Around 500 trade unionists gathered on 9 February for a conference called by the Campaign Against Climate Change. This conference, the first of its kind, came about to address the imminent and serious threat that climate change poses to our world and to begin to develop a strategy to build a mass movement around the issue through the trade unions.
Tracy Edwards, PCS
Political and trade union speakers including Frances O’Grady TUC, Caroline Lucas Green Party, Matt Wrack FBU, Chris Baugh PCS, Linda Newman UCU, Christine Blowers NUT and Michael Meacher MP opened the first plenary session.
All the speakers identified climate change as the biggest threat we face in society. They recognised that it is no longer adequate to blame and put pressure on individuals, by initiating measures for us to all make changes in our lives, whilst big business and governments continue to get out of taking any responsibility.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, made the clear connection with the attacks on our public services. More working class people are suffering from flooding etc whilst cuts are made in the resources firefighters need. He said that climate change was the most visible example of our market going mad under capitalism.
Chris Baugh said that PCS are committed to promoting a green agenda in the workplace. The government and employer will say a lot about the issue but it is down to the trade unions to enforce changes.
The plenary session finished with Michael Meacher MP reiterating the point that it is the poorest and most vulnerable in society who are suffering from climate change.
He said that massive investment is needed to deliver more sustainable energy. Pressure has to be put to replace short flights with funding for high-speed trains. We should begin to embarrass big business and have a more ambitious climate change bill.
Most of the speakers correctly said that it is the system which needs to change and public ownership of transport and energy needs to be a priority. But there was still an element of tackling climate change through reform and demand.
It is correct for campaigns such as this to give a lead on the urgency of the situation and to act as a uniting organisation to build a mass movement. But serious discussion and involvement from trade union members from the bottom up is needed if we are to attract the majority of working-class people towards this campaign.
Tony Kearns from CWU said that trade unions who are not on board now will have to be in the future and that the debate around jobs and the environment has to stop – you can have as many causes as you want but they will mean nothing if the environment is crumbling.
I wouldn’t agree that it is this simple – most people who enter trade union activity will have various questions on different subjects. We should answer those questions in a clear way whilst making the connection to climate change. Placing demands on trade union members and activists without direction will turn away many, including many young people who will be politicised around this issue.
The closing plenary agreed a resolution for trade unions to fully endorse the aims of the Campaign Against Climate Change and to develop a trade union response.
This was the first conference of this kind. There were many good speakers and the majority of trade unions were represented.
But despite an anti-capitalist theme from the main speakers, there was hardly any discussion around the real tasks we need to tackle climate change. We must campaign for the public running of society and for the main means of production to be put in the hands of the majority.