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Labour for the climate

Carolyn Egan

May 23, 2015

A march for “Jobs, Justice and the Climate” is being organized in Toronto on July 5 before the Pan Am Games, with other lead up actions being planned in the city and across the country.

The organizers make it clear that there does not have to be a contradiction between jobs and protection of the environment. This is a false choice being put forward by governments and corporations whose goals are to make profits at all costs, destroying the environment and exploiting workers and communities. brought together a coalition in Toronto—building a network of environmentalists, trade unionists, indigenous peoples, representatives of racialized communities, and young people. It calls for governments to make significant investment in mass transit, affordable housing and infrastructure projects that will create green jobs.

“We want an economy where workers win, communities have more democratic control, and those most impacted and impoverished are the first in line to benefit. Which honours indigenous peoples’ rights and recognizes their role in protecting the land, air and water for everyone. Which respects the limits of the environment made clear by climate science.”

A Pan American Climate Summit and an Economic Summit will be taking place in Toronto at the same time as the games, and corporate elites from across the Americas will be gathering putting forward their neoliberal propaganda. The organizers of the march are clearly linking climate change and austerity, and are joining the millions across the globe who are fighting back against these attacks. They are calling for a justice-based transition to a new economy and state clearly that a mass movement must be built.

The fact that the Toronto and York Region Labour Council and other unions have joined the organizing is very important. For many years labour and environmental organizations had been at odds but there have been significant efforts to break this down in recent times and it’s paying off.

There is a federal election in Canada in the fall and the international climate meetings are taking place in Paris in December. Working people and indigenous communities must make their voices heard. The Pan Am games offers an important opportunity to build alliances and make the political demands that can rally the majority to a platform that takes on the destruction of the environment and the austerity agenda at the same time.

This changes everything

Another important symposium on the issue was called together by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis stemming from her recent book “This Changes Everything.” Representatives from across the country gathered at the University of Toronto in May to discuss common goals for building an ongoing movement for climate justice. Delegates came together from First Nations who have been long involved in this struggle, environmentalists, labour and community organizations. They listened to each other and discussed strategies for future work together. Building for July 5 was part of the agenda.

Something is happening at this conjuncture that has never happened before, and it is taking place within an anti-capitalist framework. A climate justice movement is developing, building on the recent history of Idle No More, Occupy, and the Quebec student strike. What will come from it is not totally clear at this moment but the fact that workers are joining forces with indigenous peoples and environmentalists is tremendously important.

The slogan “Climate Change is Union Business” is being taken seriously. Workers are understanding that here are no jobs on a dead planet. Building a broad mass movement will increase the confidence of working people everywhere and make it clearer that we have the power to create a better world. Today we have the opportunity to do so and must work to build strong union involvement in the July 5 march and the ongoing organizing that will flow from it.

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