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Greener Jobs Alliance

WANTED: a debate on climate policy in the Trade Union movement

By Tahir Latif - Greener Jobs Alliance, October 16, 2022

On 8th October, our colleagues in Campaign Against Climate Change held a day’s conference titled ‘Urgent action, long term solutions: cost of living, climate and industrial action’. One of the sessions, for which I was Chair, had the title ‘Winning climate arguments in trade unions’ and included excellent contributions from Sam Mason (PCS and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy), Mel Mullings (RMT) and Suzanne Jeffery (Chair, CACCTU).

There was also a great contribution from Pablo John, a GMB worker and a member of GMB for a Green New Deal, and Pablo has written a follow-up piece that appears alongside this article as part of the debate thread we hope to initiate around trade union policy and climate.

At such a critical moment for the country we desperately need a sensible, well-thought-out debate about how trade unions deal with the climate crisis and serve the long-term interest of their members. That means recognising first that what many GJA supporters will see as a worrying trend towards regressive policies (support for fracking, oil and gas drilling, more nuclear) is a response to the fact that we have a government that is promoting those very industries and therefore that’s where the jobs would be.

My own counter to that would be that, as climate catastrophe approaches, those industries become increasingly untenable and our energy strategy will have to change and change more abruptly and dramatically the longer we leave it. But it is difficult to sustain that argument when union leaders only have to look around to see that their members’ current jobs are ‘real’ while the point I’ve just made is ‘notional’. The ask of those trade unions would be, even while supporting ‘regressive’ policies, at least come to the table to talk about the future, and what the workforce will look like, or else when the catastrophe strikes, as everyone knows it will, the change will be done to you not by you.

GMB needs to embrace the Green New Deal

By Pablo John, GMB for a Green New Deal - Greener Jobs Alliance, October 16, 2022

Recently, the GMB’s General Secretary caused outcry by declaring support for fracking and calling Green New Deal activists bourgeois. For those outside of GMB this statement may seem surprising but to understand where such statements come from you need to look at GMB’s history.

GMB has been around for a long time and it has seen every form of de-industrialisation and modernisation under the sun. For a lot of GMB members “modernisation” means a loss of work, a loss of conditions and anti-union policy. So naturally, the union is suspicious of change when it is couched in these terms.

Its roots in the legacy fossil fuel industry run deep. So for a lot of people in GMB, the promises of good quality jobs in renewables seem too good to be true; they’ve been promised similar things before.

So what can we do in the climate movement to win over GMB members? Well, there are two prongs: reassurance of current GMB members and recruitment of new, young renewables workers into GMB.

For workers, the benefits of the green new deal are massive. A full transition from fossil fuels to fully renewable energy sources could create more than three times as many jobs in these sectors than in oil and gas. By current estimates, the growth of jobs in wind energy exceeds the number of oil jobs affected by a transition to renewables. 

There is also a division of age, as a 23-year-old who works in renewables, most GMB members don’t look like me. Whilst a lot of legacy energy jobs are in fossil fuels, most new energy jobs are in renewables. This means many of my friends in the renewable industry aren’t unionised, because they don’t feel GMB represents us.

A lot of these new renewable start-ups are not union-friendly and it will take a lot of work to get inside these sites. But if we don’t we’ll be replacing one set of BP and Shell billionaires with another set of renewables billionaires. We need rapid transit away from fossil fuels in the next 10 years, we need to make that change or it will be done to us for the benefit of the billionaires.

So climate activists need to meet trade unionists where they are, but above all, we need to ensure any transition is worker-led. We can’t have a top-down transition of giant companies sacking workers and rehiring non-unionised workers in their wind farms. It needs to be a bottom-up movement, with politicians, workers and the climate movement hand in hand.

My union, GMB, needs to follow the examples of the TSSA and FBU in wholeheartedly supporting a Green New Deal. While everyone has a stake in the transition to renewables, who better than the workers of GMB to design, implement and power the green new deal?

Farnborough Air Show: for the Industry, Not for the Workers

By Tahir Latif, Secretary - Greener Jobs Alliance, July 21, 2022

The GJA Secretary went to Farnborough to join campaigners and activists from the anti-aviation/pro-worker organisation Stay Grounded in a protest against the Corporate love-in that is the Farnborough air show. A photo shoot with a ‘pigs might fly’ theme, complete with masks, took place, before three of the group went to the show itself to continue the protest from within the heart of the beast.

It’s hard to understate the sense of irony and hypocrisy that permeates the atmosphere over Farnborough. The air show opens on the very day that the country is subject to a Red Alert for extreme weather, that temperature records (including the 40o thresh-hold) are being broken, and thousands across Europe are suffering illness or death due to the conditions. By any objective measure those supporting a ‘yep, we need more of these here planes’ would surely be considered dangerous psychopaths.

As a trade union-oriented organisation, we have to recognise that a number of our constituent unions, and many members otherwise supportive of our campaigns for green jobs, feel a sense of job security bound up with the continuing success of the aviation industry. This exerts significant power over worker viewpoints, and union policy, in the context of an industry that – due entirely to strong union representation – treats them relatively well in comparison with those struggling in the gig economy.

One thing we should all be clear about is that the Corporate hob-nobbing at Farnborough, the multi-billion deals and contracts, have absolutely nothing in common with the interests of workers, let alone with the communities sweltering in the excessive heat. At Farnborough – and I know this from my years as an industry employee – workers are never mentioned at all, or if they are it is as annoying ‘overheads’ to be reduced as soon as automation allows. As for unions, they are even more bothersome because they insist on making those overheads so expensive, a barrier to corporate objectives and shareholder benefits.

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