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Issue #1474      29 September 2010

Unions debate climate change action

The NSW Teachers’ Federation (NSWTF), the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union (LHMU) initiated a conference on climate change for all unionists called Climate Active on Saturday September 18.

The three unions reported on how they are responding to climate change in their workplaces. School and university teachers talked about improving students’ understanding of the issue.

In a short video, the LHMU brilliantly portrayed how cleaners bear most of the brunt of workplace changes brought about by climate change.

They have to sort rubbish for recycling or composting, they have accept or reject the use of climate harming chemicals for cleaning, they face conflict and stress in trying to achieve change in the attitudes of their bosses.

With an extensive range of publications, the LHMU has clearly put a lot of thought into climate change and their members’ workplaces.

With Australians the highest per capita carbon producing and consuming people on the planet, there is an urgent need for change. Deep cuts to carbon production, between 40 and 85 percent by 2050, are required for Australia to fulfil its international obligations.

The urgency of the need for action on climate change is reflected in the workplace and unions have no alternative except to be involved. Climate change is union business just as peace is union business.

The main conference speaker was Tim Noonan, Director of Campaigns and Communications for the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in Brussels.

Union fight

He gave a concise picture of the activities of the world wide union movement to fight for decent work in a sustainable, low-carbon world.

Looking at the financial aspect, he pointed to the power of workers’ savings in superannuation worldwide. He said this power should be put to work for all working people rather “than for market capitalism which had clearly failed”.

Tim Noonan suggested the imposition of a “Robin Hood” tax on all. Another speaker proposed a progressive income tax on all and a concerted effort by all levels of government to divert resources to alternative sources of energy.

Just transition

The ACTU has shown that the economy would benefit from a shift to green jobs. Tim Noonan also stressed that there must be a just transition for workers who have to change their jobs.

The CPA at its last Congress stressed that this must be done with no loss of pay or conditions.

The “solutions” being proposed currently – a carbon tax and direct action – were all dismissed as window dressing as they do not penalise the big polluters for polluting.

Some speakers said the political will and the mass movement to bring about change is lacking at present but it has to be built urgently. Union-community united action to bring about change is necessary and possible.

Tim Noonan was not starry eyed, pointing out that every centimetre of progress has been fought for and we can expect more such fights in the future. There is no alternative but to have local, national and global action on these vital questions. 

Next article – MUA marks World Maritime Day

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