AWU: apologists for polluters?

July 26, 2008

On July 23, Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes teamed up with a select group of CEOs of some of the richest companies and major employers of AWU members in a roundtable discussion on climate change.

The AWU represents around 130,000 workers, of whom many work in emission-intensive and polluting industries such as aviation, aluminium and petrol refineries. Howes told the July 24 Australian newspaper that the aim of the roundtable discussion was to develop a "co-ordinated" approach "to protect Australian industry". No environmental groups or other unions were invited to the discussion.

Howes, an outspoken proponent of nuclear power, released the union's response to the federal government's carbon reduction green paper during the discussion. Titled "A national emission trading scheme", the AWU's position paper advocates a greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 60% by 2050. This target will, in fact, accelerate global warming.

At odds with evidence from climate scientists, which shows the need for urgent action on emissions, the AWU's paper explicitly supports a go-slow approach to the implementation of any Australian timetables on carbon emission reductions, favouring a "global agreement" instead.

The paper supports the introduction of free carbon credits for companies and individual employees in emission-intensive industries, and proposes taxpayer assistance and incentive measures for the industry.

Howes defends his support for massive government subsidies to big business, saying, "We are keen to defend the living standards of the tens of thousands of AWU members working in the resources and energy industries", according to the AWU website. However, he offers no proposals on how these corporations, which have been reaping mega-profits for decades, are to share the burden and start paying for polluting the environment.

The AWU paper also fails to put forward concrete solutions for rapidly converting from a carbon-intensive to a carbon-neutral economy.

In a July 23 Melbourne Herald Sun article, Howes accuses the Greens of being "the real enemy", accusing them of wanting to close down industry, causing "death for my [union] members and death for the economy".

The real enemy of a job-rich, sustainable future for Australian workers — including current AWU members — is Howes' unprincipled alliance with large polluting corporations that not only attack workers' rights but are also hell-bent on putting their financial interests before the survival of the planet.

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