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Trade unions and
climate change
Asbjørn Wahl
Norwegian Union of Municipal
and General Employees
Some starting points
Climate change is here and can be catastrophic
 The main reason is the burning of fossil fuel
 The way we live and work will change radically
the coming years as a result of action or inaction
 To delay action is to make consequences worse
 Some will put the costs on workers, consumers
and taxpayers, protecting corporate interests
Reduced transport emissions
1. Technological improvements, energy
efficiency, cleaner energy sources
2. Shift from less to more environmental
friendly transport modes
3. Reduce the need for transport, which
means much more than transport policy
Trade unions on the defensive
Workers and trade unions put under pressure
 Car driving, fuel prices, holidays abroad etc.
 We have to pay for the emissions we cause
 Individualisation of responsibilities
 Tend to respond reactively – not proactively
 Denial, fear of job losses, «not our business»
Challenges to trade unions
The contradiction between specific workers
immediate, sectoral interests and broader
interests of workers as a whole.
 Are we transport workers who face a change
in work patterns, or are we human beings
confronting a potentially catastrophic event?
Broaden the perspective
Trade unions have to prioritise cc policies
 Integrate our environmental / climate change
policies in a broader political perspective
 We have to build a strategic alliance with the
environmental movement (and others)
 The unregulated market economy will never
be able to solve the climate change problems
Climate & financial crisis
‘Climate change represents the biggest
market failure in history’ (Stern Review)
 The on-going financial crisis represents
the other huge market failure in history
 We cannot rely on those same failed
market mechanisms to solve these crises
 The crises = new opportunities for us
From defensive to offensive
Climate change policies not only a question of
sacrifices, but of creating a better society for all
 The costs of reducing carbon emissions has to be
combined with a social redistribution of wealth
 Climate change policies will require increased
democratic control of the economy
 Exactly what we need for many other reasons
’Improved life for workers’
«Going green is not
just about job creation,
it is about an improved
life for working people.»
Roger Toussaint, President, US TWU Local 100
What are the benefits?
Millions of green jobs – public transport & energy
 Reduced pollution in workplaces and communities
 Gives an opportunity for progressive social change
 Transfer of technologies to developing countries
 A more democratically managed economy
 The survival of human beings and the planet ?
Changes beyond climate
We need to damp market competition
 We need to shorten working hours
 We need to create millions of new jobs
 We need to lift 2 billion out of poverty
 We need to regulate financial markets
 We need to democratise the economy
’Much more social control’
«The transition to a low-carbon economy
will require a new level of social
coordination. It will require much more
social control of investments. And, if it is to
be conducted in a just and equitable way
with support around the world, it will require
social allocation of costs and benefits.»
Global Labour Strategies: Labour and global warming
Social mobilisation
Just as little as social equality, jobs for all, decent
working conditions, eradication of poverty,
gender equality, etc. will be achieved through
global summits will the climate crisis be solved
in this way. What is needed is a social and
political mobilisation for alternative solutions
built on solidarity, equality and peoples’ needs.
A question of democracy
One way the US public can
help fight global warming is
by helping to «address threats
to American democracy.»
James Hanson, NASA climate scientist
Movement building
The Blue-Green Alliance «is focused on
restoring an additional element to the
relationship between public policy and electoral
politics ... that of movement building. ...
Without strong, well-organised social
movements mobilising along a society’s basic
fault lines, meaningful change is unlikely.»
Build red-green alliances
Increase the understanding of the social
conflict in the environmental movement
 Increase the understanding of
environmental problems in the trade unions
 Stress the need for a democratic economy
 Redistribution, tax policy, public services
Social or climate change?
Social change is a
precondition if we want
to stop climate change.
So what has to be done ?
Develop our own cc policies / strategies
 Embed it in a broader social context
 Raise awareness of our own members
 Strategic alliance with environmentalists
 Long-term: To build the social alliances
necessary to change society, not the climate