A Volatile Political Economy. Report on Climate Change and Work: International Perspectives Workshop

By Linda Clarke, Professor of European Industrial Relations in the Westminster Business School, University of Westminster.

On Tuesday 4 April 2017 an international workshop jointly organized by Sheffield Climate Alliance, Sheffield Trade Union Council, and researchers involved in the international research programme Adapting Canadian Workplaces (ACW) (http://www.adaptingcanadianwork.ca/) was held in Sheffield. This coincided with the International Labour Process Conference held at the University of Sheffield, which included a stream on Climate Change and Work and attracted a number of researchers and trade unionists from different countries. The Adapting Canadian Workplaces (ACW) programme, led by Professor Carla Lipsig Mummé, includes many Canadian trade unions, including the Postal Workers, Union of Public Employees, United Steelworkers, and British Columbian Building Trades, as well as the Labor Network for Sustainability. The project has been building databases on collective agreement clauses and training programmes on climate change. The workshop provided an opportunity to discuss climate change and its impact on labour and to exchange ideas about activities locally in the Sheffield area and in other parts of the globe.

The workshop was chaired by Professor Linda Clarke of University of Westminster, and began with Donald Lafleur (Vice President of the Canadian Labour Congress), introducing in particular the union’s green vision for Canada Post (Delivering Community Power: how Canada Post can be the hub of our Next Economy – http://www.deliveringcommunitypower.ca/) and how it can revitalise the postal sector in Canada. It continued with contributions from Carla Lipsig-Mummé of York University, Toronto, who presented an overview of the ACW research programme, highlighting its close links with trade unions, global reach as a resource and a collaborative platform, and future plans. Béla Galgóczi, responsible for work on environmental issues[i] at the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) in Brussels, emphasised that the change/transition to a green economy is happening, so the question is how to manage it well and how do we make sure that trade unions/workers have a voice in this process. Professor John Calvert of Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, then described the exemplary initiatives of the BC Insulators trade union (Local 118), which has been promoting climate initiatives across the region.

From the UK, Graham Petersen, presented the campaigning and policy work of the Greener Jobs Alliance (GJA) (http://www.greenerjobsalliance.co.uk/), of which he is Secretary. GJA, representing a partnership of trade unions, student organisations and groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, has been producing valuable training material to be used by trade unions. Finally, Martin Mayer of Sheffield TUC and Jenny Patient (Sheffield Climate Alliance Coordinator) spoke about their campaign against fracking in South Yorkshire, a sustainable transport policy for Sheffield/ Yorkshire, and the large climate change adaptation study carried out across the Yorkshire and Humberside region.

Interspersed with these brief presentations were lively and thought-provoking discussions and interventions on integrating climate change- related action into collective agreement clauses, the impact of the changing political landscape in Canada and the USA, the importance of alliances, and the issue of ‘just transition’. The workshop showed just how valuable and inspiring it can be to situate what we are doing in a wider context and to draw lessons from trade union interventions across the world. For further information, contact Sheffield Climate Alliance: info@sheffieldclimatealliance.net or Linda Clarke: clarkel@wmin.ac.uk


[i] See, for instance, https://www.etui.org/Events/Monthly-Forum-The-long-and-winding-road-from-black-to-green-decades-of-structural-change-in-the-Ruhr-region