Global labour unions and just transition to a green economy

Original Paper

Abstract

Questions of justice in the transition to a green economy have been raised by various social forces. Very few proposals, however, have been as focused and developed as the “just transition” strategy proposed by global labour unions. Yet, labour unions are remarkably absent from discussions of the transition towards a green economy. This is surprising as labour unions are arguably the largest organizations in the world fighting for basic rights and more just social relations. This paper tries to advance the potential contribution of labour unions in this arena by asking: what is the full scope of “just transition” today and how have labour unions developed and refined it over the years to render the move towards a green economy both environmentally and socially sustainable? The concept of just transition is hotly debated within labour unions and has different interpretations, and hence different strategies. The last section assesses these interpretations by means of a normative framework, which seeks to fuse political economy and political ecology. Empirically, we add to the growing literature on labour environmentalism, as well as transitions more generally. Analytically, our goal is to place the various approaches to a “just transition” within a heuristic framework of environmental justice that is explicit about power relations when demanding justice, two themes central to this special issue.

Keywords

Labour unions Labour environmentalism Environmental justice Global environmental politics 

Abbreviations

AFL-CIO

American Federation of Labor—Congress of Industrial Organizations

CLC

Canadian Labour Congress

COP

Conference of the Parties

CSD

Commission on Sustainable Development (United Nations)

ECWU

Energy and Chemical Workers Union (Canada)

ETUC

European Trade Union Confederation

GUF

Global Union Federation

ICEM

International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (now part of IndustriALL)

ICFTU

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions

ILO

International Labour Organization

IMF

International Metalworkers’s Federation (now part of IndustriALL)

ITF

International Transport Workers’ Federation

ITUC

International Trade Union Confederation

OCAW

Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers’ Union (USA)

OECD

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

PACE

Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (USA)

TUC

Trade Union Congress (UK)

TUAC

Trade Union Advisory Committee of the OECD

UN

United Nations

UNEP

United Nations Environment Programme

UNFCCC

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

USW

United Steelworkers (USA)

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the referees as well as the guest editors of the special issue for their helpful comments. Part of the research for this article by Romain Felli was done with the help of a research grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (PBLAP1-134448), which is gratefully acknowledged.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political Science and International RelationsUniversity of GenevaGenevaSwitzerland

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