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September 2019, Week 1

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Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>
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Thu, 5 Sep 2019 20:00:05 -0400
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 		 [The Global Climate Strike, for trade unions, would necessarily
mean a call for immediate and significant reductions in emissions
while respecting the need for a just transition to protect workers and
their communities.] [https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE LABOR 

 UNIONS MUST JOIN THE GLOBAL CLIMATE STRIKE TO AVERT A CLIMATE
CATASTROPHE  
[https://portside.org/2019-09-05/unions-must-join-global-climate-strike-avert-climate-catastrophe]


 

 Ruwan Subasinghe and Jeff Vogt 
 September 5, 2019
Equal Times
[https://www.equaltimes.org/unions-must-join-the-global#.XXD8dihKiUn] 

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 _ The Global Climate Strike, for trade unions, would necessarily mean
a call for immediate and significant reductions in emissions while
respecting the need for a just transition to protect workers and their
communities. _ 

 Hundreds of schoolchildren took part in a climate protest in Hong
Kong on March 15, inspired by the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta
Thunberg., AP/Kin Cheung 

 

Over the past twelve months, groups like the youth-led
#FridaysforFuture movement and the civil disobedience network
Extinction Rebellion have woken up the world to the climate and
ecological emergency we are facing. Earlier this year, over a million
students walked out of classes as part of two hugely successful global
school strikes against inaction on the climate crisis.

Now young people around the world are calling on workers to join them
on 20 and 27 September for the third wave of global climate strikes
[https://globalclimatestrike.net/]. While some trade unions have been
responding to the call with plans for lunch break actions
[http://unionsforenergydemocracy.org/tued-bulletin-88/] and workplace
climate assemblies
[http://www.cgil.it/la-cgil-aderisce-al-terzo-global-climate-strike/],
most are constrained by legal restrictions on the right to strike at
the national level.

Since taking unprotected action can lead to unions and their leaders
being held liable for damages and individual members being disciplined
or dismissed, defying legal requirements in pursuit of climate action
may not be a viable option for many beleaguered unions across the
globe.

A strike is generally framed in national law as either a positive
right or a freedom from liability which an employer would otherwise be
able to assert in, for example, tort or contract. However, in many
jurisdictions the right can only be exercised in the context of
collective bargaining and/or a trade dispute. Unions operating in such
jurisdictions will find it difficult to formally join the Global
Climate Strike as the purpose of the action ostensibly falls outside
the strict scope of collective bargaining or a trade dispute. While
unions are increasingly bringing environmental issues to the
bargaining table with demands for greening or just transition clauses
[https://adaptingcanadianwork.ca/green-collective-agreements-database/],
these efforts are still limited to workplace mitigation and adaptation
strategies and do not cover wider commitments on climate change.

In countries where strikes in furtherance of socio-economic aims are
permitted, unions will nevertheless need to win the argument that
climate change is a socio-economic issue and not just an environmental
or a political one.

Here we can, and should, rely on international law.

Committee on Freedom of Association

The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) tripartite Committee
on Freedom of Association (CFA) has for nearly 70 years defined the
scope of the right to freedom of association, including the right to
strike. The CFA has consistently held that workers may engage in
collective action, including protests and strikes, outside of
the collective bargaining process
[https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:70002:0::NO::P70002_HIER_ELEMENT_ID,P70002_HIER_LEVEL:3945422,2] and
over matters beyond the traditional ambit of wages and conditions of
work. So long as the strike is not ‘purely political’
[https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:70002:0::NO:70002:P70002_HIER_ELEMENT_ID,P70002_HIER_LEVEL:3945422,2] in
nature, such as an insurrection, the CFA has stated that,
“organizations responsible for defending workers’ socio-economic
and occupational interests should be able to use strike action to
support their position in the search for solutions to problems posed
by major social and economic policy trends which have a direct impact
on their members and all workers in general
[https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:70006:0::NO::P70006_COMPLAINT_TEXT_ID,P70006_PARAGRAPH_NO:2909393,901],
in particular as regards employment, social protection and standards
of living.”

In the past, the CFA has given its imprimatur to protests and strikes
concerning a range of issues including trade agreements, labour law
reform, pensions, tax policy, social protection and similar demands.
While it has not yet had occasion to consider a climate strike, it
should find such a strike to be protected. Indeed, there is no issue
today that has a more direct, immediate and serious impact on the
world of work than the climate emergency.

Already, the ILO has explained that climate change, if not addressed,
will have a serious impact on employment in all sectors and in all
regions. These impacts include significant climate-driven migration
[https://www.equaltimes.org/unions-and-ngos-gather-in-london#.XW5y_W5Fw2x] for
work, dangerous working conditions from extreme heat
[https://www.equaltimes.org/as-global-temperatures-rise#.XW5zyW5Fw2x],
job loss in rural areas due to crop failure and job loss in urban
areas due to extreme weather events. Also, the actions we will need to
take to mitigate climate change may be deeply disruptive, as the ILO
Commission on the Future of Work
[https://www.equaltimes.org/ilo-s-work-for-a-brighter-future-a#.XW5z3m5Fw2x] has
underscored. Conflict over how this is carried out and who benefits is
certain to happen. Indeed, this is why Sustainable Development Goal
16 [https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/peace-justice/] calls
for broad social engagement in order to attain economic, social and
environmental sustainability.

The Global Climate Strike, for trade unions, would necessarily mean a
call for immediate and significant reductions in emissions while
respecting the need for a just transition to protect workers and their
communities.

The concept of a just transition of the workforce is firmly embedded
in the legally binding Paris Agreement. Furthermore, in 2015 the
ILO’s tripartite constituents unanimously endorsed guidelines
[https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/green-jobs/publications/WCMS_432859/lang--en/index.htm] for
a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and
societies. The promotion and realisation of fundamental principles and
rights at work, which includes the principle of freedom of
association, lies at the heart of the guidelines. It is evident that
without the right to strike workers will not be able to effectively
demand investment in new green jobs, training, income protection and
other necessary measures for a fair and just transition.

Strengthening the green-red alliance

After the climate strike, we will urgently need to think about how to
deepen policy coherence between the labour and environmental justice
fields. While they have some different objectives, both share a common
history of resistance to dominant economic and political structures
which have subordinated the interests of individuals and communities.
Indeed, a new field of ‘just transition’ law
[https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2938590] may be
a way to bridge the fields of labour and environmental law and
transform these into a coherent legal discourse.

We would also propose as an important step the recognition of the
right to strike in cases where an employer engages in activity which
is demonstrably harmful to the environment. This is in a sense the
extension of the long-standing principle that workers can remove
themselves immediately from dangerous work without fear of
retaliation. What can be more dangerous than activity that threatens
our workplace, our communities and indeed life on Earth as we know it.

With only 11 years left to avert climate catastrophe, trade unions
must be given the means to help prevent irreversible damage from
climate change.

The right to strike is a human right protected under international
law. Strikes have been, and can continue to be, a tool for major
societal transformations, such as the democratisation of countries,
from Poland to South Africa to Tunisia
[https://www.equaltimes.org/how-social-dialogue-led-to-the#.XW50XG5Fw2x],
and a just transition to a low carbon economy is just as significant.
Without the industrial muscle of unions, we will not be able to
effectively achieve the profound transformation of our economy,
including the investment needed to create millions of new sustainable
jobs.

A determined labour movement can face up to the ultimate challenge of
climate change. 

_Ruwan Subasinghe is Legal Advisor to the International Transport
Workers’ Federation (ITF)._

_Jeff Vogt is the director for the Solidarity Center’s Rule of Law
department and was previously the legal director of the International
Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)._

_The authors write here in a personal capacity._

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