With climate change getting worse and the hated Adani mine creeping into operation, many people are angry about the state of the environment. But it’s not always easy to know what to do about it. The workplace, where we spend most of our time each day, often is and should be a place for such activism. Socialists have a great opportunity (and responsibility) to talk with our workmates about corporate Australia’s destruction of the environment, why it can be fought and what workers can do as part of the movement. Here are some ideas to get started.
Be confident! Study after study shows that most Australians support serious action on climate change, oppose new coal mines and support increased investment in renewables. Odds are at least some of your workmates already care about this issue and will be open to a discussion about doing something about it. Give it a go.
Keep an eye on the news. Almost every day there are new reports about corporate climate crimes, the Morrison government failing to act or evidence from around the world of impending climate disaster. Asking “Did you see in the news ...” is an easy way to check out where a person stands, and to normalise the idea that work is a place for political discussion. Even better than news stories about the bad stuff are stories of resistance. Who’s not excited by the tens of thousands of high school students across Australia who have walked out of their classes to demand action?
Develop some basic knowledge. You don’t need to have read everything, but it’s good to have a few general points to start a conversation. For example, that the world’s leading climate scientists agree that world carbon emissions need to be halved by 2030. Or that it’s corporations that depend on environmental destruction for their profits and that the major political parties are all in bed with them. Red Flag has ongoing coverage of the issue that can equip you with many of the arguments you’ll need.
Learn some radical history. Australia has a fantastic history of grassroots movements that have prevented government and corporate destruction of the environment. The Franklin River dam campaign in the 1980s was victorious after thousands protested and blockaded the project. Decades of campaigns have stopped the expansion of uranium mining – most recently the Jabiluka mine in the late ’90s. Every good unionist needs to know the story of the Builders Labourers Federation and its green bans – the collective refusal by unionised workers to work on environmentally destructive construction projects. These stories can challenge the sense of powerlessness that prevents a lot of people from joining campaigns or taking action.
Wear your politics on your sleeve. Wearing a badge or a shirt with a political statement is a great way of getting into discussions and letting people know that you care about the issue.
Find an activity for your workmates to do together. Even small actions done together can increase people’s sense of confidence and often lead to further actions. They also raise the question of what action is most effective and what it will take to win climate justice – all important political issues. Workplace actions might include collecting names on a petition, getting together to watch a video clip about the climate or a protest action, posing for a solidarity photo to send to an environment campaign group or writing a message or motion of support to other campaigners.
Make the environment a union issue. The plunder or preservation of the environment is a class issue – bosses profit from trashing the climate and workers suffer because of it. Workers’ industrial strength can also be used to stop environmental destruction. That’s why people concerned about climate change need to support workers getting organised in their trade unions, and why the trade union movement has a responsibility to join the fight to save the environment. Signing up your workmates to the union is important, as is finding out about your union’s stance on climate justice.
Organise a group to attend a campaign event together. Many cities have regular climate change events, including rallies, public forums and campaign meetings. Meetings and forums are good places to find out more and to contribute to building a more powerful movement, while centralised protests help influence public opinion, draw in supporters, disrupt the status quo, pressure politicians and lay the basis for more serious action like strikes or occupations. Even if you can’t get anyone to come to one of these actions with you, go along yourself, talk to people back at work about it and encourage them to join you next time.
There are loads of other ways to support environmental campaigns in the workplace; this is just a start. Importantly though, having a go is the best way to learn. If you have a good story or tip about workplace organising against climate change, let us know about it by emailing [email protected].