Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2014 explores the employment challenges and opportunities of a transition to a sustainable economy.
Through the coming social and ecological transition, some jobs will be shifted or redefined to fit the new economy, such as moving from fossil fuels to renewables. Other jobs, however-such as those in the coal sector-will be lost or displaced to countries with laxer constraints on greenhouse gas emissions. A badly managed transition could have disastrous consequences on employment.
"In modern societies, work is at the center of the relationship between nature and society.... Achieving sustainable ways of living is therefore inextricably linked to the way we decide to organize work in the future," write Gouverneur and Netzer. "Parts of the trade union movement, as well as some individual unions, have accepted the reality that they need to become active participants in the transition toward sustainability."
To address the transition challenge, some trade unions have proposed a "just transition," a concept coined in the 1990s that strengthens the view that environmental and social policies can reinforce each other. Using this approach, unions promote the employment potential of a green economy through innovation and technology as well as through resource efficiency.
Yet trade unions remain reluctant to step in as the main driver of the green transformation. And they often neglect the need to shift lifestyles and businesses away from the excessive use of goods, resources, and energy.
"This is understandable insofar as the trade union movement, with its traditional goals of advancing worker interests, is deeply anchored within an economic system that bases wealth generation on continuous growth of production and consumption," write Gouverneur and Netzer.
But there are potential solutions. Lars Henriksson, a Swedish autoworker and political activist, suggests that unions aim not to preserve unsustainable industries in the name of employment, but to engage workers in developing sustainable conversion strategies. In 2009, for example, union representatives united with environmentalists, researchers, and citizen's groups to develop a sustainable transport plan in Europe after facing railroad privatization. Unions can also help to secure equitable redistribution of work by requiring continuing education and training, adapting existing social protection systems, and regulating staffing and wage agreements.
Trade unions have a central role in ensuring that the transition moves beyond a "jobs versus environment" debate and enables a shift to workers being drivers of change, rather than victims.
The first point to be made here is a fairly obvious one, the piece being about jobs and workers who do those jobs. It's a global phenomenon that the vast majority of people expect to work. There is no argument about that. And those who don't have work generally have a harder time living than those who do. This blog is filled with articles and comment on different aspects of working life, most of them pointing out inequalities and perceived unacceptable injustices related to conditions of work and pay, health and safety and the problems connected to large numbers of unemployed and underemployed globally.
So, to continue with the assumption that most people have no problem with the idea of working, presumably because it fuels their access to the necessities of life? For some the choice and manner of their work is such that they are quite content to put in hours over and above what would normally be accepted but perhaps they are a fortunate minority. Whichever, we work, we choose to work and we unify to hold onto or improve our working conditions.
As noted above labour markets shift to fit various demands and badly managed transitions can have disastrous consequences on employment. But that is because of the nature of the structure of the system we are living within which dances to the tune of profits without taking heed of what the majority, those doing the work, actually require or desire. Many occupations could benefit enormously by having increased numbers of workers to fulfil requirements satisfactorily (health care for one) but we would be told that is uneconomical.
Many other occupations could very easily be made redundant because they neither produce anything useful nor do they provide a useful service (money oriented occupations - but this is a topic for a whole article) and this would free up millions of workers worldwide to add to a pool of labour ready to work productively for themselves and their own communities.
Being aware that it is workers, currently 'employed' people, who do all of the organising, planning, logistics, building, mining, transport, catering, farming, production, cleaning, stocking, manufacturing, designing, inventing, entertaining, caring, you name it - then what on earth can the problem be in widening our vision to see the simplicity of a system run in our majority interest with no added complications of private companies and corporations interested only in profit? This is the message to get out to trades union members, to co-workers, to the public at large. This is the way to full employment with much reduced hours. This is the way to bring decent services to people, all people. And this is the way to achieve the kind of societies we, the people, choose to live and work in - a socialist society.