The Trades Union Congress (TUC), which represents a majority of British trade unions, took an historic step on 12 September 2017 when it unanimously passed Climate Change Motion 10 and its amendments. This begins: ‘Congress notes the irrefutable evidence that dangerous climate change is driving unprecedented changes to our environment...’
No doubt many Greens will be saying: ‘About time too! How many hurricanes did it take to make you notice this?’ Understandable, but unfair, since, for a long time, awareness of climate change and environmental crisis has been building amongst trade unions.
This is not surprising if you remember that some unions’ members are increasingly on the frontline when it comes to dealing with the consequences of climate change. Firefighters, ambulance crews and many other workers in the emergency services cope with floods and their victims. Airport and transport workers (and sometimes their families too) are consistently exposed to harmful pollutants such as diesel emissions. University, college and school teachers have continually tried to pass on the uncomfortable truths about our environmental crisis, which the powerful often seek to deny or ignore.
In 2016, the Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) was the main proponent of a TUC Climate Change Motion, which perhaps went further than the 2017 motion in explicitly calling for an end to airport expansion. However, this was construed by some as a threat to jobs and the motion foundered, with 75 per cent voting against versus only 25 per cent voting for.
Perhaps the 2017 success was a case of carrot being more effective than stick in spurring the TUC carthorse and, whilst I’m doing animal comparisons, even Unite and GMB, often seen as anti- Green dinosaurs, supported it.
While this could be seen as a fudge that enables the TUC to say, ‘Yes, we’re dealing with climate change, look at the 2017 motion,’ it is without doubt a significant step forward. With the combined weight of the trade union movement, concerted collective pressure can be applied to government and businesses to ensure that climate change is taken seriously and made a priority at the highest levels of decision-making.
So, will the Greens now have to adapt the time-honoured Trotskyite demo slogan: ‘TUC, get off your knees! Call a general climate change strike!’