Low-carbon transport gets trade union airing in South Africa

December 8, 2011

Cheap transport oils the wheels of the global economy, yet it has a devastating impact, not just on the climate, but also on employees’ working conditions. That was the verdict of the ITF’s first African seminar on climate change recently.

The two-day event, which ran in tandem with the United Nations (UN) climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa from 28 November to 9 December, was host to over 60 delegates from 11 countries in Africa as well as representatives from affiliates from the rest of the world. The seminar was part of the International Trade Union Confederation’s World of Work programme.

Cheap transport formed the basis of the worldwide economy, delegates heard; it in turn depended on “just in time production”, low labour costs, and oil subsidies. This was taking its toll both on the climate and on workers – they were increasingly being employed in precarious work, working long hours and seeing safety compromised.

Asbjorn Wahl, chair of the ITF climate change working group, tackled the issue of a socially just climate change policy, while Kemal Ulker from Turkish aviation union Hava-Is focused on the limits of capitalism in dealing with environmental problems. Patrick Bond from the Durban-based Centre for Civil Society highlighted the social and environmental injustice embedded in the current system.

Other speakers discussed climate jobs in transport, building alliances and how transforming transport was part of a wider working class struggle.

During discussions, delegates agreed that if they accepted the science, they had to commit to a radical transformation of the global economy and politics.

ITF education officer Alana Dave said: “We need to develop an alternative trade union vision for low-carbon transport, by thinking about what we want as workers and for our communities.”

Yesterday, Dave and Wahl criticised the failure of the UN climate change conference to deliver any progress.

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