ITUC and Climate Change – Salleh and Waterman

The International Unions and Climate Change:

‘Historic Resolution’ or ‘Magical Thinking’?

Introduction

My impression of the International Trade Union Confederation’s 2nd Congress (Vancouver, June, 2010) was that its procedures and resolutions showed it still to be locked into the second half of the 20th century. This was the period of national-colonial industrial capitalism, in which the unions could (imagine) gains to at least the unionised through self-subordination to the ideas and structures of capitalist development – particularly the idea of social (i.e. capitalist) partnership. This ideology and self-subordination is represented internationally by the ‘tripartite’ International Labour Organisation, in which labour (i.e. unions) have 25% representation, capital and state 75%.

We are, however, now in a period of globalised and neo-liberalised capitalism, which is not only destroying jobs and unions but also repeatedly demonstrating its insatiable life-destroying drives – most dramatically and fatally in the area of climate change and by the evident incapacity of ‘the international community’ to even begin to address this.

Given, however, my lack of expertise in this particular area, I asked Ariel Salleh, who I knew to have this expertise, to briefly comment. There follows below an item from the ITUC’s website and a response from Salleh.

(Peter Waterman, peterwaterman1936@gmail.com, The Hague, 140710).

Now read on:

http://www.ituc-csi.org/international-trade-unions-to.html?lang=en

International trade unions to adopt historic

resolution on climate change

24 June 2010: Unions from all over the world are to adopt today an ambitious resolution on climate change. In the framework of the 2nd ITUC Congress, unions have debated their role in the fight against climate change, the means to create green and decent jobs and ensure a just transition towards a low carbon economy and the need for achieving a fair, ambitious and binding deal on climate under UN auspicies.

“In the last years, unions have deepened their understanding and commitment on climate change; the time has come in this 2nd ITUC Congress to consolidate our policies” said Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the ITUC. “With this resolution, trade unions of the world show that if there is ambition and solidarity, it is possible to agree on the measures needed to combat climate change; governments should step up to their responsibilities, as unions have done”.

The resolution establishes policies on the need for ambitious emission reductions in developed countries, for sufficient funding to be allocated to help the poorest of the world to adapt to climate change, and for developing countries not to repeat the mistakes of the past but to engage instead in a different development path, so as to help build the low carbon, climate resilient and socially-fair world we need.

“Climate change is definitely a workers’ issue, and Congress is demonstrating leadership by showing that there is no incompatibility between achieving decent work and social justice and protecting the environment”, said Sharan Burrow, President of the ITUC. “On the contrary, targetted investments and policies aimed at creating green and decent jobs in certain sectors, such as renewable energies, energy efficiency and public transportation can help us overcome the job crisis we are living through, and unions today are willing to convey this message to the world”.

“Solidarity between and within countries and a Just Transition are key to ending climate change” said Burrow. “Unions of the world have to ensure that their governments share costs and gains in a fair manner, and push for the transition to a low-carbon and sustainable society to be done in such a way that everyone has a place” she added.

In addition to the resolution “Combatting Climate Change through Sustainable Development and Just Transition”, a documentary produced by ITUC and Sustainlabour showcases activities and commitments from the world’s unionists– from leaders to shopfloor activists – on climate change.

‘Magical thinking’, comments Ariel Salleh, feminist eco-socialist.

[ITUC text, Ariel Salleh’s comments in italics]

The resolution establishes policies on the need for ambitious emission reductions in developed countries,

Yet it does not question the meaning of ‘development’ – a major weapon of big white men’s colonisation if ever there was one. So here are some ideas for the World of Work pavilion at COP 16.

for sufficient funding to be allocated to help the poorest of the world to adapt to climate change,

Money cannot fix climate change or mend broken metabolic cycles in nature. What the unions are really talking about here is technology transfer, which will mean aid for the rich global North exporter in the longer run. The Cocha[bamba] working group has made the same mistake.

and for developing countries not to repeat the mistakes of the past but to engage instead in a different development path, so as to help build the low carbon, climate resilient and socially-fair world we need.

The unions still envisage a continuation of industrialisation, but imagine that machines can be invented which will do it better than in the past. This is a kind of magical thinking, in denial or oblivious to the fact that ‘new gadgets’ cannot stop fundamental life sustaining metabolic structures in the biosphere being smashed apart by mining for manufacture and emissions from burning nature up. This magical thinking is known in the sustainability trade (consultants etc) as de-materialisation and it is a nonsense.

“Climate change is definitely a workers’ issue, and Congress is demonstrating leadership by showing that there is no incompatibility between achieving decent work and social justice and protecting the environment”, said Sharan Burrow, President of the ITUC.

What the unions need to ask themselves is in what way is decent work also green work? What is a green job? A real green job will be one that protects and even enhances metabolic structures in nature while meeting human needs. This is what farmers in the global South already know how to do. Right now, it is workers in the global North who are needing ‘capacity building’ in order to learn about the difference between productive labour and reproductive or regenerative labour – see Salleh, ‘From Metabolic Rift to Metabolic Value’, in Organization & Environment (2010), June.

Sharan Burrow, the former head of Australia’s ACTU, is on a steep learning curve in this respect. She has even argued that coal mining and steel manufacture should be considered green jobs … because they will make ‘ecologically sound’ new gadgets like renewables. The question of whether people ‘really need’ all the other ‘stuff’ that renewables will fire up for them. The supply side mindset carries the day.

“On the contrary, targetted investments and policies aimed at creating green and decent jobs in certain sectors, such as renewable energies, energy efficiency and public transportation can help us overcome the job crisis we are living through, and unions today are willing to convey this message to the world”.

This message about ‘energy efficiency’ is part of the ecological modernist corporate mantra. But those who use it forget the Jevons’ paradox which says that the more efficient production is the more stuff can be produced. And stuff cannot be produced without chewing up nature and spitting it out. Well, the unions have been in bed with capital for a long time.

“Solidarity between and within countries and a Just Transition are key to ending climate change” said Burrow. “Unions of the world have to ensure that their governments share costs and gains in a fair manner, and push for the transition to a low-carbon and sustainable society to be done in such a way that everyone has a place” she added.

They all mean well – but this Just Transition should be understood the other way around. It is time for the global North to take a few lessons from people in the global South. Living well is the key.

Ariel Salleh

Hon. Associate Professor

Department of Political Economy

SSPS, Faculty of Arts

The University of Sydney

New South Wales 2006, Australia

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