There are no jobs on a dead planet. It’s a familiar slogan. But it’s also a powerful summation of why climate action has become core union business.
The need for an urgent transition to a socially and environmentally sustainable economy is clear. What unions are seeking to ensure is that this transition is a just one; one in which workers, and their families and communities, are not penalised or left behind.
To this end, the Victoria Trades Hall Council (VTHC) has released a comprehensive strategy for the construction of a new economy that is environmentally sustainable, democratic, and economically and socially just – with workers’ rights at its centre.
The report, Transition from Crisis: Victoria Trades Hall Council’s Just Transition & Economic Recovery Strategy, outlines the “huge opportunities” presented by a shift to a sustainable economy, and the many ways unions can advocate for climate change action while protecting their members.
It acknowledges that if workers, particularly in high-emissions industries, are to be properly engaged in the shift to a low-carbon economy, they must be confident that their voices will be heard and that governments will provide a clear roadmap for transitioning workers into new local industries.
The report contrasts political inaction on climate change with the response to COVID-19, arguing that when government “takes a problem seriously and commits to dealing with it, the finances to get the problem fixed can be found and the spending is supported by the general population”.
The trauma, disruption and dislocation caused by COVID-19 are unprecedented outside of war time. The response, with its restrictions of civil liberties and suppression of economic activity, has been necessary, proportionate to the threat, and largely accepted by the population.
The deep irony is that acting proportionately to deal with climate change would require none of those infringements of liberties and would produce an economic transformation that would leave Victorians better off. Hence, this strategy is not simply for a just transition but for an economic recovery and the reconstruction of Victoria.
‘We know that the threat of climate change is best met in ways that are deeply engrained in our movement – solidarity, collective action, respect for workers, a commitment to decent jobs and economic and social justice.’
The report is calling for the Victorian government to utilise what we have learnt from the COVID-19 response and continue to mobilise the resources we need, build on community spirit, and apply the same determination to tackling climate change, “based on hope and necessary action for a better world”.
In launching the strategy, Trades Hall secretary Luke Halikari said the union movement’s industrial campaigns have always been matched by a commitment to broader social, political and economic rights.
The VTHC’s Just Transitions report is built on 11 principles, including gender equality, social equity, new energy ownership models, and the involvement of our First Nations peoples.
The strategy offers detailed proposals – for example, a framework for the creation of an Australian offshore wind industry – with a focus on ensuring benefits flow to local communities and workers, while not ignoring the opportunities for Victoria and the nation more broadly.
The VTHC pledges to establish or support ‘just transitions committees’ to formulate policies and support individual unions, engage with environment organisations, and put pressure on national leaders to deliver a fair, ambitious and binding global climate policy in the public interest.
“We know that the threat of climate change is best met in ways that are deeply engrained in our movement – solidarity, collective action, respect for workers, a commitment to decent jobs and economic and social justice. We know, too, that unions must lead in the restructuring of the Australian and global economies necessary if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change,” says Halikari.
“As unionists, we know only too well what happens when economic restructuring occurs without unions to represent the interests of workers. … Making sure it is done well is exactly what Australia needs to break through the scepticism and doubt that a truly fair and sustainable economy is possible.”