Trade unions must help save the planet – Miliband

Environment Minister David Miliband has told the TUC's annual congress that trade unions have a key role in the fight against climate change.

In a speech clearly tailored for his audience, Miliband said the unions were known for their part in the battles for the NHS, minimum wage and equal rights but also for fighting fascism, apartheid and global poverty.

This neatly led to the biggest social and economic evil facing us today: climate change and environmental pollution, which he called the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’.

“You are debating big issues here this week,” he told unionists on Tuesday.

“Pensions, manufacturing, public services. But I believe that climate change should not be seen as an add-on to your work, but integral to it.”

He said promoting a sustainable existence should be core business for those concerned with the interests of ordinary working people as climate change will affect them first and also those who believe in a more human and sustainable industrial society.

“100 years ago the crisis in our economic system was social. Today it is environmental,” said the Secretary of State.

“Just as people were exploited 100 years ago, with disastrous consequences, so natural resources are being exploited today, again with disastrous consequences.

“And just as our social contract has developed over the last 100 years to give rights to working people and responsibilities to powerful interests, so today we need an environmental contract based on rights and responsibilities too.”

The speech came a week after the TUC announced it would be urging its members to think about energy efficiency and waste at work (see related story) and Miliband recognised this and other union efforts but said more help was still needed in reducing carbon emissions.

“If you are in the private sector, energy efficiency is not just vital to competitiveness but environmental industries are a source of new jobs and new industries,” he said.

“If you represent teachers or council workers you can lead change in every school and every community [and] if you work in the voluntary sector you can lead change in your workplace and set an example to the wider community.”

The UK’s unions have shown a healthy interest in the debate about the environment since 1998, when the Trade Union Sustainable Development Advisory Committee (TUSDAC) was set up as a forum for discussion between the unions and Government.

Since then TUSDAC has been actively pursuing its agenda and offering advice to union members on everything from making environmentally conscious decisions about how to get to work to being energy efficient once you get there.

Sam Bond

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