Developing Green Trade Union Councils
A key thread running through the General Council’s statement to the 2009 Congress on the UK economy was the importance of dealing with climate change and developing a sustainable economy that was environmentally responsible. There is clear evidence from the Carbon Trust that most businesses could save a fifth or more of their energy bills through low-cost measures. But in order to do this it is vital that workers on the ground are involved. After all, staff will not be able to deliver changes if they don‟t understand and support the reasons why they are being introduced. Opportunities will be missed if staff don‟t have a chance to influence decisions. Trade union reps‟involvement is also critical to improving environmental performance.
TUC Greener Workplaces The TUC’s GreenWorkplaces projects (www.tuc.org.uk/economy/index.cfm?mins=604&minors=402 ) show that UGRs can be important allies in promoting the importance of energy saving and environmental issues. They, and other trade union reps, are ideally placed to use the standing and structures of the trade unions to directly influence and develop the thinking and actions of their members, and others, in respect to environmental matters. UGRs will have the confidence of their membership and the union involvement will give added reassurance to employees. UGRs are trained in their role and are a source of useful in-house advice for employers. For this reason, employers have generally been supportive of the work of UGRs. For more information on the TUC‟s Greener Workplace project visit the above website or contact Philip Pearson firstname.lastname@example.org or Sarah Pearce email@example.com or write to them at the TUC Trade unions have a long history of taking action on environmental issues, campaigning for a safer, healthier working and living environment. According to a YouGov survey, 70% of workers said they would like to do more about climate change but felt that they needed more support from their employers. Union environmental strategies on greening the workplace can bring spin-off benefits by renewing union activity at work, addressing a modern and crucial challenge for working people. The environment is of major concern to younger people whose interests are often focused on the subject and who may have low awareness of trade unions, while older members see the environment as a fresh reason to get active again. Trades union councils should consider how they can use the environment agenda to make links with young people either through schools, colleges, youth centres or local community events.
Linking with environment campaign groups Trades union councils should build links with local environmental campaign groups enabling organising opportunities and ensuring that trade unionists are recognised as part of the community. This should also open up opportunities for local environmental groups to help the union Movement with its greening the workplace agenda. The TUC has a positive relationship with Friends of the Earth whose web site offers lots of information and support on community campaigning. Trades union councils should consider subscribing to their local Friends of the Earth group. Local groups can be contacted through the FoE web page www.foe.co.uk/get_involved/act_local_index.html Trades union councils should promote the role of the workplace union green representatives (UGR) with affiliated branches; work locally with other community groups to raise the profile of the unions and the green environment; and campaign for changes in government legislation to give more rights to UGRs. American unions have been active in this area for some time. Trades union council members may be interested in going to the BlueGreen Alliance web pages to see US how unions work with environment protection groups and industry www.bluegreenalliance.org/home . Trades union councils should also consider how they can support local initiatives to improve the environment whether these are being proposed or developed by the local authority, local business or affiliated unions.
Summary Have regular report backs on affiliated unions work on greening the workplace Consider how the trades union council can promote union greenworkplaces reps (UGRs) in their area. Use TUC or produce own locally relevant material. Build links with local environment campaign groups for two way exchange of information and support. Contact local Friends of the Earth groups. Discuss the possibilities of developing material, or staging or participating in events, aimed at young people. Information sheets, publicity and ideas on connecting with young people may exist elsewhere which the trades union council can adapt. Consider ways to support local environment improvement initiatives