Our leaders will not save us! Why trade unionists Back the BIG ONE – Jenny Cooper, NEU Executive


“Our leaders will not save us; that much is clear by now. After 27 COPs, they continue with their much quoted “blah blah blah” but they nearly all have at least one foot dipped in the fossil fuel lobby.”

By Jenny Cooper, NEU Executive member.

When you google “The Big One,” Extinction Rebellion’s invitation for everyone to “Unite to Survive”
from April 21st this year is the first link that appears; further down is Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s
rollercoaster! But what an emotional rollercoaster of a year it has been for those of us fighting for
survival on multiple levels…

The Big One is supported by the NEU’s Climate Change Network who, despite voicing reservations
around the fact that an event designed to unite movements holds its launch on a weekday when all
our serving members are at work, have a huge appetite to reach out and work with like-minded
pressure groups; in fact, we recognise this may be the only way for us all to save ourselves and
others. The environmental movement has always been a broad church, as has the union movement,
and we need to recognise that which unites us- not only that which divides.

The Big One demands a citizen-led democracy, an end to the fossil fuel era, a fair society with
reparations and XR’s existing demands to tell the truth and act now. The NEU, as part of a worldwide
trade union movement, would not disagree, but in addition demands a just transition for all workers,
with human rights at the centre, as we move to a fossil fuel free future.

I was lucky enough to have represented the NEU as part of the international trade union delegation
at COP 27 last November. Within a day of arriving, whilst speaking at side events, I was apologizing
for complaining about 40 degree classrooms after hearing the heartbreaking stories of delegates
from the Global South trade unions and indigenous nations. Their truth is the Zimbabwe cyclone
which destroyed 20 schools in one swoop, the rivers poisoned by diesel spills caused by TESLA’s
electric car plant and the reindeer herds destroyed by wind farms which displaced the Sami people
from their lands.

While we cry out “NO FOSSIL FUELS”, millions of women the world over are campaigning for access
to ANY safe energy at all so that they and their children are not killed by their own cooking fumes.
For the majority world, climate change and eco-disaster is not a future prediction that can be
prevented; it is a whole big mess that is here right now, largely caused by the way we, in the rich
countries, choose to live and consume. Protection, mitigation, adaptation and, yes, shedloads of
cash, is needed. But nothing in life or death is simple and you have to take people with you.
Sadly our current government has very little interest in doing this. A just transition ought to involve
social dialogue between workers and government when changes are made to working practices. But
we have not been consulted on the DfE’s latest sustainability strategy; and they fail to explain how
this can be delivered without additional funding.

Our leaders will not save us; that much is clear by now. After 27 COPs, they continue with their much
quoted “blah blah blah” but they nearly all have at least one foot dipped in the fossil fuel lobby.
Local communities are probably the answer. Our NEU climate network celebrated the many local
initiatives that are making a difference with our first ever exhibition stand at the union’s annual
conference two weeks ago in Harrogate. Groups are coming together to campaign against new oil, to
retrofit schools and to teach the truth to our children and young people. In a vibrant fringe activist
session, reps and members worked out ideas for a new training for green reps to be rolled out across
our branches; an interesting process as it became evident that there are so many aspects to green/
eco/ environment matters: rights at work, protection for workers’ health and safety, funding matters
and the managed demise of our public services. In short, as always, we find ourselves concluding
that there is one issue only; the funding and cost of living crisis is the exact same one as the climate
crisis. The cause is the same- a form of extreme capitalism that puts profit and competitiveness
above all care for actual people.

It is that lack of care that dictates our government’s decision not to consult us on the actions they
take which affect us. And it is the same the world over with devastating consequences. Our unions
need to wake up to these consequences and get involved in the huge coalitions that are forming
around the world to rise up. On my last day at COP 27 multiple lobby groups united in a huge, loud,
multilingual demonstration that was so big it overpowered the security guards’ ability to confine it
and led to the agreement for the loss and damage finance agreed at the eleventh hour.
As Bert de Wel, the ITUC leader of our COP delegation stated in a recent meeting, “Where social
dialogue fails, social action must take its place”. See you at The Big One!

  • The ‘Big One’ is a four-day action from the 21st to the 24th April 2023. People from all groups and movements will gather throughout Westminster to demand climate action. Full details here.
  • If you support Labour Outlook’s work amplifying the voices of left movements and struggles in the UK and internationally, please consider becoming a supporter on Patreon.
Featured image: Tens of thousands march through central London ahead of the Paris Climate Conference, November 29th 2015. Photo credit Rob Pinney/Avaaz under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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