Socialist Worker

Labour conference backs strong climate action despite some union opposition

by Nick Clark in Brighton
Issue No. 2674

Climate striker Uma Geiger (centre) addressed the conference

Climate striker Uma Krieger (behind the podium) addressed the conference


Labour members saw off an attempt by GMB union leaders to limit demands for action on climate change.

They passed a motion at their party conference on Tuesday calling for a ban on fracking and achieving zero carbon emissions by 2030. They were part of a package of measures for action on climate change branded a “Socialist Green New Deal”.

It came after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn used a speech on Saturday to call for governments to achieve zero carbon emissions “Well, well before 2050”.

It was challenged by delegates from the GMB and some other Labour Party members. Leaders of the GMB effectively oppose meaningful action against the fossil fuels industry, wrongly saying that this saves their members’ jobs.

They backed a different motion that refused to set a target for achieving zero carbon emissions—and rejected a ban on fracking.

Speaking against the Socialist Green New Deal, Neil Derrick from the GMB said, “There is no credible plan for achieving zero carbon by that date. Radical it may be, attainable it is not.

“The implications would be swingeing and affect everyone. It would require the confiscation of all petrol cars still on the road. State rationing of meat. Limiting families to one foreign flight every five years. The closure of industries. Hardly vote winners.”

Other speakers worried that the action would cause widespread job losses.

Nuclear

Joseph Ghayouba from Copeland—the site of a major nuclear power plant—said, “This is about people and their livelihoods. It is essential that we take our energy workers with us on this mission to a low-carbon economy.”

Yet supporters of stronger action said their plan would create new, green jobs. Matt Wrack from the firefighters’ FBU union said, “Is this an agenda that destroys certain industries? No this is an agenda that creates new industries. This is an agenda that creates new highly skilled jobs and opportunities.”

He added that his union made “no apologies” for demanding “radical transformative action” because any plan “based on current policies, current power structures frankly is doomed to failure.”

Other delegates said Britain had a responsibility to take action because of the devastation that climate change is already causing in poorer countries.

Kate Laycock from Labour International said, “As scarcity hits, as floods, famine drought and fire force millions of desperate people to leave their homes, the wealthy countries, the ones that contribute most to global warming are putting up walls.

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“We have an alternative, and that alternative is called solidarity.”

In the end, both motions passed. Steve Turner from the Unite union said it was possible to back both “without contradiction.” But it effectively meant the attempt to block the more radical proposals failed.

The vote may never have happened if it wasn’t for the climate change movement that has exploded over the past year.

Before the debate, school climate striker Uma Krieger asked the conference to “go further and help us deconstruct the structures that led us to this situation of climate emergency”.

And backing the Socialist Green New Deal, Angela Brown from Heywood and Middleton said, “I’ve been concerned about climate change for years. But I honestly didn’t think there was anything we could do. Then the climate strikes happened. Then Extinction Rebellion happened.”


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