Despite differences of opinion, a clear majority of delegates voted to adopt the Canadian Labour Congress’ (CLC) proposed climate action plan at its tri-annual convention in Montreal.

On May 9, workers representing local, regional and national unions weighed in on a climate action plan that will shape the mandate of Canada’s largest labour organization for the next three years. This is the first time the CLC, which represents more than three million workers across the country, has devised action plans as well as policy resolutions for different topics, including climate change, Indigenous justice, affordability, infrastructure, health care and organizing.

In the plan, the CLC pledged to press for federal investments in good union jobs as the country transitions to a low-carbon economy. The organization also vowed to lobby to ensure long-promised legislation from the federal government meets the standards of a just and equitable energy transition. The new plan includes a push for workers to be involved in decision-making around the energy transition as opposed to just consulted and calls for governments to invest in climate adaptation and more.

Daniel Tarade, a lead steward with CUPE Local 3902 and first-time attendee, rose to speak against the climate action plan, arguing it doesn’t go far enough.

“[In] my day job, I'm a scientist, and I don't think this action plan is in line with the current science,” said Tarade.

“It says here that, if done right, tackling the climate crisis will mean limiting [warming] to 1.5 degrees,” he said, brandishing a print-out of the action plan. However, “the situation right now is not that optimistic,” Tarade added, pointing to scientific research that finds warming is likely to exceed 1.5 degrees. This overshoot is referenced in the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on climate.

He says the document places too much emphasis on lobbying, which is ineffective against corporations that have a legal obligation to maximize shareholder returns.

“We have to be naive to think they'll listen to us as lobbyists, rather than as workers collectively refusing to work because this is an attack on all of us. The only way forward is united, a general strike to bring all energy production under national control, democratic control of workers,” said Tarade.

Similarly, Julius Arscott of the Ontario Public Services Employees Union, said: “There's no action in this plan.” He urged delegates to vote it down so a better, stronger plan could be devised.

Not all @CanadianLabour delegates agreed with the climate action plan passed Tuesday, but "the biggest crisis would be we come out of this convention without the action plan,” said Andrew Mackenzie of UFCW Canada.

“Folks, this is not enough. Nobody is going to save us but ourselves.”

The workers movement needs to realize the strategies and tactics it's been relying on, namely lobbying, simply aren't working, he added. This sentiment was echoed by other delegates.

Workers need public ownership of the economy, said Arscott. The need to nationalize the energy sector, public transit and more was brought up by many delegates in the convention’s first two days.

“What we're talking about here is economic democracy. We create all value in society. And we're left to fight over scraps. And we're left with a dying planet,” he said.

Andrew Mackenzie of United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Canada spoke in support of the plan.

“I understand that some people have some concerns about whether it goes far enough or not far enough. But we're in a crisis. And the biggest crisis would be we come out of this convention without the action plan,” said Mackenzie.

Multiple delegates, speaking both for and against the plan, described their experiences with catastrophes like wildfires and floods to underscore the urgency of the climate crisis. One health-care worker described climate change as the “biggest health threat facing humanity.”

Before the debate on the climate action plan, the CLC held a panel discussion on how to tackle the climate crisis and take care of workers, featuring Matt Wayland of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Meg Gingrich of United Steelworkers Canada and Patrick Rondeau of Fédération des travailleurs et des travailleuses du Québec (FTQ).

In the transition, there’s an opportunity to create and maintain good manufacturing jobs in Canada and ensure we are using Canadian-produced metals, minerals and other materials, Gingrich and Wayland pointed out.

The fact the CLC has put such a huge spotlight on climate change this year makes Tiffany Balducci “cautiously optimistic,” CUPE Ontario’s second vice-president and chair of the union’s climate justice committee told Canada's National Observer in an interview. This is Balducci’s fourth CLC convention, and she described a shift in the discussion compared to previous years.

“We've heard climate denial in the past and we haven't really heard that this time,” she said. In fact, most delegates speaking against the climate plan opposed it because it didn’t go far enough.

The purpose of the climate action plan is to give CLC a mandate, but it's also up to unions to mobilize around it, said Balducci.

“If everyone here took this back and had their own unions implement it, that would be a huge step,” she said. Thinking about what next steps will be and what unions are willing to do as organizations is a question she believes is important for unions to ponder.

“We've heard people throw around the term general strike … what's it going to take to get to a general climate strike?” She wondered. “This plan doesn't call for that. But … maybe we're building on it.”

Union workers are uniquely positioned to lead this work, and not just when it comes to a just transition, said Balducci. “We can bargain, we can raise it as joint health and safety issues, we can, you know, look at where our pension investments are, we can talk to our equality and equity committees on the different environmental racism issues that are happening.”

The difference between this plan sitting on the shelf for three years or workers mobilizing around it will come down to one-on-one conversations, said Balducci.

“It's up to all of us. We are the change that we need to see,” she said. “It's not going to be the CLC as an entity that will fix this. It's all of us.”

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
May 10, 2023, 05:49 pm

This story has been updated to correct the name of Daniel Tarade’s union. He is a lead steward with CUPE Local 3902.

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I'd like to say that I really appreciate the National Observer treating labour issues and events as news, something that used to be normal but started getting dropped in the 80s as the assault on workers got under way.

It is also nice to see a major labour organization looking beyond "business unionism", even if tentatively so far.