Partnership with trade unions against climate change
Many climate campaigners wouldn't think of trade unions as natural partners for their campaigns, having seen 'jobs' and the 'environment' presented as mutually exclusive concerns.
But Trades Union Congress recently passed a unanimous motion for climate change action. Despite reluctance in some quarters, there is a growing movement of climate activism within trade unions. This reaches from the international level (the International Trade Union Congress brought national union representatives together to campaign for urgent climate action and a just transition within the Paris climate agreement) to the local (trade union branches and trades councils funding coaches to national climate marches).
The trade union UNISON also unanimously voted this year to pass a motion to support divestment of council pension funds from oil, coal and gas. UNISON is one of the biggest trade unions in the UK, and is also the main representative for local government workers, whose pension funds are collectively worth over £200 billion.
However, engagement with trade unions can seem daunting for many climate activists unsure about dealing with the official structures of the unions (even for those who may be members of unions themselves!), so the following advice has been written as a guide to help making those links a little bit easier.
Information about the climate change policies of all the major UK trade unions can be found in a report published earlier this year.
Your local trades union council (often called trades council) will be a useful source of information about local union branches. These consist of trade unions or branches of trade unions which meet within the area covered by that council, or which have members working or living in the area. A union branch will normally affiliate to the trades union council in the area in which it meets. Each branch will then send delegates to the trades union council's meetings.
You can find the contact details of your local trades council on the TUC website.
Trades councils often welcome guest speakers on subjects such as climate change campaigning and attending one of their meetings in that capacity would immediately put you in touch with representatives from a wide range of unions.
Speaking at union branch meetings
Most union branches would similarly welcome speakers from campaigns. They often regard guest speakers as a way of making their meetings more interesting for members. Don’t be afraid to phone up the branch secretary or chair, they will more than likely welcome your approach.
Some unions have affiliated to our campaign at a national level. Local branches of these unions should certainly be contacted, both as a way of showing our appreciation for their support at a national level, and also as a way of converting that official support into active support at the rank and file level.
Keep it short – an introduction of about 10 minutes will usually suffice – and encourage both questions and contributions from those present. Don’t dwell too much on the science – most active trade unionists will already be aware that climate change is happening and that it is potentially catastrophic – instead concentrate on what needs to be done about it.
Climate campaigns to highlight
One Million Climate Jobs
The One Million Climate Jobs report calls for the creation a million secure Government jobs in renewable energy, in increasing energy efficiency by insulating homes and public buildings free of charge, in hugely expanding cheap public transport to get people and freight onto cleaner forms of transit, and in developing the "green skills" that we need through education and training. As a positive alternative to austerity and a practical way of transforming the economy, it can be a useful way of opening up discussions with trade unions. Find out more.
Going Backwards on Climate
As the Treasury has cut back on support for clean energy, home insulation etc., this has had a major impact on jobs - the solar industry estimates 18,000 out of 35,000 jobs have been lost. Find out more about the government going backwards on clmiate
Promises of jobs from fracking have been shown to be exaggerated, even if the industry were to overcome local opposition. Given the climate and local impacts a number of unions such as Unite, TSSA, PCS and UCU have already passed anti-fracking motions. Fracking motions for trade unions
Trade unions can be powerful allies for divesting pension funds from fossil fuels, especially since fossil fuels which cannot be burned are an extremely risky investment Find out more about trade unions and divestment (note - this was written before the TUC and Unison motions highlighted above).
Practical support from trade union branches and trades councils
Practical support often has to be formally approved by passing a motion, but can include:
- Financial support for coaches to demonstrations
- Helping organise public meetings
- Attending local protests
- Helping obtain regional and national trade union support for campaigns
Affiliation to the Campaign against Climate Change
Finally, local branches can affiliate to the Campaign against Climate Change for £25 a year – and they could also forward motions to district and regional committees urging them to affiliate, and even to their national conference calling for their union to affiliate at a national level too. More information on affiliation here.
Keep in touch
Please let the CCC Trade Union Group know how you get on with your efforts to win the support of your local union branches: email firstname.lastname@example.org