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Just Transition for Rail

By Chris Saltmarsh - The Ecologist, February 6, 2023

A review of Derailed: How to Fix Britain’s Railways, by Tom Haines-Doran, published by Manchester University Press.

As climate change intensifies, the imperative to shift our transport system away from polluting private cars to public transport – rail in particular – becomes increasingly urgent.

At the same time, amid an inflationary crisis, rail workers are at the forefront of a nationwide wave of strike action defending pay and conditions.

In Derailed: How to Fix Britain’s Broken Railways, Tom Haines-Doran puts the UK’s rail system in these political-economic contexts with a compelling account of its history, present conditions and future possibilities.

Discussions on the New Anti-Union Laws

By staff - Earth Strike UK, February 1, 2023

The labour movement is facing a grave threat in the form of a raft of new and incredibly restrictive anti-union laws. These laws will make all-out strike action in several industries outright illegal and are designed to immobilise our movement.

Current anti union laws limit legal strike action to disputes between a specific group of workers and their employer over workplace issues, ruling out strikes over “political issues” or in support of other workers. The law also imposes a slow and bureaucratic balloting process and sets strict ballot thresholds. The new laws will also require unions in some sectors to break their own strikes and continue providing a minimum service level, set by the government.

In response to this threat Earth Strike UK and Free Our Unions organised a demonstration outside the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the government department responsible for both environmental and trade union policy. There was drumming, chanting, banners, and we heard from workers from across numerous industries who explained how current anti-union laws affected them and the threat posed by these new ones. Following the demo, we held a small assembly to discuss in more detail the challenges posed by all anti-union legislation and begin to develop a strategy of resistance. During the meeting we discussed 3 questions. Here are some of the outcomes of that discussion.

Question 1. What are the most important ways in which existing anti-union laws hinder workers’ struggles and the Labour movement? How will the proposed new laws do so?

Is Bristol Airport Big Enough?

By staff - Safe Landing, January 31, 2023

Today, the UK High Court has ruled that the expansion of Bristol Airport will be allowed to go ahead, in the latest twist in a rollercoaster legal campaign featuring tough local opposition and environmental scrutiny.

In 2018, Bristol Airport submitted plans to expand from 10 to 12 million passengers per year. This would result in an extra 23,800 flights, including an extra 4,000 night flights.

After North Somerset Council declared a climate emergency in 2019, planning permission for expanding the airport was refused in February 2020. Later that year, Bristol Airport announced that it would be appealing this decision and requested an inquiry, led by a planning inspector.

Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) was formed as a coalition of local groups and individuals working to oppose Bristol Airport’s expansion plans. BAAN became a Rule 6 party and was a significant contributor to the 10-week Public Inquiry which ended in October 2021.

They enlisted Safe Landing Co-Founder, Finlay Asher, to provide expert evidence during the inquiry.

Britishvolt administration ‘potentially catastrophic’ for both the North East and UK’s automotive transition

By staff - Unite the Union, January 17, 2023

Britishvolt, which was planning to build a giga-battery factory in Northumberland, has today (Tuesday) announced that it is going into administration.

Unite national officer for the automotive sector Steve Bush said: “This is a grim day for the North East and for the just transition to the electrification of the nation’s automotive sector.

“The complete lack of a competent industrial strategy by the government to protect jobs in the UK automotive sector is becoming potentially more catastrophic by the day.

“It is extraordinary that despite the UK automotive sector being required to move to the production of electric vehicles, there are still no UK stand-alone factories making the batteries that are required. The demise of Britishvolt means there are not even any in the pipeline.

“The government’s strategy seems to be to cross their fingers and hope that everything will be ok. The workers in the automotive sector are frankly enraged at this dreadful and total abdication of leadership”

Strike Wave Rocks Britain, as Unions Confront the Cost-of-Living Crisis

By Marcus Barnett - Labor Notes, November 18, 2022

In Britain today, anyone asking a worker about the direction the country is headed will be unlikely to receive a printable answer.

Stumbling from crisis to crisis, the country is on its third prime minister of the year. Energy bills have skyrocketed by 96 percent since last winter, and rent has shot up by as much as 20 percent, while inflation—which currently stands at 12.3 percent—has been predicted to rise as high as 18 percent by the first few months of 2023.

This is happening in a country which was the first in Western Europe to register 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus and has already been subject to brutal austerity measures that have wrecked the social fabric. An analysis by the Trades Unions Congress (TUC, the British equivalent of the AFL-CIO) released earlier this year found that British workers earned £60 ($70) less per month in real wages in 2021 than at the start of the financial crisis in 2008—the longest wage slump since the Napoleonic Era.

Where employers have offered any wage increases to combat inflation, they have still represented significant pay cuts in real terms. Not that the same rules apply to them; while pay offers to workers have generally veered between 2 and 6 percent, the average pay of an FTSE 100 chief executive shot up 23 percent this year, with record bonuses being dished out. (The FTSE 100 is made up of the largest companies on the London Stock Exchange).

One such recipient was Philip Jansen, the CEO of BT Group, Britain’s largest provider of internet and phone services. BT reported £1.3 billion in profits this year, while Jansen netted a £3.5 million pay package—a 32 percent increase. He now makes 86 times more than the average BT employee.

Yet after six brief meetings with representatives of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), Jansen called off discussions and unilaterally imposed an insulting £1,500 ($1,770) increase to annual base salaries—which amounts to a pay cut in real terms for the company’s 40,000 call center workers and field technicians. The call center workforce is paid so poorly that some have become increasingly reliant on workplace food banks.

Another was Simon Thompson, CEO of Royal Mail Group, the UK postal service (which was privatized a decade ago under the Conservative-Liberal coalition government). In June, Thompson—who earns £62,750 a month—awarded himself a “short-term” bonus of £142,000. Shortly afterwards, the company informed its 115,000 workers it would be unilaterally raising wages by just 2 percent—a drastic pay cut in the context of the country’s cost-of-living crisis. That’s despite Royal Mail workers generating record annual profits of £758 million for the company.

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.

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