British trade unionists demand One Million Climate Jobs

People can see that that climate jobs aren’t simply about saving the planet, but there are huge social consequences too.

by Martin Empson
Treasurer, Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union group

The first edition of the Campaign Against Climate Change’s One Million Climate Jobs Now pamphlet has had a big impact within the British trade union and environmental movements. 8,000 copies have been sold to activists in campaigns and trade unions The central arguments had an immediate resonance in the aftermath of the occupation by workers at the Vestas wind turbine plant .

Before Vestas many of us involved in the trade union side of the Campaign Against Climate Change had been trying to bring together the environmental movement with organised workers. But in many ways this had been an abstract argument. This wasn’t to say that Trade Unionists weren’t interested in environmental questions, nor was it to say that all environmentalists had the stereotypical view of unions as only being interested in jobs. But breaking down the barriers was slow work.

That changed when Vestas announced the closure of their plant on the Isle of Wight with the loss of 600 jobs. The argument for those jobs and against the likely effect on the local economy were obvious to everyone. And these were some of the very few “climate jobs” in the whole UK. Vestas brought together the environmentalists and the trade unionists in a campaign that made the abstract real. Workers and environmentalists uniting could be powerful and inspiring.

The occupation wasn’t able to save the plant, though some of the workers involved have been able to open a smaller turbine plant on the island. But the campaign taught many of us that unity between the two groups was possible and practical. In the context of growing economic uncertainty, we launched our pamphlet, arguing that the solution to climate change was the creation of climate jobs that could reduce emissions.

Writing One Million Climate Jobs Now brought together a wider network of academics, socialists, environmentalists, scientists, economists and trade unionists. With support from four major trade unions in the UK – the PCS (civil service), TSSA (rail workers), UCU (college workers) and the CWU (communications), we were able to write a report that was both detailed and accessible.

We decided that the report needed to start from the science, rather than the sectional interests of the unions involved. By doing this, we avoided limiting ourselves to particular sections of the economy. We were also able to create a vision of a national climate service, that on a local, regional and country-wide scale could direct and shape an economic response that would reduce emissions on a massive scale.

As the world economic crisis deepened we felt that we needed to up the response. The pamphlet had sold in its thousands, but the new political and economic situation demanded a more detailed response. The expanded second edition was launched at the Houses of Parliament earlier this year with Britain’s first Green MP Caroline Lucas and Labour MP John McDonnell.

We gave the new edition the sub-title “solving the economic and environmental crises” to emphasise that this wasn’t simply and abstract argument from environmentalists, but a genuine attempt to create an alternative.

As we’ve travelled the country speaking to trade unionists and campaigners about the pamphlet, we’ve that the ideas are incredibly populartrade unionists in particular are tired of simply arguing against cuts, or in defence of jobs – they like the idea of a positive alternative. People can see that that climate jobs aren’t simply about saving the planet, but there are huge social consequences too.

If you offer a vision of 200,000 workers insulating every home in the UK over the next ten years, then people also understand that pensioners won’t freeze to death because they can’t afford to heat their homes during the winter. If you talk about massive expansion of buses and rail, then we can imagine city streets were walking and cycling are safer.

There are some issues that are worth noting. We reject any role for the market in reducing emissions – instead we argue that there must be direct, government investment to create these jobs. We also think that these need to be public sector jobs – ones that have decent pay and conditions, as well as proper safe working practices. The record of the private companies in Britain’s recycling industry is a pointer to how “green jobs” aren’t automatically good jobs.

We also argue that there is a difference between green jobs, so beloved of rhetorical politicians. For us, climate jobs are about reducing emissions, and not all green jobs do this.

Of course, the arguments outlined in the pamphlet aren’t the final word. The pamphlet is as much a tool to promote discussion as it is to argue for a way to solve the twin crises. But because the research is robust and rigorous, the alternatives we outline can become a concrete tool in the campaign for a real response to the threat of climate change.

As the new British government imposes a savage set of austerity measures that will destroy whole swathes of the welfare state and throw hundreds of thousands of people on the dole, the idea of a million climate jobs might seem fanciful to some. Yet even at the early stages of the government’s cuts, we’ve seen thousands of people take to the streets in protest.

The challenge for us is to meld this growing movement against the cuts together with those who have protested and demonstrated in huge numbers against the destruction of the planet. The resonance that we already find with the question of a “million climate jobs” shows that this isn’t a pipe dream. But it also shows that increasingly people are demanding a world where the priorities are those of people and planet, not those of rich.

The pamphlet can be downloaded or purchased here

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Vera Mont
5 years 10 months ago

This sounds like a great and courageous undertaking, and i admire the dedication it must have taken pull so many disparate interests together. I would be thrilled to see similar initiatives in Canada and elsewhere – especially the US, which will be the hardest sell, because you are absolutely right abut this:
“We reject any role for the market in reducing emissions – instead we argue that there must be direct, government investment to create these jobs. We also think that these need to be public sector jobs – ones that have decent pay and conditions, as well as proper safe working practices.”
and the ostriches won’t get it.
I wish you all success.

Cornelius Froese
5 years 10 months ago

Thanks for this article. This is exactly the kind of document needed here in Canada to start a more meaningful discussion. I have submitted a copy of this link to rabble.ca so that more people can see it. When we see a good example of anything, we should really try to give it as much exposure as possible. We all need to learn more and a learning curve is a part of that process. Again, many thanks.

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