A tale of two COPs

What actually happens inside COP? Alongside Scottish representatives from UNISON, Prospect, and EIS, the STUC were part of the formal International Trade Union Confederation COP26 delegation. Our Policy Officer, Francis Stuart, reflects on the exclusionary and corporate nature of COP, and the need to build people power outside to affect change.

COP26 was the most exclusionary ever. The international trade union delegation was cut in half; vaccine inequality and VISA difficulties limited participation from the Global South; and the extortionate cost of accommodation made Glasgow the preserve of the rich (with the honourable exception of initiatives like the Homestay network).

The steel fence perimeter around the Scottish Exhibition Centre, marshalled by hundreds upon hundreds of police officers, symbolised this exclusion, and it felt visibly different to COP25 in Madrid.

The large policing bill was supported by the principal sponsors whose logos are emblazoned on the walls: Sky, Hitachi, National Grid, Scottish Power and SSE, Microsoft, GSK, NatWest, Reckitt, Sainsbury’s and Unilever.

There is a distinctly corporate feel inside: one of the exhibits in the main walkthrough area is an electric Formula One Car.

Outside the formal plenary rooms, the bulk of the SEC is given over to country ‘pavilions’. These have the feel of a large trade expo. The UK Pavilion was dominated by panels made up of financial interests, such as the British Gas CEO Chris O’Shea who has fired and re-hired hundreds of workers. It increasingly feels like a space for business to talk about how to create and expand into new green markets, not a space for discussion about how to redistribute income, wealth, power or emissions.

Cameras and reporters are everywhere, waiting for the next celebrity to swan in. Everyone is trying to get hold of Greta. More often than not it is the rich and powerful that emerge out the media stramash, not the representatives of ordinary people. AOC drinking Irn Bru gets column inches, not the hypocrisy of rich Governments.

Trade unionists, as well as indigenous people, youth and environmental justice groups, beaver away following the negotiations and lobbying their respective Governments to ensure reference to key issues. On this, they undoubtedly have some success – I’ve no doubt that various references to Just Transition would not have been in the Glasgow Climate Pact if it wasn’t for the efforts of some extremely hardworking trade union officers. But it still feels like a losing battle.

At best, the Glasgow Climate Pact puts countries on a path to 2.4 degrees warming, not 1.5 degrees. There is no funding for loss and damage for those bearing the brunt of extreme weather events. And there are gaping loopholes in rules on international carbon markets, which will effectively lead to land and resources in the global south being commodified to facilitate continued emissions in the global north.

Let’s be clear, for all the attempts to blame China and India, it is the US and the EU who oppose funding for the Global South and who refuse to recognise their historic responsibility for climate change by increasing climate ambition.

We shouldn’t be surprised at any of this. 40 years of privatisation and marketisation has enabled a corporate stranglehold over climate negotiations in the same way it has in trade negotiations.

The answer to this, is the same as it has ever been – to build the power of ordinary people. Outside the steel fences of COP we saw more than 100,000 people march through the streets. But perhaps more importantly, we saw striking cleansing workers join the youth climate strike. We saw young climate activists dance on Caledonian Sleeper picket lines. We saw trade unionists, community groups, and environmental NGOs take over George Square to demand decent public transport for all our citizens, not just COP26 delegates. We saw Rolls Royce workers talk to climate campaigners about their plans to decarbonise their workplace, independently of management.

The trade union movement needs to join forces with the climate movement. But it also needs to remember its power is in organising working people to take action against employers. We do not need a new tranche of trade unionists skilled in the blah blah blah of climate policy. We need a new generation of trade unionists who can organise in their workplaces and their communities to take action – developing their own plans to decarbonise their work, to take industrial action and to join hands with the climate movement when they do.

Francis Stuart, STUC Policy Officer

Trans Awareness Week

David Dick (he/him):  EIS Union 

We approach Transgender Awareness Week (13th – 19th of November) as trade unionists, and it is therefore incumbent upon us all, to collectively reflect upon the experiences of trans people in 2021.  For trans people in the workplace, these reflections are telling:  in 2016, around half (52%) of trans people didn’t reveal their gender identity at work – in 2021, the number is closer to two-thirds (65%)1.  This highlights what we may have been aware of in our personal lives and anecdotally; that life for some trans people is becoming more difficult and dangerous and progress is going in the wrong direction.  As trade unionists we are duty bound to take action.   

Before we analyse the ways in which our workplaces operate for trans workers, it is necessary to consider how experiences at school shape the workers it produces. Under current Scottish Government education policy guidance, all schools aim to “Get it Right for Every Child” and to develop “successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens”.  Within the Curriculum for Excellence there are a raft of taught skills and experiences given which seek to prepare our young people for the world of work.  Sadly, for trans people, prejudice, violence and social exclusion too easily replicate themselves within the school system.  This means that rather than focussing on learning and achievement, trans children and young people find themselves in a battle for their lives against bullying, self-harm and suicidal ideation.2 

Despite a toxic national discourse which seeks to destabilise the fight for trans rights, there are some positives.  It is testament to their courage that an increasing number of trans and non-binary children and young people are coming out in school.  Scottish government have published updated guidance about supporting trans young people in schools3 in August 2021.  It is vital that teachers take responsibility for familiarising themselves with the issues, to better support the children and young people in their settings.     

As trans young people make the journey from school to work, we have a responsibility as trade unionists to ensure that we provide work environments which are safe, supportive, and sensitively attuned to the nuances of individual circumstances.  We must work together to ensure workplaces have policies and practices which actively protect our trans colleagues and which allow them to achieve their full potential.  It means reflecting upon and challenging the hidden culture of our workplaces and both critiquing and improving the space between the policy and the reality.  As workers and as citizens, we all suffer under constrictions and restrictions which result from workplaces which tacitly endorse a heteronormative viewpoint and cleave to a binary understanding of gender.  One example is the massive social and economic disparities arising from gender inequality.  All workers have much to gain from supporting the struggle for trans liberation and learning from it.   

The struggle for trans rights in 2021 is taking place in real people’s lives in real time, within a vortex of hysterical media voices, transphobic violence and state oppression.  Framing this struggle as a “debate” gives false equivalence to imaginary arguments, dehumanises trans people and denies them the basic freedoms that many others take for granted.  Trans children, trans young people and trans workers deserve respect, support and the space to exist in the world, free from violence.  The opprobrium and vilification they often endure is unconscionable.   

Our collective history in the trade union movement gives us a keen insight into how the media and the state will distort, inflame and seek to undermine any kind of struggle for fairer working conditions and human rights.  We understand intimately the ways in which divisions are sown and nurtured, to prevent us from organising properly and fighting the real enemy.  It goes to the core of our values as trade unionists to use collective action to protect the most vulnerable in society and stand together in the face of hatred and hostility.  Trans voices are an essential and valuable part of our movement towards progress and need to be celebrated as such.  As trans awareness week 2021 approaches, I call for us all to renew our commitment towards the fight for trans equality; to take action in our individual unions in order to make the world for trans children, trans young people and trans adult workers better tomorrow than it is today.    

I would also like to flag my own unions most recent  guidance for teachers on supporting transgender pupils:  

David Dick (he/him):  EIS Union 

1  https://www.totaljobs.com/advice/trans-employee-experiences-survey-2021-research-conducted-by-totaljobs 

2 https://www.stonewall.org.uk/school-report-2017 

3 https://www.gov.scot/publications/supporting-transgender-young-people-schools-guidance-scottish-schools/