COP26: Building our movement

Submitted by AWL on 9 November, 2021 - 6:17 Author: Vicki Morris
GMB bin strikers at COP26 in Glasgow

After Greta Thunberg issued an invitation to Glasgow’s striking refuse workers, a sizeable contingent of GMB strikers joined the Fridays For Future march in the COP26 city along with 10,000 or so exuberant demonstrators - mainly school students, and parents with small children.

Other local trade union branches lined the street with their banners to greet the march as it reached George Square.

There’s been a big trade union element within the COP26 Coalition, with its explicit slogan of climate justice. However, often the impression here is more of left union bureaucrats being involved than mobilising the grassroots.

The trade union bloc on the huge march on Saturday 6 November - estimates put it at 100,000 or more despite the cold, wind and rain - was one of the smallest and least lively blocs.

Workers’ Liberty Scotland comrades and comrades from other areas have been active in Glasgow, joining the marches and selling our publications. We attended social movement assemblies and other events, such as the Just Transition Hub organised by the Scottish TUC. And we were central to organising two meetings at the People’s Summit: “Winning global climate justice: migrants’ rights and global redistribution” (50-odd attending) and “Workers’ action for the climate and the fight for free trade unions” (40-odd).

We’ve intervened to promote our ideas about working-class action on the environment, as part of the radical challenge we need to the capitalism that is destroying our planet. So what are the prospects for this?

There are certainly hopeful signs that the environmental movement is alive to the need to ally with workers. The COP26 Coalition have pulled off an impressive range of demos around the country, and in Glasgow helped build the two big marches on Friday and Saturday, held daily “movement assemblies” on different themes from strategy to feminism to decolonisation, indigenous people, youth, and work and unions, and put on the People’s Summit for Climate Justice, involving hundreds of meetings.

It’s been impressive. To go forward together, we need democratic structures and accountability.

The COP26 conference in Glasgow has brought together tens of thousands of scientists, politicians, civil servants, campaigners, and lobbyists - including hordes of lobbyists for the worst polluting industries - inside the SEC Centre. Outside tens of thousands of representatives of civil society, encompassing charities, trade unions, environmental campaigns, and political groups, have been feverishly active.

As well as putting pressure on those inside to be more radical against climate change, a movement-building process is going on, as disparate groups with a common goal but different cultures and methods and - crucially - different ideas discuss, learn from each other, test ideas... and compete.

Commitment to workers’ action on the climate is there in the talk around COP26, but the unions’ contribution to climate activism is still clearly inadequate. A lot of work lies ahead for those of us who want to build working-class climate activism.

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