Cornell University

Cornell Global Labor Institute

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Conference Statement

undefinedThe North American Labor Assembly on Climate Crisis met in New York City on May 7th and 8th, 2007.  The meeting was sponsored by 10 international unions and attended by more than 200 trade unionists from the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean region, as well as 50 trade unionists situated in other regions of the world.  Representatives from environmental community, and women’s organizations also participated in the conference.

This Assembly is part of a series of international gatherings that began with the First Global Trade Union Assembly on Labour and the Environment in Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2006. In April 2006 Sao Paulo hosted the first ever Trade Union Regional Conference on Labour and the Environment for unions in Latin America, and in July 2006 another Regional Conference took place in Johannesburg, South Africa. These events were organized by the Sustainlabour Foundation. 

Consistent with the practice of these previous meetings, the North American Assembly adopted a non-binding statement, as follows:

1.  We are trade unions from many national and local unions from North America and additional countries. We join with unions all over the world in urging determined action to address the climate crisis, a crisis that threatens life on our planet, as we know it.

2.  Given the severe nature of the climate crisis, we urge governments, both individually and collectively, to take decisive measures to control and then seriously reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels that provide the best hope of achieving climate stabilization and ecological balance.

3.  We recognize that global warming is a global problem.  Therefore all countries, as well as regional and local authorities, must assume responsibility for reducing emissions, with those countries with the highest per capita emissions levels showing the way forward. However, we believe the level of reductions needed require countries to create a framework of mutual assistance, including technological cooperation and capacity building.

4.  Unions have long maintained that climate stabilization can only be accomplished if economic and social life is structured around the notion of sustainable development and fair trade.  For unions, sustainable development requires a commitment to decent work, meaningful worker participation in important decisions affecting the workplace and economic life in general, and a universally recognized system of enforceable workers rights like that expressed in the ILO’s Core Labour Standards and various conventions.  It also includes the right to refuse dangerous work and access to information.

5.  Along with unions around the world, we embrace the concept of “just transition” whereby no worker should suffer economic hardship or insecurity as a result of the changes required to address climate crisis or other environmental challenges.  All proposed actions on the part of governments and employers must similarly recognize and act on the “just transition” principle and the need of workers for job or livelihood security. 

6.  To reach the target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, we demand that employers step up their efforts to reduce their own emissions and to partner with union representatives and community leaders in efforts small and large to seriously address global warming.

7.  In line with conclusions reached by the Stern Review, we also recognize that any economic and social costs incurred in efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions will be minor in comparison with the economic and social costs of continuing to do little or nothing about global warming.  Inaction is a far greater threat to workers and communities than is taking decisive action now and in the years ahead.

8.  We see the struggle against global warming as an opportunity to put a stop to unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, and to create new and well paying “green” jobs in renewable energy, the construction trades, public transportation, sustainable farming, and much-needed manufacturing. This conclusion is backed by major studies like those commissioned by the Apollo Alliance, Redefining Progress, Renewable Energy Policy Project and Union of Concerned Scientists in the U.S. and the European Trade Union Confederation.   

9.  We recognize the immediate threat climate change poses to the people living in the poorest areas of the world. In turn, this poverty makes its own contribution to global warming as workers and communities are forced to work and produce in ways that are dangerous, unhealthy and unsustainable.  This Assembly therefore recognizes that actions against global warming are therefore also actions against global poverty, unsafe working conditions, and economic precariousness faced my hundreds of millions of workers, a disproportionate number of whom are women.  

10.  International agencies and institutions, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, must therefore stop pushing policies (such as the privatization of public services) that undercut the kind of worker and social protections necessary to relieve and alleviate poverty and paralyze efforts to address the climate crisis. Specifically, we call on the World Bank, and all multilateral development banks and export credit agencies, to halt all loans for fossil fuel projects that result in unsustainable logging.

11.  In the effort to play our part in the struggle to restrict greenhouse gas emissions, we encourage the greatest possible trade union unity and coordinated practical action. This will require ongoing education and mobilization around climate crisis and other pressing environmental issues, and connecting these at all times to the need for workers rights, decent work, environmental standards, and for sustainable communities.

12.  As part of the NAFTA and CAFTA zone, unions in North America can work to develop a common approach to climate crisis and sustainable development, taking into account the points on sustainable development articulated in the Labor Platform for the Americas formally presented by the trade unions of the hemisphere to the fourth Summit of the Americas at Mar del Plata in 2005.

13.   Finally, this Assembly recognizes the potential of “blue-green” alliances at the local, regional, national and global levels.  These alliances between unions, environmental, and community organizations must be grounded in the understanding that the fate of workers, communities, and the biosphere are inseparable from each other.  We reject the notion that we must choose between jobs and environmental protection.  We commit ourselves to work wholeheartedly for both, and will strive to achieve durable and effective forms of solidarity and cohesion.