Climate jobs and the Unite General Secretary election campaign

Wendy Smith is a Unite member, member of CACCTU and one of the founders of Norfolk Campaign against Climate Change.

People have been shocked at the recent news of deaths from extreme heat and flooding across the globe. Three of the world’s wealthiest men have been racing into space in an effort to find new sources of profit. Meanwhile our government here seems determined to rush the UK into a return to pre-pandemic business as usual. There has never been a more urgent need to fight for effective action in the face of climate catastrophe. The COP26 talks in Glasgow in November present our world leaders with a vital and timely opportunity to deliver more than vague targets and future promises.

The Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union group (CaCCTU) will be launching this autumn the eagerly-awaited update to their groundbreaking pamphlet, “One Million Climate Jobs”, first published in 2004. At the heart of this new report is a core model for a new public service – a National Climate Service – that can get the job done by seeing to the integration of training, redeployment, planning and the interface between sectors (e.g., between industries and energy, or the complex planning needed to integrate and balance public transport).

The Climate Jobs campaign argues we need a sustainable transformation of construction, transport and power among other sectors. Several unions organise workers in these industries and, in order to win the changes we need, these unions should get behind these demands, building support for a transition of the economy and for massive investment in well paid jobs which tackle the climate emergency. In particular, Unite, one of the biggest unions in the Britain, can play a crucial role. Unite is in the process of electing a new General Secretary.

Up to now there has been a tendency amongst many within the Unite leadership to take a defensive position regarding climate change activism. Instead of embracing the possibilities for millions of new jobs in the public transport, buildings retrofitting and renewable energy trades, Unite leaders have opted to present the need to defend the status quo of existing jobs in the aviation, nuclear and private vehicle industries.

Many in the climate movement see some of the proposals put forward by various members of the Unite hierarchy as false solutions. Carbon capture and storage (CCS), nuclear power generation, electric vehicles without addressing car dependency, maintaining current levels of aviation: these are all contributing to the problems of carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases. Many climate activists are also Unite members and feel that their voices are not being heard in the higher echelons of the union.

We need to see a greater involvement by rank and file trade unionists and non-unionised workers in shaping their own futures. We recognize that workers have the skills and expertise to play a role in their own just transition to green jobs.  Wouldn’t it be a refreshing change to see the leadership candidates putting forward the sort of radical ideas that could make that happen? Whoever wins the election, will the next Unite General Secretary embrace and promote the ideas presented in the new CaCCTU report?

CaCCTU will argue in our new report that millions of jobs can be created because of the need to retrofit millions of homes, for example. In order to reduce people’s reliance on private car ownership there is an urgent requirement for a planned public transport network that caters for everyone’s needs. And in the energy sector phasing out fossil fuels and reducing demand have to be the twin starting points.

We feel that the upcoming launch of the report “Climate Jobs: Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency” is a fantastic opportunity to raise the possibility of creating new jobs in the process of transforming industry and to argue that this is also a vital positive step to securing the future of humanity.

If you are a Unite member there are several steps you can take in your own branch:

  • Propose a motion in the branch urging Unite branches, regional committees and nationally to support the Climate Jobs report when it's published.
  • Propose that the branch affiliates to the Campaign against Climate Change (if not already affiliated) and makes a donation towards the printing costs of the new report.
  • Organise a public meeting with other interested groups to help launch the new report. CaCCTU speakers can be arranged via the CaCC office.
Photo credit: Andrew Skudder, Flickr