Tuesday 13 August 2019

Green UNISON Day 20 Sept - solidarity with school climate strikers

On 20 September hundreds of thousands of young people will take part in the latest of the climate strikes inspired by Greta Thunberg, the Finnish school student who decided to strike in protest at the lack of action and urgency by governments on climate change.

Several of these school student climate strikes have taken place this year in Scotland with protests organised in George Square in Glasgow and at Holyrood in Edinburgh. However the 20 September strike breaks new ground following Greta’s call for adults to join them. This has sometimes been expressed as a call for a general strike but some people have called on companies to also support the action.

Members of UNISON in Scotland have been active on climate change issues for some years, initiating the national union’s campaign for pension funds to divest from fossil fuels and setting up a Green Network for activists to come together to discuss how to take the issues up in the union and with employers. Last year, they organised a Green UNISON Day where branches held activities to raise awareness of the issues.

This year, the Green UNISON Day coincides with the 20 September Climate Strike Day and is a real opportunity for branches and activists to make the issue a priority for our members and our employers.

Due to our draconian anti-trade union laws UNISON and other trade unions are unable to call for strike action. However there is nothing to prevent workers taking annual leave or flexi-leave on the day to join school students marching in the streets to demand action.

Green UNISON Day creates opportunities for a wide range of activities which will demonstrate not only solidarity with young people taking action across the world but also practical steps to get union members and employers working to address the real climate emergency that confronts us all.

Scottish UNISON Branches are already making plans and these include:

·         Lunch time gatherings, meetings and lobbies.
·         Inviting school strikers to address workplace or branch meetings. UNISON’s Glasgow City  Branch have gone further and after inviting a school climate striker to speak to the branch have given financial assistance and asked other Glasgow branches to do likewise.
·         Calling on members to show support for the strikers using solidarity posters and pledges.
·         Promoting the day by publicising it to members in advance and in particular briefing members in schools on the Climate Strike movement, encouraging them to be supportive of school students taking action
·         Taking actions in support of UNISON’s campaign for Pension Funds to divest from fossil fuels, writing to Pension Fund Committees and Boards and local Councillors
·         Planting trees as symbolic of the need to restore forests
·         Publicising UNISON policy on Councils taking a lead on renewable energy by setting up Municipal Energy Companies to generate and locally distribute electricity
·         Calling on employers to declare a Climate Emergency and for Councils to work with UNISON and other unions, public sector bodies, employers and communities to devise plans within six months to address the emergency.

The past few weeks of extreme weather with record high temperatures followed by days of torrential rain disrupting train and road travel, threatening infrastructure like dams, has illustrated that climate change has already arrived and that the climate emergency that Greta and others have been protesting about is already here.

It is working people and the poor who will suffer most. Faced to live and work in increasingly difficult environments, prices of travel and food increasing, public service money to be diverted to repair and protect bridges, rail tracks and roads from weather damage, will force us all to pay for the climate crisis just as we paid for the banking crisis. Whilst the rich can afford their air-conditioning and moving to areas away from flood risks, working people will continue to suffer when temperatures soar and be given sandbags when flood waters rise.

UNISON branches participating in the Green UNISON Day, supporting the school strikers and demanding action from employers and governments are showing a lead to other trade unions.

Stephen Smellie, Depute Convener, UNISON Scotland.


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