The bushfire emergency is caused by climate change. Climate change is already bringing disaster. In NSW as of early December 2019 over 2.5 million hectares have been burned, over 700 homes destroyed, 3 people have died in the fires, and thousands of native creatures have been incinerated.
Beyond doubt of reasonable people, we do need urgent action to reduce greenhouse emissions.
In relation to the bushfires we also need to protect ourselves from the dangers caused by the fires; to repair the destruction to land, health and wildlife that they have caused; to provide more resources for preventing and fighting fires; and to stop further land clearing that increases the risk of fires.
Firstly, workers and students to have the right to choose to work indoors, or be supplied with breathing apparatus, when air particulate levels are unsafe. MUA members at Port Botany, and AWU members on road construction projects, have already done this. Management have threatened disciplinary action.
Secondly, neither governments nor business are taking the necessary immediate measures. We need our unions to lead a community campaign to demand that governments take responsibility to fund measures, and directly employ people.
*More firefighters in NSW Fire and Rescue, appliances and other support.
*More funding for co-ordination, equipment and training for Rural Fire Services, and fund the costs to volunteers of being absent from work, guarantee their jobs are secure.
*More national parks and state forest rangers to manage forests and control fuel loads. Reverse the cuts.
*Partner with indigenous land managers, fund them to train and work with national parks and state forests to apply proven indigenous fire management practices.
*Re-forestation, especially where it is known to contribute to the rain cycle, and keep forests public. No to privatisation.
*More agricultural, aquatic and environmental scientists, to review land use practices in conjunction with farmers, with the aim of replacing profitability as a criteria in management plans to harmonise the environmental sustainability of food and fibre production, with nutritional output.
*Health workers and researchers to be resourced to understand and support health consequences of hazardous air quality, and issue free P2 level face masks and other assistance.
*Funding for environmental, air quality and health scientists to develop means of responding to airborne particulates.
*Public ownership of insurance and finance for rebuilding after damage, and to stop private insurance from denying affordable cover to people in high risk areas.
We need unions to take a lead in refining and fleshing out these demands, based on principles of solidarity, public ownership, adequate resources, democratic accountability, and respect for science and ecology.
Unions have the capacity to initiate local forums all through the bushfire affected areas, city and country, where we are all breathing hazardous air.
Unions can bring people together, to make local plans and demands for protection from climate change and fire risk. The people who really understand and care about the land, homes and communities that are being decimated by catastrophic fires, are the ones who should be able to decide what is done about repairing the damage and preventing future fires. This means workers and volunteers in national parks, forestry and animal protection, fire services, indigenous land managers, small farmers, scientists and other residents and workers concerned about climate change, land degradation, fires and privatisation.
The work that needs to be done would provide alternative employment for any workers who might lose jobs as a result of ending environmentally damaging industries, such as logging. These demands also contribute to a just transition in taking action on climate change.
There is much detail to be filled in, many demands to be made, and the possibility of uniting many people with a commitment to campaign to win, because of the experience of climate change and fire risk, and the obvious necessity for action.
Climate change activists and communities in the frontline of the bushfires appear more likely than unions to take the initiative. Workers and union members can bring industrial action and the solidarity against profit, employers and governments needed to win change.
To get such a project off the ground, we need community and union leaders, local activists, union delegates to back it, canvas for it, and call meetings at which local communities can shape the demands and campaigns to meet their needs.