The speech given by the 12-year-old school student and climate striker to Unite the Union’s Suffolk Area Activists Committee
"The climate crisis is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. A lot of people feel that it is something to be dealt with in many years’ time however it is happening right now, this very minute. The heatwave this summer caused July 2019 to be the hottest on record in the UK. I was scared.
I will have to live with heatwaves such as this getting worse and worse due to global temperature rise of 4º Celsius by the end of this century, which is where we are currently heading. We are 11 years away from the point where climate catastrophe could spin out of control.
The UK’s current target of net carbon emissions by 2050 only has a 50/50 chance of keeping warming within 1.5ºC and it relies on international credits where they can buy so-called offsets from other countries, typically poorer ones. This basically means paying them to plant trees, not build roads and to change industrial processes so the UK can continue oil extraction, aviation and road building. These offsets internationally are necessary to meet the Paris Agreement’s climate commitments but not as a means for permitting the UK’s ongoing emissions. The UK is undermining the basis of the Paris Agreement with this lethal approach and I am ashamed of how the UK is currently being represented globally. We need equity if we are to achieve international agreement.
Society needs to change, and fast. In this change, neither environmental nor labour movement values should be compromised. Everyone needs to work together and help each other.
In September the UN Climate Action Summit will be held. There, nations who signed up to the Paris Agreement will meet to re-submit their climate plans and see if they can go further. We need to make sure the UK does go further than its current target.
This is why I am asking you now to support the Green New Deal. This has a net-zero carbon emissions target by 2030. The Green New Deal is actually pretty similar to the Just Transition proposed by Unite in several of its demands. For example, it calls for millions of new well paid and secure jobs ensuring sustainable and meaningful livelihoods for all workers, including those in today’s high-emission sectors. This is proof that the environmental and labour movements can work together and we can make a difference.
I’m not angry at people working in those sectors that produce the most emissions. It isn’t their fault that we are in this mess and we aren’t into blaming particular people. It won’t get us very far and we need to work together if we are to stop out-of-control Climate Catastrophe. All generations matter.
I encourage you to do all you can to bring about the Just Transition and support the demands of the youth strike and the Green New Deal."
The document above is the text of the speech delivered by a 12-year old climate change striker to Unite the Union’s Suffolk Area Activists Committee. She and a 15-year old school student addressed the committee, which contained Unite reps and activists from Felixstowe Docks, the road haulage industry, Ipswich port, local authorities, construction, Unite’s community branches and retired members.
Her speech was followed by a Q&A session and resulted in a unanimous decision to support the school strikes going forward. The committee also decided to set up a sub-committee specifically to work on publicizing the threat of climate change, with the aim of working with the school strikers to get their message across and to promote the Just Transition to a Green Economy strategy.
At an earlier sub-committee meeting it was decided to approach Ipswich Trades Council to propose a public meeting on Climate Change, inviting prominent trades unionists, alongside councillors and the local Labour MP to speak from the platform. In the (unlikely) event of the Trades Council declining the invitation, the committee decided it would organise such a meeting itself.
The decision was not intended to be disrespectful to the Trades Council – after all, our committee invited the school students after hearing them speak from the main stage at the Trades Council-organised May Fair. Rather, it was felt necessary to lay down a marker that the trade union movement needs to be integral to the climate change struggle, and we accept the need for us to act, independently if necessary, to start the discussion.
One remarkable feature of the school students’ actions is the undogmatic approach they bring to the table. They are passionate, and committed, but they understand that their parents and other workers do not get to choose the jobs they do, but have to take what is available. They understand that fighting climate change will mean disruption and change, and are committed to making sure that their, and our voices are heard in how that change should come about. They are also committed to making sure that ordinary people are not made either the scapegoats, nor the victims.
This open approach – making sure the dangers of climate change are publicized, but seeking a collaborative and cooperative alliance to prevent it – is one reason for the remarkable degree of sympathy they have harvested. To a very large degree, they have altered the balance of political debate; not just in the UK, but globally. They have created the groundswell in popular opinion that has compelled even Boris Johnson’s Tories to pay lip service to environmental concerns, and have helped prepared the ground for other activists such as Extinction Rebellion to highlight the urgency of the crisis.
For this we should be profoundly grateful. But they have also laid down a challenge to the labour movement: they will not be satisfied any longer with fine words and pious promises. They demand action, to save the planet. This means trades union activists and reps addressing the thorny problems of answering their members' concerns on job security, terms and conditions. It means our unions accepting there is a tension between, for example, Unite’s support for Heathrow expansion, and the excessive contribution to carbon emissions from the aviation industry; it means our reps in Peugeot, JaguarLandrover etc. seeking ways to protect their members’ jobs, terms and conditions, but also accepting the need for change in their industry.
The school students do not claim to have the answers to these problems – but at least they do not shy away from them, pretending they don’t exist, or are not important. It is our responsibility, in the trade union movement to address these concerns directly, and practically. It will mean moving away from an economic model based on permanent expansion, on commercial profit as the sole arbiter of success. That, in turn, will mean our reps and activists having to actively promote an economic model based on production for social need as opposed to private profit, on cooperation rather than competition. This will inevitably, at some point, meaning a break with their employer’s short-term interests.
The best of our reps and activists already buy into this. The Lucas Plan, from the 1970s, proves that our class has the expertise to provide the solutions. Our task is to persuade our members, our fellow workers, that our alternative is not only possible, but necessary; not only viable, but attractive. The cost of not winning the argument is too horrible to contemplate, but we need to start that conversation, on the shop floor, in the office and call centre, now. Next year may be too late.
Richard Allday is a member of Unite the Union’s National Executive, a branch secretary and shop steward in road haulage. A member of Counterfire, his comrades know him better as 'the angry trucker'.
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