Act now to save Vestas Wind Turbine factory!

Demonstration to save Vestas Wind Turbine factory called by The Campaign Against Climate Change

Wednesday 22nd July , 6.00 pm

Outside the Department of Energy and Climate Change, No 3 Whitehall Place(off Whitehall, Charing Cross tube)

Just when we need a huge expansion in renewable energy they are closing down the only wind turbine factory in the UK.  The government has spent billions bailing out the banks, and £2.3 billion in loan guarantees to support the UK car industry – they can and should step in to save the infrastructure we are really going to need to save us from climate catastrophe. Gordon Brown has promised to create 40,000 Green Jobs in the next 5 years.

The first step towards this would be saving the 600 jobs at Vestas that are under threat.

www.campaigncc.org or (0)207 833 9311 for more information.

 

PUBLIC DEMONSTRATION on the Isle of Wight

Come to St Thomas Square in Newport at 5:30pm on Friday 24th July where we will be making a very public display of how we feel about the Vestas closures!

 

MEETING Wednesday 22nd July, 6.30-8.30pm at the Methodist Church Hall, Quay Street, Newport

We are setting up a campaign for Vestas workers’ families and Isle of Wight residents to show their support for keeping jobs at Vestas. The families and communities campaign will be very important in keeping spirits up through this stressful time. For more details call 07775 763750.

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Green Bans and the BLF: the labour movement and urban ecology

John Tully

For John Loh, militant builder’s labourer, supporter of the NSW BLF and the Green Bans, and later an organiser in the construction workers’ union, the CFMEU. Died at Melbourne, 24 November 2003.

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Jack Mundey

It is one of life’s great ironies that the same regime which brought us environmental disasters such as the Aral Sea and Chernobyl should also have continually re-published Friedrich Engels’ informed and profoundly ecological writings, Dialectics of Nature. [1] Engels warned that unless we learned the laws of nature and recognised that we do not stand outside of nature like some conqueror, nature would wreak terrible revenge on us. [2] Given the ecological atrocities they presided over, one wonders if the USSR’s Stalinist bureaucrats ever looked inside the book’s covers. Certainly they seemed unaware that the fight to end humanity’s alienation from the world is at the core of Marxism.

Clearly, Marx [3] and Engels had developed an ecological consciousness long before the term was coined, but alas, their keen insights were forgotten for many decades by the workers’ movement. While this was particularly true in the “degenerated workers’ state” of the Soviet Union, it also held true, by and large, for the labour movement in the capitalist world, much of which succumbed to a belief in the desirability of “progress” at all costs. As Jack Mundey lamented, working class militants still often “have a high degree of ignorance about the seriousness of the ecological crisis”. [4]

It is to the great credit of militant building workers in Australia that over 30 years ago they nailed their green colours to the mast and insisted that ecology was as much the concern of workers as wages and conditions. Mundey asked “What is the use of higher wages alone, if we have to live in cities devoid of parks, denuded of trees, in an atmosphere poisoned by pollution and vibrating with the noise of hundreds of thousands of units of private transport?” [5]

The Green Bans movement, [6] as it came to be known, was perhaps the most radical example of working class environmentalism ever seen in the world. At its peak it held up billions of dollars worth of undesirable development and it saved large areas of the city of Sydney – streets, old buildings, parks and whole suburbs – from demolition. There is even evidence that the term “green” itself as a synonym for ecological activism came from those struggles. In 1997, the well-respected Australian Greens Senator, Bob Brown, [7] said:

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Petra Kelly

“Petra Kelly…saw the Green Bans which the unions…were then imposing on untoward developments in Sydney…She took back to Germany this idea of Green Bans, or the terminology. As best as we can track it down, that is where the word “green” as applied to the emerging Greens in Europe came from”. [8]

Jack Mundey and the other leaders of the Green Bans movement were among the most effective and radical of urban ecologists. Although they were eventually beaten by a coalition of corrupt union officials, rapacious developers, thugs and seedy politicians, their message has not been forgotten and in the final analysis their monument is the buildings, parks and bushland areas that they saved for future generations.

The NSW Builders Labourers’ Federation

The union at the forefront of the Green Bans movement was the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF), and in particular its New South Wales (NSW) branch, [9] centred on the city of Sydney. In some ways this is surprising. For many decades before left wing militants captured control of the union in the 1960s, the BLF had been the small and despised poor cousin of the other building trades unions.

The union (which has since been amalgamated into a “super union”, the Construction, Forestry and Mining Employees’ Union or CFMEU) covered the unskilled and semi-skilled workers in the industry: labourers of various types; concrete finishers; jackhammer-men; excavation workers; hoist drivers; steel fixers who placed the steel rods and bars for reinforced concrete; scaffolders; powder monkeys or explosives experts; riggers, who erected cranes and structural steelwork; and dogmen, who slung loads from cranes and, in Australia at least, “rode the hook” hundreds of metres above the city streets in a spectacular, but hazardous aerial performance. [10] However, due to technological change in the industry, much of their work became at least as skilled as that of the traditional craftsmen, who were organised in separate unions.

In the years after World War II, millions of immigrants poured into Australia, many of them from southern and eastern Europe. Few made their fortune in the great island continent “down-under”, though many had been lured with stories of streets paved with gold. Most of them became fodder for the factories, mines and mills that sprung up during the post-war boom. Many became construction workers and unless they had specific transferable skills, that meant working as builders’ labourers, mixing concrete and carrying bricks or digging deep into the sandstone for the foundations of the new high rise buildings. Immigrants did the dirty, hard, and dangerous jobs that the “native born” were often reluctant to do. By the 1960s, around 70 per cent of the NSW BLF’s members were foreign-born. [11]

Struggle against gangsters in union

For many decades the NSW BLF was run by gangsters; corrupt elements including defrocked lawyers and apolitical thugs. One official was notorious for collecting the union dues then spending them on protracted drinking bouts. These characters had no interest in winning better wages and conditions for the members, nor did they want to see strong on-the-job organization, which would undermine their power. [12] Many of the union’s members spoke little or no English, but bureaucrats who were in any case uninterested in their opinions did not see that as a problem and there was no translation of reports. As a consequence, BLF members were paid a fraction of the wages of the carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other skilled tradesmen in the industry. The gangsters too, were uninterested in health and safety issues. As Pete Thomas has written, in three years in the 1960s, there was “an appalling total of over 61,000 compensation cases – some fatal, others creating permanent disabilities, others lesser but still cruel – …in NSW building construction and maintenance.” In one year in the early 1970s, 44 building workers died in NSW. [13] Fourteen dogmen died in another year. Nearly 250 Sydney excavation workers died from silicosis between 1948 and the 1960s, victims of the dust from the hard sandstone that they cut and blasted. [14] There was little change until after the militants began the hard battle to civilize the industry.

The militants gained control of the union only after a bitter struggle lasting over ten years. One of those militants was a young man called Jack Mundey. Born into a poor Irish Catholic family in North Queensland, Mundey came to Sydney in 1951 to play Rugby League for Parramatta. A little later, after spending time in other jobs, he started work as a builder’s labourer and joined the union and then the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). In the 1950s and ’60s, the CPA was still an industrial force to be reckoned with, although its star had waned since the heyday of the 1940s when it all but controlled the peak council of the union movement, the ACTU. [15] The CPA was a contradictory force. During the late 1940s and early ’50s, when the Cold War was raging, it had identified itself slavishly with the Soviet Union and at the same time it had sunk to rigging ballots in elections to maintain its tight grip on unions under its control. [16]

Still, many of the best militants in the labour movement continued to look to the CPA for leadership and by the 1960s the party leadership had abandoned much of the old sectarian dogmatism, which had isolated them from the majority of trade union members who supported the ALP. Inside the NSW BLF and other unions, party members adopted the tactic of “unity tickets” with left wing members and supporters of the ALP. The tactic bore fruit and when the militants ousted the gangsters, a real unity had been forged between Communists such as Jack Mundey and Labor Party members such as Bob Pringle and Mick McNamara. Mundey became secretary [17] of the NSW BLF in 1968.

The growing potential power of the BLF

Although the union had pursued a militant course under Mundey’s immediate predecessors, this was stepped up once he took up a full-time position. The new leaders of the union saw that the traditional craft unions had been adversely affected by deskilling brought about by changes in the industry from the 1960s on. However, the skills of their own members had been enhanced and the old image of the BL as an unskilled tradesman’s helper and general labourer was out of date.

While BLF members still did much of the hardest, dirtiest, most dangerous and least skilled work in the industry, the new construction techniques meant that they had become every bit as important as the tradesmen, particularly on high-rise city sites. This fact gave the union much more industrial clout than previously, but it was not reflected in BLs’ pay rates, which lagged far behind those of the traditional craftsmen. Mundey, Pringle and another key organiser called Joe Owens were determined that the situation had to change.

In 1970, the union embarked on a campaign of militant strikes, effectively shutting down the industry with mass picketing on a scale not seen before in the industry. The employers, not used to mass participation of the membership in industrial action, caved in after five weeks and granted large across the board pay rises and, most importantly, set BLs’ wages at a minimum of 90 per cent of the craftsmen’s rates; more for the highest skilled BLs. At the same time, the union experimented with the ideas of workers’ control, occupying construction sites, electing their own foremen, staging sit-ins and “working in” in response to lock-outs, poor safety conditions and sackings.

The long-downtrodden BLs had found a new solidarity and dignity. Harry Connell, a long-time militant, recalled that before the left’s takeover of the union, builders’ labourers would, if questioned about their occupation, reply self-deprecatingly, “Oh, I’m just a labourer”. Afterwards, they would answer proudly, “I’m a bloody BL”. [18]

Involvement in social struggles

Under Mundey’s leadership, the union also began to involve itself in struggles that went beyond the traditional brief of wages and conditions. This was the period of the Vietnam War, when hundreds of thousands of people marched against Australian military involvement on the side of the US and its Saigon client state. [19] It was the period of the May 1968 upsurge in France, when young people around the world set out to “storm the heavens”’ in search of a new society. This radical mood was reflected inside the CPA, particularly after the Warsaw Pact powers invaded Czechoslovakia to end the “Prague Spring”, which had sought “socialism with a human face”.

Back in 1956, when the USSR invaded Hungary, the CPA had remained loyal to Moscow, despite the loss of many of its members. This time, the CPA publicly condemned the invasion. A small pro-Moscow group split away, but many party members welcomed the radical new direction and enthusiastically adopted the new ideas. [20] Mundey himself pays tribute to the radical shift in the policies and attitudes in the Communist Party leadership: “I’m sure that none of our innovations would have been possible except for the changes in the Communist Party of Australia, even though we went beyond the CPA mainstream”. [21]

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The BLF leaders threw their union behind the anti-war movement and into other causes such as the fight against apartheid in South Africa. They encouraged women to work in what had hitherto been an all-male preserve, winning an important breakthrough at the Summit site after women “worked in” with the support of their male colleagues. In 1973, Denise Bishop was elected to the union and executive and became possibly the first female organiser of a construction union in the world.

The union also ensured that their largely immigrant workforce was provided with bilingual organisers-before this, the needs of non-English speakers were largely ignored. In another celebrated case, the BLF “blackbanned” work on a Macquarie University hall of residence when the Student Representative Council approached them on behalf of a gay student who had been expelled. This was probably the first instance of such an action in the world (and it was successful). Homophobia has deep roots in Australia and it is a measure of the leadership’s calibre that they were able to convince the members to take industrial action on this issue, despite initial misgivings. [22] The union was able to involve itself in these kinds of issues because the leadership had won the deep respect of the majority of members through its commitment to improving their wages and conditions, and also by restoring their dignity as human beings in a dog-eat-dog system that had treated them as expendable slaves. Ominously, one of the most vociferous critics of this kind of action was the union’s federal secretary, Norm Gallagher, a member of the Maoist Communist Party of Australia, Marxist- Leninist. [23]

A radically new, democratic style of unionism

It is important to note that the leadership consciously sought not to impose anything on the membership. The NSW BLF had a commitment to radically democratic methods that had nothing in common with the rigid Stalinism of the CPA in the 1940s and early ’50s, when they had ruled unions under their control with an iron hand. [24]

The NSW BLF had a horror of entrenched bureaucracy and introduced radical methods to ensure that control of the union stayed in the members’ hands; Michels’ famous “iron law of oligarchy” was not to apply here! In the NSW BLF, all actions and policies had to be decided on by mass meetings of the members. The union’s officials were there to serve the members and not vice versa, as was so often the case with Australian unions. Australian union officials tended to keep the same hours as the employers; Mundey insisted on keeping the same hours as the workers on the job. The wearing of suits and eating of meals with the bosses was frowned on.

“The only time I eat the boss’s lunch is when I steal it,” said one organiser after a sit-in in the site offices of a major builder. Perhaps more importantly, the salaries of officials were cut to the same amount as the members’ wages, and the union introduced limited tenure of office; after a maximum of six years in a paid position, officials had to go back and work in the industry. Such measures often outraged the officials of other unions, who were fearful of losing their comfortable sinecures if such ideas were allowed to take root. Mundey says that the policy “broke down the barrier between officials and workers”. [25]

The first Green Bans

Like its sister parties round the world, the CPA had no record of environmental activism. The same was true, more broadly, of the labour movement as a whole and indeed many sections of the movement, including some self-styled revolutionaries and Communists, depicted the bans as a “diversion from the class struggle” and as a capitulation to alien “middle class ideas”. In one notorious outburst, Norm Gallagher, the Maoist federal secretary of the BLF dismissed widespread support for the NSW BLF as coming only from “residents, sheilas and poofters”. [26] When ecological ideas began to emerge in the 1960s with the publication of such books as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, they collided with deeply ingrained attitudes which viewed nature as a hostile enemy to be subdued, or mastered, and which was expressed in an ideology of limitless economic growth regardless of the consequences. Again it is to the great credit of the NSW BLF’s leadership that they were able to gain support for the radical new ecological ideas from the union’s membership.

The leadership realized that it would be wrong and self-defeating to try to impose industrial action in support of the environment on the members. By debate and argument at mass stop work or on-the-job meetings, the BLF officials convinced the members to support an all-out assault on the previously sacred right of the builders and developers to re-model the face of Sydney as they saw fit.

During the 1960s, Sydney, like many other cities in the world, underwent drastic change. There were fortunes to be made as old buildings and precincts were torn down and replaced, often with modernistic skyscrapers, for space in the inner city fetched astronomical prices. The NSW BLF’s membership soared during this period, rising in one two year period from 4000 to 10,000 and peaking later at 11,000, partly as a result of the building boom, partly because of an intensive recruiting drive. [27]

In the course of this great boom, the developers were not concerned with what was destroyed; Georgian terraces, Victorian spires and domes, parkland, jewels of art deco all fell to the wrecker’s ball. Scab labour would be used in nocturnal operations to pull down heritage-listed buildings. This was capitalism in the raw as described by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto, where “all that is solid melts into air” in the frenzy for profit. [28] The BLF also realized that, as Leonie Sandercock subsequently put it, “Modernist planners [had become] the thieves of memory” – “Faustian in their eagerness to erase all traces of the past in…the name of progress”, they had “killed whole communities, by evicting them, demolishing their houses, and dispersing them to edge suburbs or leaving them homeless…” [29]

The union and its supporters did not oppose all change, recognizing that there was a place for urban renewal to make cities liveable for their inhabitants. What they did oppose was the unwarranted assumption that what was good for the developers was automatically good for the environment, the city, or its people.

The Kelly’s Bush bans

The BLF’s actions were spectacularly effective. The Manchester Guardian considered that Jack Mundey was “Australia’s most effective conservationist” and claimed “Middle class groups are a little embarrassed at having to turn to a rough-hewn proletarian Communist to protect their homes (and values) from fiats and motorways, and their theatres and pubs from office developers. But approach him they do…” In fact, it was often working class homes and precincts that were saved from the developers, but the union would respond to any genuine request for help.

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Plaque celebrating the 25th anniversary of the BLF’s first Green Ban at Kelly’s Bush

Probably the first time the union intervened in an environmental issue was in 1971, when it banned a new private housing development at Hunters Hill. Kelly’s Bush, which the AV Jennings group wished to destroy for the project, was reputedly the last remaining piece of natural bushland on Sydney harbour. The local residents had campaigned strongly but unsuccessfully to save it, lobbying members of parliament, cabinet ministers and other persons with power. The NSW state (provincial) government was firmly behind the development and in desperation the residents turned to the BLF for support.

The BLF called a mass meeting of members, which voted overwhelmingly to “black ban” the project. Other bans quickly followed and somewhere along the road, a union member coined the term “green ban” to describe union action to save natural bushland and parks. The term was expanded to describe bans to save historic urban precincts and significant buildings.

The battle of the Rocks

Perhaps the greatest Green Ban of all was imposed on Sydney’s Rocks area by the BLF and its allies in the union covering bulldozer drivers, the FEDFA. [30] The Rocks, situated just west of Circular Quay and under the southern abutments of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, is Australia’s oldest urban precinct, dating from the 1790s. It is the site of many significant buildings and was also the home of a close-knit working class community who lived in rows of terraced houses, often at controlled rents. In 1972, the state government unveiled a master plan for the redevelopment of the suburb. The people would be evicted and their homes destroyed. In their place would rise a grotesque $2000 million [31] commercial skyscraper development owned by wealthy corporate interests.

Had the government got its way, a community would have been killed, together with the collective memory of over 160 years, along with one of Australia’s most beautiful urban areas. Encouraged by the success of the Kelly’s Bush bans, the residents’ action group turned to the unions. The union bans held, residents and BLF members picketed against scab labour, occupied buildings slated for demolition, marched, and were arrested in droves. In the end they won an impressive victory and The Rocks was saved.

Buoyed up by their success, the union imposed a string of other bans at the behest of residents and community and conservation groups frustrated by the authorities. These included Green Bans on development at Centennial Park – the “lungs” of the city’s eastern suburbs – and at the Sydney Botanical Gardens on the harbour front. The latter ban prevented the construction of an underground car park by the AMP insurance conglomerate, which would have damaged the park’s trees, shrubs and plants and involved the immediate destruction of a number of giant Moreton Bay fig trees.

Other bans were imposed on demolition of a variety of public buildings, including the Theatre Royal, the fine old sandstone Pitt Street Congregational Church (which was to have been replaced by a multi-storey concrete car park); on a section of the proposed western distributor and the Eastern Expressway, both of which would have destroyed thousands of houses; and lastly on a monstrous redevelopment of the inner harbour-side suburb of Woolloomooloo, renowned as “the most Sydney-like place in Sydney”.

Battle lines drawn

By this time, in 1973, the battle lines were drawn and the union was faced by an unholy alliance of employers, developers, politicians and right-wing union officials, all outraged by the BLF’s flaunting of the prerogatives of capital. At this stage, a well-informed article published in the Brisbane Courier-Mail claimed that the NSW BLF “has invoked an incredible 36 bans against using labour on projects worth a massive $3000 million [over $12,000 million in today’s prices – JT] because the projects would mean the tearing down of historic buildingsor could violate parklands within metropolitan Sydney”. [32]

The residents and union pickets in Victoria Street, Woolloomooloo, were harassed and intimidated by police. Goons trained in karate and carrying weapons lurked in nearby streets, thirsting for blood. Juanita Nielsen, a prominent supporter of the union, vanished and it is an open secret that goons associated with dishonest developers murdered her. The BLF and its supporters had also run up against the corrupt state government, led by Premier Robin Askin, who has since been exposed as a swindler and a crook with interests in illegal casinos and other sleaze. In a period of 12 days in August 1972, the Sydney Morning Herald, the voice of the local ruling class, carried no less than five editorials attacking the NSW BLF. One of these screamed about “a handful of unionists led by the nose by a member of a party dedicated to social disruption and the overthrow of democratic government…” and another claimed that “the mass of the unionists concerned are, of course, only dupes of their leadership…” Shortly afterwards, the Askin government charged Jack Mundey with contempt of court. Earlier, Askin and members of his cabinet had called the BLF leaders “traitors to this country” and made hysterical forecasts of the union causing “rioting and bloodshed in the streets of Sydney”. [33] The vultures were circling.

Federal intervention

Left to themselves, the ruling class would have had a hard time to break the union. The Maoist leadership of the federal union did the job for them. In 1974, federal secretary Norm Gallagher decided to crush the NSW branch and replace all of its officials with his own stooges. The Master Builders Association (MBA) and the Askin government were keen to offer him every assistance, barring NSW branch organisers from sites and sacking BLs who refused to join the new branch. When crane drivers, members of the FEDFA, went on strike, Gallagher flew in scabs to replace them and there was a steady trickle of interstate “conscript” workers” who came to “do the work of pro-Mundey builders labourers.” Gallagher declined to put his case to a mass meeting of BLs, declaring that it would be “full of residents and poofters”.

It was later revealed that much of the cost for Gallagher’s intervention was paid for by the bosses, and perhaps this included the wages of murderous gun thugs brought in to intimidate NSW branch loyalists. Some of these industrial mercenaries were lodged in the city’s most luxurious motels at nightly rates far in excess of a BL’s weekly wage. Unemployment was also rising in the industry during this period and it was clear that the NSW branch would not be able to resist for much longer. The coup de grâce came in March 1975 when the NSW branch office in the Sydney Trades Hall was burgled and its records stolen, on good information by a career contract criminal. Shortly afterwards, the NSW leadership advised its members to take out membership of the Gallagher branch and continue the fight from within. With heavy hearts, they agreed. Sadly, most of the NSW leadership was blacklisted and never worked in the industry again. Later, regretting what he had done, federal president Les Robinson admitted, “I think we destroyed a virile organization and it didn’t do the federation any good either”. [34]

The BLF’s legacy
JPEG - 16.7 kb The NSW BLF perished, but its exploits have become the stuff of legend and an inspiration to all who wish to rebuild the workers’ movement as a thoroughly democratic, class-conscious movement, committed to social and environmental action as an integral part of the aim of building a better world. Since those rare old times, other unions have from time to time taken up ecological issues, although perhaps none with the sheer panache and militancy of the NSW BLF. During the late 1970s and early ’80s the ACTU banned the mining and export of uranium “yellowcake”, until officials linked to the right-wing Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke [35] undermined the policy from within. On occasions, wharfies have banned ships carrying cargoes of scarce rainforest timbers from Southeast Asia and construction workers have stopped the routing of oil pipelines through ecologically sensitive areas. More recently, in my own neighbourhood, unions imposed bans on the redevelopment of an old industrial site heavily polluted with arsenic, until it was declared clean by independent experts. Such actions are not uncommon today. Mundey is convinced that union environmentalism would have spread even further but for the destruction of the NSW BLF.

Looking back after some thirty years, the NSW BLF story still amazes and inspires those who hear it. Capitalist ideology holds that working people are brutes with no interests beyond satisfaction of their most immediate needs. The Green Bans prove them wrong; here is a clear example of a union composed of blue collar workers – many of them immigrants, most of them lacking formal education, all “battlers” up against the odds – who stood up and counted themselves citizens in the fullest sense of the word. Bertolt Brecht once had a worker wondering whom it was who had hauled up the lumps of rock to build Thebes and other massive cities of antiquity, given that the books only gave the names of kings. [36] Throughout history, building workers have been viewed as beasts of burden who had no right to concern themselves with what they built or demolished. The Green Bans movement challenged that, and for a few years we had a glimpse of what workers, unalienated from the products of their labour, might be like; of a truly human future. “We are not just animals who put things up or tear them down,” insisted Joe Owens. [37] Today, when we declare that “A better world is possible” in the struggle against dehumanising and environmentally rapacious neoliberalism, we should not forget the struggles of the NSW builders’ labourers. Jack Mundey should have the final word:

“Ecologists with a socialist perspective and socialists with an ecological perspective must form a coalition to tackle the wide-ranging problems relating to human survival… My dream, and that… of millions… of others might then come true: a socialist world with a human face, an ecological heart and an egalitarian body”. [38]

 

-John Tully worked as a rigger and dogman during the 1970s and 1980s and was often a BLF shop steward.

The answer is collective action – Tony Kearns of the CWU

Tony Kearns is the Senior Deputy General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union. This is an edited version of the speech he gave to the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union conference.

 Trade unions have been involved in this issue for quite a number of years. The shop workers’ union in 1957 put a motion to the Trade Union Congress calling for boilers, furnaces and motors to be redesigned “to prevent the poisoning of the atmosphere”. In 1972 the TUC organised a conference of workers on the issue of the environment. Over thirty-five trade unions attended. In 1990 the TUC passed a motion which raised the enormous danger to the people of the world posed by the effects of global warming. Some unions are now trying to put their own house in order. The PCS recently held a staff environment open day that was attended by over two hundred members of staff. The PCS now has over eighty environmental reps. I lead an environmental project group in the Communication Workers Union which aims to make all aspects of how we run the union “greener” – for want of a better phrase. 

 Now there are two types of trade unionists on the issue of the environment but they’ll end up as one type of trade unionist. There are those who already believe and are committed to this issue and there are those who don’t believe in the effects of global warming or are pretending it isn’t happening. But they will end up believing and getting involved in this cause for one simple reason. As the climate changes and as resources dry up the nature of work and employment will change across the planet. The trade unions that are turning a blind eye now will have to get involved at some stage. As the nature of what is produced changes that is going to affect workers on a day to day basis as their jobs change or as their jobs vanish or move, around the country or to the other side of the world. Workers on the other side of the world are going to be exploited by the same capitalists who exploit workers in this part of the world. It is a trade union issue because by the nature of what workers do on a day to day basis they are the producers of carbon emissions – not by will but by default. Trade unions and the workers they represent are going to have to get a grip of this.

 There’s a well-founded criticism that the champions of capitalism’s “second eleven” throughout the industrialised world have been the trade unions because of their protectionism when it comes to the creation and protection of jobs at all costs. Sometimes that manifest itself in defending jobs that continue to destroy the environment and add to climate change. The way I see it is that the environmental movement sprung up out of the new social movements in the 1960s along with things like women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights and the anti-nuclear lobby. Funnily enough these are all the issues that trade unions are now taking up. Climate change is now the last issue for trade unions to engage with. The fact is though that the struggle for the working environment was one of the reasons that trade unions sprung up just after the Industrial Revolution. They struggled for healthy and safe conditions in the workplace. Children were getting maimed and people were being worked to death. It sounds just like what’s happening now in the developing world. For me it’s a logical extension to move from wanting to have a safer environment to work in to wanting a safer environment to live on our planet. I don’t see how anybody can argue that there’s any difference between the day to day work that trade unions do and wanting to ensure that the people we represent go to work in a safe healthy environment. So you can’t stand aside and say “we couldn’t care less about what type of environment you live in” once they’ve stepped out of the workplace.

Unions that are ignoring the issue won’t be able to do so for much longer for two reasons. Their members at some point are going to demand that they start taking climate change seriously. We did a survey of our young members and asked them “what are the issues that you are concerned about?” We expected them to say “wages, hours and bosses”. It wasn’t. Issue number one was housing because due to the ridiculous state of the housing market there’s nowhere decent to live. And issue number two for our members under thirty was the environment. It seems to us that among tomorrow’s generation of trade unionists the very narrow idea of trade unionists only being concerned with work is weakening. We can campaign on any issue we want – hours, jobs, conditions – but if we don’t have a planet we can live on we are wasting our time,

 What are the multi-billion pound companies and the governments we live under going to do when resources get scarce? The film Mad Max might look like a documentary in about fifteen years time. There are going to be wars fought over basic resources as they begin to run out. The capitalists aren’t just going to say “those environmentalists were right and we were wrong”. I understand the point about what we can do as individuals, things like switching off the stand by on our TV, not using as much water. We can all do these things as individuals but the reason governments and big business rams those suggestions down your throat is because it gets them off the hook. It stops them doing what needs to be done. While they are lecturing you about switching off lights – which is right – they present that like it is the answer. It’s not the answer. It takes up Thatcher’s theme that there is no such thing as society, there’s no such thing as collectivism, it’s all about the individual.  What matters for me as a trade unionist is collective action producing results. On this occasion what’s called for is collective action across a broad spectrum of direct action groups, political groups, campaign groups and trade unions coming together to say that “this is the planet we live on and have to make a living on. It’s worth fighting for.” My message is that climate change is a trade union issue. If we are really interested in our members we are interested in them twenty four seven and there’s no bigger issue for my members than having a planet to live on. The answer is collective action across a broad political spectrum and trade unions are already involved and we are going to get even more involved.

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.”

For more information go to » http://www.campaigncc.org
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