Below is an interview with a member of the GM Unite Community Branch climate group. They have a film showing coming up on Saturday 11th May, of “This Changes Everything”.
Meanwhile, if you’re reading this post on Weds 1st May, and you use twitter, please tweet with the hashtag #climateemergency about the Manchester petition. This one.
My name is Bev Keenan and I am responding as a member of the GM Unite Community Climate Change group, I’ve been attending Unite branch meetings and joining in activity for about 2 years now.
1. Tell us a bit first about the Greater Manchester Unite the Union Community Branch – when was it set up, who is involved, what has it done, what is it doing, what does it hope to do?
The GMUnite the Community branch was set up in 2011 as part of a strategy by the Unite Union, to support those outside the workplace. Members include the unemployed, carers, those with disabilities,students, and the retired. The aim is to facilitate collective organisation in order to better conditions and campaign for social justice. Unite Community began in response to the austerity driven policies of the Cameron government, seeking to bring together activists such as those in the Bedroom Tax Campaign and against the privatisation of the NHS.
Currently, in Greater Manchester, members run weekly protests at Job centres in Ashton, Rusholme and Stockport, providing advice and support to claimants on Universal Credit. Members are also active in several other campaigns. We have speakers at branch meetings on topics such as; the Better Buses Campaign, Anti-Racism, Manchester Housing Action. We’ve also had meetings on Anti-Semitism, Palestine and Venezuela.
2. More specifically on its climate group – when was it set up, who is involved, what has it done, what is it doing, what does it hope to do?
Several members have been active in environmental campaigns; including Anti-Fracking at Barton Moss 2013 and more recently Preston New Road. Some members have been protesting a lot longer, around initiatives such as A Million Climate Jobs. In September 2018, the branch decided to set up a working group to step up our involvement. We see Climate Change as one of our key priorities and we recognise that this view is not necessarily shared across the trade union movement, including within Unite. We want to raise awareness and help to build joint action. We use the network of trades councils, we have delegates to each across Greater Manchester. We can also lobby within Unite the Union for diversification of jobs. As part of Unite we are also affiliated to the Labour Party and send delegates to Constituencies. The last Labour Regional Conference passed a motion on defence diversification that had also been passed in our Branch, although it was submitted by one of the Manchester Constituency parties.
A group of us recently attended an event on the New Lucas Plan. The latter dates from the 1970’s, when in response to redundancy workers at Lucas Aerospace developed a model for alternative use of production. It was or is, based on social need and grassroots control and would fit very well with a low carbon economy. Recently, we have supported the #Youthstrike4climate demos in Manchester. As a retired teacher, I find the enthusiasm and confidence of the young people very uplifting and I was very glad to hear of the NEU conference motion passed last week, to support the continued school strike activity. We’ll also be attending the May Day events in Salford May 4th and Manchester May 5th, to promote our film event. The Manchester rally will have different workshops and sessions; several featuring issues related to climate change.
3. You’re holding a free film showing on Saturday May 11 – tell us a bit about that – is it your first event? what do you hope it achieves?
Our film event on the 11th May ‘This Changes Everything’ is our first event and it’s main aim is to stimulate interest and facilitate sharing of ideas and resources. I read the book some time ago and I am looking forward to seeing the communities in action to defend their homes and livelihoods. It should reinforce the key thing which I want to see develop next; a real understanding of why we must make the environmental movement, a movement for all. It’s great that the issues of inclusiveness and outreach were raised in the XR people’s assembly at Marble Arch. Developing the 4th demand of a Just Transition, is absolutely key to progressing this.
Following on from the film event we’d be very interested in jointly organising a bigger event over a day perhaps? with workshops and meetings; such as happened in London during the recent XR Rebellion week. I know XR in Manchester is already on to this as the next step.
4. How can people get involved in GMUCB climate group’s work, or support it?
Any member of the Unite the Community branch can join our Climate group. And we hope that many more branch members will continue to participate in joint activity around Climate Change. Working jointly across the community is our main aim.
5. What sorts of actions would you like to see trades unionists and workers not in unions doing on climate change in Manchester?
Greta Thunberg supported the idea of a climate general strike during her visit this week. That is definitely what I would love to see. We are quite a way off from that, but we need to keep pushing. Different groups of workers could work out their own specific demands in relation to climate change, to make sure it’s considered at every step. At our next branch meeting, we have a speaker from the FBU. The fires on Saddleworth and Marsden Moors are still smouldering, the firefighters are threatened with job cuts and cuts in service, they could argue for extra resources and against these cuts. Some of our members are involved in the Manchester Better Buses Campaign; which is campaigning for a fully integrated publicly owned transport system. Transport workers would definitely need to be involved in planning this. One of the other things the branch is involved in is the social housing crisis, the Council is currently debating whether to introduce Public Space Protection Orders, to fine vulnerable homeless people living in the city centre. Meanwhile, the massive building programme in the city, financed by global capital will provide relatively few affordable new homes. This begs the question, Who is Manchester for? Again, it’s worth getting involved in the various housing action groups, Acorn or GMHousing Action to organise for a greater say in how our environment is developed and who for.