On Saturday, the UK’s trade union movement came together in London for what was probably the largest march and rally for 20 years – the ‘We Demand Better’ rally.
With a major transport strike by the RMT due to begin this week, there were many militant speeches from across trade union sectors protesting against the rise in the cost of living and angry at a corrupt government which appears to put the interests of the rich firmly ahead of those of the rest of us.
But aside from a rousing speech by Asad Rehman from War On Want (see video below), there was a distinct lack of reference to the climate crisis.
Real Media interviewed Bruce, a union activist and member of Just Stop Oil, who was leafletting and speaking with union members at the rally. He spoke about how unions often put the short term interests of their members above the long-term, and how this can bring them into conflict with environmental movements. For instance construction workers didn’t want HS2 abandoned, and oil and gas workers are happy over new North Sea licences.
However, there are real signs that that may be changing, and also that unions are rediscovering their radical roots.
Bruce told us that some unions are teaching NVDA [non-violent direct action] techniques learnt from the radical environmental movements of the past four years. He reminded us that actually many of those resistance techniques are “interwoven into the tapestry of trade union history and culture”, and that actually environmental activists learnt it from them. “It’s just got lost along the way because they’ve been smashed by anti-trade union laws”.
The biggest news though, is the formation of a new Just Stop Oil coalition after Jeremy Corbyn’s Peace & Justice Project joined forces with the direct action group which tried to shut down the UK’s fossil fuel infrastructure earlier this year.
Fuel Poverty Action and Insulate Britain have both joined the coalition, known as ‘We All Want To Just Stop Oil’, but several unions, charities and progressive movements are also in support, and one major union leader has openly spoken about civil resistance.
The public launch comes on 23rd July, with a National March in London. Groups will form in several locations across the capital and then “meander” to Parliament Square for a sit-down, before then marching to a nearby park to form a People’s Assembly where small groups will be encouraged to make plans, talk about solutions, and start building a movement.
Along with several calls for a General Strike at Saturday’s rally, a new appetite for union solidarity and resistance, and a mass poll tax strike type of action to withhold energy payments in October, the Autumn is shaping up to be an opportunity for change, especially if the climate crisis and a just transition can become first and centre among demands.
Asad Rehman was one of few voices speaking about global solidarity and the climate crisis.