I was pleased to be invited to the well-attended Fabian roundtable held at the Labour Party conference on land, community and a popular environmentalism. There’s clearly much more to be said on such an important and wide-ranging topic than could be covered in an hour’s discussion in Brighton and, I would argue, more voices to be heard.
I’d like to make a couple of points about the terms used, not out of any sense of pedantry but because the challenge of engagement in this arena appears to be growing.
Use of language is important and should be inclusive. ‘Geography’ is an obvious determinant of community, but should not in my view be limited to simply meaning where people live.
‘Meeting carbon budgets’, the Committee on Climate Change’s latest progress report, confirms that industry remains a major contributor to carbon emissions. Workplace communities could make a significant difference and, in fact, already have a good track record in greening workplaces up and down the UK.
A 2012 survey by the Labour Research Department attracted 1,200 responses from representatives all active in their workplaces despite the lack of any statutory rights or facilities. Workplace activity can also act as a catalyst to environmental awareness and engagement more broadly and unions can organise beyond their membership communities, as outlined in Unions 21 latest debate piece on community organising.
‘Popular’ is another word that needs to be carefully considered. Anyone who’s been around for long enough will be aware of the tensions that have sometimes existed between ‘popular’ NGO campaigns and unions with an interest in the employment implications of campaign objectives.
This is not to say that there is no commonality of interest. For example, forestry union reps have been and continue to be actively involved in campaigning about the future of the Forestry Commission – helping to mobilise opinion across workplaces and local communities. Union reps raised issues not addressed by other stakeholders, including the impact on scientific research and other nationwide functions.
Campaigning of this nature, which meets the accepted definition of popularity as attracting favour or approval, is clearly important – as the forestry campaign has demonstrated. A strong evidence base to underpin clear communications is also essential. But economic concerns can act as a barrier to engagement, so popular campaigning needs to admit diverse voices and genuinely address the needs of those whose livelihoods may be affected. The TUC’s approach is based on just transition – a key pillar of which is social dialogue and meaningful consultation.
So, it’s timely to be writing this one week ahead of the TUC’s conference ‘Green growth: no turning back’ which will address the politics, science and practical implications of climate change. One of the speakers next week will be John Ashton, former climate diplomat, who has a simple but passionate message on the need for action summed up as ‘Must. Now. Can.’
I see the Fabian programme as a response to this challenge, and I welcome it, but it won’t succeed without us all pulling together.