Trade unions must engage the Government in a strategic dialogue

Dear Editor,
Today, as we are confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is required of us to work closely to protect and uphold the values upon which trade unionism was built.
To build resilience, to face crises now and in the future, drawing on lessons learned and experiences from the world of work.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts everywhere. The pandemic has touched nearly every aspect of the world of work, from the risk of transmission of the virus in workplaces to Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) risks that have emerged as a result of measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. Shifts to new forms of working arrangements, such as the widespread reliance on teleworking, have, for example, presented many opportunities for workers but also posed potential OSH risks, including psychosocial risks and violence in particular.

As a global effort to build a truly sustainable COVID-19 recovery effort. Here we can offer some ideas and proposals that are consistent with the existing global policies. These proposals are shaped with several goals in mind – to advance protection policies and solutions; to improve the working and living conditions of our people; to educate and mobilise our people; to increase the size and strength of our constituencies; and to build durable alliances with other constituencies who share our vision of the sustainable world.
Meanwhile, trade unions will continue to work with the Global Union Federation (GUF) and International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC) in their efforts to make protection a core trade union concern that can engage workers at the grassroots. A “whole economy” approach to the COVID-19 reductions makes it imperative that the trade unions engage in a strategic dialogue with other constituencies to develop a coherent and shared trade union message.
Many trade unions now recognise the need to pursue a change of direction, one that involves working with others to bring into being a new economy based on sustainability sufficiency, and social solidarity.
This kind of social growth will only happen if economic life is made much more democratic and more responsive to social and health needs. Trade unions and their allies in society embody many of the principles around which a new economy can be built, and we must assert those principles via major expansion of public ownership, development of the social economy, more community control, and strict regulation to enforce measures that advance sustainability.
Trade unions are well suited to that challenge. As trade unions’ constituency, they have been in existence for decades. They have been and are at the forefront of many long-term struggles for social justice in different parts of the world.

Main actors
The main actors involved in the energy transition base their decisions mostly on economic, geopolitical, or environmental considerations. Some countries, mainly in Europe, see renewables as an opportunity to reduce their dependence on imports of other forms of energy. Green financial funds seek to influence the policies of companies in which they hold investments to leverage these companies’ market power to promote environmental change. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) advocate greater use of clean energy to mitigate the environmental impacts of using fossil fuels. However, none of these actors has the impact of the transition on workers at the centre of their concerns. Both the destruction of fossil fuel jobs and the precarious conditions of “green” workers are not addressed by these institutions in their energy transition reports. In the face of that, the union movement developed in the 1990s the concept of Just Transition, to provide a framework for discussions on the types of social and economic interventions needed to ensure workers’ livelihoods during climate change processes. At the turn of the millennium, thanks to the efforts of national unions and labour federations, the Just Transition was increasingly considered at the international level – especially during the United Nations climate negotiations and discussions on sustainable development. Even so, it was only in the second half of the following decade that there would be more active and coordinated efforts to integrate the Just Transition into the international circle and to seek the inclusion of the concept in United Nations procedures and agreements.

Environmental concerns
An important moment in this regard was the merger of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour in 2006, which gave rise to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
From the beginning, ITUC has put environmental concerns at the centre of its agenda. Given its growing importance in the international debate, the United Nations climate process has become a privileged place for ITUC and other union organisations to boost the Just Transition agenda. Consequently, and within the international climate community, Just Transition has been increasingly framed and recognised as the contribution of the trade union movement to the international climate debate.
In a leaflet produced for the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, the ITUC presented Just Transition:
The active presence of the union movement in the international negotiating circle, its sustained efforts to integrate environmental and climate concerns within the union community, and its successful efforts to include the language of the Just Transition in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change also contributed to further securing the concept within and outside the union movement. The reference to Just Transition in the Paris Agreement’s preamble further legitimised the concept and encouraged a wider range of stakeholders to use it. This was complemented by the compatibility of the concept with the theory of voluntary and bottom-up change of the agreement, and the broader narrative about the combined economic, social and environmental benefits of climate action, especially in the field of energy.

Just Transition Silesia Declaration
In this sense, another moment worth mentioning is the “Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration”, a document prepared by the trade union movement for the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP 24) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in Katowice, Poland. This document was signed by over 50 countries, emphasising that “the Just Transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs are crucial to ensure an effective and inclusive transition to low greenhouse gas emission and climate-resilient development, and to enhance the public support for achieving the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement”.
Given its growing acceptance in the international political arena, the term “Just Transition” has gained multiple approaches over the years. Deployed within a wide range of ideological views, the demands for a Just Transition can vary “from a simple demand for job creation in the green economy to a radical analysis of capitalism and opposition to market solutions”. Despite the diversity of meanings endorsed to “Just Transition”, in general terms, two broad definitions prevail:
(1) The first is based on the term as it emerged from the North American labour movement in the late 20th century, in part in response to the environmental movement. This background shapes the stricter definition of the term – the idea that workers and communities affected by the intentional change in activities related to fossil fuels should receive support from the state;

IndustriALL’s concept
(ii) A second broader definition of “Just Transitions” requires thinking of justice in a more general sense, and not just for affected workers. It emphasises the importance of not continuing to sacrifice the well-being of vulnerable groups for the sake of others, a practice that has been usual in the fossil fuel economy. Despite these different approaches to Just Transition, this adopts the concept presented by IndustriALL when discussing Just Transition. The technology revolution and a greater ongoing digitalisation of production – that is likely to deepen in the future – cannot exclude workers from this process. Therefore, in IndustriALL’s view, the Just Transition must also be characterised by a sustainable industrial policy that promotes much-needed social justice and benefits for workers. Accordingly, IndustriALL proposes that:
(i) Climate change must guarantee broad social participation;
(ii) The transition must consider improving the livelihoods of vulnerable workers and small producers;
(iii) The sustainable and resilient infrastructure to be distributed fairly;
(iv) Access to ecological services and products (is) to be guaranteed at a viable price; and,
(v) Tax reforms must consider progressive ecological taxes. To ensure the implementation of this agenda, greater participation by union representation is crucial, especially in the renewable segments that have a significant share of highly precarious work (as in the case of biofuels). On the one hand, this would allow greater protection of this type of work and a greater capacity for organising the workforce with the aim that the energy transition does not mean a great unevenness of the employment structure in the energy industry.

Less unequal
On the other hand, it would enable greater action with governments, guaranteeing not only an ecologically sustainable future but also a less socially unequal future for all workers. These elements could serve to some extent the distributed interests of different workers. When it comes to energy transition in this, dimension is also considered, that is: whether or not this process considers aspects related to the interests and objectives of the working class. This is important because, in our perspective, the energy transition must be looked at in a much broader than a simple change in the source of energy. It must also consider the negative impacts of transition on different parts of society and the economy and the real possibilities of overcoming them.
Today must agree that the clock cannot and will not be turned back. We have to look to establish a new basis for the development of both Guyana, the Caribbean, and the world economy as a whole.

Fight against poverty
The Trade Unions have been paying considerable attention to the question of how the world economic system can be improved. Our starting point is to fight against unemployment and poverty. Economic growth is not an end in itself; it is means of ensuring that people all over the world, can enjoy a decent life from the fruits of their labour. Many others also have ideas about changing the world economy, but I am afraid far too few share our fundamental conviction about the primacy of ensuring full employment and a decent standard of living for all. If we achieve nothing else in our country.
I hope we will get the message across that in far too many countries, unemployment, is a scandal, a waste, a calamity, and a threat to society and to the individuals who make up the distressing statistics of the jobless.
However, fighting speeches from trade unions do not create new jobs. While making people aware of the dangers of mass unemployment, we need at this time to offer solutions. And in the modern interdependent world, that means international solutions.
The big industrial countries must also take urgent steps in cooperation with the developing world to resolve the debt crisis. Lower interest rates, cheaper dollars, some growth in world trade, and the fall in oil prices will ease the difficulties many countries like Guyana have in paying off their existing debts. But if present policies are maintained, it will be a long, slow process and some oil exporters will face even more difficult conditions in these Caribbean Regions. We believe that the economic and social crisis of the developing world requires a move from what is in effect still crisis management tactics to a multilateral strategy for employment, adjustment, and growth. What we are looking for is a major increase in the lending power of the multilateral institutions – the World Bank, Regional Development Bank, and IMF – and new mechanisms for the restructuring of existing debts. We must move to a situation where the repayment and interest rates of the developing world are reduced to a level commensurate with their ability to pay and grow.
However, the process is of such importance to the creation of jobs and the improvement of living standards that unions can no longer simply sit back and criticise the failures of others.

Furthermore, one of the key elements of a successful transformation will be the cooperation and active involvement of workers in the process.
Commitment, participation, and cooperation do not come automatically at the push of a button. It must be built up through discussion, exchange of information, and agreement both at the workplace and in national policy-making.
The trade union movement has throughout its history played a key role in the development of the social and political structures in Guyana.
Yours faithfully,
Sherwood Clarke
General President
Clerical & Commercial Workers’ Union