WSF Montreal: Record Union Participation, a Big Step for Both Labor and Social Movements

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Unions and Allies Champion Energy Democracy, Climate Jobs and Just Transition

Sean Sweeney reports for TUED

In Montreal next week (August 9th – 13th) unions will be attending a World Social Forum (WSF) in what seems like record numbers. At the first WSF in Porto Alegre in 2001 trade unions were mostly absent and, in the 13 WSFs organized since then, unions have generally not been a major presence.

Among other things, union participation in Montreal suggests that there is a growing unity of both purpose and action between organized workers and other social movements. And this unity is being constructed around a vision of socio-ecological transformation that is not just radical but, having been embraced by emerging movements all over the world, has now become a distinct political force.

In a recent article for The Bullet (the publication of the Socialist Project, Canada), Pierre Beaudet, a member of the WSF’s International Council, stated that, “the WSF has been buoyed by the popular demands for social justice and democracy in Southern Europe (the Indignados), North Africa and the Middle East (the Arab Spring), and even the United States (Occupy Wall Street). There is a growing awareness of the need to consider alternatives to policies that primarily benefit elites, as was evident in the U.S. with the Bernie Sanders campaign.”  Montreal, says Beaudet, “has been the site of striking social and political creativity over the last decade, with such movements as Quebec’s Maple Spring in 2012.”

Unions are Helping to Drive a New Narrative

A newsletter released in early July by Quebecois trade union bodies (CSN, CSQ and FTQ) noted that unions have organized 80 workshops in the the Quartier ouvrier/Labor Zone/Barrio obrero space. And unions from more than 25 countries had registered for the Forum. The newsletter stated:

Nearly all the union organizations in Québec and Canada are involved in organizing the Quartier ouvrier/Labor Zone/Barrio obrero, along with organizations representing non-unionized workers (Au bas de l’échelle, Front de défense des non-syndiqués, etc.). Global Union Federations (BWI, PSI and EI) have also confirmed their participation.”

Significantly, energy democracy, climate jobs, just transition and ‘system change’ are major WSF workshop themes, and unions are among those driving the discussions.  The WSF will therefore give impetus to those unions who believe that it is important to continue to connect with social movements that, along with organized workers, are openly challenging both austerity and extractivism, and who are working to develop concrete alternatives that can challenge the present predatory system in ways that are consistent with a new restorative paradigm.

It is clear that the struggle to build a new energy system is today at the heart of this new movement. Encouragingly, energy democracy (along with ‘just transition’) is today being championed by a growing number of labor’s allies. In February 2016, representatives of organizations working on energy democracy met in Amsterdam for a two-day meeting to discuss both the theory and the practice of energy democracy, including the role of cooperatives, communities, and both local states and nation states.  Unions like NUMSA and PSI were present, and TUED also participated. Hosted by the Transnational Institute, a summary of the meeting and proposed next steps is here: Towards Energy Democracy: Discussions and outcomes from an international workshop (Tambien, en espanol)

Transformational perspectives have been a feature of the WSF’s since 2001, and Montreal will give fresh

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Maite Llanos, organizing for TUED in Europe, will speak alongside Naomi Klein in Montreal

impetus to this tradition. Joining with Quebec-based Alternatives, TUED partner Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung is convening “Change the System, Not the Climate,” a self-contained space featuring eleven workshops and a major international conference. TUED ally and energy democracy advocate Naomi Klein–who addressed a TUED event at COP 21 Paris last December along with UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn–will address the gathering. Maite Llanos, representing TUED, will join her in Montreal as a plenary speaker on Thursday evening, August 11.  More details here.

Canadian Unions Advocate for “One Million Climate Jobs”

In another expression of bold thinking by unions and close allies, Canada’s Green Economy Network submitted One Million Climate Jobs: A Plan for a Sustainable and Equitable Economy to the Canadian government in early July.  The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and some of its affiliates has played an important part in developing the $81 billion dollar investment proposal. GEN member organizations include many Canadian unions (see below).  The CLC is organizing a session on the campaign at the WSF.

The Leap Manifesto

Canada is today one of several countries where unions are at the heart of intense national debates on energy democracy, climate jobs, and just transition.  In 2015, unions in Canada were among the many ‘initiating organizations’ of the Leap Manifesto.  Attracting enormous attention both in Canada and internationally, the Manifesto has declared, “The time for energy democracy has come: we believe not just in changes to our energy sources, but that wherever possible communities should collectively control these new energy systems.” The Manifesto is presently the subject of a lively debate in Canada’s New Democratic Party.

At a recent meeting of TUED at the Murphy Institute in New York (May 25-26, 2016), Avi Lewis, director of the film This Changes Everything, explained the Leap Manifesto and the involvement of trade unions and others in the initiative:


Summary of Workshops on energy democracy, climate jobs, just transition, and system change, with sponsoring organizations

(More details of TUED-related events at the WSF in Montreal: here)

One Million Climate Jobs: Labour’s Challenges and Opportunities  (CLC)

Just Transition – Fighting poverty with jobs and climate (FTQ)

What Québec and Canadian workers are doing in the fight against climate change and toward energy democracy (CUPE and TUED)

Transition écologique: croissance ou décroissance. Un consensus est-il possible? (FTQ)

Making the Leap: Conference on The Leap Manifesto 

Global Trade Union Strategies for Decarbonization and a Just Transition post-Paris (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung)

Energy Democracy: running energy for people and planet – not profit (Global Justice Now)

International conference: “Change the System, Not the Climate” (Alternatives and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung-New York Office)

Energy Democracy Rising – How Unions Around the World Are Championing a “Public Goods” Approach to Climate Protection and Ecosystem Defense (TUED, CLC, CSN, FTQ, PSI)

Workers and Environmental Health  (People’s Health Movement, Canada)

 Green Economy Network (GEN)

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By |2016-11-01T02:27:27+00:00August 5th, 2016|News|Comments Off on WSF Montreal: Record Union Participation, a Big Step for Both Labor and Social Movements