A week after mass mobilizations across the globe the climate strike is coming to Canada. Major actions are set to take place right across the country. In Montreal, 300,000 are expected for the main rally. Eleven unions are participating and the city is offering free public transit for the day. This massive show of force by people across the globe has given renewed energy to the climate movement.
This new climate movement is infused with a sense of urgency and is unwilling to accept the status quo. As the young climate activist Greta Thurnberg stated in her speech to the United Nations this week,
“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
It is becoming increasingly clear that we require a radical transformation of the economy to address the climate crisis. The good news is the wholesale economic transformation needed to tackle the climate crisis is also the type of change that it takes for workers to win real economic security. A strong social safety net, a reduction of the working day, robust and free public services, mass transit, public housing and local democratic control over the economy are part of the solution to addressing the climate crisis, and to making the lives of working people better.
An economy that benefits only the rich and destroys the planet means workers ultimately have a material interest remaking the economy. The corporations and the right-wing try to split workers from the environmental movement by arguing that environmental policies will kill jobs like pipeline construction. But the opposite is true: radically transforming our cities and our economy will actually provide more jobs and more security for workers in their day-to-day lives.
It is up to us to build campaigns that speak to issues confronting workers in the hopes of activating as many people as possible in the fight for climate justice. This means linking climate demands with people’s material interests, such as housing, jobs, transportation, and increased democratic control over the economy and state policy. Framing environmental justice as a material interest is the promise of efforts like the Green New Deal.
The countless efforts by Indigenous communities in fighting for environmental justice should be raised up high by unions. From the Grassy Narrows First Nation’s fight to combat mercury poisoning, to the Wet’suwet’en opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the history of Turtle Island is full of examples of Indigenous communities framing the fight for climate justice as a material interest that aims to build unity in order to transform our relationship with the Earth in a more equitable and justice manner.
Following the lead of Indigenous Peoples, unions can be part of the climate solution. But this requires more than rhetorical support, it requires bold action. The climate strike is a gift for the union movement, allowing us to dream bigger and giving us the confidence to push back against the bosses and politicians who seek only to maintain the status quo.