'Nothing about us without us'

Unite head of operations Gail Cartmail says just transition to net zero must be at heart of unions’ response to climate emergency

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Unite head of operations Gail Cartmail spoke of the pressing need for a just transition to net zero on the first day of TUC conference on Tuesday (October 18).

Moving a composite on defending jobs and a just transition, Gail said, “The need for action in the face of our climate emergency could not be more obvious.

“The energy crisis. The spiralling cost of living. Catastrophic flooding around the world — the debate is no longer if net zero should be our goal, but how, and in whose interest,” she added.

Gail went on to say how a just transition will simply not be possible under the current government.

“No serious Prime Minister would ever appoint a character like Jacob Rees-Mogg to oversee the department responsible for net zero,” she told conference.

“Ignore the confected mannerisms, Rees-Mogg is an avowed opponent of net zero with neither the backbone or good sense to stand up to employers profiteering as the climate burns. Left to them a transition will happen, but it will be used to destroy jobs and drive down pay to protect profits.”

She spoke of what an ‘unjust transition’ already looks like because Unite has been fighting this very transition.

“It looks like the venture capitalists of Melrose closing the GKN automotive plant in Birmingham which – as the shop stewards proved – should have had a bright future producing crucial electric vehicle components,” Gail noted.

“As my own union has exposed, an unjust transition looks like the unfettered profiteering across the economy – including in the oil and gas industries where our members have to fight fire and rehire and win proper pay rises,” she went on to say.

Highlighting “the other end of the energy supply chain”, she spoke of the millions of people facing fuel poverty, “falling further into debt just to pay their energy bills”.

“As we look ahead, we see how the decade-long assault on public services will leave the most vulnerable in communities facing flooding, poor air quality, fuel or food poverty — they are completely abandoned,” Gail continued.

She noted that despite hardships so many people are facing, the “money to make a just transition possible is there”.

“To win it, our movement in word and deed must take the lead and bring our strategies to the fore to ensure a future built on secure, well-paid green jobs,” she told conference, adding that “a just transition must be a phrase not only for this conference floor, but for the shop floor”.

Gail said that it was vital that “we refuse to be victims”.

“We will make clear demands on employers through the power of collective bargaining,” she added. “In industries where transition is urgently needed — in steel, energy, automotive, transport — each step must be negotiated on the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’.”

She also said we must demand commitments to upskilling, education and training provided by employers and government.

“Up and down supply chains from transport to raw materials, we must defend jobs while we also raise pay and conditions,” she went on to say. “And politically, we must demand a comprehensive climate strategy from retro-fitting of homes to taking energy back into public hands, properly funding public services and building a green manufacturing sector.”

Urging conference to support the composite, Gail quoted ‘a great trade unionist’ who once said, ‘Our demands most moderate are – we want only the earth’.”

The composite was carried.

By Hajera Blagg

Pic by Mark Thomas

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