Traffic waiting for the light to turn green, on a wet city street

Canadian Labour Congress wants more ambitious climate goals from Ottawa

By Natasha Bulowski, Canada’s National Observer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Canada’s largest labour organization passed two resolutions Monday vowing to address climate change, a just transition to clean energy and green industrial policy in a way that’s fair for workers.

Both resolutions appeared on the affordability agenda at the Canadian Labour Congress’ 2023 constitutional convention in Montreal. The first pledges to tackle the climate crisis while ensuring workers aren’t left behind in the transition to a low-carbon economy. The second deals with industrial policy, including expanding clean energy and creating good union jobs in the process.

“There are no jobs on a dead planet, period,” said Tiffany Balducci, CUPE Ontario second vice-president and chair of the union’s climate justice committee. During debate on the climate resolution, she urged delegates to think of catastrophic environmental events unfolding at home. Disruptions like floods and wildfires will cause an increased need for child care, rising temperatures will put outside workers at risk, and “our pension investments will be worthless,” said Balducci.

“Not only our jobs are at risk, our lives are too. We need a mass movement of working people rising to tackle the climate crisis and create a just and equitable future for all,” she said.

“In the labour movement, we say: ‘Solidarity forever.’ But we don’t have forever. What about solidarity now with our planet, for our lives, for our future?”

This week, nearly 2,200 voting delegates and 230 observers representing local, regional and national unions are gathered to debate various action plans and resolutions that aim to make life fairer for workers. This convention sets priorities for Canada’s largest labour organization, representing more than three million workers. The policy directives decided this week will shape what the CLC and its 51 affiliates lobby governments and campaign on.

Monday’s topic of discussion was affordability, with Indigenous justice, climate change, health care and infrastructure slated for the following days. But as several delegates pointed out, these issues are interconnected.

Coal was a focus of the resolution aimed at tackling the climate crisis and ensuring a just transition for workers. It included opposition to both expanding coal export facilities in British Columbia and creating new coal power plants abroad, as well as advocacy for replacing coal power with “clean, affordable alternatives.” Lobbying the federal government to increase its greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, assume “primary responsibility for preventing a climate disaster” and invest in the transition to a green, equitable and sustainable economy were also included.

The resolution recognized “that climate action cannot be limited to measures that are ‘profitable,’ nor can 2030 reduction measures be based on technologies that are not currently viable at scale.”

Rob Ashton, national president of the International Longshore Warehouse Union of Canada, spoke against the resolution, saying: “All I read in this resolution was … a ban on expansion of coal terminals. That’s my people’s work.”

Ashton said a blanket statement about coal, without differentiating between coal used for power generation and steel production, hurts his members, many of whom work at coal export facilities in British Columbia.

Also against the resolution was Galen Crampsey, an electrical worker and rank-and-file member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 353. He said it’s “simply not acceptable” for any workers to be left behind, and pointed to the need for a “concrete and concise plan” on how to transition workers into new jobs with new benefits and acceptable wages.

“I don’t see any language in this resolution that identifies the root of the problem,” said Crampsey, who identified the ruling class as the source of the cost of living and climate crises.

“For decades, their leaders in the fossil fuel industry spent millions and millions of dollars and resources lying to the public, convincing us that fossil fuels and coal and natural gas and oil were not a problem, were perfectly fine and good for the environment, and look where we’re at now,” said Crampsey. “These people still hold an immeasurable amount of power in our society … we have to start utilizing our powers as the working class.

“I would suggest first and foremost, we push for the government to nationalize the energy sector completely, and stop giving money in tax rebates and subsidies to these private-sector oil corporations and energy corporations that are just using that money to profit from the need that we have for energy,” Crampsey added.

The second climate-related resolution on the affordability agenda advocated for the development of a “comprehensive green industrial policy,” which includes expanding clean energy and creating good union jobs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the resolution focuses on forestry, steel and critical minerals, for example, calling for governments and employers to invest in mines and ensure the use of “lower-carbon Canadian steel in infrastructure projects.”

Top image credit: The Canadian Labour Congress met in Montreal – Photo by Luca Sartoni via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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