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Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy (ILO)

International Labor Organization Press Release - May 31, 2012

GENEVA (ILO News) – The transformation to a greener economy could generate 15 to 60 million additional jobs globally over the next two decades and lift tens of millions of workers out of poverty, according to a new report led by the Green Jobs Initiative.

The study “Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy ” says that these gains will depend on whether the right set of policies are put in place.

“The current development model has proven to be inefficient and unsustainable, not only for the environment, but for economies and societies as well”, said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “We urgently need to move to a sustainable development path with a coherent set of policies with people and the planet at the centre”.

“The forthcoming “Rio+20” United Nations conference will be a crucial moment to make sure decent work and social inclusion are integral parts of any future development strategy”, he added.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “This report comes on the eve of World Environment Day on 5 June under the theme Green Economy: Does it Include You?”.

“The findings underline that it can include millions more people in terms of overcoming poverty and delivering improved livelihoods for this and future generations. It is a positive message of opportunity in a troubled world of challenges that we are relaying to capital cities across the globe as leaders prepare and plan for the Rio+20 Summit,” he added.

The report – published almost four years after the first study by the Green Jobs Initiative – looks at the impact that the greening of the economy can have on employment, incomes and sustainable development in general.

Jobs Beyond Coal

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, 2012

This manual is intended for anyone—communities, unions, environmentalists, native tribes, public officials, and others—involved with or affected by the retirement of coal-fired power plants. It is designed as a guide for those who wish to make the transition away from coal in a way that is most beneficial and least threatening to ordinary workers, consumers, and community members.

In the past decade, a broad-based campaign has formed to move America beyond coal and power the nation with clean energy. The movement includes people from all walks of life—medical professionals, faith leaders, environmentalists, business people, workers, decision makers, and local residents—who are working to address the serious pollution problems caused by coal and to seize the economic opportunity offered by clean, safe, renewable energy.

This campaign has been remarkably successful, preventing the construction of more than 165 new coal-fired power plants, and thereby keeping energy markets open for clean energy. In state after state, as newcoal proposals have stalled, advocates have launched campaigns to retire existing coal plants and replace them with clean energy, securing the retirement of more than 110 existing coal plants to date.The coal industry and their allies regularly claim that jobs, workers, and unions benefit from coal plants and that transitioning away from coal will harm them. Industry claims about creating or protecting jobs have often proved fallacious or hugely exaggerated. Still, this message resonates powerfully in tough economic times and presents a real challenge to coal retirement efforts.

Several recent campaigns have demonstrated that coal retirements can be structured in ways that take care of affected workers and the area economy, and even win the support of organized labor and local decision makers. As the case studies described in this manual show, addressing these economic challenges is most effective when the concerns of workers and the local economy are built into the campaign objectives, messaging, proposals, action, and interventions in policy arenas.

Read the report (PDF).

Are “Green” Jobs Decent?

By Lene Olsen, et. al. - International Labour Organization, 2012

This issue of the Journal focuses on the question of whether the jobs that are emerging in the efforts to reach sustainable development can be described as “decent”.

A series of case studies is presented which demonstrates that this seems to be far from the case. While these results remain very partial, this should be seen as an important reminder that “green” employment is not decent by definition and that like in any other sector, green jobs require careful stewardship from public authorities to ensure that workers are able to exercise their rights. This is all the more the case given the central role government policy plays in creating the enabling conditions for these industries to emerge and thrive.

Read the report (Link).

Towards a Greener Economy: The Social Dimensions

By International Institute for Labour Studies - International Labour Organization, November 16, 2011

The European Commission and the International Labour Organization have combined efforts in reaction to the deep crisis that hit the global economy in 2008. The aim of this joint project is to examine policies that will lead not only to a quicker recovery but also to a more sustainable, environmentally friendly and equitable global economy. This is particularly relevant given the uneven and fragile nature of the recovery process across and within countries. These efforts have culminated in the publication of two Synthesis Reports. The first report examines the origins of the crisis and provides an overview of immediate policy responses across both developed and developing economies; the second discusses green policies and labour market issues related to this necessary long-term economic transformation. Both reports are based on a series of technical discussion papers.

This second report aims to promote a clearer understanding of the nature of the green economy and its implications for labour markets, especially the reallocation of jobs from high- to low-polluting sectors. It shows that a double dividend in terms of increased decent work opportunities and a greener economy is possible, provided that complementarities between environmental, economic and social policies are adequately exploited. The report discusses the green policy measures that EU countries are currently undertaking, with a view to identifying any gaps in the policy mix. It also presents model estimates on the likely transmission mechanisms arising from these measures.

Read the report (Link).

Trade unions and climate change: the need for a programmatic shift

By Asbjørn Wahl - Global Labour Column, November 2019

Climate change is a trade union issue. That is what we increasingly, and rightly, have been told by international trade unions leaders over the last ten to fifteen years. While the inter-governmental negotiations on climate change can be dated back to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the first so-called Conference of the Parties (COP) in Berlin, 1995, it was only about 15 years ago that trade union representation at the COP conferences reached around 100 delegates. Since that, representation has been increasing, and we have seen a growing trade union activity on climate change issues.

This activity has focussed particularly on the social dimension of climate change and climate change policies. Thus, the focus has been more on the effects on workers of climate change prevention and mitigation than on policies to really cut fossil fuel emissions. However, trade unions, as well as governmental bodies, cannot be assessed only on the basis of their activities, but first and foremost on what has been achieved in terms of climate change prevention and mitigation – and the social consequences. In this regard, we must admit that the trade union movement has not been able to take a lead in the climate change struggle.

Renewable Energy and Lucas Aerospace "Workers Plans"

By Dave Elliot and Hilary Wainwright - The Multicultural Politic, October 28, 2011

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Over the years the trade union movement has often led radical challenges to existing ways of doing things, including initiatives to improve not just the health and safety of the workforce, but also, during a period of increased worker militancy in the 1970’s, campaigns to change the direction of technological development.

One epic struggle was the Workers Plan movement in the late 1970’s, led off by shop stewards at the 17 plants around the UK run by Lucas Aerospace – which employed around 13,000 people making aircraft systems, many of them defence related. The trade unionists were concerned about job security at a time of recession in the industry- and also cuts defence spending (which they supported in principal).

They involved the workforce in a two year process of developing a detailed plan for switching to what they called ‘socially useful work’. The Plan drew on the expertise of the workforce and the skills they had, and outlined a range of new products they could work on, including medical aids, new transport systems and several renewable energy technologies, like wind turbines, solar panels, fuel cells and heat pumps. They even managed to get some prototypes built.

This was long before these technologies were familiar, and the company was not impressed by trade unionist trying to tell them what to produce. They ignored the plan insisting that only they had the right to manage. The cross-plant shop stewards ‘Combine’ committee was also seen as ‘unofficial’, so it proved hard to get support from the TUC and union bureaucracy, or even from the Labour government.

And when the political climate changed with the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, most of the leading Lucas activists were sacked. Some of them went on to work for left wing local councils, developing similar ideas.

Our Jobs, Our Planet: Transport Workers and Climate Change

By Jonathan Neale - European Transport Workers Federation (ETF), October 2011

This is a report for the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) on the implications of climate change for transport workers and their unions. This report tries to do four things:

  • Start the debate on climate change.
  • Prepare unions to act on climate change, not only react to the agendas of employers and governments.
  • Offer realistic transport solutions that meet the needs of transport workers and all humanity.
  • Propose ideas for what transport unions can do next.

This report is part of a process that began with a report by the ETF on Trade Union Vision and Sustainable Transport. In 2011, this was followed by a report for the International Transport Federation. Unions write many reports to explain our case to governments and the media. This report is not like that. This one is for union members and leaders. Climate change is new, and union activists need to understand it ourselves. So this report tries to explain
complex scientific, technical and political matters in clear language.

Read the report (PDF).

Tar Sands: Rejecting False Conflict Between Trade Unions and Environment

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 23, 2011

Sometimes a decision forces you to think deeply about what you believe in and how you act on those beliefs. It was like that when the climate protection leader Bill McKibben asked me to sign a letter calling for civil disobedience to block the building of a pipeline designed to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. Opposing the pipeline might strain ties with unions that I’ve worked with and been part of for my whole adult life. And yet the pipeline might be a tipping point that could hurtle us into ever more desperate acceleration of climate change.  Amid these conflicting pulls, what should I do? Having lived at the confluence of trade unionism and environmentalism, what’s the right course of action – what has my life’s work meant?

I was born into a union family. My dad worked in the steel mills in Lorain, Ohio and was a founder of the Steelworkers Union. My mom had been an organizer in the Clothing Workers Union in Cincinnati. I grew up near Cleveland and I walked the picket line with my dad during the 1959 steel strike.

My own trade union life began the day I walked through the factory doors at Capital Products Aluminum Corporation in Mechanicsburg, PA. I was 17 years old, and I joined the United Steelworkers of America. That summer I engaged in my first strike. The following year Hurricane Agnes pounded the mid-Atlantic states; Central Pennsylvania was devastated, and the mill was flooded out. So I joined the Laborer’s Union and went to work on construction.

That’s where I first learned something about working on pipelines. I worked building the Texas-Eastern pipeline as it wound its way through the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania. Small teams of operating engineers, pipefitters, and laborers traveled across the state doing work we enjoyed and that we understood to be useful and important. (We didn’t know then what we know now.) It was a great job and I was a member of a great union, Laborer’s Local 158. We formed friendships and shared a solidarity that touched us all deeply.

On another job building a railroad bridge across the Susquehanna river, a buddy of mine got fired by a hubris-filled college kid. (The kid’s dad owned the construction company so the kid had been made chief foreman over all laborers.) We struck and shut the job down. The operating engineers, carpenters and ironworkers supported us. Without that support we would have lost, but we won and my brother laborer was hired back.

These jobs helped me pay my way through college. They also taught me a lot about solidarity and trade unionism, and helped launch me on a life-long pursuit of workers rights and jobs with justice, first as a local leader and eventually as an official with the AFL-CIO.

I grew up along the banks of Lake Erie and I learned at a tender age about the possibility of human threats to the environment. I was there when they posted the signs telling us to stop swimming in the lake and stop eating the fish. I’d already eaten hundreds of Lake Erie Yellow Perch and swallowed more of that lake water than I care to think about.

I also learned early about the potential conflict between protecting labor and protecting the environment. In the 1970s I worked on the concrete crew during the construction of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, and my local union put out a bumper sticker that read “Hungry and Out of Work? Eat an Environmentalist.”

Since then I’ve devoted much of my life trying to bridge the gap between labor and environmental movements. I’ve argued that both share a common interest in combining economic and social sustainability with environmental sustainability. I’ve argued that “jobs vs. the environment” is a false choice.

Labor’s Route to a New Transportation System: How Federal Transportation Policy Can Create Good Jobs, First-Rate Mobility, and Environmentally Sustainable Communities

By staff - Cornell University Global Labor Institute, July 2011

Federal transportation policy is set every five to six years through the Surface Transportation Authorization Act. This policy largely shapes investment in our nation’s transportation system. Currently, only unions whose members are employed in the transport sector play a role in trying to influence federal transportation legislation, but the Reauthorization Act is hugely important to all union members and working people. The current legislation, Safe, Accountable, Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA -LU ) expires September 30, 2011. The reauthorization of federal transportation policy presents an important opportunity for union leaders and members to advocate for key policy reforms that will create good union jobs, defend and expand the role of the public sector in transportation, provide safe and affordable mobility to working families and reduce the transport sector’s contribution to air pollution and climate change.

The state of the U.S. transportation system determines working families’ access to affordable, high-quality mobility and, in turn, their ability to meet essential needs such as getting to work, school, medical services, recreation and more. The maintenance and operation of private vehicles consumes a growing portion of working families’ household budgets and puts owning and operating a vehicle completely out of reach for some. The impact of rising gas prices on working families’ mobility exacerbates the fact that only 50% of Americans have access to public transit. (need citation) Furthermore, in response to budget shortfalls, local governments have increased fares, laid off workers, reduced transit services and offered up public transit systems to privatization.

Read the text (PDF).

Can Trade Unions Become Environmental Innovators?

By Nora Räthzel, David Uzzell, and Dave Elliott - Soundings, December 2010

Learning from the Lucas Aerospace Workers

The attempt by workers at Lucas Aerospace in the 1970s to develop a plan to convert production in their company from weapons to socially useful goods has recently been invoked in debates on creating low-carbon societies.[1] As Hilary Wainwright and Andy Bowman have argued, a renewed Green New Deal that involved a similar level of painstaking attention to grass-roots participation ‘would be a worthy successor indeed’.[2] We agree with this view, and we would like to make the additional argument that the Lucas example is particularly helpful for international trade union debates on climate change.

The Lucas workers were way ahead of their time in recognising the need for sustainable development - even if such a concept did not exist at that time. But their project also demanded a radical revision of the ways in which society determined its priorities. In today’s terms, their argument was for a ‘Just Transition’. In other words, in adapting production for different needs, it was important to make sure that any new strategies would take workers’ interests into account. And it is this notion that is important in trade union debates today.[3]

Trade unions are not commonly regarded as being on the frontline of the climate change battle. Many people (including not a few trade unionists) see unions as being on the side of climate sceptics, or as being a constituency for whom other concerns are more important. But many national and international unions are currently seeking to develop policies through which their industries can help to mitigate the causes and effects of climate change; and unions do have a long history of struggling for environmental issues - even if this history is not given so much attention today. For example, in the early years of industrialisation trade unionists fought against air and river pollution in their communities. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that safe workplaces - an issue where the history of trade union involvement is more familiar - are also an environmental issue. One reason why the trade union record is often overlooked is that environmental issues have often been raised by environmental movements, which have paid little attention to social and work issues. Equally, trade unionists often reject environmental arguments, for example claiming that it is more important to preserve and create jobs than to ‘save a few trees’ - as was the kind of dismissive remark sometimes made in the course of our interviews. However, things are changing dramatically and fast.

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