Video by Reel News. (this is an edited video of the event – we hope to make the full length recording available in the near future)
On Monday 7th December, over 700 trade unionists and other social movement activists packed out an auditorium in Paris to hear the writer and activist Naomi Klein, UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and a panel of trade union activists discuss solutions to the crisis of climate change, at an event billed under the title: “Now is not the time for small steps”.
The meeting, organised by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy in partnership with the Global Climate Jobs Campaign, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung–New York, and the Global Labour Institute Network, saw both Klein and Corbyn call for trade unions to come together with environmentalists and other social movements to demand an end to the destruction of the environment and a radical transition away from a neoliberal global economy rooted in the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.
Both Klein and Corbyn stressed the fundamental importance of energy democracy – the social ownership and democratic control of renewable energy generation – for a just, job-rich transition to a low-carbon world. Klein said that the “powerful thing” about energy democracy was that it went beyond simply demanding state ownership over private ownership of energy resources, and specified what that ownership should like – i.e. democratic, community-based and with a broad social mandate.
Both also pointed to the destruction wrought by recent flooding in the UK as evidence of the incompatibility of the “logic of austerity” with effectively protecting communities against the effects of climate change, and more fundamentally, with the levels of public investment needed to reorientate economies towards a democratic low-carbon future. Corbyn described how the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had declared last year that money was “no object” in dealing with floods, yet has since slashed spending on flood defences, and looks set to do this again.
Drawing attention to the ways in which trade unionists are already at the forefront of fighting against climate change and privatised energy resources, Judy Gonzalez from the New York State Nurses Union, described how her union had been a driving force behind the “people’s power” movement which successfully halted the building of the Keystone XL oil pipeline in US, and also in bringing about a ban on fracking in New York.
Josua Mata, General Secretary of SENTRO – one of the Philippines’ largest trade union centres – spoke of how a group of Filipino workers have been at the forefront of building community power to reverse the privatisation of electricity co-operatives in rural areas of the Philippines. A more detailed account of this is given in an interview given by Mata to the New Internationalist magazine which can be viewed here: “A social uprising for energy democracy.”
Corbyn concluded the meeting by calling on people to “unleash the optimism, unleash the imagination, unleash the hope”. A full version of his speech can be viewed at the Democracy Now! website here.
The GLI Network urges union members across the world to “unleash the hope” by joining Trade Unions for Energy Democracy and demanding the democratisation of our energy systems. As outlined in TUED’s report, “Power to the People: Toward Democratic Control of Energy Generation“, these energy systems must prioritise the public good and environmental sustainability over private greed. We call for unions to be at the forefront in building cross-movement alliances and building the “people power” needed to make these transformative changes possible.