There is both an urgent need for action on climate change and a real opportunity for trade unionists to be at the forefront of campaigning for a just transition; one which puts the needs of the planet, decent jobs and social justice at the top of the political agenda.
The ecological section of Jeremy Corbyn’s recent speech, , at the Alternative Models of Ownership Conference on February 10 was an important step forward in terms of Labour’s stance on the environment and also a good backdrop to the conference. He told participants: ‘We need to take back control of our energy system because, as Nicholas Stern described, “the greatest market failure the world has seen” is climate change. We are long past debating whether global warming is happening, or if it is man-made. It is. And it is not just a threat to our future on this planet it is fuelling wars, natural disasters and the refugee crisis right now.”
“To avoid a future of extreme heatwaves, shortages of fresh water, falling crop yields, increased flooding, dangerous rises in sea levels, and the mass loss of biodiversity in both land and sea we need, as a bare minimum, to meet our Paris obligations and seek to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels”.
“The challenge of climate change”, he went on, “requires us to radically shift the way we organise our economy. Tackling global warming won’t be achieved by warm words. Nobody is fooled by Michael Gove’s reinvention of himself as an eco-warrior. Behind the rhetoric lies a trail of environmental destruction.”
“This is a Government that has licensed fracking, declared a moratorium on renewable levies, while massively subsidising fossil fuels dithered over tidal held back onshore wind U-turned on making all new homes zero carbon and is failing to take the necessary measures to meet our legal commitments to reduce CO2 emissions.”
“We need public ownership and democratic control to make that happen and use the skills and knowledge of the workforce and communities across the country… We need a publicly-owned grid to act as the great leveller, distributing energy from where it is plentiful to where it is scarce and guaranteeing that everyone has access to clean, affordable energy all of the time. Anything else is not only unjust, it risks doing immeasurable harm to the climate cause…”
He went on to take up an issue that will be at the heart of the conference on March 10 and has been at the heart of the work of the trade union group, this is the issue of a ‘Just Transition’ – that is a socially just transition for the workers and communities involved from fossil fuel to renewable energy.
“Our energy system needs”, he argued, “needs to change but it cannot be workers and local communities who pay the price. The devastation wreaked when our coal mines were closed, leaving a legacy of decline that former mining communities are still living with, is a brutal reminder of what can happen when those communities are silenced and disregarded in the process of change… In public hands, under democratic control, workforces and their unions will be the managers of this change, not its casualties”.
He went on to make a highly significant pledge: “The next Labour Government will guarantee that all energy workers are offered retraining, a new job on equivalent terms and conditions, covered by collective agreements and fully supported in their housing and income needs through transition.”
The conference, for trade unionists and others interested in these questions will be an opportunity to hear from trade unionists, scientists, and environmental activists about the issues; to learn from grassroots action today as well as debating a vision for the future.
For the first time, Labour will be represented at the conference by a member of the Shadow Cabinet; Barry Gardener, the shadow minister for energy and climate change. His participation reflects Labour’s strengthening position on the issue, as illustrated by Corbyn’s speech.
Other speakers include: Chris Baugh, deputy general secretary of the PCS, Sarah Woolly of the BFAWU, Liz Hutchins FOE, Joanna Haigh Grantham Institute, Suzanne Jeffery CACC, Asad Rehman War on Want, Caroline Russell Green Party London Assembly member, Mika Minio-Paluello Platform, Tahir Latif PCS, Duncan Law Biofuelwatch, Kim Hunter Frack Free Scarborough, Graham Petersen Greener Jobs Alliance, Tina Louise Rothery of Lancashire Anti-fracking Nanas, Dave King from the Lucas Plan group, Paul Allen, Centre for Alternative Technology and Sara Pearce from Unison.
The conference sessions will include: Jobs and Climate: Challenging a false choice. What is happening to our planet and why this is a trade union issue. Planning for a National Climate Service today. Climate and Women: Women on the frontline. Environmental Reps: campaigning for change in the workplace. Food and Agriculture—is a sustainable food system possible? Climate Refugees: Understanding the issues for the trade union movement. Planning for Just Transition—taking inspiration from the past and present.
There will also be workshops led by key trade union and environmental campaigns: The Greener Jobs Alliance, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy and The Lucas Plan.
Whilst many of these themes are issues that the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group has campaigned around for many years there are also issues of a more controversial nature, like food and agriculture that are important and interesting additions to this agenda.