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Momentum grows for just transition

Carolyn Egan

October 1, 2017

In a stunning move the 5.7 million strong Trades Union Congress in the United Kingdom passed a resolution on climate change and just transition that called for public ownership of the energy sector. It was a unanimous vote, which backed a major plank in Jeremy Corbyn’s election manifesto, “For the Many, Not the Few”, which stated that the government should take energy back into public ownership to deliver renewable energy, affordability for consumers, and democratic control. This is a major push back against the neo-liberal agenda which has privitization as one of its key goals.

The motion also called for a “mass programme of retrofit and insulation of Britain’s homes and public buildings” as a step toward just transition for workers. It went on to say the TUC should lobby for the establishment of a Just Transition strategy for those workers affected by industrial changes necessary to develop a more environmentally sustainable future for all, and develop practical steps needed to achieve this as integral to industrial strategy. It also spoke of investigating the long-term risks for pension funds investing in fossil fuels, promote divestment, and alternative reinvestment in the sustainable economy.

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy quoted Jenny Patient from the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group as saying, “We know there are good and valuable jobs in the transition to zero carbon and this resolution shows the way forward by making this integral to a cross-sector industrial strategy that can rebalance and rebuild industries and protect workers.” Now the words must turn into action.

Reclaiming Alberta’s Future Today

In Alberta a group has come together called Reclaiming Alberta’s Future Today (RAFT) which is initiating a project to clean up old oil infrastructure across the province which has a lot of environmental liabilities. There are hundreds of thousands of wells, which could provide jobs for tens of thousands of workers in this process. RAFT intends to do a public campaign with speaking tours to every area of Alberta talking to Indigenous peoples, ranchers, farmers, trade unionists and anyone who cares about the future of their province. They are hoping to set up local groups as part of the campaign asking the government to take action to support the initiative.

This is a hugely important project which raises the question of how workers can transition from extraction jobs to jobs which can heal the earth and reemploy unemployed oil workers. This is the type of campaign that the climate justice movement can get behind and show workers that they are fighting along side them for good, union jobs that can use their skills. It can advance the campaign for “just transition” in a very concrete way and allow for Indigenous peoples, environmentalists and workers to come together in common cause.

If something like this succeeds in Alberta it could be a blue print that could be used in many other countries as well. There are 2.5 million inactive wells in the US for example and many of the oil finds in the North Sea have matured. If workers can become involved in reclaiming wells, the draw of the tar sands and pipelines can be much diminished. It also can hold industry accountable for the destruction of the land in its race for profits.

It is initiatives like these that can overcome the divide between jobs and the environment, which has certainly been narrowing, but still exists. It gives hope that we can build a climate justice movement that leaves no one behind and can actually provide strategies to build the unity that is so necessary for us to create a sustainable future for all.

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