by Kevin Bowers, ECA member, OSSTF Limestone District 27
The core mandate of unions has always been to protect people from the ravages of a marketplace that often exploits and harms for profit. Global warming is without a doubt the single most daunting crisis on our shared horizon, and corporations and governments have failed in their roles to mitigate its effects and protect people and other life on this planet.
Business, corporate and government leaders have spent a lot of Public Relations dollars on undermining the good brand of unions. The media repeats phrases like ‘union bosses’ and frames unions as ‘special interests’ and ‘job killers’. In the last decades this attempted union-busting PR strategy has been very effective in undermining unions, and union membership has decreased under this continual assault.
The present political moment offers a perfect opportunity for unions to rebrand themselves by taking on their core responsibility as progressive protectors of people and planet. There is a void on the left side of our political culture, and unions could be moral leaders in this burgeoning progressive culture. A fossil fuel divestment campaign would demonstrate the selfless leadership and moral clarity that unions need as both a ‘brand’ and an institution. A commitment from unions to contribute to fossil fuel divestment would help undermine the PR campaigns that pit union bosses against jobs and the economy, and focus attention on the failures of unchecked capitalism and its essential responsibility for the ecological crisis of climate change.
Divestment isn’t perfect, but it is an acknowledgement of what society must do to keep fossil fuels in the ground. For a three-minute explanation of carbon budgets, please watch this video. For a much more detailed illustration of carbon budgets, check out this infographic. (Both are great resources for the Grade 10 Science curriculum.)
Our country and culture are straining to hear reasonable, sane voices that articulate a sustainable, empathetic and humane way forward when it comes to confronting climate change. Unions have an opportunity to pick up the megaphone and speak for the disenfranchised and ignored. They have the opportunity to speak truth to power, and to articulate the clear need for people to have a say in their own destiny, and in the health and safety of the planet.
Will our union take the important first step in rebranding itself as a progressive leader and protector of people by pledging to divest from carbon?