Editorial: will the future be sustainable or just ‘greenwash’ printed in organic ink on sustainably-sourced glossy brochures?

The COP26 talks were a failure: a ‘parade of inaction, false solutions and greenwash from rich governments and corporations’. But the event was not meaningless and heralded also a ‘historic moment of growth in power and solidarity for the climate justice movement’. This will ultimately play a critical role to overcome what remains of the suspicion of ‘middle class’ environmentalists by a working class cynical that their jobs and lives are being ‘recklessly’ pushed aside. De-industrialisation is not a new idea for many in Europe and North America, and their experience of it the first time around was not encouraging.

And yet history is repeating, as Adrian Kane and Yvonne O'Callaghan observe small towns across the Irish midlands that are beginning ‘to resemble the North of England’s bleak post-industrial wastelands’, as a local fossil fuel industry there is run down. There have been ‘expensive government-led initiatives’ to mitigate job losses but our contributors report the case of a nation-wide company displacing a local established business after receiving a grant from the local funding pool, seemingly the opposite of what would be intended. Huw Beynon and Ray Hudson remind us of just how bleak the impact was when the State failed to make any or sufficient provision to deal with the aftermath of the coal industry closures in the UK. Meanwhile, there are still many complaining about China and India’s reliance on coal, though increasing recognition that over time it is the West that has contributed massively more to climate emissions. How can unions representing workers in these industries find agreement with climate activists? Sindhu Menon finds India’s mining union leaders concerned for the future of workers with non-transferable skills who live on land that is degraded for farming and where water is scarce. Mine closure here means job losses, ‘starvation’, and ‘disaster’ for the coal belt economy.

Georgia Montague-Nelson explains that livestock production also contributes ‘over one-third of all human caused greenhouse gas emissions’. A set of trade union proposals for the sector developed by the IUF and GLI demonstrates a real potential for engagement with climate activists around shared ideas about decentralisation and redistribution and reducing the size of supply chains and the role of giant global corporations in livestock and agriculture. David Bacon shares with us a small selection of his photography collection documenting the lives and working conditions of fruit-pickers left their former homes in Mexico to avoid already ‘devastating’ climate impacts there, but are now facing increasingly aggressive heat under a changing climate in their adopted US.

Sean McManus from the IAFF represents another group of workers who face the burning heat head-on. McManus describes how Canada’s notoriously cold climate is now increasingly juxtaposed with extraordinary peaks of heat during summer that can surpass even the highest ever temperatures recorded in the Nevada desert. Firefighters are dealing with novel climate effects at first hand, including more ferocious wildfires but also torrential rains and flooding. Every time they respond to such a disaster, firefighters ‘see very plainly whether there are adequate front line resources or not’. Returning to industrial and energy questions, Diana Junquera Curiel investigates crucial industrial and technological aspects of a sustainable future, looking at battery and solar production, but tracing concerns through these new industries’ supply chains leads us straight to the Xinjiang region of China, where forced labour allegations are raised with regard to its solar panel production facilities.

As if to underscore trade union concerns that industrial workers might ultimately be shortchanged by the transition to a sustainable future, trade unionists in the UK were stunned weeks ago when a major ferry company informed its staff by recorded video message (with no prior notice) that their jobs had ended and they would be escorted from their vessels. Professor Keith Ewing finds ‘no shortage of international standards’, but a lack of actually legally enforceable rights. It is the massive double standard between the glossy proclamation and the lack of any protection in reality, that makes trade unionists still rightly concerned about whether a sustainable future can be good for them.

Daniel Blackburn, Editor
Declan Owens, Guest Editor

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IUR journal brings together the latest news, views and information on trade union rights worldwide, covering key issues from varied perspectives. IUR has an accessible format that is appreciated around the world by an audience of trade unionists, legal practitioners and academics. The journal is available in print and digital formats, with an online archive dating back to 1993.

Previous editions:

IUR 224 ChinaIUR 221 South KoreaIUR 212 Minimum WageIUR 223 Right to Strike

COP 26, a Just Transition, trade unions and a movement of movements
Declan Owens

Ireland’s workers fighting for a Just Transition
Adrian Kane and Yvonne O'Callaghan

Canada’s professional fire fighters are on the front lines of the battle
against climate change
Sean McManus

Phasing out Coal Mining in India:
A Complicated, Complex Conundrum
Sindhu Menon

Fighting for the Future: A Just Transition in Intensive
Livestock Production?
Georgia Montague-Nelson

ICTUR in Action
Belgium, Cambodia, Colombia, Finland, Kazakhstan, UK, UN UPR

Business and Human Rights: A P&O Ferries Case - Study
KD Ewing

Living with Climate Change in Farmworker Communities
David Bacon

Climate crisis and Just Transition:
Unions’ role on Climate Justice
Diana Junquera Curiel

Moving to a Green Economy?
The Story of an ‘Unjust’ Transition in the UK
Huw Beynon and Ray Hudson

Bangladesh: ITUC report / ILO, Bangladesh: Rana Plaza trial,
Bangladesh: child labour, Climate Change, EU: Business and
Human Rights, ILO: Director-General, Qatar: ITUC Asia mission,
Teamsters: Canada / US, Transnational legal tools for labour,
US / China: cotton and other goods, US / Uzbekistan: cotton

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