Unions and environmentalists demand action on global warming

Published Date: 11 February 2008
Trade unionists and green campaigners have joined forces in central London in a bid to tackle climate change.
The Campaign Against Climate Change Union Conference brought together union leaders and employees from across the UK to discuss the challenges facing workers.

Topics for discussion at the conference, held at the University of London, included carbon trading, how to make the workplace greener and alternative energy.

Tony Kearns, deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union, said on Saturday: “The conference is a rallying cry for individual members to take the massive issue of climate change back to their branches across the UK.

“The trade union movement has always been a vehicle for pushing forward social change and that is what we are beginning.

“This is important to unions because if it affects the world, it affects people and workers. We need to look at different ways of living and therefore working.

“Capitalism is not suddenly going to wake up and decide we need to save the planet. We as unions need to force the change and this is just the beginning.

“The union movement will go from here and there will be more conferences when we will begin to ask questions of government and business. But today is predominantly about coming together and making a positive start.”

But Mr Kearns admitted that not all the unions are yet behind the climate change movement.

“Not all the trade unions are on board yet, of course. There are obvious issues for workers involved in industries such as nuclear power, oil and the production of cars and other vehicles. They will have to hold internal discussions about what their potential role might be.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2008, All Rights Reserved.

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.