1 October 2021

Why PCS members in the South West are campaigning for climate justice

For our focus on climate change feature our members in the South West answer the question: Why is climate change a trade union issue?

From the discussions we’ve been having in the South West region, we believe that tackling the climate crisis goes hand in hand with tackling economic inequality.

Climate change is forcing a transformation and, as trade unionists, we need to look now to identify, shape and influence what the jobs of the future – climate jobs – will actually look like.

Like other regions in PCS we are looking ahead to this year’s COP26 in November and see this as a crucial moment for our future. In Bristol we’ll be joining other workers to march in a trade union bloc as part of the biggest trade union climate mobilisation in UK history.

As we build for COP26 we need to make sure our demands for a just transition which protects jobs and livelihoods, are at the forefront of the climate debate. 

In the south west, our local EFRA branch has led by example. They have run several open meetings in their Bristol workplace, including inviting youth climate strikers to come and talk to staff. These events led to the recruitment of new reps and the setting up of a green working group.

EFRA branch vice-chair and EFRA assistant group secretary leading on green issues, Tom Youngman said: “We linked up with trade unionists in other sectors, such as green reps from the Landworkers Alliance and Unison, to understand what workers in other sectors need from PCS Efra campaigns for a just transition for central government workers.”

Civil servants for climate justice

The branch also organised for the climate march in Bristol when Greta Thunberg visited the city in February 2020. More than 60 workers from the branch joined other local PCS activists, marching behind a banner they had made with the slogan ‘Civil servants for climate justice’.

When we talk about tackling climate change it can sometimes mean confronting difficult issues, such as aviation expansion. Take the Bristol Airport expansion in our region, for example. While we want to protect our members’ jobs that rely on the airport, we also have to recognise the environmental impact of flying. Technical fixes will help but not solve the challenge of climate change.

As the PCS aviation democracy pamphlet stated, we want to ensure a reduction in flying does not lead to an accompanying loss of jobs but to a planned transition of workers to the jobs required in a greener aviation industry that is part of a broader integrated transport system, owned by and run for the public, and that meets its climate commitments.

Covid-19 brought the aviation industry to a tipping point much sooner than would have been the case otherwise. It’s shown that dependence on airports for future employment growth cannot be relied upon.

Our regional committee have agreed that we can’t stay silent on issues like this. We need to promote a just transition that promotes demands that include good quality green jobs that protect our livelihoods as well as the environment. It’s not a choice between job protection and saving the environment.

The issue gives us the opportunity to organise and build the union in our workplaces. The green rep role is crucial in ensuring that we’re raising awareness and promoting green practices with management and members. To this end, we’re looking forward to our Green Reps and Climate Change course planned for south west reps which starts on 7 December. More information and registration is available here. 

So, why is climate change a trade union issue? At this crucial point in time, we’ve come to the conclusion that we can’t afford for it not to be. As one regional committee member put it: “There won’t be any trade union issues left for us on a burning planet.”

You can read more about the work Bristol unions did in the TUC Union Learn ‘Cutting carbon, growing skills’ publication (page 18).