“Historic” climate change resolution is passed unanimously at the 2017 Trades Union Congress in the U.K.

According to a  September 13 press release from Trade Unions for Energy Democracy :  “The annual congress of the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) has passed a historic composite resolution on climate change that supports the energy sector being returned to public ownership and democratic control. The resolution—carried unanimously—calls upon the 5.7-million-member  national federation to work with the Labour Party to achieve this goal, as well as to: implement a mass program for energy conservation and efficiency; lobby for the establishment of a “just transition” strategy for affected workers; and, investigate the long-term risks to pension funds from investments in fossil fuels.”   The “composite resolution”, Resolution 4, along with discussion and videos of the debate are here . The Bakers, Food and Allied  Workers Union (BFAWU) submitted the first resolution; the final composite resolution incorporated  amendments by the Communication Workers Union,  Fire Brigades Union, the train drivers union ASLEF, and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association.

A previous climate change resolution had been defeated at the 2016 annual congress.  What was different this time?  Speakers in the debate mentioned Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the chaos of Brexit, and also Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, fresh evidence of the disasters of climate change.  Trade Unions for Energy Democracy credits the influence of the Labour Party, and in advance of the vote,  Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn received an enthusiastic response to his speech to the Congress.  The Labour Party Manifesto, For the Many, not the Few , had been released during the 2017 General Election, and highlighted the issue of energy poverty,  committing to “take energy back into public ownership to deliver renewable energy, affordability for consumers, and democratic control.” It further called for the creation of “publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and co-operatives to rival existing private energy suppliers.”  Another influential document, “Reclaiming Public Service: How cities and citizens are turning back privatization,” was published in June 2017 by the Transnational Institute, providing global case studies of  “re-municipalization” of public services, including energy.

The Trades Union Congress 2017 Congress website provides videos, reports, and an archive of documents from the meetings.  This blog post summarizes the General Council statement on workers’ rights and Brexit.

U.K. Unions call for Transformative Transition and Energy Democracy

The Public and Commercial Services Union of the U.K. (PCS), with 180,000 civil service members, chose its annual delegate conference in late  May  to release  Just transition and Energy Democracy,  a thorough discussion of climate change impacts and solutions, which argues that “Far from being a distraction, climate change can reinforce trade union organisation, show their contemporary relevance particularly to young members, and start to place trade unions at the very centre of the crucial and urgent debate about what we mean when we talk of a just transition.”    The paper argues for energy democracy as a fundamental right, and  references a 2016 report  Public ownership of the UK energy system – benefits, costs and processes , which states that energy democracy is necessary for the development of renewable energy and financially possible to achieve .  Just Transition and Energy Democracy  sets out a framework for the public sector role in this energy transition, and states, “For PCS therefore we advocate that a just transition is also a transformative process for economic and social justice, going beyond market based solutions and negotiation within a framework of green capitalism.” In the transformative scenario a just transition “will address the inherent inequality and injustice of the capitalist system”.  Step one in the process would be the  creation of a National Climate Service similar to the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), to ensure there is a body to create the jobs needed to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The University and College Union (UCU) also debated and carried a resolution     concerning climate change and Just Transition at its convention in June, and adopted a  resolution to take to the TUC conference in September, enumerating actions, including support for energy democracy.

Jeremy_Corbyn_speaking_at_the_Labour_Party_General_Election_Launch_2017

Photo by Sophie Brown, from Wikipedia Commons

Reaction of unions to the surprise Labour surge in the U.K. election is summarized in the June/July newsletter of the Greener Jobs Alliance.  All cite the importance of the Labour Party manifesto, For the many, not the few ,  which included proposals for energy democracy through publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and cooperatives. It also proposed an industrial and skills strategy to drive investment in electric vehicles, home insulation, new low carbon technologies for heavy industries like steel, and a ban on fracking.