Global labour unions and just transition to a green economy

  • Dimitris StevisEmail author
  • Romain FelliEmail author
Original Paper


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.


Labour unions Labour environmentalism Environmental justice Global environmental politics 



American Federation of Labor—Congress of Industrial Organizations


Canadian Labour Congress


Conference of the Parties


Commission on Sustainable Development (United Nations)


Energy and Chemical Workers Union (Canada)


European Trade Union Confederation


Global Union Federation


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


International Confederation of Free Trade Unions


International Labour Organization


International Metalworkers’s Federation (now part of IndustriALL)


International Transport Workers’ Federation


International Trade Union Confederation


Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers’ Union (USA)


Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development


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


Trade Union Congress (UK)


Trade Union Advisory Committee of the OECD


United Nations


United Nations Environment Programme


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


United Steelworkers (USA)



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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