A Green New Deal for Workers

Lauren Townsend

Trade union organiser and spokesperson for Labour for a Green New Deal

This article originally appeared in The Tribune


As our movement meets to discuss its priorities at the 151st Trades Union Congress this coming week, it will be doing so in the shadow of a disastrous Tory no-deal Brexit that is placing Boris Johnson’s ego ahead of people’s jobs and living standards.

But there is another threat to working class communities that is high up the agenda: climate change. And only a worker-led, socialist Green New Deal can stop it.

Millions of jobs are at risk from bosses abandoning high-carbon industries which will no longer be profitable under the green transition needed to save our planet. Across the world, working class people are on the frontline of climate breakdown, and are the least able to pay the costs of adaptation to climate crisis. In Britain, as the UN acknowledges, the effect of austerity measures over the last decade have torn apart the social fabric of the country. 

We must therefore ensure that workers don’t face another wave of attacks on their jobs and communities under the banner of a green transition – workers and their lives must be central to that process. As various motions to Congress 2019 from unions such as Unite, GMB and UCU point out, it cannot be workers and their communities that pay the price for the price for the climate crisis. The working class must not pay the price for the corporate greed ravaging the earth.

This is why many of us are fighting for a radical Green New Deal to prevent climate collapse and rebuild our communities through a massive programme of investment and regulation. A Green New Deal would offer every single worker in transitioning industries the option of retraining, and a green jobs guarantee, so that redeployment not redundancy is the order of the day. 

To show what can be done, we only need to look at the recent example at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, where ship builders, steel workers and riveters demanded that their workplace be repurposed so that they could for renewable energy infrastructure. In challenging the assertions of Johnson and the Tories that the market can solve the very disaster it has created, the Harland and Wolff dispute showed how workers could fight for ‘transition’ jobs in the low-carbon technology sector, where they could be building housing, transport, renewables and more.

‘Transition’ jobs would not just be in building the sustainable infrastructure we desperately need, but also in low-carbon public sectors such as teaching and nursing, areas that have been brutally underfunded after nearly 10 years of austerity. We can also start to imagine what type of new jobs we wish to create – ones that do not threaten our environments, but in fact sustain them. 

A green industrial strategy would use public procurement to build new green industries and with them new green, unionised jobs. But the Green New Deal won’t simply transplant one set of industries for another: it will mean a New Deal for Workers, which would radically imrpove and strengthen the conditions and organised power of workers.

Firstly, it will mean immediately repealing anti-trade union legislation, empowering workers to organise. Secondly, it will mandate fair working conditions across the whole economy, with a significantly increased living wage and increased rights at work, so that green jobs are good jobs. Finally, a Green New Deal must coincide with a four-day week with no reduction in pay, so that workers gain from automation, rather than suffer by it.

The weaker the worker, the more vulnerable the planet. With a Green New Deal, we have a chance to reverse decades of attacks on workers’ rights and give more power to those that can lead the fight against the degradation of our environment. The Green New Deal won’t rely on wealth extraction but on increasing living standards. Cleaner air, greener public space, free or cheap public transport – these are workers’ demands. Our lives don’t start and end in the workplace, so it’s vital that our demands don’t stop there either.

By working directly with unions and working class communities, Labour can ensure that workers really do enjoy the full fruits of their labour. Only a powerful workers’ movement can prevent climate catastrophe and build an economy for the many, not the privileged few – and now more than ever must the trade union movement lead in in building a transformative Green New Deal that can demand a way out of ecological catastrophe for millions of working people.