Friday, 29 March 2013

Our union and the environmental crisis

[By Patrick van Klink] – At the congress of the Netherlands Confederation of Trade Unions (FNV) in May, we will decide on the current renewal of the FNV. It’s about more voice and more involvement. The union belongs to the members! We have developed a clear social agenda to respond to casino capitalism, as outgoing president Henk van der Kolk called the current economic mess at the FNV Bondgenoten congress.
Still, I feel that we’re missing something if we want to be really prepared for the future and appeal to new generations. That is, our answer to that other big crisis: the climate crisis; the looming shortage of water, raw materials, in short: the environmental crisis. There are no jobs on a dead planet, so certainly no decent jobs.
The environmental crisis already has a large impact on our lives as union members, consumers and citizens. An economy that’s less dependent on carbon will have at least as large consequences for employment as the financial crisis. Jobs will disappear or be replaced. The environmental crisis further has its largest impact on people with low incomes. They will suffer the most from rising prices for energy and food as a consequence of, for example, growing crops for biofuel. People with lower incomes spend relatively much on food and energy.
This means that it’s not enough for us as a trade union movement to fight for green jobs: we’ll have to fight for solutions that are socially just. If jobs disappear or change, there will have to be a compensation for differences in income. There will have to be support for people to get other jobs. There will have to be good social facilities for people who need them. In short, regular trade union work.
In our answers to the economic crisis, we can refer to answers to the environmental crisis as well. It should be more than self-evident to invest in insulation of homes rather than in shiny offices for mailbox companies. The TUC took the lead in its ‘One million climate jobs NOW’ campaign. In its teaching materials for union reps, the British union Unite pays considerable attention to the new challenges the union movement is facing: globalisation and its excessive dependence on flex work; and an answer to the climate crisis and the growing divide between the poor and the rich. Solidarity and social justice go hand in hand.
The mission of the renewed FNV must be broadened. We’re not just in favour of a just distribution of work, welfare, wellbeing and power. We also want a socially just solution for the consequences of the environmental crisis. This will strengthen our own vision, just like our decent work agenda is doing. It will appeal to people to jointly discuss the issue and find solutions, rather than focus on problems. Solutions that do justice to our interest in decent jobs and a just distribution of work and income.
This contrasts with the green solution of, for example, the CEO of Unilever: doubling turnover by halving the environmental pressure. Here, money still comes first and social aspects come second. That’s why workers at Unilever in the Netherlands are currently on a five-week strike because the corporation refuses to discuss a socially just solution for workers who will be outsourced to Sodexo. With this kind of multinational, corporate social responsibility and sustainability are just a thin veneer.
Patrick van Klink is a union rep for FNV Bondgenoten at Unilever and a member of the provisional Member Parliament of the FNV.



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