Fringe meeting 8th June 2008
On the opening day of CWU annual conference, over 50 delegates flocked to a dynamic fringe meeting focussing on the role of trade unions in climate change issues. Speakers raised issues ranging from the capitalist appropriation of natural resources, to the inadequacy of market mechanisms and big business to deal with climate change and the potential for trade unions to organise, bargain and recruit around these issues.
Chaired by CWU president Jane Loftus, the speakers were senior deputy general secretary Tony Kearns, Roy Wilkes, secretary of the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group and Jamie Jenkins from the CWU youth advisory committee (YAC).
Jamie explained the importance of climate change issues to young members in the CWU. In outlining the work of YAC he emphasised the potential for recruitment and organising around climate change issues through empowering people to take on the challenges posed by climate change through union work.
The reality of the effect of what is known as “peak oil” on jobs and the economy was presented by Tony Kearns, who warned the meeting about capitalism’s response to climate change. “What’s going to happen on a humanitarian level is quite clear,” argued Tony, who continued: “Capitalist powers are going to begin a battle over resources.
“The trade union movement needs to make up its mind whether we allow climate change to be a stick to beat us with or whether we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the world’s poor to fight capitalist expansion and capitalist appropriation of resources.”
“Big business and governments are unable and inadequate to deal with climate change,” was the strong message from Roy Wilkes, who went on to outline the immediate and growing dangers posed by climate change and point out that effects are always felt hardest by the world’s poor – most recently in New Orleans, Bangladesh and Burma.
In terms of emissions trading schemes, Roy argued that “expecting the market and big business to sort this out is naïve. They are answerable to shareholders who want a return, not the planet or wider population.
“Not only is climate change a trade union issue, but trade unions hold the key to our survival,” he argued.
Lively debate followed the speakers’ contributions, with specific matters of concern including the need to challenge consumerism and big business’s approach, thereby showing the difference between individual and collective responses to climate change.
The crucial need to keep the trade union response a rank-and-file one and encourage alternative plans of production to address the jobs issue, particularly at sites such as Heathrow Airport – the biggest employer in the country – were also stressed by contributors from the floor.
The consensus of the meeting was a strong recognition that climate and environment issues are undeniably matters of trade union concern. The meeting decided that the CWU needs to do more to champion environment reps and get branches along to demonstrations like the December climate change rally.