Union leaders fail to challenge the rules by striking for the climate

Submitted by Janet on 19 September, 2019 - 12:13 Author: Janet Burstall
Climate strike participation

Australian unions have not organised strike action for 20 September. The Australian Council of Trade Unions and its leaders, Sally McManus and Michele O’Neil have been deafeningly silent on climate action and the 20 September climate strike, up to at least the week before.
Many uniona and peak bodies have voted to endorse the climate strike but have not authorised strike action by their members. These include the Australian Services Union, Electrical Trades Union Queensland, NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, NSW Public Service Association, NSW Teachers Federation, National Union of Workers NSW, Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, MUA Sydney Branch, Victoria Trades Hall Council, Queensland Council of Unions.
The National Tertiary Education Union is exemplary, for actively encouraging university staff to join the climate strike. Union branches at some campuses have worked with students to close down classes and win management announcements that there will be no penalties for staff or student absences during the climate strike.
The climate strike could be a golden opportunity for unionists who support the right to strike, to combine support for climate action with breaking the rules to change the rules, and despatching the anti-union so-called “Ensuring Integrity Bill”. The SS4C website declares “There is nothing “fair” about the Morrison Government’s Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill. School strikers wholeheartedly condemn this bill and everything it stands for.”
Although most unions are rusty at organising strikes, leaders could declare backing for workplaces voting to strike on 20 September.
If tens, even hundreds of thousands climate strikers, with organisers who support union rights, are not enough to embolden our current union leaders, then it’s time to organise an alternative political current in the union movement. Such a current would demand industrial action for both union rights and climate action, and to challenge officials who won’t build it.

Workers and trade unions and the climate strike
The SS4C organisers are appealing to the trade union movement and workers to join them.
Their website includes a Worker Participation Guide. Workers, and especially trade unionists can offer a lot more than their numbers to street protests. They are in strategic positions to take industrial action, to change the nature and organisation of work, and to reorient production to environmental sustainability.
Collectively, workers have at times defied management and owners, to take industrial action, most commonly to demand better pay and conditions. The strongest unions, most able to defend their own working conditions, have been the most likely to take action in solidarity with others, for social justice, or the environment.
School students who have learnt about organising and fighting for climate action will become a larger share of the workforce. At work they could be a formidable force, young, energetic workers who will educate and organise their older fellow workers, and shake up complacent union officials. Already the school students are inspiring unionists who had become ground down. They have addressed union meetings around the country, and won endorsements for their strike.

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