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Climate crisis - what trade unions are doing to secure a just transition to a greener economy

Published date
On Friday 20 September, trade unionists will show solidarity with the global climate strike and demand action on the climate crisis

When the history of the campaign against climate change is written, the twelve months since October 2018 may warrant a special chapter.

It was in that month that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we have just 12 years to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees, the best outcome stipulated in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

This stark warning seems to have galvanised activists and campaigners throughout the world.

The most potent symbol of this action is perhaps Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old campaigner who began the school strikes that have spread across the globe. Greta has now captured the public imagination again, sailing from Plymouth to New York to speak at the UN summit on climate change on 23 September.

Closer to home, the government has committed to a net zero carbon economy by 2050 and Parliament has declared a climate emergency, a move initiated by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

What is the TUC doing?

In July, the TUC published our report, ‘A just transition to a greener, fairer economy’, which strongly supports the campaign against climate change. But it also makes the case for highly skilled, well-paid jobs for workers as they transition to a net-zero future.

And last week, our annual Congress passed a comprehensive resolution in favour of climate action.

So it feels as if progress is being made, but our experience as trade unionists shows that we must keep up the pressure. There is still so much more to do and much of our work has to be global.

Climate change does not stop at borders. We know that, if left to the market, climate change hits the most vulnerable the hardest, whether that be ordinary workers in countries like the UK or the poorest communities in the global south.

That’s why the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has declared a week of action from 20-27 September to coincide with the UN summit. It’s also why our Congress motion called for a 30-minute workday campaign action on 20 September.

We know that restrictive trade union laws make it difficult for workers to go on strike, but that will not stop us from campaigning and making our voices heard.

What can you do?

To make this campaign successful, we need your help. Here are some of the things that you can do on 20 September to support climate action:

  1. Highlight the TUC just transition statement.
    Simple tweets or Facebook posts are easy ways to get our message out.
  2. Take a photo of yourselves and colleagues supporting climate action.
    This can be a simple solidarity photo, but if you can link to your union so much the better. Union banners work great in the background – even holding up union mugs works well.
    Again, tweet your photo or put it on other social media and encourage friends and colleagues to retweet to keep reinforcing your message.
  3. You may wish to write to your MP, highlighting the just transition statement and asking for support.
    Labour’s Rebecca Long Bailey has already championed the statement in the House of Commons, but this is not a party-political issue. Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Plaid Cymru and even some progressive Conservative MPs will want to back our key demands. It’s up to us to ask them to do so.
  4. This is a great opportunity for trade union members to have a conversation with their boss about how to make their workplace greener.
    International trade unions asked members to do this back in June, but the climate week of action is a great opportunity to do so again.

What else are unions doing?

Here’s a link to some of the things that other trade unions are doing.

The more ideas – and the more creative they are – the better. But remember: keep it legal.

The TUC is clear: there is no trade off between great jobs and a clean planet. With proper government action at national and international level we can have both.

The ITUC week of action is a great opportunity to support the brave students who have led this campaign and to support our call for a just transition to the low carbon economy that the world needs.

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