Trade Unions must demand jobs that protect our planet, not destroy it
The third runway has – along with fracking - become emblematic of the dilemma we face, as a country, a planet and a species. With the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) setting the countdown at twelve years from now, are we going to do the work needed to avoid an existential catastrophe or not?
Too often, trade unions are seen as part of the problem, desperate for jobs and therefore willing to support employers who are intent on blindly taking us towards disaster in the name of further profits.
This is an unfair characterisation. Many unions, including the so-called ‘polluting’ unions, are active in the struggle for environmental justice and the protection of local communities.
But where the issue involves the current employment of its members, short-sightedness can set in as much as for any profit-fixated Chief Executive. Such is the case with trade union support for the third runway.
No one is disputing that a union’s fundamental objective is to protect the jobs of its members. Nor do we fail to understand how that might lead you to defend airport expansion, fracking, oil drilling etc.
But that does raise two important questions: (1) does our survival as a species trump the jobs argument and (2) does the jobs argument stand up to scrutiny anyway. In reality the answers are inextricably linked. Consider the two choices we have on offer right now…
First, we have an employer whose claimed job numbers have no substantial basis and which have been debunked by a PCS-commissioned report. Why a union would choose to parrot those job numbers and add the comment that all 180,000 will be ‘good, unionised jobs’, let alone co-host events with the employer to promote those claims, is beyond comprehension.
By contrast, Labour is offering to govern ‘with’ the unions, to consult about new (renewable) industries, Just Transition, alternative ownership models, workers’ rights and protections, and eliminating poverty wages. Crucially, Labour has also expressed an intention to create ‘climate jobs’, the jobs (in energy, transport, food production, health and many other areas) that are needed to salvage and restore our environment.
The impact of climate change can’t be underestimated. With more frequent and intense ‘freak’ weather events causing untold catastrophe right now, how can we seriously propose putting 260,000 more flights in the sky every year? As for air quality, Central and West London are air pollution hotspots, responsible for thousands of premature deaths and loss of quality of life.
The IPCC report puts us on notice: we HAVE to change. And if industries like aviation (and oil, coal, gas etc.) cannot continue their unchecked growth, then unions are NOT looking after their members long term interests by clinging to them. When change comes or is forced upon us, workers in those industries will be stranded in obsolete jobs without the skills or any plan for an alternative.
In contrast, taking up the Labour offer would actually protect members through participation in what the future employment structure will look like, securing assurances about workers in polluting industries and establishing how to fill the skills gap.
In no way would engaging in those conversations compromise the protection the unions provide to their members right now; PCS is fully committed to protecting its members at Heathrow, no less than any other union, even while opposing the runway. You can do both.
Finally, unions need to learn the lessons of the past. Less than glorious episodes dot our collective history when women, and ethnic minorities, first entered the labour market, resulting in the worst forms of discrimination born out of protection of (white male) members. We know better now, so why would we want to repeat the same errors when it comes to the climate.
Instead of associating ourselves with the kind of growth that the planet cannot sustain, unions need to DEMAND CLIMATE JOBS NOW.
Public and Commercial Services union