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Why labour should support the climate strike

Carolyn Egan

September 4, 2019

The climate strike scheduled for September 27th in Canada is part of a world-wide mobilization intended to take on the environmental catastrophe we are facing. Young people have raised a clarion call intended to build a mass movement, not to simply maintain the status quo, but to create a vision of a new society without exploitation, oppression and the rape of the planet.
The Extinction Rebellion demonstrations that rocked London a number of months ago were the largest mass demonstrations since the anti-war movement and show the potential for a sustained fight for a different world.

In order for such a movement to build and to be effective in taking on the captains of industry, and the capitalist system itself, the working class must be a part of the solution. It is workers’ collective strength that has the power to shut down the economy and push back against the greed and devastating policies of the ruling class. To its credit Fridays for the Future and other climate organizations have called on the trade union movement to mobilize its members as part of the fight. Groups such as Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, Green Jobs for All, and labour organizations such as the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW)have been putting forward concrete proposals such as the greening of the truck fleet of Canada Post by converting the 7,500 vehicles to electric power.

Nationalize GM Oshawa

A demand has been raised by Unifor Local 222 at GM Oshawa, which is slated to close with only a few hundred of its thousands of jobs remaining, that the plant be nationalized and retooled to produce electric vehicles for Canada Post. The campaign has been relaunched by Green New Deal Oshawa and members of the local union leafleted the recent Unifor national convention. The organization is made up of community and environmental groups and other union such as CUPW, and United Steelworkers local 1005 which waged a long fight against closure and concessions in Hamilton.

There have been work stoppages at the assembly plant since the closure was announced and recently some auto part shops which supply it have had walkouts as well. A Steelworker manufacturing plant recently had a successful downing of tools on a different issue demanding that the company apply for work share so that members would be paid employment insurance for the days when there was not enough work.

The Green New Deal

The Green New Deal, initiated by the Sunshine Movement and championed by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives, and a  member of the Democratic Socialists of America, has been gaining support across the United States and more recently in Canada. It is calling for a massive infrastructure program on the scale of the FDR New Deal which created millions of jobs during the great depression in the 1930s.

Bernie Sanders has recently launched his GND proposal which ups the ante by stating that “renewable energy generated by the Green New Deal will be publicly owned”. It calls for ending unemployment by creating 20 million good paying union jobs in steel, auto, construction, retrofitting and renewable power plants, explicitly calling for jobs for Black, Indigenous and other minority communities. It is trying to bring workers on side in the climate fight and make it clear that  it is in the their interest to throw their strength into the struggle, not side with the ruling class who is only interested in profits by opposing climate justice.  The New Democratic Party in Canada should look at this program and greatly strengthen its proposals for the federal election by putting forward a real alternative to the Liberals.

Building for the upcoming climate strike within our unions is a critical task over this next month.  It creates a great opportunity to get into the necessary discussions with workers about why they must make an absolute priority of joining Indigenous and racialized communities along side environmentalists to build a mass climate justice movement with an anti-racist, class perspective.

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