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Cornell GLI Report at Center of Intense Debate among Transport Unions on Climate Change

Transport workers from around the world made history this August as representatives of hundreds of transport unions gathered in Mexico and agreed to make tackling climate change a top priority.  More than 300 leaders of transport workers’ unions attended the first-ever International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Climate Change Conference in Mexico City on August 4, 2010.  On August 11, following the Climate Change Conference, 1,600 representatives of transport unions from all over the world  unanimously adopted ITF World Congress Resolution 1 – which committed the ITF to support an ambitious climate protection agenda.

Cornell GLI-ITF Report Presented to Delegates

Sean Sweeney and Lara Skinner of the Cornell Global Labor Institute (GLI) presented the main findings of a 60-page report released at the conference entitled Transport Workers and Climate Change:  Towards Sustainable Mobility.  The report was the product of a year-long process involving a partnership between the ITF’s Climate Change Working Group and the Cornell GLI, a program of the university’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.  The Working Group was chaired by Asbjorn Wahl, a leader of  of Fagforbundet (Norwegian Union for Municipal and Health Sector Workers) and Vice-President of the Road Transport Workers’ section of the ITF.

Sweeney and Skinner, the main authors of the report, maintained that the ITF’s climate work should be shaped by a clear and comprehensive assessment of the challenges posed by climate change.  Emissions from transport are growing faster than any other sector and action to seriously reduce emissions must begin immediately.  The report describes how climate change is already having a huge impact on both the lives and livelihoods of many millions of people, and trade unions must fully engage in the effort to implement bold solutions and build durable and effective partnerships with social movements fighting for genuine sustainability.  The report documents how governments have mostly failed to even begin to seriously deal with rising emissions.  Unions must forcefully advocate for low-carbon transportation systems that provide good jobs for workers in all transport sectors and promote safe, affordable and responsible mobility for all.

Intense Debate

The GLI’s document triggered an intense debate at the conference.  Robert Scardelletti, President of the Transportation Communications International Union (TCU), an affiliate of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) registered his union’s formal opposition to the document.  Many TCU members transport coal by rail, and Scardelletti claimed that the direction being proposed by the ITF’s Climate Working Group would destroy the coal industry and phase out all fossil fuels – and TCU members would pay the price.

Scardelletti’s concerns generated little support from other transport workers’ leaders.  Other rail union leaders with members that transport coal, such as UK’s train drivers’ union -ASLEF, strongly supported the document’s approach.   Roger Toussaint, International Vice-President of the Transport Workers Union, a U.S. affiliate, also supported the work of the ITF Climate Change Working Group.  Emissions reductions, said Toussaint, provide “an opportunity to re-tool and re-engineer the economy and secure just futures for our members and for organized labor.”  Representatives from around the world rose in support of an aggressive climate protection agenda, one that allows for greater economic democracy and robust regulation and investment programs.   

Delegates debated the document’s proposals for reducing emissions in different transport sectors, namely road transport, rail, aviation and shipping.  Strong support was expressed for strategies that linked environmental sustainability to the need to improve conditions for workers in the industry though full cost pricing and the defense of workers’ rights.   

Resolution Adopted

The Resolution crafted from the document’s analysis and recommendations was adopted unanimously by ITF delegates on August 11, 2010.  It calls for the ITF and its affiliates to take a science-based approach to emissions reductions, and commits the Federation’s affiliates to push for bold and far-reaching policies to transform the world’s transport systems in ways that support public transport, advance technological improvements, and reduce the unnecessary movement of goods and people.  Delegates acknowledged that the current system of ‘just in time’ production and global supply chains needs to give way to responsible mobility and economies shaped by local production systems.  Low transport costs and cheap and casual labor had inflicted damage on the environment and communities alike.   

The Resolution also lends support to the “Reduce-Shift-Improve” framework for reducing emissions that is developed in the conference discussion document.  This comprehensive strategy for reducing emissions relies on reducing the use of unsustainable transport that is based on cheap transport and low wages, shifting from high-carbon modes of transport to low-carbon modes like public transit and rail and water freight and improving the fuel and energy efficiency of all modes of transport. 

ITF-Cornell GLI Report Attracts Praise from Mexico City’s Environment Secretary

The August 4  Conference began  with keynote presentations from Martha Delgada Peralta, Secretary of the Environment for Mexico City and Rufino H Leon Tovar, Director of Electrical Transport of Mexico  City.  Peralta commended the ITF-Cornell GLI report, while announcing plans to put it recommendations into action in her own city.  Both Peralta and Leon Tovar were instrumental to the recent implementation of two Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines in Mexico City which have significantly reduced emissions, pollution and congestion in the city, improved mobility for thousands of Mexico City residents and transitioned informal mini-bus drivers into formal, good unionized jobs within the BRT system. 

GLI Launches Transport Policy Working Group in the U.S.

With the ITF now fully behind a bold climate protection policy, Cornell Global Labor Institute will focus attention on working with U. S. unions around low-carbon, sustainable transport.  GLI has formed a Transportation Policy Working Group which will engage unions around domestic transportation policy.  The first meeting of Cornell GLI’s Transportation Policy Working Group will be held in Washington, D.C. in October.  A debriefing of the ITF’s Climate Change Conference and the adoption of Resolution 1 will also be held for U.S. unions and policy partners prior to the Working Group meeting.  For more information about Cornell GLI’s low-carbon, sustainable transportation work, please contact Lara Skinner (lrs95@cornell.edu/212.340.2884).