On the eve before the National Union of Journalists annual delegates meeting began in Belfast around 15 people participated in a fringe meeting to discuss the climate crisis and what we, as journalists and trade unionists, can do to help to prevent a global disaster. Climate change is happening and it is directly linked to human activity, specifically the pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.
Although small, it was the first fringe meeting on climate change within the union and the participants were keen to push the discussion out into the union and into our workplaces. Jeremy Dear, general secretary, addressed the meeting saying that it was important that climate change and other environmental issues were on the map for NUJ members. He said that climate change was a global justice issue and pointed
to the thousands of people still without homes after the floods last summer in the UK, let alone the millions that are affected around the world. Jeremy explained the work the union had done in the past year to reduce its carbon footprint, such as recycling, reducing air conditioning, cutting electricity consumption by a third, plus reducing water usage and waste. His proposals centred on getting chapels and branches involved in putting environmental concerns on the agenda in the workplace, maybe through environmental reps or committees to force employers to take this issue seriously.
John Woods, director (North of Ireland) Friends of the Earth, spoke about FoE’s attempts to get a strong, legally binding Climate Change Bill through parliament in order to make the UK government to live up to its promises to reduce CO2 emissions – something that it is flaunting, despite its “green” rhetoric, with its plans to expand airport capacity like the third runway at Heathrow. He also talked about FoE’s campaigning work to spread information about climate change – the Big Ask saw over 170,000 people lobbying their MPs about supporting the Bill.
Eamonn McCann, Socialist Environmental Alliance candidate in Foyle, spoke about three issues that he was involved in at a local level – but showed how these were connected to what was going on at the global level. Derry Airport’s runway is being expanded into a delicate swamp habitat because RyanAir boss Michael O’Leary bought up cheap new, larger planes that need more space to land. After doing a secret deal to give incredible discounts to RyanAir to attract its business, the Derry council cannot say no to anything that O’Leary demands. Eamonn also told of the Belfast-Derry railway campaign to get a decent, reliable and fast service between the cities so that instead of flying, people can take the train and effectively pollute less. But the government refuses to spend any money on this project. Instead it plans to build a road through Banagher Woods – where there are many species that are unique in the habitat which would be destroyed if the road is built. Eamonn also explained how the drive for profits, often hidden behind the pretence of creating jobs, trumps the needs of the community no matter where you are in the world.
Joy Macknight, a representative from the CCC Trade Union group, spoke about the CCC and specifically the TU conference it held at the beginning of February when around 300 trade unionists got together to discuss what to do about climate change. She said how Matt Wrack form the FBU had set the tone for the
conference when in the opening plenary he spoke about how climate change was related to the system under which we live – capitalism – and how we needed to replace it with socialism if we are really going to be able to reverse the damage already done. Joy said how important it was that trade unionists move past the
division between jobs and the environment – it is not either/or – and how we needed to come up with an alternative when the bosses or the government or even other trade union leaders try to scare us into accepting the status quo in terms of the burning of fossil fuels. She invited all NUJ members to get involved in two demonstrations that the CCC is building for – 15 April protest against biofuels and 31 May protest against the Heathrow expansion.
The discussion centred on practical things we can do – one suggestion put forward was to create a sub-group of the CCC trade union group like Media Workers against Climate Change, which would organise media workers specifically addressing the role they have to play in combating the lies around climate change. The New Scientist magazine did a great exposé in May 2007 called Climate change: A guide for the perplexed – we should try to get the journalists to tour union branches (contact Liz Else, London Magazine Branch, email@example.com). We should take the measures the union has taken to reduce its carbon footprint into our chapels and branches and get it on the workplace agenda. As a union we should also get involved in local campaigns. Finally, the NUJ should fulfil the motion passed at last year’s ADM and ballot our membership to affiliate to the Campaign against Climate Change.
The fringe meeting showed the way forward – there are many things we can do as individuals, like recycle or cut down on our car usage, etc, but it is collective action as a trade union to force the big corporates to change their behaviour that will make a difference. For that we need strong unions and to unite across the unions to halt activities that contribute to climate change.