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Red and green values

A Labour government that is committed to restructuring and decarbonising our economy to tackle the climate emergency must put trade unions and workers at the heart of its approach, writes Nadia Whittome.



A Labour government that is committed to restructuring and decarbonising our economy to tackle the climate emergency must put trade unions and workers at the heart of its approach.

Trade unions need to lead the campaign for a just transition towards new technologies. Such a campaign could help win public support for millions of well paid, unionised jobs in green industries, in order to reach the target of net zero UK carbon emissions by 2030 urged by Labour for a Green New Deal.

To answer the climate crisis at every level, a Labour government must repeal all anti-union laws so workers can take action over big social and political issues,  including climate change. Since more than half of carbon emissions are work-related, establishing a network of green union reps could promote green workplace practices as well as ensuring that environmental issues are included in the bargaining agenda.

This is not just an issue for unions and workers in the UK. We must look at how climate change impacts workers across the world, from farmers in Bangladesh to oil workers in Colombia and Rolls Royce workers in Derby, in order to find ways of building international solidarity and democratising climate change talks. This would allow us to learn from movements in other countries, and avoid slipping into a ‘green colonialism’ that wrongly blames the global south for a climate crisis created by big capital. A Labour government should  instead confront  neocolonial environmental  narratives and provide reparations to recover the overexploited global south.

Far from being an opportunity to create a more ambitious environmental policy, a no-deal Brexit or a deal without a ‘non-regression’ clause would mean scrapping existing EU safeguards as a minimum standard. Any Brexit deal would certainly limit the influence that a socialist Labour government could have to further strengthen EU-wide environmental protections, instead forcing us into years of neoliberal trade negotiations with a climate-change-denying Trump administration.

International solidarity should encompass promoting free movement for all to tackle those hit hardest by climate change. Labour has already committed to directing its armed forces – and devoting more resources – to tackle humanitarian emergencies when they arise. But one of the most meaningful expressions of solidarity with workers across the world would be for Labour to make the environmental, economic and social case to extend free movement, not least to deal with mass displacement caused by climate disaster which could force around 140 million people to flee their homes. Promising ‘reasonable management of migration’, Labour’s 2017 manifesto commits to upholding ‘no recourse to public funds’, a policy responsible for making migrants destitute, and ending freedom of movement after Brexit. This would be the biggest border expansion in recent history and a levelling down of migrants’ and workers’ rights – when the global threats of climate chaos, conflict and a rising far right demand an internationalist socialist solution.

Let us now take forward the climate justice debate within the Labour party and unions, develop a Green New Deal, and push the consensus on what is necessary and possible.

This article is part of a Fabian debate on Labour and the climate emergency. Read the other contributions here:

1. For the workers

Clare Hymer argues for decades in the global north, environmentalism has been framed as a white, middle-class preoccupation; this framing couldn’t be further from the truth.

2. The gloves are off

Ed Miliband MP argues the climate change battle is one we can’t duck because of the disaster that confronts the world if we do not act. But it is also an opportunity to reimagine our world. The Labour party can and should seize this moment.

3. Winning over the voters

Commitments need to be followed by actions. So how will Labour find the policies that meet its ambitious carbon reduction targets and attract voters to the party too, asks Melanie Smallman.

4. Actions speak louder than words

When it comes to the climate emergency, actions speak louder than words. Sue Hayman MPJudith Blake and Alex Sobel MP write about the steps that need to be taken by local authorities and parliament.

5. Seeking green solutions

Green issues are creating more concern than ever before with action needed across a number of fronts. We know the government must act now, but what should this look like in practice? Stephanie HilborneAlan Whitehead MPNoga Levy-Rapoport and Farhana Yamin weigh in.

Nadia Whittome

Nadia Whittome is the Labour MP for Nottingham East


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