Trade-Unionists from Africa and the World Converge in Durban around COP 17 in Search of Solutions to the World’s Economic and Climate Crises
Durban, South Africa--
As governments of the world gather in Durban, South Africa for the 17th Conference of Parties (COP 17) as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to supposedly negotiate viable solutions to the devastating increase in climate change world-wide, so are peoples’ movements from around the world. Trade-unions, including rank and file members, shop stewards, union officials and staff from among other places South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Senegal, Ethiopia, Europe and the US organized a series of seminars, workshops and discussions in the World of Work Pavilion (WoW) as part of the civil society space around the COP 17 at the University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban (UKZN).
This program was designed to educate, agitate and foment dialogue around the key areas of economic activity related to the escalating emission of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG’s) causing climate change and its devastating impacts including: extreme energy extraction (oil, coal, tar sands) and renewable alternative forms of energy (namely solar and wind), transportation (of materials and people). WoW was organized by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA), National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) and others.
A number of key seminars were organized by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) – an international trade union federation of transport workers’ unions - related to the transport sector (including the transport of materials and people) and climate change.
From the US, Roger Toussaint of the Transport Workers’ Union participated in multiple sessions. Community-based as well as academic working-class representatives from around the world working to fight climate change and build the movement for climate justice joined representatives of the IFT and its affiliate unions including: Lushendrie Naidu - South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, Patrick Bond –of the Center for Civil Society at UKZN, Sean Sweeney, Lara Skinner, and Jill Kubit – the Cornell Global Labor Institute (GLI), Francisca Porchas - The Bus Riders’ Union & the Labor Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles (BRU/LALCSC), and Jonathan Neale form the One Million Climate Jobs Campaign - UK.
South Africa born Alana Dave - Education Officer of the ITF along with Joseph Kevin Katende – Africa Regional Secretary of ITF (from Uganda) played key roles in organizing and facilitating the program and demonstrated visionary leadership and class-consciousness by creating space for these community and academy-based activists and organizers to play roles in the program. This is critical because it is clear that the entire working class, the 99%, must be united and working in concert in order to have the power necessary in order to make our values and self-interest real in the world.
Discussion topics included: an introduction to climate change, developing a trade-union and working class political perspective, analyzing transport and climate change, understanding the employment dimension of climate change and just transition - including the One Million Climate Jobs Campaigns in South Africa and the UK; environmental activism in South Africa; the experience of South Durban – lessons and challenges for unions, and mobilizing for alternatives to high carbon economies to low-carbon and sustainable economies.
The discussions were advanced. While very useful information was conveyed and there was plenty of unity and passion around the fact that the global labor movement and working-class must play a leadership role in proposing and fighting for alternatives to the high-carbon economy in order to mitigate climate change and its impacts as well as to adapt where climate change has already begun, sharp debate between trade-unionists emerged around the implications on jobs and livelihood when projecting an economy free (or nearly free) from coal and oil, especially from mine and metal workers including the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) who articulated justified concerns about the future of their ability to find and maintain quality work with at least their current wages and benefits if a significant shift to renewable energies was won as a number of participants pointed to this as a key part of the way forward to stop climate change, its impacts and help solve the economic crisis.
Responses to these challenges were offered by a number of participants. One example was Jonathan Neale – Secretary of the One Million Climate Jobs Campaign in the UK who responded to multiple sisters and brothers raising these concerns by pointing to the need for a just transition which essentially provides workers in the midst of a necessary transition in their work with a minimum of their current compensation and positive elements of their working conditions, by making the following statement:
“the millions of jobs that must be created must be public-sector jobs (funded and administered by the government), guaranteed at the same or higher wages and benefits, and they must be jobs guaranteed for life”.
To be clear, this was a strategic organizing discussion among trade-unionists, who are united around the fact that the trade-union movement in concert with the environmental and climate justice movements must take responsibility for offering and fighting for genuine solutions to climate change founded on principals of climate and economic justice. During these ITF discussions and other portions of the WoW, solid ground work was further laid for the long-road ahead of unifying a critical mass of the trade-union movement and the working-class as a whole in Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, indeed the entire world to ending the high-carbon economy which is responsible for climate change and its impacts, and replacing it with a low-carbon and just economy with millions of good jobs created in the areas of renewable energy production (particularly solar and wind), mass transportation and more sustainable forms of transport, limiting the rampant waste occurring in the inadequate infrastructure through weatherizing and retrofitting office buildings and houses, as well as more sustainable forms of agriculture.