Climate Change and Environment
“Climate Change is an issue that the union movement can rally behind”
Alec Beville is a spokesperson for Workers for Climate Action. He gave the following speech at the January 2020 NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association Committee of Delegates meeting.
My Name is Alec Beville, I am a tradie on the railways, an ETU delegate, and a member of Workers for Climate Action, and it is a pleasure to be able to have the time to speak to you all today. I especially want to thank Janet Roden for putting the invite out, and the NSW Nurses and Midwifes Association for putting me on.
In the last few months, we have seen the most horrendous bushfire season this country has ever experienced. We are now seeing flooding in parts of the state that cannot cope, communities in western NSW that don’t have clean drinking water, and regions of the country that sits uninhabitable. I know for myself, I have had family friends lose homes, cars, animals, and their livelihoods from the effects of these bushfires.
My father hasn’t worked for 6 weeks being on the fire line, taking a devastating financial blow to defend his community. My uncle, who works as a paramedic, has seen hundreds of bushfire victims with breathing and respiratory issues, asthma attacks, burns, and other injuries as a result of the crisis that has gripped our state.
I believe that members of the NSW Nurses and Midwifes Association are on the front line of a lot of these crises, helping those sick and injured, defending their communities on fire grounds, donating their time, money, food, and other items to those who have lost everything. I also acknowledge that the NSWNMA has lost comrades in these bushfires and I wish to pay my respects.
This is why I wanted to speak to you today. As unionists and workers, we see it all, and seem to also try and fix it all. But what is the root cause of it all?
It’s the countdown clock of Climate Change, where our environment is becoming more unpredictable with higher temperatures then we have ever seen in the past, longer and drier summers, less or no water in our rivers and dams, stronger and hotter winds across our continent, and a rising sea level that will chip away land all across the Pacific.
We have a federal government that still denies the science of Climate Change, even after all the heartbreak and devastation this country has been through. Leaders like Scott Morrison are a symbol of Australia’s commitment to the fossil fuel industry; and that is in direct opposition to the direction we need to be going in.
We have the ability to intervene and change the course of this disastrous environmental catastrophe however. As unionists, our drive and passion for the people around us is strong. Our desire for a better world, starting with our workplaces and communities is what keeps us going. Looking after our friends, co-workers, and family is what we aim to do.
Climate Change is an issue that the union movement can rally behind, and make serious action on through our organisations and workplaces. We, as a union movement, have rallied behind social issues in the past, such as the Nurses union organising and fighting for Same Sex Marriage, fighting against uranium mining in the Kakadu desert, and fighting for the rights of asylum seekers to be treated fairly in Australia.
Other examples that comes to mind is when this union, the Nurses and Midwifes, standing on the front line, time and time again to protect patients in hospitals, with properly regulated and maintained staffing ratios. I think of the campaign waged in Victoria in 2012, when over 1000 Nurses took rolling stoppages in defiance of the Victorian government in order to fight to not get a pay cut, to stop neoliberal policy cutting nurses with lower paid, less trained assistants, and to fight for our right to take industrial action where it is required.
The group I am involved in, Workers for Climate Action, is attempting to respond to the crisis of climate change through getting active in our workplaces and unions. We originally formed in July/August last year, as a small group of rank and file unionists inspired by the school students movement where they had a school strike in March of that year.
Our aim was to have a large group of unionists at the September 20th school student strike in Sydney, which was successful with a large grouping of unions coming out, including a group from the Nurses and Midwifes association. After this, we decided that using our collective contacts and different workplaces and abilities, we can do a lot more in terms of action in the environmental movement. The collective power of students and workers that exists is amazing, and when we can all work together, we can make a difference.
It is unions like the Nurses and Midwifes and its members that have the organisational capacity and determination to make real social change and deal with the causes of climate change.
As a group, we have developed different resources to support rank and file members to get people in their workplace to take action on climate change, and organise in our unions in a big way. We have three main demands that we push forward, and are:
- Publicly-owned 100% renewable power by 2030
- Government funded just transition and job creation, with jobs guarantee for all workers and affected communities
- No new fossil fuels or nuclear power projects
These demands are reasonable, practical, and if implemented, would put working people and local communities in control of the future landscape of work in Australia. It would also mean no one is left behind by changing technologies and government policy. We, as working people, as unionists, as compassionate and caring people, have the ability to affect change in a major way.
The scope of the government’s intervention in this climate catastrophe is a huge pile of nothing. The union movement is bursting at the seams with people looking to do something more, and I know by getting organised in our unions that we can change the tide, and implement solutions to slow down the rate of climate change on our planet.
At one point, in order to get our point across to those who are unwilling to listen, we will need to take real action on some of the insane anti strike laws that exist in this country. Similar to what this union has done before, we need to break the laws that hold us back from taking collective action.
The solutions are already in front of us. A good example of this is the campaigning the maritime union has been doing, pushing for offshore wind farms which will create good union jobs, and keep seafarers and labourers in good union jobs up and down the coast.
As unionists, some of the things that we can do are educating our fellow workers and friends on what is actually going on around us. I would also argue that in our workplaces, we can push support for union involvement and endorsement in organising efforts, including the Climate Justice National Day of Action in Sydney on February 22nd organised by the Climate Justice Alliance.
Now is the time for working people and our unions to take the lead on climate change.