What has climate change got to do with trade unions?

You might well ask - trade unions already have plenty on their plate, with austerity, automation and low pay, and then Brexit to worry about.

Jenny Patient Blog

But here in Yorkshire and the Humber region, the TUC is taking a proactive approach to tackling climate change.

A regional task force of union leaders, bringing on board LEPs and industry specialists, is setting up a training course in November, aimed at those in the most energy intensive and polluting industries.

Our region has probably the highest concentration of the UK’s heavy industries and coal and gas power stations in the UK. This includes major power plants like Drax, as well as steel, cement and chemical works, glass manufacturers, and heavy energy users in brewing and food manufacture.

The regional TUC reckons that up to 28,000 people work in these major plants, and three or four times as many in their supply chains. No UK region has a bigger carbon footprint than this, or a bigger question to answer: How to protect and develop our foundation industries and deliver the jobs, skills and training for a just transition to a low carbon economy?

Sometimes this comes very close to home, as with the floods which hit Leeds over Christmas 2015. One particular story is still very fresh for those affected - an engineering company closed its plant on Kirkstall Road in the aftermath, with the loss of around 100 well-paid, highly skilled jobs. It was a plant that had provided several generations of employment and all the pride that came from making car parts that were used in popular cars.

The workers put a plan forward to keep the jobs, but the company moved the production elsewhere. Union officials on our Task Force are very clear this was due to climate change. They are desperate to make sure that similar disasters don’t happen again – communities losing out through job losses, in which those most affected have no say.

The 2-day course will help to equip trades unions and workers with information and ideas about how to respond to the implementation of the Government’s Industrial and Clean Growth policies. As well as the big picture of low carbon policy and technology, the course focuses on what is happening in particular companies and unions, to support participants to create their own negotiating strategy. Skills and training are an essential element, as always.

One thing is for sure – ‘business as usual’ is not a viable strategy, so a Just Transition will be central to future economics. It’s about protecting employment and enhancing the skills of existing workers and the generations to come to provide great jobs.

The recent United Nation’s report warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Urgent action is needed in all sectors of the economy – in manufacturing, power supply, transport and energy savings.

There is every reason for trade unions to get involved.

To book a place on the course go to: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/just-transition-course-for-trade-union-reps-tickets-50641096884

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Jenny Patient

Jenny Patient is a PhD student at the University of Sheffield’s Urban Studies and Planning Department.

Jenny has worked with the Sheffield Climate Alliance, focusing especially on the employment, health and social co-benefits of climate action.

Jenny is involved with the Yorkshire and Humber Low Carbon Task Force set up by the Regional TUC.