brown’s policies on Biofuels outside Downing Street on Tuesday April 15th – Biofuels are now a major threat as corporate interests sense megaprofits to be made and further rainforest destruction looms, as well as diversion of land previously used for food production pushing up world food prices.

Overall, a very good day. Green Trade Unionists, ecosocialists and green syndicalists will be participating in the growth of this positive initiative and try to ensure that all keep focussed on common goals rather than the unfortunate manouvering for political advantage that has disfigured so many broad based campaigns.

Climate change conference: fight to save the planet is a trade union issue

A successful Campaign Against Climate Change trade union conference in London last Saturday attracted 300 people writes Socialist Worker.

Members of many different unions took part in a highly politicised conference, where speaker after speaker pointed out that tackling climate change involves dramatically changing the way our society is organised.

Frances O’Grady, the deputy general secretary of the TUC, said that “waiting for the rich to exercise their moral duty” was pointless.

She said that the changes needed would only come about if trade unionists and ordinary people forced them.

Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the FBU firefighters’ union, won applause after attacking the government’s record.

He pointed out that Gordon Brown is attacking the public services needed to tackle the effects of climate change, such as floods and freak weather.

He said, “Telling the poor to tighten their belts is no good – the people who pay the price can’t be the poor here or across the world.”

The strategy of world leaders came under attack. Tony Kearns, the senior deputy general secretary of the CWU communication workers’ union, said, “Doing things like switching off lights is all well and good – but the reason the government hammers it home is because it exempts it from responsibility. The blame lies with global capitalism.”

Many spoke against the propaganda that tackling climate change ran counter to the interests of trade unionists.

They pointed out that investment in renewable energy, improving public transport and making buildings and appliances more efficient are all things that will create jobs.

The closing plenary stressed the need for trade unionists to take the fight back into their workplaces.

John McDonnell MP, who has been involved in the campaign against a third runway at Heathrow, spoke about the need to take direct action to stop climate change.

Elaine Graham-Leigh, Respect’s national organiser, agreed saying, “We can make the government put people before profit – but the key point is that we will have to make them.”

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Trade Unionists Must Be the Agents of Human Survival – An Interview with Roy Wilkes

Roy Wilkes is secretary of the organising committee of the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Conference that took place in London on February 9. He was interviewed by Richard Searle of Red Pepper magazine. 

RS: Although there’s universal agreement now that Climate Change is happening as a result of human activity, why is there no equally unanimous agreement on solutions? What’s the crucial fault line?

RW: It is easy to forget that this ‘universal agreement’ you speak of is in fact only very recent. It was the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report, published less than a year ago, which drove the final nail into the coffin of climate skepticism. Up until then public opinion was seriously divided on the issue, even among sections of the left, and this was mainly due to the massive PR effort of the fossil fuel and auto industries.Of course, the vested interests that promoted climate skepticism for so many years still exist, and they are as rich and powerful as ever. Only the other day, Royal Dutch Shell posted profits of £13.9 billion for 2007 (which works out at over £1.5 million per hour) – the biggest profit ever recorded for a UK company.

Globally, 7 of the top 10 corporations (by sales) are either oil companies or auto manufacturers. These are very powerful forces. And although they can no longer be taken seriously in casting doubt on the linkage between human activity and climate change, they still exert a huge influence, particularly on US government policy.

So instead of denying anthropogenic climate change, as he did until very recently, Bush now insists that, although the problem exists, it is best addressed through voluntary measures undertaken by business, and by the development of techno-fixes, rather than by setting limits on emissions. But a survey published in the Independent last week showed that climate change ranks only eighth in the concerns of big business, below increasing sales, reducing costs, developing new products and services, competing for talented staff, securing growth in emerging markets, innovation and technology.

And of course, as the recession starts to bite, climate change will fall even further down the agenda of big business, whose raison d’etre is and always has been to generate profit, and for whom everything else will always remain secondary.

Even those governments that do claim to take climate change seriously, such as Gordon Brown’s New Labour, still rely on market mechanisms, in particular carbon trading, to solve the problem. Unfortunately, there are many within the environmental movement who harbour similar illusions in the capacity of the market to resolve this crisis. But emissions trading schemes simply don’t work, as has been amply demonstrated by the EETS [European Emissions Trading Scheme], although they do deliver big windfall profits, including to the biggest polluters.

They don’t work for a very simple reason: there is a fundamental contradiction between the driving force of capital – which strives for infinite growth and accumulation – and the preservation of a finite ecosystem.

Ultimately, we will only solve the problem of climate change through rationally planning what we produce and how we produce it, not by clinging to the anarchy of the market. Capital can never accept this, so the crucial fault line, as you put it, really boils down to one of class.

RS: For a lot of people in the developed world, Climate Change remains an abstraction, with the exception of freak weather events. How are we going to make people act to deal with something that may not happen in their lifetime?

RW: As you said in your previous question, everyone now knows that climate change is a serious threat to the survival of our species, so it seems irrational somehow that we don’t respond to this threat with more urgency. What this illustrates very clearly is the depth of our alienation.

Capitalism starts by alienating us from our own labour power, that is from our capacity to work, which is the most human of all our characteristics. It therefore alienates us from our own nature, from our ‘species being’ as Marx describes it. And by forcing us to compete, each of us against everyone else, in every sphere of our lives, it alienates us from each other.

But it doesn’t end there.

By means of commodity fetishism, capitalism alienates us not only from our own nature but from all of nature. An artificial rhythm of daily life is imposed upon us – we sell our labour power, within strictly enforced time frames, we buy commodities (often on credit), we consume them, we worry about debt and fractured relationships, we seek distraction via the bourgeois mass media and deified celebrities – and all of this gives us the illusion that we are separate and apart from the natural world, that we are insulated from that world.

Of course, we are not separate from nature at all, we are very much a part of nature, and as such we are utterly reliant on our natural habitat, on our environment. But our social consciousness is a product of these multi-layered alienations, and this is especially true in the imperial heartlands, in the so-called ‘developed world.’ It will be transformed into ecological consciousness not through an academic process of pure reason but through a process of struggle.

As Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, observed, “It is the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit.”

The poor blacks of New Orleans would certainly concur with that. And increasingly it will be the poor in Britain, those who cannot afford houses other than in the flood plains, those who cannot afford the ever rising home insurance premiums, who will suffer first and most from the freak weather events to which you refer, and which will undoubtedly increase in frequency and intensity over the coming years.

So ecological consciousness will develop hand in hand with class consciousness, as it becomes increasingly clear that capitalism not only generates war, poverty and insecurity, but that it also threatens our very survival as a species.

We are starting to see the emergence of a mass movement against climate change, a truly global movement, and although its fiercest battles will initially be in the global South, for example among the indigenous peoples of Latin America, who are fighting to defend the rainforests from the incursions of big agribusiness and logging companies, nevertheless their repercussions will be felt globally, and will impact on social consciousness even in the imperial heartlands.

RS: The problem does appear to be so vast for individuals to deal with, yet at the same time we are continually exhorted to taking individual solutions. Why is this, is it conspiracy or denial? Is there any merit in individual solutions or is it all just pissing in the wind?

RW: I would go as far as to say that there are no individual solutions to this crisis whatsoever. That’s not to say we should all go out and buy 4×4s, take lots of domestic flights and generally behave irresponsibly, not at all. But the crisis will never be resolved by trying to change behaviour at the level of the individual. Climate change is not an ethical issue, it is profoundly political.

Of course, it serves the interests of capital for us to exist as atomized individuals, in permanent competition one with another.

Similarly, it serves the interests of capital to encourage an individual response to climate change, to make us feel guilty about the way we as individuals live our lives, to make us pay the price for a crisis that is not of our making. It isn’t so much a conspiracy as a diversion, an attempt to divert our attention from those who are truly responsible for this crisis.

But as workers we don’t choose our conditions of life; we don’t choose where and how our electricity is generated, we merely flick switches as passive consumers; we don’t choose to spend hours stuck in traffic jams; we never chose to have a privatized, overpriced and inadequate public transport system; we don’t choose commodity fetishism, just as we don’t choose to wear the chains that bind us to capital, that force us to sell our labour power in order to survive.

These conditions are imposed upon us. Only by collective action will we be able to develop solutions to a threat as huge and momentous as climate change, beginning with collective struggle, mass struggle, and leading, if we are successful in our struggle, to collective planning, to collective control over the resources of the planet, so that we can allocate those resources not to generating profit for the few but to the satisfaction of real human need, beginning of course with the need to repair the damage done to our planet by two centuries of capitalism.

RS: George Monbiot’s book, Heat, appears to be the most trenchant in putting a serious argument about what’s really needed to effectively tackle climate change. What are the strengths and weaknesses in Monbiot’s arguments?

RW: Monbiot summarizes the science of climate change very well, and he advocates several technical solutions that are eminently sensible, such as the generation of solar power in the deserts and its transmission via DC cabling to the centres of population. But he finds it difficult to break with the essential logic of capitalism, i.e. that the guiding principle of all human activity is the profit motive.

So Monbiot advocates carbon rationing as the main mechanism for achieving the necessary 90% cut in carbon emissions. The idea is that we should calculate a fair allocation and issue each person with carbon units, which he prefers to call ‘ice caps.’ He believes that this measure would automatically stimulate a market for low-carbon technologies, such as public transport and renewable energy.

This is of course a market solution to the crisis, which would incidentally allow the rich to buy rations from the poor in order to prolong their unsustainable lifestyles.

Monbiot is not alone in the green movement in relying on market mechanisms to solve the problem. There is a widespread belief that climate change is so urgent that we cannot wait for capitalism to be overthrown, that we have to deal with climate change within capitalism.

This view is deeply flawed on many levels.

Of course we don’t ‘wait’ for the overthrow of capitalism, because capitalism will not be overthrown by ‘waiting’ anyway. But neither will there be any solution to climate change within capitalism. The struggle against climate change and the struggle against capital are inextricably linked, they will either march forward together or else both will fail.

Monbiot himself is beginning to realize this. His speech at the national climate march in December was openly anti-capitalist.

But Heat’s greatest weakness is in its ending, where Monbiot argues that the campaign we need is unique in that it is a campaign against ourselves. We will never build a mass movement on the basis of arguing for self imposed austerity. On the contrary, the changes we need to make in order to fend off the threat of climate change would greatly enhance the quality of life for the vast majority of us by, for example, freeing us from the tyranny of the private automobile and replacing it with free public transport, by significantly shortening the working week, by socializing domestic labour etc.

RS: What’s the essence of ecosocialism that some sections of the Left are signing up to? What makes this anymore than just Red with a dash of Green?

RW: Marx and Engels were both ecological thinkers who developed a profound understanding of the environmental impact of capitalism and of humanity’s alienation from nature. Of course they weren’t aware of the greenhouse effect, but they wrote extensively on those aspects of the environment that were known at the time, Engels in The Condition of the Working Class in England, and in Dialectics of Nature, and Marx in his writings on the dislocation of the soil cycle that arose with capitalist urbanization. Indeed, Marx’s studies of Epicurus and the materialist conception of nature preceded and gave rise to his materialist conception of history.

Some of the most advanced ecological thinking of the twentieth century was developed by early Soviet scientists, such as Vernadsky, who published The Biosphere in 1926, several decades before western environmentalists re-discovered the concept.

So, why have western Marxists concentrated almost exclusively on social science in their thinking for the past half century, to the extent that ecosocialism seems like something new?

This is one of the more unfortunate legacies of Stalinism, which has distorted so many of our traditions. Stalin purged an entire generation of Soviet conservationists, including Vavilov, Uranovsky and of course Bukharin, condemning ecology as a bourgeois science.

The theory and practice of socialism in one country required the Soviet state to try and ‘outgrow’ capitalism by using economic planning to generate more output than the market economies. This policy, which is usually described as ‘productivism’, was of course doomed to fail, and the Soviet Union degenerated into ecocidal tyranny.

So ecosocialism is certainly more than just ‘red with a dash of green’, it is about freeing Marxism from the distortions of Stalinism, it is about reclaiming a Marxism that is both humane and ecological, and whose goal is the thoroughgoing disalienation of humanity through the agency of its only truly progressive class, the proletariat.

RS: Can you suggest any concrete steps that shop stewards or union activists can engage in as part of developing and organizing a collective response to climate change?

RW: Historically there has been something of an antagonism between environmental activists on the one hand and trade unionists, or more precisely the trade union bureaucracy, on the other. Trade unionists have tended to regard environmentalism as a threat to jobs, and environmentalists distrust the unions because they defend even the most polluting industries.

Both sides are right about the other but for the wrong reasons.

The trade union bureaucracy allows capital free reign to direct production in whatever way it sees fit, as long as it provides their members with jobs; they rarely question what is produced or how it is produced, except from a narrow health and safety perspective. or more recently from the perspective of ‘greening the workplace.’

Many environmentalists, on the other hand, have taken managerial jobs within the big corporations in a vain attempt to reform them from within, while others continue to advocate pro-capitalist solutions to the environmental crisis.

So as ecosocialists we have to organize to change this situation. We want trades unionists to be a leading part of the mass movement on climate. And we want environmental activists to recognize that to be effective their allegiance has to lie with organized labour not with capital.

That is the purpose of next week’s Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Conference, to start drawing the unions into the movement so that it starts to become a truly mass movement, even here in the imperial heartlands.

But we also want to go further than that, and in recognizing that capital can offer no solutions to the crisis, that any genuine solutions will fall foul of the profit motive, we start to raise the question, well who does have the solutions, and what will those solutions look like?

We want trade unionists to start developing alternative plans of production, or at least to start thinking along those lines, to start thinking about taking control of production. There is no law of nature that says that trade unions have to be defenders of wages and conditions within the narrow confines of capitalism.

At certain historic junctures unions can play a more progressive, even a revolutionary role. In the context of climate change, we are asking trade unionists to be nothing less than the agents of human survival.

Roy is also a member of Respect Renewal and of the International Socialist Group.