SEIU-West was proud to march alongside the hundreds of people who came out on November 29 in Saskatoon to support climate justice. It was an encouraging turnout, with close to 400 people in attendance. The atmosphere of the crowd was very positive and inspiring – people carried many signs during the march which advocated, “Every Day is Earth Day”, “Planet before Profit”, “There is No Planet B” and “Demand Climate Justice!” A giant earth with a chain of humans around it led the march, followed by dozens of cyclists and a band filled with drums. A giant banner read #Saskatoon2Paris #ClimateActionYXE followed by hundreds of people who took to the streets and marched across the Broadway Bridge to Oskayak School. From there, invited speakers addressed the crowd. Bishop Donald Bolen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon started out, followed by Indigenous leader and Idle No More co-founder, Nina Wilson. Next, members of SEIU-West were proud to hear their president, Barb Cape, speak to the crowd around the importance of a green economy and good jobs. Student environmental leaders, Jenna Gall and Rachel MC, finished off the speakers’ portion of the event.
Members of SEIU-West had this to say about the march:
“Went to this today – it was so inspiring and motivating to be that change. An amazing and inspiring speaker named Nina was amazing and so honest. Our union president Barb Cape also gave an incredible and very inspiring speech.”
“Was so encouraged to see so many people come out to this event. And so proud of Barb for speaking. You did me proud, sister!”
If you couldn’t make it out, we are happy to share the speech that was given by Barb Cape. Together, we can ensure our future is safe for our future generations – we need good jobs and climate action now!
Thank you so much for inviting me to speak on behalf of SEIU-West. We firmly support and live by social unionism, an approach to workers’ rights that ensures the inclusion of all workers not just our own members. The basis of social unionism also translates to a strong and progressive union culture and a commitment to work in collaboration with allies, both here at home and around the world.
When I was thinking about this rally and what does “climate justice” really mean to me, I thought of it in simple terms: driving a gas guzzler; or not recycling or shutting off the lights to save energy…but it is far more complex than that. So I reached out to my brothers in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2067 to hear what their thoughts were. We used the opportunity talk about the challenges faced by workers who are seeing this sector transition and they have so much to share – because they are on the front line.
Now we in labour constantly hear about a manufactured and false choice: it’s either jobs or the environment. Brad Wall particularly plays this card but he couldn’t be more wrong. Here is one example: a study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives compared the job creation from a five billion dollar pipeline and the job creation from the same amount of money invested in green economic development. They found that by spending money on pipelines, you get mostly short-term construction jobs, while permanent jobs are few due to the capital intensive nature of these industries.
And from my perspective, climate justice isn’t just about stopping and reversing environmental damage, but really committing to a change in the way we look at our work and our communities. My friends at IBEW Local 2067 talked about the skilled workforce and good paying jobs that their members have. But the new jobs being created are not skilled in most cases and poorly paid and as a result, are not fully sustainable. When we talk about climate justice, we need to recognize that a skilled unionized job in the green economy will ultimately benefit our communities, our families and ensure long term success of alternate energy sources: whether it be solar, wind, biomass or hydro.
When Wall is faced by climate change initiatives, such as carbon pricing, he continually looks to jobs retention as a means to support fossil fuels. Yet just reading the newspaper tells you about the instability of our sole reliance upon non-renewables. We must begin a new course where the integration of renewables is plotted out in a way that makes it a reliable alternative with sustainability. In fact, by making a transition to a green economy, many of the jobs and skills that are required are equivalent to those that are being utilized in fossil fuel extraction and other sectors where recent experience has been layoffs. Let’s look to pipe fitters, electricians and those that know how to use big machinery and create good jobs. In Toronto for example, many workers who lost their jobs in the auto industry were the first to be hired in solar panel and wind turbine development as they had the skills in how to work with that type of highly advanced machinery. But my friends, we cannot lose sight of the importance of providing that union advantage.
Climate change is the biggest threat to humanity – combine that with our profit-driven economy (which places little-to-no thought on long-term sustainability), and it feels a bit overwhelming. But we know we need to start making decisions and committing to action today – and we’ve done this before! Workers have a strong history of acting collectively in order to achieve fairer societies and lead the process of just reconstruction. To quote Naomi Klein in her recent book, ‘This Changes Everything’: “huge gains were won by the labor movement in the aftermath of the Great Depression—the massive wave of unionization that forced owners to share a great deal more wealth with their workers, which in turn helped create a context to demand ambitious social programs…. In the same period, social movement pressure created the conditions for the New Deal and programs like it across the industrialized world. These made massive investments in public infrastructure—utilities, transportation systems, housing, and more—on a scale comparable to what the climate crisis calls for today.” We need to use the collectivity of the people as we hold the power – real change comes from below.
It was climate justice activists that stopped Keystone XL, not Obama. Just last year, September 21 held the largest climate justice event in history, with 2,600 events organized in 150 countries, including a massive march in New York – roughly 400,000 people marched on the UN climate change summit to demand action on climate change. And there were a huge number of SEIU members at the march in New York, because they saw and felt the effects of climate change first hand during Hurricane Sandy. The motto of the march was “to change everything we need everyone” – and I couldn’t agree more. That’s why we need labour and community to come together and demand action. We cannot continue to allow corporations to burn up the earth for profit.
While it is important for the environmental justice movement to say no to developments that threaten our environment, we must also deliver real solutions. We must continue to pressure and call on our governments to invest in green energy in the same way they did aerospace and fossil fuels. We need to kick-start our green economy, and what better way to do so than actually make the big polluters pay? And I don’t want to hear about how there’s no money because there always is for bailouts and wars. So let’s use the profits that are made at the expense of our environment and put them towards a transition to a green economy that recognizes and values skilled union workers.
With the spring election around the corner, we need to let our provincial government know that they cannot use false choices and language around climate change and jobs. We know that quality job creation is much more fruitful and long-term with a green economy, and we know we need to take real action now. We must challenge Wall and our communities and each other, to decide how we want our province’s future to be. I know where I stand in this page in history, and I’ll do my part to make sure SEIU-West is a partner in our goal for climate justice.