Unions, tech workers, and even some employers set to Climate Strike in September

Greta ThurnbergThe wave of support for the youth-led Global Climate Strike has become an ocean. The strike has focal points: on September 20 in the U.S. and most of the world, where iconic climate activist Greta Thunberg will participate outside the United Nations headquarters in New York; on September 27, Greta will participate the strike in Montreal . Indicative of the enthusiasm: the New York City School District announced  that its 1.1 million students will be free to leave school on September 20, with parental consent.   The Toronto District School Board also  posted a policy statement on September 16,  allowing students in Toronto with parental permission to be absent on September 27 without academic penalty. Schools and universities in Montreal (excluding McGill University) are also cancelling classes, as reported by CBC.

And as organizers emphasize, “everyone is welcome and everyone is needed”. Parents, teachers, and the general public are all invited to participate in one of the hundreds of strikes around the world.  For information and news about Canadian strikes, check  #Fridays for Future Canada  or #Climate Strike Canada Twitter feeds.

Climate Strike in Canada, September 27:

According to the on-going list being maintained by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy Canadian unions supporting the climate strike include Unifor, The Toronto Labour Council, and the British Columbia Teachers Federation.  Some others are listed below.

unifor-climate-strike sept2019Unifor approved a resolution supporting the Global Climate Week of Action at their constitutional convention in August, and according to TUED,  Unifor’s National President sent a letter to the union’s members on September 10, encouraging them to to “take part in these important events.” Their press release to members is here.

The Toronto Labour Council has posted a statement on the Climate Emergency on their website, calling on Labour Councils across Canada to be involved in local and national efforts on climate action,  including on September 27th. The statement carries on with the initiatives outlined in their 2016 action plan, Greenprint for Greater Toronto: Working Together for Climate Action .  The Toronto Labour Council is part of the S27 coalition of Toronto activists in support of the strike: their list of demands includes “no worker left behind.” The list of members is here .   

The B.C. Teachers Federation Resolution in support of the strike is here  , along with links to teaching resources related to the climate strike.  The Vancouver Secondary Teachers Association also supports the strike and has posted a detailed position to guide teachers on their responsibilities .

The Confederation Syndicats Nationaux in Quebec are planning to coordinate union support across the province, according to their Convention document from June 2019, La Planete s’invite au travail  (in French only).

The Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo has announced their support, and the University’s administration is expected to follow.

Climate Strikes in the United States and other countries: September 20

The Labor Network for Sustainability is working hard to support the Climate Strikes, including publishing a  Climate Strike Special Issue of their newsletter  on September 12.  LNS highlights climate strike initiatives by: Service Employees International Union; Amazon Employees for Climate Action ; American Federation of Teachers; Alameda Labor Council; Labor Rise; and international initiatives, including support from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Also included in the LNS Newsletter: links to resources, including social media tools, for anyone who wants to support the student climate strikers.

An on-going  list of international union  initatives  is maintained by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.

The International Trade Union Confederation statement regarding the global week of climate action is here , and a video statement  by Sharan Barrow was released on September 11, calling the climate strike as a “gamechanger” and stating that “our 200 million members around the world are totally behind you” .

An  OpEd by Rosa Pavanelli,  General Secretary of the global federation, Public Services International  appeared in Common Dreams on September 12, titled “Unions: We must back the climate strike”, stating “Under sustained attacks from the right across the world, we were forced to fight to preserve our achievements rather than expand social justice, … The climate strike provides an opportunity to break out of our constraints, to reinvigorate our movement, to learn from young people on the front lines, and to redefine what is possible.”  Another Common Dreams article, “We Must Be Bolder Than Ever’: Labor Federation Representing 30 Million Workers Calls on All Unions to Join Global Climate Strike” describes the support from PSI and other unions.

 

The September/October issue of the Greener Jobs Alliance newsletter  reports on similar sentiments amongst unions in the United Kingdom. From the GJA: “Unions will be backing the Youth Climate Strike on 20 September. The plan, agreed at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) annual conference in Brighton (September 10th), is for ‘30-minute workday campaigns’ across the UK. As Jo Grady, University and College Union, told the conference, ‘The Youth Climate Strikes movement is one of the most impressive forms of mass action in recent years.’ The education union’s general secretary asked, ‘How will young people forgive us if we let them down, whilst they are building a movement at this pivotal moment for the world’s climate?’ Or, as Unite’s Steve Turner put it, ‘Unions will back the school strikes on September 20th. If we don’t, we will be seen as irrelevant.’  Support for the climate strike was part of the  composite motion,  Climate Crisis and a Just Transition .

In Australia, government employees of Victoria have been given formal permission to ask for leave or flexible hours on September 20 to attend the climate strike, and the Australian Education Union, representing teachers,  has endorsed the rally.

Technology workers take a stand with a Digital Strike:  

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice  have established themselves in the past with a shareholder’s resolution urging climate action and an Open Letter to their boss, Jeff Bezos. Now they are also supporting the September 20 climate strike: here is their press release  , here is an article in Wired   , and here is an interview by CNBC with one of the strikers.

Other tech workers are joining in support of the climate strike, including Google Workers for Climate Action , Facebook Employees for Climate Action , and Microsoft Workers for Action .

Not only the workers, but some tech companies are joining in, according to a report from Common Dreams  September 16). A planned “digital strike” is being organized  with many of the largest websites in the world participating, including  Imgur, Tumblr, and WordPress, as well as the websites of the Sunrise Movement, Greenpeace, Burton, and many others. An organizational website offers free coding so that these companies can use their social media platforms to spread the climate strike message by donating ad space, or putting climate change banners on their websites which, on September 20th, will expand to  fullscreen so that the website will effectively be “on strike”.

 

U.K. updates on Just Transition: Statement, Resolutions from the Trades Union Congress, and a training module from Greener Jobs Alliance

tuc 2019 just transitionThe Trades Union Congress (TUC), the labour union central in the United Kingdom,  published  A just transition to a greener, fairer economy­ in July. According to the accompanying press release , the document sets out principles “to take the whole trade union family towards that new economy.”  (This seems to be a reference to the divisive nature of the Just Transition debate during the 2018 TUC Congress, reported by the WCR here ).

These excerpts from A just transition to a greener, fairer economy­ summarize the main demands:

“Companies and organisations moving to a lower carbon model should put in place Transition Agreements – agreed with unions – that cover a range of issues, including the overall number of jobs or workers employed, pay and conditions, job security, working time, job descriptions, duties assigned to job roles, training and skills, apprenticeships, retirement policy, monitoring and surveillance, performance management, health and safety implications and equal opportunities. Companies should also work with unions to identify and deliver best environmental practice at a workplace level.”

….”we’re calling for a cross-party commission on long term energy strategy, involving affected workers, unions, industries and consumers, to set out the path towards clean, affordable and reliable energy. The commission should study the social impacts of the transition, its regional impacts and necessary mitigation measures. Investment – in infrastructure, in new skills for workers, and in services such as public transport – is vital.”

…“Government has a key role in making this happen, as a funder and procurer of new energy and broader infrastructure. When government invests in new infrastructure it should use its procurement powers to ensure that jobs generated benefit workers in the local community and throughout the supply chain. It must also insist that jobs created provide workers with trade union recognition, and that employers have fair recruitment, industrial relations and pay policies for all workers. Companies winning government contracts must adhere to agreed standards of corporate behaviour; for example, contracts should not go to companies based in tax havens and companies must be registered in and pay tax in the UK.”

Trades Union Congress passes resolutions on Just Transition, endorses Student Strike on Sept. 20

The 151st Congress of the Trades Union Congress  was held from September 8 to 11, 2019 .  Understandably, debate about Brexit loomed large over the meetings, but there were several motions related to climate change, most notably Composite Motion 02 Climate crisis and a Just Transition, which was approved on September 10, and resolves: “that the TUC calls for a 30-minute workday campaign action to coincide with the global school strike on 20 September. 2. to campaign for national and regional Just Transition Commissions including full union and education representation to develop, monitor and implement the process.”  An article in The Guardian  also summarizes the Congress vote; the TUC press release on student strikes is herethe University and Colleges Union position on the student climate strike is here

Other climate change related motions at the TUC Congress: “Buses and a green transport system” moved by ASLEF ; “Public ownership of energy” moved by Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union ; and  Securing Green UK Jobs, moved by GMB.

New training module on Just Transition available

Discussions and panels were held at the Fringe Meetings , most notably by the Greener Jobs Alliance , which used the occasion to launch their new, free, online Just Transition Training Module  . Other Fringe sessions included: How Can We Grow The UK’s Aviation Sector whilst Meeting Climate Change Targets?; Action on the Climate Emergency: How Should Trade Unions Respond?; sponsored by the Campaign Against Climate Change, Trade Unionists And Climate Strikes: Responding to the Climate Emergency.

 

Youth-led Global Climate Strike in September asks for workers’ support – updated

Greta Thurnberggreta on sailboatWhat a difference a year makes!

 

The #FridaysforFuture youth movement began in August 2018 when the Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, began her solitary climate strike . Since then, millions of students (and their adult supporters) have been inspired to copy her action in almost every country in the world, including Canada.  In May 2019,  Thunberg  and other young climate activists sent out a call for a global climate strikes  in the week of September 20 – 27,  timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Summit  in New York on September 23.

The youth movement has explicitly called for the support of adults and workers in the global climate strike.   One of the first unions to offer support was Ver.di in Germany, as reported in “Youth and Workers Uniting Behind This Crisis’: German Labor Union Urges 2 Million Members to Join Global Climate Strike  in Common Dreams  (Aug. 6).  The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) , in cooperation with 350.org,  has issued an appeal on the LNS website, asking unions to participate and providing  A Climate Strike Toolkit for Workers: How to Support the Young People Who Are Striking to Save Our Planet .   The Global Climate Strike website  also offers their own Guide to organizing a workplace climate strike.  The University and Colleges Union in the U.K. is submitting a resolution at the Trades Union Congress  conference in early September, asking all members to support the Sept. 20 action with a 30-minute strike.

victoria facebook postFrom the state of  Victoria Australia,  the Victoria Trades Hall Executive Committee posted on Facebook with their August 9 resolution which endorses the September 20 global climate strike and “commits to organize our members to participate as much as possible.”

Updates, as of August 30: 

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), in its Bulletin #88,  has compiled statements and actions from unions around the world in support of the calls for a “Global Climate Strike”, with ongoing updates here  . For Canada, the TUED list includes the B.C. Teachers Federation , who will be using their September 23 Professional Development Day to hold a “Rally & Teach-in for Climate Justice” in Victoria; and the Toronto and District Labour Council is included for its endorsement of the global strike at the General Delegates Meeting on August 1, 2019.

The Toronto Labour Council has posted a statement on the Climate Emergency on their website, calling on Labour Councils across Canada to be involved in local and national efforts on climate action,  including on September 27th. The statement carries on with the initiatives outlined in their 2016 action plan, Greenprint for Greater Toronto: Working Together for Climate Action . Not included in the TUED list, but also from Canada:  the Confederation Syndicats Nationaux in Quebec are planning to coordinate union support across the province, according to their Convention document from June 2019, La Planete s’invite au travail  (in French only).

Management attitudes to Climate Strikes: Workers’ strike will reveal if firms really care about climate change” in The Irish Times (July 8) reports on the results of a journalist’s informal emailed survey to 20 global companies, asking about their company policies concerning climate protests .  Either vague responses or no response was received from Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Bloomberg, IKEA, BP, Exxon Mobil, BlackRock, and Virgin Group . Of the few who responded:  Patagonia is quoted as saying that it “actively encourages its employees to take part in environmental protests and has a global policy of providing bail for workers arrested during such actions. In September it plans to expand digital efforts to connect customers with local green groups.”  Germany’s GLS ethical bank said “it will close on September 20 so all employees can march ‘against the climate catastrophe'”. And Shell stated that “it backed peaceful protest and its employees could seek leave to join such action.”

For updated news, check the Global Climate Strike websiteand for Canada, the #Fridays for Future Canada  or #Climate Strike Canada Twitter feeds.  And even the mainstream media will be awake to the global climate movement.   The “Covering Climate Now” initiative, led by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Guardian, has gathered  commitments from print and online newspapers and magazines, as well as television,  to run one week of focused climate coverage, to begin September 16 and culminate September 23.    Canadian participants include Maclean’s magazine  and The Tyee

 

Updated: U.S. Labour views on climate strikes and the Green New Deal

Speakers, listed here, addressed the issues of Just Transition, the Green New Deal, public ownership of energy production, and an appropriate role for labour in climate activism at the New York Labor History Association Annual Spring Conference on May 11, under the banner  “Taking the Lead: Labor and Global Warming: Our History, Activism and Challenge”.  “New Calls for a General Strike in the Face of Coming Climate Catastrophe” appeared in the Labor Press (May 13) (re-posted to Portside on May 22) , summarizing some of the discussion, especially the statement by Bruce Hamilton, VP of the  Amalgamated Transit Union, that a general strike “should never be taken off the table”.  The article notes that “A general strike, however, requires a level of unity around the question of climate change and the Green New Deal that presently does not exist inside organized labor.”  On May 30, Portside published  a lengthly compilation of “Reader Responses”  , both pro and con, about using a general strike as a tactic.  (Note that the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is calling for  “a day of global action on climate change” on June 26 as part of their  Climate Proof our Work campaign   , and the Fridays for Future student strike movement has called for a worldwide general strike by adults and youth for September 20).

Union differences  around the Green New Deal have been noted before in the WCR:  in “Labor’s voice in support of the Green New Deal” (May 14) , and “AFL-CIO Energy Committee releases letter opposing the Green New Deal” (Mar 14). On May 22, “The Green New Deal is fracturing a critical base for Democrats: unions” appeared in Vox, providing  a broad overview of national and state-level examples.

Service Employees International Union endorses GND: On June 6, the Service Employees International Union issued a press release announcing that the International Executive Board had passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal , which states in part: “the Green New Deal supports the right of all workers to have unions, no matter where they work; makes unions central to accomplishing the ambitious goal of an environmentally responsible and economically just society; and commits to providing universal healthcare and a good, union job with family-sustaining wages
and benefits for everyone who wants one.”   The Resolution affirms the goals of the GND, commits to political action, and to cooperation with other advocacy partners in environmental,  immigrant, health care,  and economic justice movements.

On the issue of transitions, it states:

4. “SEIU stands in solidarity with all in the labor movement who share our desire to create family-sustaining union jobs and a healthy and safe environment. Workers who have built and are dependent upon the fossil fuel industry must have:

  • a. Access to good union jobs, training and advancement if their current jobs cease to exist;
  • b. Guaranteed pensions and a bridge of wage support and healthcare until impacted workers find comparable employment or reach retirement;
  • c. Financial support for local community public services during a transition period

Green New Deal and Labour in California:  There is support for the Green New Deal  in polling the green new dealCalifornia – as evidenced by “Packed Bay Area Convergence on Climate Plans for Green New Deal” and other articles  in the Green New Deal compilation by the Labor Network for SustainabilityYet “Labor anger over Green New Deal greets 2020 contenders in California”  appeared in Politico, focusing on the opposition to the Los Angeles Green New Deal announced on April 29, chiefly by California’s building trades unions.  Those unions fear job loss and the costs members may face from higher gas taxes, as well as congestion pricing for tolls on freeways during rush hour. They have differed with environmentalists in the past over environmental justice and pollution regulation at the State level .  In “The Green New Deal- Be-labored?” in Resilience (May 11) and originally in Civil Notion, author Joel Stronberg describes the California divide in even greater detail and quotes a professor from Loyola Law School, who assesses that “the Green New Deal…divides the Democrats on a fault line, which is more of the elites against the working class Democrats who are concerned about losing their jobs.”  Stronberg also states that the Association of Flight Attendants is a second union which has endorsed the Green New Deal, and cites a recent survey by Data for Progress between March 30 and April 7, 2019 which measured union members’ (not leadership) attitudes. According to Stronberg, it shows 52 percent of current union members approve of the Green New Deal, 22 percent were opposed,  21 percent didn’t know about it, and five percent were neutral.

Canadian unions:  In Canada, unions have not yet been as vocal about the Green New Deal – although “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal: The Canadian Connection” in The Tyee (June 3) describes the close ties between the U.S. GND and Canadians Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein of The Leap.    Some unions have endorsed the uniquely-Canadian Pact for a Green New Deal – and the United Steelworkers  have endorsed the New Democratic Party’s newly announced climate change platform  – Power to change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs .

Canadian kids out in force for the global Fridays for Future climate strike on March 15

March 15 montreal

Montreal climate strike

The global movement that is the #Fridays for Future climate strike, inspired by Greta Thunberg, exceeded all expectations for the number of demonstrators and the number of locations on March 15.  In Canada, students marched in 55 cities, with the greatest showing in Montreal –   150,000 strikers  – a greater turnout than Paris, London, Sydney , or almost any of the hundreds of cities and towns which participated.  The Energy Mix highlights the global successes in   “1.4 million students in 128 countries make March 15 #schoolstrike a global phenomenon” (March 15) .

 

Here are some accounts of the strike in Canada:  From the National Observer: “Canadian children school adults about climate crisis” (March 15), which reports particularly on Montreal and Vancouver; “Quebec students join global marches to demand climate change action” (March 17) which reported that 150,000 students were on strike, representing 120 student associations.  This amazing number is widely confirmed – including  by an article in La Presse  (in French). Also,  “CCL Youth join March 15 youth strike for climate”  from the Citizens Climate Lobby;  “We know we are at a crossroads” in The Tyee (unique photos of the Vancouver strike); “Students in Canada prepare to strike for the climate” (March 14) in Rabble.ca  .

march 15 vancouver2CBC coverage consisted mainly of photos and brief interviews from across Canada, including: “Tens of thousands rally in Montreal”, and “Montreal students block schools ahead of climate protest”    (which prompted the school board to cancel classes). From  Halifax ;  New Brunswick ; Ottawa  ;Regina St. John’s Newfoundland ; Toronto; and Vancouver here   and here .  

 

Who are these young Canadian strikers?  Of the many youth organizers across Canada, two  have received special attention. Sophie Mathur of Sudbury, aged 11, was the first Canadian to take up the call of Greta Thunberg and has been profiled several times, even before the March 15 global strike. Early articles:  “Strike For Climate: Fridays For a Future” appeared in Below 2C on  October 31 2018  and “Young climate activist to strike Friday in Sudbury” in the Sudbury Star  on November  2, 2018 . Most recently, on March 8,  Sophie was one of five climate strikers interviewed by  Sierra Club International, for International Women’s Day.

Rebecca Hamilton of Vancouver, aged 16,  is a founding member of Sustainabiliteens  , which organized the school strike in Vancouver. She is profiled in a new Greenpeace Canada series “12 Questions with #YouthClimateStrike organizer Rebecca Hamilton”. Both Sophie Mathur and Rebecca Hamilton were interviewed by CBC Radio in “Ignoring climate change is like ‘putting off homework,’ says teen in School Strike for Climate” on The Current on March 15   (transcript and audio), and also on CBC radio Day 6 on February 2, along with Dominique Deveaux of  Fredericton, here  .

march 15 trudeau tweetPoliticians Reactions and support for student strikers:  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the strikers on Twitter, as did Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna on her personal  Facebook account,  but there was no official reaction from the Canadian government. George Heyman, British Columbia’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change also used  his Twitter account to express that he is “inspired by the concern and commitment of the students”. Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, issued a statement of support  which lists Green Party candidates who are supporting strikes in their local ridings.

Reactions from Unions:  In Canada,  the B.C. Teachers Federation tweeted a thanks to the students from their  Annual Meeting , and at that AGM,  activist Seth Klein addressed March 15 seth kleinthe meeting  about the role of teachers in fighting climate change.  The international confederation of teachers’ unions, Education International, has also supported the student climate strikers, with this Statement of Support (Feb. 28, 2019) and this blog post of February 22.  A CBC report of March 1 also states that staff and faculty of Laurentian University in Sudbury have signed a letter of support for the strikers.

The International Trade Union Confederation issued a statement of support  which states that “Unions in Australia, Belgium, France, Italy, the UK and elsewhere are taking part and many others are active in mobilising their members” and “Taking inspiration from young people, union representatives in workplaces will, in the last week of June, invite employers to sit down with the workers in workplaces to discuss plans to reduce emissions and climate proof workplaces.”

canada may 3 climate strikeCanada’s next big student protest has been set for  May 3.  Updates will be posted on the Facebook Events page hereIn the meantime, 350.org has posted “5 ways you can support the school climate strikes”.

greta thunberg yellow

And last word goes to Nobel-nominee Greta Thunberg, from her Facebook post following the March 15 strikes:

Once you have done your homework, you realize that we need new politics. We need a new economics, where everything is based on our rapidly declining and extremely limited carbon budget.

But that is not enough. We need a whole new way of thinking. The political system that you have created is all about competition. You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win. To get power. That must come to an end. We must stop competing with each other. We need to start cooperating and sharing the remaining resources of this planet in a fair way. We need to start living within the planetary boundaries, focus on equity and take a few steps back for the sake of all living species.
We are just passing on the words of the science. Our only demand is that you start listening to it. And then start acting.

So please stop asking your children for the answers to your own mess.