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Working For Climate Justice: Report Urges Unions To Lead Transition

Above photo: Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group.

The transition away from a carbon-based economy depends upon the ability of workers and their organisations to take collective action to challenge the economic system.

Read the new report from the Centre for Climate Crime and Climate Justice at Queen Mary University of London.

Ahead of COP28 the UN warns that the world is facing ‘hellish’3C of climate heating, and with European lawmakers urging COP28 climate summit to take aim at fossil fuels, a new report published today from the Centre for Climate Crime and Climate Justice and Institute of Employment Rights, reveals why trade unions need to put climate bargaining at the centre of everything they do and maps out the steps that must be taken to achieve this.

The report, ‘Working for Climate Justice: Trade unions in the front line against climate change’ asserts that until now, the trade union movement has failed to make climate change a core concern of their bargaining agendas. This means that a powerful safeguard against climate change is not being put into action. It also means that a potentially crucial source of trade union power and influence is not being utilised.

Co-authors of the report, David Whyte, Queen Mary University of London and Ben Crawford, The London School of Economics, argue that the transition away from a carbon-based economy relies on the collective action of workers and their organisations, challenging an economic system focused on extracting value at any cost. While the primary analysis addresses the British context, the authors acknowledge the global nature of ecological sustainability and its transformation of social existence both within and outside the workplace.

Focusing on the economic sphere of production as the engine of climate change, the authors contend that the future of the planet relies heavily on workers’ power and collective action. Contrary to decisions made in boardrooms and cabinets, they stress that a sustainable transition depends on workers and their communities organising a new social and economic system.

Co-author of report Professor David Whyte, and Director of the Centre for Climate Crime and Climate Justice, Queen Mary University of London explains: “Time is running out for us.  We don’t have time to wait politely until employers decide to do the right thing.  This is why a transition to a low carbon economy has to be led by workers taking action in their workplaces.   A sustainable planet has to be based on sustainable jobs and sustainable ways of working and living.”

Trade unions, historically not prioritising climate change in bargaining, have a rich history of environmentalism and struggles against the commodification of labour. The pamphlet argues for a “secret solidarity” between workers and nature, emphasising the shared interest in slowing down production processes causing social and environmental harm.

To achieve a transition at the necessary scale and pace, the pamphlet proposes priorities for the trade-union movement:

  1. Empowering Members: Workers must put climate change on an industrial footing, building a grassroots power base through coordinated workplace representatives and political education.
  2. Integrating Climate Bargaining: Climate bargaining should be integrated into campaigns for employment rights, demanding a statutory basis for the right to bargain on climate and ecology.
  3. Allocating Resources: Trade unions must allocate greater resources to climate campaigning, countering the false dichotomy between jobs and a green economy and advocating for public ownership of key sectors.
  4. Engaging Globally: Unions should organise and recruit along global supply chains, recognising the need for international coordination and bargaining.

The report concludes by urging a transformative approach to just transition, where workers and trade unionists rethink the production and purpose of value, ensuring products and services align with socially useful and sustainable goals. The call is clear: workers must harness their collective power to lead the way towards a low-carbon economy.

View the full report here: Working for Climate Justice (

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