On 17 November 2018 a large group of activists, overwhelmingly rank and file trade unionists, gathered in Edinburgh to discuss how to make a rapid transition to a sustainable energy economy and society in Scotland. Not only a rapid transition, but a just transition, embracing environment and energy, employment and social justice, in the context of the daily reality and needs of people’s lives. Hazel Graham and Brian Parkin report.
The aim of the day was to inform a first draft of an activist ‘manifesto’ for a just transition in Scotland. The hope is that this ‘manifesto’ will act as a starting point for opening conversation with community groups, campaign groups and trade union branches so that we can meet the environmental challenge with solutions to fuel poverty and quality employment. This objective has been gaining substantial support – as shown by the event’s sponsorship by an impressive range of regional trade unions.
The day’s debate was introduced by Hazel Graham from the One Million Climate Jobs Campaign. We heard a global perspective from Jonathan Neale, Campaign Against Climate Change on the climate crisis (video here), and then focused in on Scotland, with structured overviews of Scotland’s Just Transition Commission from Mathew Crighton, Friends of the Earth’s Climate Jobs Campaigner. The conference then formed discussion-groups, which discussed challenges and opportunities for a transition towards a zero-carbon economy in Scotland. Reel News – the radical film cooperative then presented powerful new ‘Climate Rebels’ video footage about working class communities in the United States organising for a just transition. We heard from Andrew Feinstein (Executive Director, Corruption Watch UK) on corruption within defence (video here), and on the potential for defence diversification and the current industry mix from Brian Parkin, Unite Rank and File Construction Workers executive (video here). We then returned for a powerful overview of the UK’s One Million Climate Jobs campaign.
Throughout the day, between talks, we debated what is to be done, how we convince others that change is possible, how a transition to zero carbon could be just and what challenges and opportunities we face in Scotland. We concluded that Scotland is in a unique position to lead globally in demonstrating that a truly just transition to zero carbon is possible. The reasons are fourfold.
Firstly, the sheer scale of availability of renewable energy from wind, tidal, hydro and tidal stream energy is immense. Secondly, there is a skilled workforce across a range of industries, many of which are facing possible decline, such as shipbuilding, as well as a world-class marine structural fabrication workforce which could make this transition rapidly. Thirdly, there is a degree of political radicalism and engagement in Scotland that could enable democratic opportunities such as the new Just Transition Commission. And fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, there is a democratic grassroots movement building amongst the rank and file, now increasingly aware of its potential role in building the low carbon infrastructure of the future.
Our conclusions from the day were that we need to bring the climate jobs argument with us everywhere we go. At anti-fracking demos we need to speak about, not only what we are rightly against, but what we are FOR. As industries face uncertain futures and factories face closure, we need to be there at the picket lines, discussing with those workers the idea that they could use their skills in a different way. We need to understand as a movement that climate change is suddenly on the public agenda again, and that people are truly angry and fearful of the impacts we are beginning to see – so much so that many people new to demonstrating are prepared to risk arrest.
On the same day as our conference was discussing strategies for a sustainable future, thousands of people took over the bridges of London and shut down the city for several hours, demanding that a climate emergency is declared. The numbers were so big that the police rapidly gave up arresting! We need to join forces rapidly with that movement and make sure that the action on climate involves the voices of workers.
The conference fully realised the increased urgency stated in the latest IPCC statement and the need to act on climate change and prevent irreversible, catastrophic warming. We have the technology we need as well as an abundance of renewable energy resources and we have a tiny window of opportunity and hope. The One Million Climate Jobs pamphlet is an incredible tool for bridging the gaps in the debate between workers and environmentalists, who have often been opposed in the past. But we need to make it real for people. We must rapidly map what a just transition would mean for Scotland, but also for each city and town. Scot.E3 invites anyone with skills and knowledge to join us in this.
The climate jobs movement is growing. Across the world, workers are standing up to demand the right to build the infrastructure we need for a liveable future. But it needs to grow faster. And we need to fight for it now.
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