Unions, Just Transition and the Struggle for Radical Social Transformation

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Unions, Just Transition and the Struggle for Radical Social Transformation

John Treat

For more than a decade, trade union responses to the unfolding climate and ecological crisis have mainly focused on the idea of “just transition.” This idea has brought much-needed attention to the serious disruptions facing many workers, and to the need to minimize those disruptions where possible, or provide alternatives where necessary. Unions have generally affirmed the findings of climate science and recognized the urgent need for dramatic transformation of our societies, but this affirmation has mostly found expression in echoing broader social calls for “more ambition” from governments.

At the international level, and especially in Europe, union... discourse and engagement around the need for a “just transition” has been shaped profoundly by the fate of social democracy, and the related ideas of “social partnership” and “social dialogue.” But despite their origins in what could be seen as a true “social contract” between roughly equal partners, the erosion of political power for unions in recent decades has largely hollowed out these terms, leaving unions and workers left increasingly dependent on appeals to governments and private companies to “do the right thing” for workers and the planet.

This state of affairs calls for critical reflection. It is vital that unions ask not only whether existing approaches to the crisis are sufficiently ambitious, but whether they are even aimed correctly at the target.

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