On August 11, TUED convened its latest Global Forum, to take up the question: "COP26: What Do Unions Want?"
The Forum saw contributions from COP26 host national center, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Trade Union Confederation of the Americas(TUCA), the UK’s Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and Public Services International (PSI).
Nearly 150 participants joined the call, from 69 unions in 40 countries around the world.
The forum opened with remarks from Roz Foyer, General Secretary of the STUC. As the national trade union center for Scotland, with 40 affiliated unions as of 2020, the STUC represents over 540,000 trade unionists. Based in Glasgow, STUC will play host to trade unionists from around the world at COP26, in partnership with the UK’s TUC. (The recording of Foyer’s full contribution is available here.)
Foyer began by highlighting the STUC’s domestic campaigning priorities in Scotland in preparation for COP26, noting that these “chime in very closely with the TUED approach”:
We are first and foremost striving at the moment to build a genuine people’s recovery from the pandemic, and that people’s recovery that we are calling for is about calling for systematic changes to how our economy is organized, and really shifting the narrative around “private = good, public = bad.” And we’re also wanting to see our economy being rebuilt on a just transition. Everyone talks about a ‘just transition’ for workers, but we don’t believe that that just transition is being carried out by governments at this time. So we want to see a people’s recovery from the pandemic and a people’s transition to net zero.
The Covid crisis and the climate crisis have both brought into sharp focus the fact that the private sector and big business have proven themselves as being totally unable to meet the economic and social challenges that economies across the world now face. I think the writing was already on the wall when ordinary people through their governments were forced to bail out the banks during the financial crisis of 2010. And the latest incarnation of this are the various government rescue plans that we’ve seen across the world during covid, which, however necessary to save jobs in the short term, have really been largely focused on bailing out the bosses and the private sector.
So as we look forward to the vital need to decarbonize and achieve net zero through a Just Transition, it’s quite unthinkable that this could be achieved without massive government intervention, and without the efficiency and accountability that can only be delivered by direct, public sector delivery.
Turning to preparations for COP26, Foyer emphasized that the STUC’s approach is to use COP26 as a campaigning and leveraging opportunity, and as a means to build awareness and working class power, and make demands to government which are rooted in the real material needs of working people in Scotland. Towards that end, STUC has identified three campaign priorities which they will focus on in the months leading up to COP26.
First, the STUC is calling for good quality jobs in renewables for Scottish workers:
We need to see real, good quality jobs in renewables. Scotland has no shortage of renewable energy. We have wind and wave power. We have a good transition on paper towards renewable energy. But our low-carbon and renewable energy economy is dominated by private and overseas interests. Apart from one single demonstration turbine off the coast of Scotland, all of Scotland’s offshore wind is controlled by private corporations or overseas governments at this time. And these companies are all too willing to offshore jobs and ship content — in terms of the hardware required for renewable energy projects — from the other side of the world. For us, this makes no sense from a social and an environmental justice perspective. It’s led to what’s called over here in Scotland the ‘Battle for BiFab,’ to bring work into our fabrication yards here in Scotland.
But rather than unions having to mount reactive campaigns based on whispers about the next contract from industry bosses, what we need is a publicly owned energy company and systems to build renewables, run energy networks, and coordinate upgrades, ensuring that renewables work isn’t off-shored halfway around the world, but that it is based on local supply chains, local skills and building local jobs and new industries for workers. And the market will not provide that; that needs to be done by big government.
Second, the STUC would like to see a street-by-street retrofitting program for conservation upgrades to buildings:
Two of our biggest cities here in Scotland — Dundee and Glasgow — have very high levels of housing which is unfit for use, and quite simply, if we want to reduce emissions, and create jobs, and tackle fuel poverty for our people, then this is the biggest single intervention that we could get our government here in Scotland to make. But currently, much of the retrofitting and much of our current construction sector is characterized by highly questionable employment practices such as bogus self-employment and the exploitation of migrant labor.
So to create good quality, unionized jobs and ensure that profits aren’t hoovered up by the rich, what we need are publicly owned and publicly delivered, street-by-street retrofitting programs here in Scotland. And we believe that this could be best delivered through Scotland’s local authorities — our local elected councils.
Third, Foyer called for a return of Scotland’s public transport systems to public ownership and control:
We need to take back control of our public transport — particularly of our buses — and to pilot [i.e., test] free bus travel. In Glasgow where the COP26 is taking place there are high levels of poverty, and half of all households don’t have access to a car. And yet our privatized bus network means that private companies benefit from government subsidies while cutting routes and hiking up fares for those who can least afford it.
So whether it is for reasons of climate change, whether it is for cutting air pollution for our citizens, or for reasons of social inclusion, worker safety or supporting our clean, green domestic bus manufacturing here in Scotland, we would like to see publicly owned and affordable bus travel.
Summarizing, Foyer emphasized that STUC believes it is campaigns such as these that “are rooted in the material needs of working people, which trade unionists, environmentalists and community groups can rally behind, and that would unite movements around class, climate and community welfare.”
At the same time, she noted:
On the ground in Glasgow, it’s quite possible that we may see industrial disputes that coincide with COP26. Some of these could be linked to our refuse workers, who are dealing with cuts to rubbish [waste] services. We have Glasgow City Council workers here in the city who are dealing with severe cuts to community facilities, with 500+ jobs under threat at this time, as well as real-term cuts in pay for workers and ongoing equal pay issues. Or we have our hospitality workers who will no doubt be asked to look after delegates on ‘zero hour’ contracts on the minimum wage. And of course, the STUC will be ready to stand with any group of workers who are in dispute with their employer, either during the COP or beyond.
Foyer also reviewed provisional plans for the STUC’s actions and activities in the coming months and during the COP (while noting that much remains uncertain around the COP itself due to Covid restrictions, and specific plans may change).
Of special note, the STUC plans to organize a trade union bloc for the planned COP26 Coalition Mobilization on Saturday, November 6, and will support the COP26 Coalition in its coordination of a People’s Summit, November 7-10. More information will be available in due course via the STUC website.
In preparation for the COP, the STUC will also host a conference on September 2, with partners in the Just Transition Partnership. Speakers will include Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC, Asad Rehman, Executive Director of War on Want, and TUEDCoordinator Sean Sweeney.
Following Foyer’s contribution, the Global Forum also welcomed contributions from:
The recording of the full Global Forum with all speakers and discussion is available here.
The TUED team