Individual Paper: 'Just Transition' or obliteration?
The struggle of and possibilities for trade unions in the UK to respond to the need for long term socio-ecological development
The aim of this thesis is to explore how trade unions in the UK negotiate the difficult challenge of squaring the short-term immediate aims of their members with the long-term aim of broad socio-ecological development – including social welfare and a habitable environment. Human-induced changes to Earth System processes are the product of industrialisation: the exponential increase in society’s material throughput and fossil-based energy use since the Industrial Revolution. These changes (including climate change) already pose a threat to humanity and will continue to do so with increased force and severity. The poorest in society who are most vulnerable to change will be the most affected by these developments. It is clear that both an energy and a material climb-down are inevitable – whether by design or by sheer (natural) force.
Within the current neo-liberal capitalist regime, societies are additionally faced with many short(er) term problems in the societal and economic spheres, which removes immediacy from the long(er) term issues of environmental change. Trade unions as the bastions of worker rights have historically fought for workers in the societal realm yet have a more complicated relationship when it comes to environmental issues.
Can trade unions as the torch-bearers of workers movements (historically very successful at fighting for social causes on the right side of history) also take on the challenge of a broad socio-ecological transformation of society, which is so urgently needed?
The current politically fraught situation of trade unions in the UK, including a declining and ageing membership, provides an undercurrent of urgency to the topic. Trade unions in the highly-polluting energy sector, where the long- versus short-term struggle is the most crystallised was specifically chosen for this thesis, in order to best explore and understand this dynamic. An extensive literature and document review was undertaken, as well as four in-depth semi-structured expert interviews with trade union officials and union policy makers.
Although trade unions have been in decline in the UK since the late-1970s, the ‘Just Transition’ campaign offers a chance to both revitalise trade unions and to face up to the long-term challenges confronting society. This however requires both unity in the currently fractured UK trade union movement, as well as a reorganisation of the way in which trade unions function at present, and how they aim to increase their power and influence.
Start time: 11:00
Room: Moriskan (Bistron)
Track: Custom (describe on the submission note)