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Enough is Enough: British and French Workers Fight Climate and Inequality Crises

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 30, 2022

Hundreds of thousands people marched and rallied October 1 in over 50 towns and cities across the UK on a National Day of Action protesting the soaring cost of living and inaction on the climate crisis. The actions were called by Enough is Enough, a 700,000 member campaign supported by the trade union movement and community groups including tenant unions and foodbanks. Its five demands are:

  1. A real pay raise
  2. Slash energy bills
  3. End food poverty
  4. Decent homes for all
  5. Tax the rich

Climate campaigners brought London’s famed Westminster Bridge to a standstill. Don’t Pay UK encouraged householders to stop paying their bills if the government does not offer further support to families. 50,000 workers from four postal and railroad unions struck for wage increases to make up for inflation.

On October 16, 140,000 people marched through Paris protesting the rising cost of living and government inaction against climate change. They demanded massive investment in climate action, higher wages, an emergency freeze on the prices of groceries, rent, and energy, and greater taxation of windfall profits of corporations. A leader of the action called on protesters to “not allow themselves to be divided by their skin color, their religion, political affiliation or indifference.” Some of the demonstrators wore yellow vests, the symbol of disruptive actions that started in 2018 by protesting against government climate protection policies. The recent demonstration dovetailed with a strike by refinery workers, an impending strike by transportation workers, and a call for a general strike by France’s largest trade unions.

TUC Congress: Unite calls for ‘just transition’ for food industry workers impacted by climate change

By Ryan Fletcher - Unite the Union, October 19, 2022

At TUC Congress in Brighton today (Wednesday), Unite called for a just transition for UK food industry workers impacted by efforts in the sector to reduce carbon emissions.

Supporting composite three in favour of declaring a food emergency, Unite noted that last year Congress welcomed the government’s National Food Strategy.

However Unite said the strategy, which primarily considers health and the environment, ‘barely mentions workers’.

Addressing Congress, Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “(The National Food Strategy is) nearly 300 pages, and nothing about the people who grow process, stack, pick, cook, serve, sell and transport our food. About their pay and conditions, the dangers they face, and above all the inequality between capital and labour that is so stark in the food industry.”

Holland said it was clear that a UK food strategy also cannot be discussed without addressing the climate crisis.

Diana Holland said: “Food safety and security is a basic human right that is being denied. We need action to secure safe healthy food, produced sustainably, and food workers treated fairly and decently.

“The meat and dairy industries are major causes of greenhouse gases. But they employ 175,000 workers in the UK alone. So we have to put into practice the global trade union principles of a ‘just transition’. There must be a transition to jobs that are decent, secure and sustainable, a transition led by workers and with no worker left behind.”

TUC Congress votes to endorse a ‘just transition’ to a UK free from carbon emissions

By Chris Jarvis - Left Foot Forward, October 18, 2022

The TUC (held) its annual Congress is meeting in Brighton from 18-20 October. On the first day of the Congress, delegates voted for a motion that called for a ‘just transition’ to a UK free from carbon emissions.

In backing the motion, the TUC has agreed to support “a move to net zero that offers a fair deal for workers”, “where green jobs are secure, sustainable, good jobs delivered through collective bargaining and where those workers and communities whose industries are threatened by the changes to develop a low-carbon world have jobs protected, through decarbonisation of existing industries in consultation with workers in those industries and their skills fully utilised in the sustainable industries of the future.”

According to the motion passed by the TUC, there is a need for “state intervention, investment and support to protect jobs, incomes, skills and communities.”

The motion went on to argue for decarbonisation – with protections for jobs – in a number of key industries, including steel and the transport sector. The motion argued, “A just transition in transportation requires ambitious objectives from government to support the upskilling and reskilling of workers, as well as sustainable employment opportunities that supports the transport sector transitioning to a zero-carbon future.”

Alongside this, the motion acknowledged concerns concerns about what a different path towards net zero could mean for trade unions and workers’ jobs. The motion read, “The UK government is promising up to 480,000 skilled green jobs by 2030 and Congress welcomes the TUC’s involvement in the green jobs delivery group. However, there is not nearly enough detail about what those jobs are.

“Congress is also concerned that some companies are using the transition into green industries to discard national agreements and remove collective bargaining.”

In light of this, the motion called for the TUC General Council to ensure that any just transition strategy endorsed by the trade union movement must set out: “realistic estimates” for numbers of green jobs; “the skills, education and training” required for new green jobs, and guarantees for health and safety practices.

In proposing the motion, Gail Cartmail, from Unite, said the it would see the trade union movement working to “ensure a future built on secure, well paid green jobs”, adding, “we must demand a comprehensive climate strategy – from retrofitting of homes to take energy back into public hands, properly funding services and building a green manufacturing sector”.

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?

Labour and Climate Activists Protest Against Anti-union Laws

By staff - Free Our Unions, October 12, 2022

Around 80 activists from a range of campaign groups and unions protested outside the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on 10 October, as part of an action called by Free Our Unions and Earth Strike UK’s Empower the Unions initiative. As far as we know, this is the first piece of direct action called specifically to protest the Truss government’s plans for new anti-union laws since Truss revealed the policy.

BEIS was chosen because it will likely be central to developing the legislation for new restrictions on strikes, and because it is a key department in terms of climate policy. Free Our Unions has sought active coordination with activists from the climate movement, and Earth Strike UK’s Empower the Unions initiative seeks to highlight the specific ways in which anti-union laws constrain workers’ ability to take action in defence of the climate.

Speakers at the protest included Mark Boothroyd (A&E nurse and Unite activist); Sab (Earth Strike UK activist and Industrial Workers of the World organier); Ruth Cashman (Lambeth Unison); Jared Wood (RMT London Transport Regional Organiser); Ria Patel (Green Party Equality and Diversity spokesperson); EC (PCS rep); Andy Warren (firefighter and local rep for the FBU); Hamish (Exctinction Rebellion Trade Unionists); and Benedict Flexen (Earth Strike UK: Empower the Unions).

Speeches were punctuated by chanting, accompanied by drumming from the Extinction Rebellion samba band.

Following the protest, an assembly took place in a venue nearby, discussing various aspects of the politics of anti-union laws, and proposals for campaigning on the issue forward in our workplaces and unions.

The labour movement must take this moment to build a powerful resistance to anti-union laws

By Matthew Hull - Bright Green, October 5, 2022

It has become commonplace to refer to 2022 as a turning point for organised labour. The year is not out, but already it is being referred to as a year of strikes and industrial action.

This is all relative. Strike days are up from a low base, with 2018 marking a 125-year low watermark in the number of work days lost to strike action. When published this year’s figures will surely be dwarfed by the previous peak of 27.1 million in 1984.

Nevertheless, we are seeing a marked and welcome change in perspective and a renewed appreciation of the importance of worker action to defending social progress.

As we press deeper into autumn, however, we face the growing risk of 2022 becoming another, darker turning point for the UK’s trade union movement.

The prime minister Liz Truss was selected by a tiny, overwhelmingly older and wealthier Tory Party membership largely on the basis of her commitment to tear up people’s rights and freedoms. And the rights of trade unionists to organise, campaign and strike freely and effectively are in the firing line.

Birkenhead RMT members stage 48 hour strike at Ørsted wind farm base

By Helen Wilkie - Birkenhead News, September 26, 2022

On Saturday (24 September) workers at the Ørsted site in Kings Wharf, Birkenhead, completed the first of two 48-hour strikes over a 3.5% pay offer from the Danish company, which in April this year reported profits of £664 million.

The riverfront site employs 19 highly skilled technicians, all of whom completed their apprenticeships locally or with the armed forces. Two crew boats, Braver and Boarder sail from Seacombe to the Burbo Bank wind farms every day to ensure the turbines are maintained and remain operational.

In addition to the pay dispute, the 96 nationwide RMT members are unhappy that management walked away from talks to sign a collective bargaining agreement at the last minute, and instead entered into an agreement with a different union with no workplace presence.

In a separate trade dispute with Ørsted Energy, RMT members have also voted overwhelmingly for industrial action over the victimisation of a fellow worker at the Barrow in Furness site.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said, “The obscene profits being made at Orsted show that this dispute could be settled if the company sat down with the union and negotiated in good faith. 

“Instead, they are trying to shut out the RMT and our members will not stand for it.

“Orsted workers take pride in the vital work they do but they will not be made poorer by a company that could give them a cost of living pay rise tomorrow.”

A second round of strike action will commence on Friday 30 September.

Ørsted have been approached for comment.

Liz Truss’s Overturn of Fracking Ban in Britain Is Sparking Grassroots Resistance

By Gareth Dale - Truthout, September 21, 2022

Britain will soon see the first license to drill for shale gas issued since 2019, when the practice was banned following a Magnitude 2.9 tremor at a fracking test well near Blackpool in Lancashire.

Overturning Britain’s ban on fracking was one of the first initiatives announced this month by the incoming government under Tory leader Liz Truss. It belongs to a package of demand-and-supply interventions aimed at addressing the high price of gas.

The message from Downing Street is clear: This government will not seek to lessen the hold of fossil fuel corporations over citizens’ lives by transitioning from hydrocarbons through efficiency measures (such as building insulation), rapidly ramping up renewables, and a further windfall tax on the oil and gas industry. Instead, it will arrange payment of the full-market price for gas to the energy firms while subsidizing consumer and business bills, particularly for rich, energy-profligate households. The cost, estimated at £150 billion, will be loaded onto future taxpayers and energy consumers. It is the largest single act of U.K. state intervention outside wartime.

Given Truss’s market-fundamentalist instincts, this cannot have been easy. But she has coupled it with a laissez-faire thrust on the supply side: to tear up red tape and issue licenses to drill. The market, she believes, will resolve its problems as new supply brings prices back down.

The focus is North Sea oil, but fracking is part of the program. Fracking also offers the incoming government an opportunity to throw red meat to Tory Party members and the right-wing Daily Mail tabloid. To reactionaries, Truss’s move signals that her government intends to bash the tree-huggers, goad them into setting up camps at fracking sites where the security forces will persecute and ultimately defeat them, much as Lady Thatcher did to the feminists who peace-camped at Greenham Common.

The government’s rationale for fracking, then, has an economic and a political edge. Will either succeed?

On the economic side, the prospects are sufficiently enticing to have sent the shares of some fracking companies soaring, notably Union Jack Oil. (Its very name sets Tory hearts aflutter.) Some pundits are predicting a great British gas rush. Shale extraction, claims the Daily Mail, may begin slowly, but by 2037 could “eclipse” fossil gas output from North Sea wells. At the wilder end are predictions that Britain will enjoy a U.S.-style shale revolution, contributing to lower global prices and securing mega profits for the fossil fuel sector.

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