“This is the fundamental struggle to defend the future of our class as well as the future of our planet.”
By Liam Mac Uaid
The second Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Conference brought together one hundred and sixty trade unionists and climate change activists. This was down on the three hundred who attended last year. Obviously the dip in attendance is not due to widespread feeling that the working class has resolved the matter in its own favour. The economic crisis seems to be absorbing everyone’s attention at the moment and that may have had an impact.
In my view the fact that the 2009 conference was rather similar in format to the 2008 one may not have helped either. The purpose of the event was to allow trade unionists to develop working class solutions to the threat that big business has created for humanity. It offered major discussions on the future for aviation, coal and nuclear energy and participants had the chance to examine how we develop sustainable cities and transport systems.
This may be a controversial opinion however the traditional routine of two top table speakers with audience members chipping in so that the top table can respond to them is not always a helpful model of doing business, especially if that business is working out ideas. It’s much better to try and collaborate to arrive at a new understanding. John McDonnell did something along those lines in the workshop on aviation. It’s a helpful procedure.
The campaign’s Phil Thornhill opened the day with a warning about just how serious the threat we face is. Every new scientific report indicates that climate change is happening more rapidly than had previously been thought. During the summer of 2008, the north-west and north-east passages – the sea routes running along the Arctic coastlines of northern America and northern Russia normally clogged with thick ice – were ice-free for the first time since records began in 1972. Phil lambasted the British government’s timidity in the face of the challenge and insisted that the scientific evidence demands that we make a 10% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010. The alternative to drastic action is a sudden and catastrophic change in the planet’s climate.
Chris Baugh, Assistant General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union(PCS) said that the government’s refusal to seriously address climate change had nothing to do with money and everything to do with its political priorities. He proposed setting up a trade union commission with support from academics to come up with an action plan for creating green jobs. Dismissing the false choice between jobs and environmental protection he explained that we can create hundreds of thousands of jobs by directing resources to making our homes, transport and energy production green.
Jonathan Neale reinforced this point later in the day by reminding the conference that the trade union tradition is to fight for massive government action to meet the needs of human beings. Deputy General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union Tony Kearns put the situation in a broader context. In his view the problems we face are those of a capitalist system which is economically and environmentally unstable. Like many of the other speakers through the day Tony emphasised the need for action by governments, trade unionists and social movements and offered the slogan “unity of purpose –diversity of tactics”.
Labour MP John McDonnell is a strong supporter of the need for direct action to prevent human created climate change. He summed up perfectly the problem we now face when he said that “this is the fundamental struggle to defend the future of our class as well as the future of our planet.”