For over 15 years in the international labor movement, I have focused on environmentalism. I am now program director at Greenpeace International. During my trip, with one foot in each of these two movements, we saw huge changes.
We have all seen workers fight back, challenge their hypocritical employers, form unions and, with renewed energy, assert their right to decent work, protection and a voice in their workplace, their industry and their country. But what I have had the privilege of seeing and working with is just as exciting.
When I got involved in the discussions on the environment, unions had a strong perception that unless certain social conditions are met, climate action should be delayed – as if the fight against climate change was a little extra for a peaceful and wealthy society.
At the same time, the environmental movement tended to believe that trying to correct social inequalities or address job losses would waste precious time. Instead, a trickle-down idea prevailed that climate ambition could be exclusively driven by governments if they followed science.
But times are changing.
Today there are hardly any unions on this planet that believe we can delay action on climate change. And there are good reasons for this change in mentality.
First, climate change is already having an impact on income and livelihoods. Supply chains are already vulnerable. Workers in sectors such as agriculture, health and construction find themselves in increasingly precarious situations, exacerbated by climate impacts.
Second, young people mobilized on the climate, embraced it as their generational struggle and demanded that unions support them.
And third, there is now a much stronger set of proposals for a just transition, including policies to support regions and workers, strong social protections and a much higher level of ambition for a green industrial policy.
The green movement has also changed. It is increasingly recognized that there can be no environmental justice without social justice. The challenges we face are complex, involving multiple and intersecting crises and forms of oppression. The better we equip ourselves to tackle the underlying power systems, the more likely we are to win.
Within this framework, we must remove the power from those who want to stop positive change. It means going up against some of the richest people and businesses in the world. Let us not be naive, our adversaries will not hesitate to manipulate the workers and the most vulnerable people to protect their own privileges.
We know there is no way to achieve the levels of climate ambition we need without mass public support. We have to connect with hearts and minds. It means a commitment to listening to people, even when it is difficult. This challenge is all the more essential as people’s livelihoods depend on dirty industries in inevitable decline.
We have therefore gone from a binary and artificial opposition between the protection of employment and the protection of the environment, to a dialogue on the way in which we surf the tensions and the dynamism generated by a transformation of this magnitude. Together, we can forge a future with both fulfilling lives and a liveable planet.
At Greenpeace, we see the struggle for this future as another chapter in the history these workers have written for decades. We all dream of a more sustainable future, which is why we organize and carry the standard of resilience and stubborn optimism. This is the spirit of the historic workers’ struggle: never give up.
As we rebuild in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need this spirit more than ever.
We must, together, get out of this absurd inertia which prioritizes greed, profit and competition to the detriment of all of us. Therefore, those who believe in the need to protect our global home must join workers in their call for the just transition we all need, where people and the planet are at the center of decisions.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.