To Avert The Climate Crisis, Trade Unions And Climate Organisations Must Unite Under A Common Goal
As COP26 comes to a close, reflections on the success of the talks have been mixed. While some consider the conference to be a watershed - particularly with the surprise announcement of the US-China agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions - many continue to be sceptical that the talks are a publicity stunt, as complicit nations greenwash their lukewarm efforts to combat climate change.
One beacon of hope, however, has been the partnership of climate activists and trade unionists - two groups which have extraordinary grassroots power.
The beginning of COP was marked by a welcome show of solidarity, as striking GMB members in Glasgow’s cleansing service were joined on the picket line by hundreds of climate activists. Refuse workers walked out on strike at midnight last Monday in response to poor pay and work conditions, supported by climate organisations such as Friends of the Earth.
Sara Shaw, climate justice and energy programme co-coordinator for Friends of the Earth International, said: “We are proud to stand alongside workers fighting for fair pay and decent working conditions.
“Refuse workers in Glasgow are demonstrating the power we must build everywhere to tackle the climate crisis at its roots.”
Meanwhile, the Global Day Of Action For Climate Justice last Saturday saw trade unionists - many of them cleansing workers from Glasgow City - march alongside climate activists across the UK and the globe, to demand drastic and immediate action on the climate emergency.
While collaboration between the two groups has been unexpected in light of past tensions, the broad concept of trade unions and climate organisations working together should not come as a surprise.
Ultimately, the fight of both climate activists and trade unions is the fight against the broken economic model - one that is destructive and extractive, and has proven time and again that it is not only unsustainable, but potentially fatal for society and the planet. Those corporations which engage in carbon intensive and environmentally damaging activities, are often the very same corporations who exploit workers, forcing them to sell their labour under dire working conditions for poor wages.
It has become increasingly clear that if we are to secure a meaningful, comprehensive and truly just transition, this must be led by workers. Trade unions continue to wield enormous power both in the UK and internationally, meaning that achieving the scale of industrial change required to avert climate catastrophe, without the support, knowledge and organisational infrastructure of trade unions, is simply unfeasible.
The UK in particular, with our strong and vibrant history of trade unions, holds all the tools required for a worker-led just transition. Indeed, British fossil fuel industries are some of the most heavily unionised, providing the essential advantages of knowledge, skill and bargaining power. What is needed, then, is the wielding of these tools in collaboration with the climate movement, with the common goal of protecting both people’s livelihoods and the planet, just as Glaswegian cleansing workers and climate activists have done over the past ten days.
COP26 has highlighted once again that climate justice is social justice and social justice is climate justice. If we are to avoid certain and irreversible environmental destruction, we must up-end the model of capitalism which continues to mercilessly exploit and profit off of human labour and our natural resources.
With a government that has proven time and again that it does not care to safeguard the livelihoods of workers, nor the planet, it is up to us - civil society groups, trade unions and climate organisations - to go far enough to halt and reverse the climate emergency which we are hurtling towards. When trade unions and climate organisations join together to realise our common goal, we can move the earth.