PCS has long recognised that climate change is a union issue, given the scale and threat it poses to workers’ livelihoods and the communities they live in. Workers are on the frontline of climate change’s impact. For example, emergency responders such as the fire and rescue service in the severe floods of 2013/14 or nurses in New Orleans dealing with the impact of Hurricane Sandy. Therefore, unions have a key role in lobbying, campaigning and negotiating on climate change. This includes advocating statutory rights for workplace environmental reps.
As a response to the economic and environmental crisis, PCS is supporting the ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ campaign. Its central idea is simple. By establishing a National Climate Service to create jobs that will tackle climate change, a million people will be put to work: building wind turbines to replace power stations that burn coal and oil; retrofitting or insulating homes to make them more energy efficient; and investing in an integrated transport network run on clean fuel.
Key also is addressing the issue of ownership and control. As part of the ‘Trade Unions for Energy Democracy’ initiative, we believe that the transition to a low carbon economy requires a strong union presence in a new renewable energy sector under democratic public ownership. This is the only way to ensure we deal with both workers interests but wider social justice issues such as energy poverty.
There is little optimism that the Paris climate talks in December will result in the level of commitment needed if we are to avoid climate catastrophe. Since the world financial system collapsed in 2007/2008, austerity politics has seen a redistribution of wealth upwards with the ‘Big Six’ energy company profits increasing tenfold. There is little sign of that abating. Therefore, in the absence of political leadership and policy actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the union movement needs to work collectively to frame a just transition to a fossil free future that both safeguards jobs and the planet.
Chris Baugh is the Assistant General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union