Building a working-class response to the climate crisis

July 19, 2009

We have a coal industry and a government — even some unions — that tell workers they must choose between a safe climate future and their jobs, their livelihood.

In the face of such lies, we must convince workers in polluting industries to campaign with us to demand green jobs and sustainability if we're to win a safe climate future.
January's Climate Action Summit adopted of set of campaign objectives for 2009. The goals included building climate camps around the country.

These camps are being organised to shut down coal infrastructure through non-violent direct action, and to put the spotlight coal's enormous contribution to climate change.
The NSW camp will take place in Helensburgh, in the northern Illawarra: a small community currently dependant on a coalmine for employment. The camp will include political talks, discussion and activist training.

It will culminate in a peaceful direct action against the Metropolitan Colliery — Australia's oldest mine — and is aimed at stopping the mine's expansion.

To make the changes that the planet needs, the environment movement needs to involve a lot more people, including those working in polluting industries.

We can only make the necessary changes if we involve the vast majority of working people. Unlike the wealthy polluters, our power is in our numbers. The environment movement will only stop the polluters if we involve workers and unions in the struggle.
Organisers of the NSW Camp for Climate Action face immediate and vital questions: how do we win workers, who are being told by their employers, and sometimes their unions, that environmentalists are not concerned about jobs?

What demands and tactics form the basis of a working-class response to the climate crisis?

If Australia's response to climate change doesn't include phasing out coal, it will fail. But we can't simply shut down polluting industries. We need energy and building materials, transport and food, and we need production to be sustainable.

Moreover, we need people to work in these new industries.

Beyond Zero Emissions, an environment group creating a plan to immediately reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emission levels to zero and below, says the current workforce is not big enough to carry out the scale of changes needed.

The jobs-versus-the-environment argument doesn't hold. Transforming Australia to a sustainable economy will create jobs. But the powerful groups making the argument will not stop simply because they are wrong.

To ensure the transition is a just one for working people whose jobs contribute to climate change, we need to call on the government to help communities move away from coal.

That means massive government investment in sustainable building, agriculture, clean energy and transport.

Sustainable communities need jobs, and the campaign to phase out coal must demand the government provide training and retraining for workers in polluting industries — on full pay. This demand should be at the forefront the NSW climate camp, as well as others taking place this year in South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria.

No one is in a better position to shut down polluting industries and direct a just transition than these workers. Indeed, in the past it has been a combination of direct action, mass rallies and industrial action by the trade union movement that kept the uranium industry from expanding for decades.

Successfully shutting down coal infrastructure in Helensburgh could give people confidence that the movement is strong and that change is possible. But organisers must be careful in ensuring the direct action will be not pit workers against the environment movement.

The action can't only be about shutting down coal infrastructure. It needs to be worked out in terms of what will successfully involve workers and build the movement.

A demand for government investment in green jobs and a just transition, because we must phase out coal, could unite the needs of workers and the environment.

[Jess Moore is the national organiser of the socialist youth organisation, Resistance. The Socialist Alliance are part of organising climate camps across Australia. The NSW Camp for Climate Action will take place in Helensburgh from October 9-11. For more information visit]

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