Controversial motion on Just Transition passed at 2018 TUC Congress

Delegates gathered in Manchester U.K. for the 2018 Congress  of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Britain’s central labour body, in early September, marking its 150th anniversary by returning to the city in which it was founded.  Speeches and debates covered a broad range of issues, notably Brexit , and diversity and equality among union members .

Greener Jobs Alliance briefing coverThe Greener Jobs Alliance Congress Briefing  lists and summarizes the six motions which relate to climate change, energy, and Just Transition, including one which has proven controversial.  Motion 07,   Just transition and energy workers’ voice  was presented by GMB  (which includes workers at the Hinkley Point nuclear facility amongst its members); the motion was adopted with minor amendments.  It states that “Congress notes that ‘just transition’ is a much-used but often ambiguous term and there is no shortage of voices who believe they are qualified to say what energy workers and communities want and need”,  the motion continues with …   “Congress believes that the views of the workers affected, as expressed through these trade unions, should be paramount and central to development of all TUC policies on energy, industrial strategy and climate change, and that the TUC should develop a political and lobbying strategy led by the voices and experiences of energy unions and their members.”  “These unions” referred to in the motion are GMB,  Prospect, UNISON and Unite.

But the Greener Jobs Alliance Briefing calls for a “full spectrum” of unions in the Just Transition debates, stating: “we have a duty to express our concern that this motion limits input on TUC policy from other unions, making ‘energy unions’ views ‘paramount’. Although the proposed conference on Just Transition is long overdue, when it comes to fighting climate change, every union should have a voice: in the fire and rescue services, food manufacturer, rail transport, public services, the NHS. No less than nine unions have motions or amendments on climate change and a just transition at TUC 2018.”  The Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union group expressed similar “deep concern” in its blog, saying that the motion “carries the risk of moving backwards from last year’s progress on climate policy (2017 climate motion).”  Finally,  the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) labelled the motion as “divisive”, according to a  UK DeSmog blog  (Sept. 27) .  That same blog notes that the U.K. Labour Party has picked up on the TUC’s motion in its Environmental Policy statement,  Green Transformation , which states that the Labour Party will “work closely with energy unions to support energy workers and communities” through the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Labour union voices at the Global Climate Action Summit

The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), which brought together the world’s politicians, business leaders, and civil society organizations in San Francisco, concluded on September 14 .  The final Call to Global Climate Action calls on national governments to urgently step up climate action, including by enhancing their UNFCC Nationally Determined Contributions by 2020.The GCAS final press release summarizes the many announcements and 500+ commitments that were made; even more comprehensive is  A Chronology of Individual Summit and Pre-Summit Announcements , in which Summit organizers list all important actions and documents, dating back to January 2018.  Plans were announced to monitor actions flowing from the Summit  at a revamped Climate Action Portal, hosted by the UNFCC –   focused  around an interactive map as the key to aggregated  data about  climate action by region and sector.

richard-l-trumkaLabour unions at the Summit:    Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, delivered a speech to the Summit on September 13, “Fight Climate Change the Right way” , in which he highlighted the passage of Resolution 55 at the AFL-CIO Convention in October 2017. He emphasized that the climate change/clean energy resolution was adopted unanimously…”with the outspoken support of the unions whose members work in the energy sector. That part is critical–the workers most impacted by a move away from carbon fuels came together and endorsed a plan to save our people and our planet….”

Trumka also spoke on September 12  at  Labor in the Climate Transition:  Charting the Roadmap for 2019 and Beyond , an affiliate event sponsored by the University of California Berkeley Labor Center, along with the California Labor Federation, California Building and Construction Trades Council, Service Employees International Union, IBEW 1245, the International Trades Union Confederation, and BlueGreen Alliance.   In that speech,  titled Collective Action and Shared Sacrifice Key to Fighting Climate Change,  Trumka cast the AFL-CIO climate record in a positive light, repeated the success of Resolution 55 at the 2017 Convention, gave a 100% commitment to fighting climate change, and stated: “…we must be open to all methods of reducing carbon emissions—including technologies some environmentalists don’t like.” He concluded: “When the movement to fight climate change ignores the issue of economic justice, or treats it as an afterthought, when we seek to address climate change without respecting the hard work and sacrifice of workers in the energy and manufacturing sectors whose jobs are threatened—we feed the forces who are trying to tear us apart…. If we don’t get this right, we could find that our democracy fails before our climate…as rising fear and rising hate converge on us faster than rising seas.”

John Cartwright

The Berkeley event also featured panels on Just Transition, chaired by Samantha Smith, Director, Just Transition Centre of the ITUC, and included Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour,  as a speaker, and a panel on Energy Efficiency  in buildings , which included John Cartwright, President, Toronto & York Region Labour Council (pictured right)  as a speaker.  Videos of  the Berkeley event are here  , including one of the Trumka speech.

ITF statement 2018 green-and-healthy-streetsFinally, as part of the main Summit announcements, the International Transport Federation (ITF) released a statement in support of the Green and Healthy Streets Declaration by the C40 Cities, which  commits signatory cities to procure zero emission buses by 2025 and to ensure that major areas of cities are zero emissions by 2030. (Montreal and Toronto are the two Canadian signatories).  The ITF statement,  Green & Healthy Streets: Transitioning to zero emission transport , is motivated by the benefits of lowering air pollution and occupational health and safety for transport workers, as well as the economic justice of providing transit opportunities for workers to commute to work.

The ITF and its affiliates commit to: “Working in partnerships with mayors and cities to ensure that the transition to fossil-fuel-free streets is a just transition that creates decent jobs, reduces inequality, and drives inclusion and improvements in the lives of working class and low income people. • Building partnerships with mayors and city authorities to develop and integrate just transition plans that drive decent work and social action, including labour impact assessments, safeguards and job targets for men and women workers. • Mobilising workers knowledge and skills to shape and enhance the supportive actions needed to meet the commitments in the Declaration. • Working in partnerships with mayors and city authorities to deliver a just transition to zero emission buses, including developing plans for relevant worker training.”

Other progress for workplace concerns  at the Summit:

Amid the announcements from the formal meetings, one new initiative stands out: the Pledge for a Just Transition to Decent Jobs, which commits renewable energy companies to ILO core labor standards and ILO occupational health and safety standards for themselves and their suppliers, as well as social dialogue with workers and unions, wage guarantees, and social protections such as pension and health benefits. The BTeam press release “Companies step up to Deliver a Just Transition”  lists the signatories, and also  quotes Sharan Burrow, Vice-Chair of The B Team and General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, who states: “We will not stand by and see stranded workers or stranded communities.…  We have to work together with business, with government and workers. We can build a future that’s about the dignity of work, secure employment and shared prosperity.”  The BTeam press release also references  Just Transition: A Business Guide, published jointly by the B Team and the Just Transition Centre in May 2018.

Another announcement related to the workplace: 21 companies announced the Step Up Declaration, a new alliance “dedicated to harnessing the power of emerging technologies and the fourth industrial revolution to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all economic sectors and ensure a climate turning point by 2020.”  The press release   references “the transformative power of the fourth industrial revolution, which encompasses artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT). In addition, the declaration acknowledges the role its signatories can play in demonstrating and enabling progress both in their immediate spheres of influence and “collaboratively with others— across all sectors of society, including individuals, corporations, civil society, and governments.”    Signatories include several established climate leaders: Akamai Technologies, Arm, Autodesk, Bloomberg, BT, Cisco Systems, Ericsson, HP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Lyft, Nokia, Salesforce, Supermicro, Symantec, Tech Mahindra, Uber, Vigilent, VMware, WeWork, Workday.

Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco includes labour meetings

The Global Climate Action Summit  in San Francisco will gather 4,500 delegates from around the world on September 12 – 14.  According to the Summit website, “At GCAS governors and mayors, business, investor and civil society leaders will make bold new announcements that will act as a launch-pad to Take Ambition on climate action to the Next Level while calling on national governments to do the same. ” Discussion and statements will be organized around  five themes: Healthy Energy Systems, Inclusive Economic Growth, Sustainable Communities, Land and Ocean Stewardship and Transformative Climate Investments.

The University of California Berkeley Labor Center is holding an official “affiliate event” at the Summit,  called Labor in the Climate Transition:  Charting the Roadmap for 2019 and Beyond .  The sold-out event will showcase the best practices in worker-friendly climate policy for 2019  and highlight “the importance of labor unions for building sustainable broad-based coalitions that can support strong climate policies at the state, national and international level.” Co-sponsors of the event are the California Labor Federation, California Building and Construction Trades Council, Service Employees International Union, IBEW 1245, the International Trades Union Council, and BlueGreen Alliance.

Rise for climateThe global  Rise for Climate action ,  led by 350.org, was timed for September 8, to capitalize on the publicity and high profile attendees of the San Francisco Summit.  According to The Guardian’s report , San Francisco alone attracted 30,000 demonstrators, led by Indigenous leaders.    The San Francisco Chronicle also reported that demonstrations will continue throughout the week, in “Angry activists plan to crash Jerry Brown’s SF climate summit”  (Sept. 9), and there is an online petition at the “Brown’s Last Chance”  protest website , calling for the elimination of fossil fuels in the state.

Among  the reports/announcements released so far at the Global Climate Summit:  Climate Opportunity: More Jobs; Better Health; Liveable Cities , which estimates that “by 2030, a boost in urban climate action can prevent approximately 1.3 million premature deaths per year, net generate 13.7 million jobs in cities, and save 40 billion hours of commuters’ time plus billions of dollars in reduced household expenses each year.” The report was published by C40 Cities, The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy and the New Climate Institute; a press release summarizing the report is here (Sept. 9).

TUED conferences: A Social Power vision of Just Transition, and U.K. Energy Democracy

The international alliance of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy  convened two meetings over the summer of 2018, summarized in  Just Transition: A Revolutionary Idea – TUED Bulletin 73 , which summarizes an international conference held in New York in late May, and  Reclaiming UK Energy: What’s the Plan? – TUED Bulletin 75  , which summarizes meetings in the U.K. on June 28 and 29 to discuss different approaches to reclaiming the power sector, while honouring climate commitments and addressing energy poverty.

The Just Transition international conference brought together representatives of 31 unions as well as 15 environmental, community-based, research and policy allies from both the global North and the South.  The Program is here  ;  links to videos of the presentations on YouTube  are here  . In Opening Remarks, Paula Finn, Associate Director of the Center for Labor, Community & Public Policy at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies  “highlighted the necessity of confronting frankly and honestly the divisions within the global trade union movement—in particular divisions over “whether unmitigated economic growth and extractive capitalism must be challenged, or we can somehow ride the wave of ‘green jobs’ towards a solution of the climate crisis.”  Much of the discussion was based on the TUED’s Working Paper #11, Trade Unions and Just Transition: The Search for a Transformative Politics ( April 2018) by Sean Sweeney and John Treat and available from the Rose Luxemburg Stiflung  as part of its Climate Justice Dossier .   The Sweeney/Treat paper argues for a “Social Power vision” of Just Transition, which “ must be radically democratic and inclusive, and it must hold at its center a recognition that nothing short of a deep socioeconomic and ecological transition will be sufficient for the challenges our planet currently faces.” Watch Sean Sweeney summarize and discuss the paper in a video of Session 2: Broadening the Just Transition Debate: The Search for a Transformative Politics . Donald LaFleur, Vice-President of the  Canadian Labour Congress,  appears as a discussant to the paper at approximately minute 29 of the video.

The second TUED meeting of the summer of 2018 is summarized in Reclaiming UK Energy: What’s the Plan? – TUED Bulletin 75  .  The forty delegates attending  included GMB, UNISON UNITE, PCS, TSSA, Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, National Education Union,  and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), along with allies including the Greener Jobs Alliance, Friends of the Earth Europe and Scotland, Transnational Institute and others from across Europe.  The Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of the U.K. Labour Party presented their current energy platform which focuses on establishing a number of regional public energy companies, and participated in a discussion of union policies and opinion.  In addition to the summary from the TUED Bulletin, a summary also appears in the July/August Newsletter of the Greener Jobs Alliance .  Documents on which discussion was based include:

From the TUED: All, or Something? Towards a “Comprehensive Reclaiming” of the UK Power Sector, which argues for  establishing a new national public entity that would encompass generation, transmission, distribution and supply.

From Unison: The need to take into public ownership the customer and retail operations of big 6

From Professor Costas Lapavitsas,  the University of London spoke regarding the potential impacts of Brexit on energy nationalization, based on  his  arguments and observations in  “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour vs. the Single Market.”   in Jacobin (May 2018) .

The many activities and accomplishments of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy are summarized in New Unions and Regional Advances: A Mid-Year Report — TUED Bulletin 76 dated 30 July 2018.  Of note : “The first half of 2018 saw three important additions to the TUED network, with the British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union(BCGEU), the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU; US and Canada) and the Nordic Transport Workers Federation (NTF; headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden). Together these unions represent 560,000 workers.”  64 trade union bodies are now members of TUED .

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U.K. Committee issues recommendations for heatwaves – including workplace changes

sweating office workerOn July 26, the U.K.’s Environmental Audit Committee published Heatwaves: adapting to climate change,  which examines the developing trend of heatwaves, the responsibility for heatwave protection, how to protect human health and well-being, and effects on  productivity and the economy.  The final statement on conclusions/recommendations states:  “Heatwaves can result in overheating workplaces and lower employee productivity. In 2010, approximately five million staff days were lost due to overheating above 26°C resulting in economic losses of £770 million. Given that extreme temperature events in Europe are now 10 times more likely than they were in the early 2000s, similar losses will occur more frequently. However, some businesses, particularly smaller businesses, do not have business continuity plans in place. The Government should make businesses aware of the developing threat of heatwaves and the economic consequences. Public Health England should also issue formal guidance to employers to relax dress codes and allow flexible working when heatwave alerts are issued. The Government should consult on introducing maximum workplace temperatures, especially for work that involves significant physical effort. Procurement rules should be updated so that schools and the NHS do not spend public money on infrastructure which is not resilient to heatwaves. The Department for Education should issue guidance for head teachers about safe temperatures in schools and relaxing the school uniform policy as appropriate during hot weather. ” At present, there is no set temperature limit for indoor work, (only that buildings be kept at a “reasonable” temperature)  and the government’s 2018 Heatwave Plan makes no mention of employer responsibilities or the dangers of heat stress for workers.

tuc logoSome of the Committee recommendations echo those contained in the  Trades Union Congress publication, Cool it! Reps guide on dealing with high temperatures in the workplace .  It documents examples of heat stress in workplaces, and provides checklists for union representatives in both indoor and outdoor workplaces. The Cool it! guide  recommends that a maximum indoor  temperature be set at  30°C (27°C for those doing strenuous work), and  “ a new legal duty on employers to protect outside workers by providing sun protection, water, and to organise work so that employees are not outside during the hottest part of the day.”  The guide also takes note of the  special circumstances of drivers.

Current heat-related guides and information from the government’s Health and Safety Executive are here.