Britain: Unionists discuss climate change

March 14, 2009

The second Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Conference brought together 160 trade unionists and climate change activists. The purpose of the event was to allow trade unionists to develop working class solutions to the threat that big business has created for humanity.

It offered major discussions on the future for aviation, coal and nuclear energy and participants had the chance to examine how to develop sustainable cities and transport systems.

The Campaign's Phil Thornhill opened the day with a warning about just how serious the threat we face is. Every new scientific report indicates that climate change is happening more rapidly than had previously been thought.

During the northern summer of 2008, the north-west and north-east passages — the sea routes running along the Arctic coastlines of North America and northern Russia normally clogged with thick ice — were ice-free for the first time since records began in 1972.

Thornhill lambasted the British government's timidity in the face of the challenge and insisted that the scientific evidence demands that we make a 10% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010.

The alternative to drastic action is a sudden and catastrophic change in the planet's climate.

Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said that the government's refusal to seriously address climate change had nothing to do with money and everything to do with its political priorities.

He proposed setting up a trade union commission with support from academics to come up with an action plan for creating green jobs.

Dismissing the false choice between jobs and environmental protection, Baugh explained that we can create hundreds of thousands of jobs by directing resources to making our homes, transport and energy production green.

Tony Kearns, deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, put the situation in a broader context. In his view the problems we face are those of a capitalist system which is economically and environmentally unstable.

Like many of the other speakers through the day, Kearns emphasised the need for action by governments, trade unionists and social movements. He offered the slogan "unity of purpose –diversity of tactics".

Labour MP John McDonnell, a strong supporter of the need for direct action to prevent human created climate change, also
spoke. He summed up perfectly the problem we now face, stating that "this is the fundamental struggle to defend the future of our class, as well as the future of our planet".

[Abridged from]

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