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September 20: union actions against the climate emergency

Demonstrate and intervene at work and in industry

Sydney 2016

Heat stress and extreme climate events

Joining in on September 20

It is now just one month and a bit before the next secondary school students’ local and global action against climate change and, in particular, the fossil fuel industry and its drivers.

The secondary school students are urging adults and adult run organisations to join in.

I am excited by what our secondary students are doing, their calm focus, and the strategic perspective in their latest call.

Unions as adult organizations

Unions are the most important adult organisations. Union members organise at the point of production and distribution of material goods and the delivery of 21st century services, including in fossil fuel corporations that must go and renewable energy businesses that must grow. (For more on the general union perspective click here. Several Australian unions are members of TUED, including the NUW, MUA, Nurses and NTEU. Click here. And for more on what unions around the world are doing start here or here. For more on useful union statements, click here, here, here, and here.)

Therein lies the potential for the escalation of power for those who want to save the planet, which is why corporations and governments make laws that repress the expression of that power against the exploitation of workers, communities and nature. Unions understand strikes and know full well that any strike outside of the restricted rights in enterprise bargaining means defying the law.

Potentially, union membership is the base for workers to take more control over their work, including redefining and asserting its social purpose over and above its profit driven motive.

However actual union intervention is not simple and requires careful preparation, as the ACTU points out. Union staffs can and must educate and organise their members to take part on September 20th. Union flags and banners everywhere, in solidarity. Union members can do it also without waiting for union officials to give leadership. Don’t wait for it, demand it.

Unions, heat and extreme events

Also, climate change creates specific new threats to workers at work, and in their journeys to and from work. These threats must be addressed as real issues and also as chances for members to learn more deeply about the causes and effects of climate change, and the opportunities that rely in renewable production.

Heat stress and other danger at work, including in journeys to and from work, are 2 pretty obvious examples. Many more workers will be exposed to more extreme heat conditions for longer periods of time. This will include workers whose relatively benign air conditioning is more likely to drop out. Not many employers will be friendly to slower or zero work in those conditions.

Already, sudden dangerous situations are arising from unpredictable and unusual weather events, including fire, flooding, thunderstorms, and hurricanes. Not many outdoor work places are equipped with the protocols and knowledge to deal with the problems that lie ahead.

Workers should not have to face lost wages because of down time in these circumstances, especially given that they did not create them.

“Extreme event” clauses can be designed for enterprise agreements and awards for all types of workers, not just those who work in such situations already.

Each union will have members who know what the content of such claims may be. And already there may be such claims in operation.

Thousands of workers in emergency services are already union members, and thousands of other workers volunteer for emergency service action.

These unionised and non-union workers hold a deep reservoir of knowledge and skills for will be required. They know the correct practice, the most effective equipment and machinery. They possess the knowledge and skills that all workers will need to help each other in extreme climate change events, including first aid, resuscitation. protocols and associated equipment and, skills training to use, including first aid, and resuscitation.

Heat stress standards are common, but not enough, and no doubt there are workers who have created good protocols, some of which may already be in some enterprise agreements.

Worker pressure has often led to some good protocols to deal with heat stress in company policies. But, remember, company policies can be changed and controlled by the employer, not the workers or their union.

Deeper learning

Of course, this is dealing with the effects of climate change. As necessary as these measures are, they do not deal with the causes.

However, such action within unions is normal union activity. It would be regarded among members as logical and would also, as such, attract new members.

In taking this action there will be ample opportunity, and of course, responsibility, to ensure deeper learning about the climate emergency.

Those unions that still run their own education programmes for workplace delegates and union officials can beef up their climate change content. Our movement can be much better than it is at producing leaflets and pamphlets that are educative not just slogans and memes.

The basic content must show the link between heat and extreme events and climate change. Fundamental material is always useful, not just for those who have not yet switched on to the emergency, but also to help those who have to work out how they can more effectively educate in less formal settings at work (especially the lunch room) and away from work.

The fundamentals can focus on

  1. Climate change is real;

  2. It’s happening faster and more dangerously than just a few years ago;

  3. It’s major driver is the dominant fossil fuel energy systems driven by the big corporations, but not only that;

  4. The Australian government is failing its people on climate change;

  5. It poses many practical problems for everyone;

  6. Workers at work, and in their journeys to and from work, face new and escalated dangers;

  7. Workers can take action for their own safety;

  8. There is an alternative in mass production of renewable energy;

  9. Workers can drive the rescue of the web of life [1]that we are a part of, and which is necessary for our children’s future.

September 20: launch date for escalating union action

Many, but still not enough, unions are preparing to mobilize members to join in the secondary school students strike for September 20. Many are also organizing associated non-strike actions.

There are lots of possibilities. For example, education activities, shorter stop works (still prohibited in Australian workplace law), worker lunch time meetings followed by delegations to employers.

Drawing upon our history, on September 20th unions can also launch any new claims for workers’ safety associated with heat stress and “extreme events”. These could be served on employers in targeted enterprise agreement negotiations.

Also, they could be served as industrial award claims in the regular 4 yearly review of award standards. Again, the law is not helpful here, but our history of defiance and actions, like green bans, show the historic possibilities.

The people make history that counts, not famous individuals

If you haven’t yet worked out how you are going to be a part of the democratic mass movement of the 21st century then you must take notice and do so. Of course, the struggle will be messy. Making the world of difference is rarely clean and uncomplicated. Embrace it and stay staunch until we win. In 30-40 years or so, if you are alive, you will not want to say, “I was there but I did not join in.” Or to pretend that you did more than you really did.

[1] More on this to follow

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