Climate Change and the role of the Unions – Swindon TUC meeting

Wednesday April 4th 2007
7.30 p.m.
Broadgreen Centre, Salisbury St (off of Manchester Rd)

Swindon TUC’s April meeting will hold a discussion on the question of global warming and what role the trades unions can play in tackling this global problem. Andy Parsons from the Swindon Climate Action Network will lead off the discussion. Anybody interested is welcome to attend.

Within the trade union movement there are differences over issues such as a new round of nuclear power stations which some unions (those with members who work in the industry) say will help to tackle global warming, whilst others point to the incredible cost and the dangers inherent in such a system exemplified by the disastrous accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

It is a commonplace that in order to cut emissions it is necessary to have a radical shift from road to rail. Yet the current government has left the privatised rail network in place, refusing to re-nationalise it. Without a cheaper and more reliable service there is hardly liable to be any significant shift from road to rail. Indeed in the last year train services were cut, encouraging people to return to their cars. In some parts of the South West the privatised train companies put on so few carriages that people who want to use the service are sometimes unable to board them because they are packed like sardines.

One of the questions which merits discussion is the relationship between individual action and collective action. Whilst individuals can take action in relation to their own lives is this sufficient to tackle global problems? The trades unions as collective organisations of working people historically have taken action which has limited the free reign of ‘the market’ and counter-posed social needs to the profit motive which lies at the heart of the economic system we live under. Nationalisation of the railways and the creation of the NHS were two examples carried out by Labour governments.

Can ‘market’ methods tackle global warming? Every political party professes to be ‘green’ today, whilst even the big multi-nationals are presenting a green image. As an example BP calls itself ‘Beyond Petroleum’ even whilst it makes fantastic profits and continues to pollute the environment. Yet the infrastructure of the big companies relies on a distribution network which whilst rational from the point of view of making profits, is irrational from the point of view of the health of the environment and of human beings who suffer the consequences of pollution. The international financial system has pressured countries previously self-sufficient in food to turn to cash crops. Whilst many of their peoples go hungry these cash crops are flown to Europe and the US.

What can the environmental movements and the trades union learn from each other? Is it possible to combine individual and collective action? Can the current economic system be reformed sufficiently to tackle the environmental crisis or do we need to strive for an economic system in which production is based on human needs rather than the profit motive? These are some of the questions we will discuss. Come along and have your say.

 

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