Workers must be the ones to design a just transition
A new report from Ellie Mae O’Hagan outlines the role of trade unions in a Green New Deal. It is part of Common Wealth’s Green New Deal (GND) report series on Work and Industrial Strategy and argues that ‘workers must be the ones to design a just transition’.
The report begins by examining the decline of trade unions in the UK, arguing it has led to ‘the decline of the left as a political force in Britain’, which in turn has had devastating consequences:
‘the selling of public assets, the explosion of the financial sector and the deregulation of trade and industry have all deteriorated conditions for workers, and have contributed to the increase of greenhouse gas emissions.’
O’Hagan suggests that the GND can be the instrument through which more progressive movements can reassert themselves and reshape the economy to work for the majority. However, organisers of a GND ‘must recognise the sensitivities of trade unions in response to the decline of their movement’. Trade unions are ‘vigilant to the danger of change being imposed upon the movement, as opposed to emanating from the movement’. In light of this, O’Hagan recommends some policies to address ‘the decline of the British labour movement, respond to the crisis created by the economic status quo, and build bridges between the trade unions and the environmental movement’.
It proposes bringing the entire energy supply into public ownership and creating a publicly-owned energy company with ‘a remit to work for social good’. Its principal aims could be ‘the elimination of carbon emissions, the reduction of fuel poverty, and the improvement of workers’ conditions’.
Secondly, instead of attempting to sell a GND to trade unions, ‘organisers should ask unions themselves to design a just transition to renewable energy’, laying the groundwork for future green jobs and ‘good, unionised jobs for those currently employed in the fossil fuel industry’. This would then be backed up by putting workers – selected via trade unions and given training on ‘basic climate science, the scale of the climate emergency, and the green economy’ – on company boards.
Finally, the report advocates the 4-day week, citing the Autonomy paper which argues that a ‘shorter working week reduces carbon emissions, as it reduces workers’ propensity to engage in “energy-intensive, environmentally-damaging patterns of consumption”.’ The report also explores the health and wellbeing benefits of fewer working hours, as well as increased gender equality, and community engagement. As O’Hagan writes:
‘A 4 day week speaks to the core aim of a Green New Deal: to eliminate carbon emissions and future proof against global warming in a way that is truly socially transformative.’
Read the full report here.
Read an introduction to the project, Road Map to a Green New Deal: From Extraction to Stewardship, written by Common Wealth director and founder Mathew Lawrence.