ACW leads conference stream on climate change and labour

 

4-6 April 2017, Sheffield, UK

At the 35th International Labour Process Conference, held in Sheffield, UK, ACW ran a special stream titled “A Volatile Political Economy: Work, Climate Change and Labour: Labour Process Perspectives”. This was for the second year running, last year’s theme at the ILPC conference in Berlin being Labour, Work and Climate Change: a labour process perspective. The stream this year was led by Professor Carla Lipsig-Mummé of York University, Toronto, Canada and Professor Linda Clarke of the University of Westminster, UK, together with Donald Lafleur, Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress and Dr. Elaine Bernard, Director of Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School, US.

The stream addressed the problematic issue that, though work, worksites and production supply chains are major polluters, the new retreat into defensive nationalism adds to the difficulties of combatting at an international level the global danger we confront. It is vital to re-connect work and political economy, so that the transition to a low carbon economy becomes an international driver for transforming the labour process to the benefit of workers. Bringing workers and unions and work itself ‘in’ to the struggle to slow global warming entails rethinking the labour process through a green lens, and adapting key steps in the chain of production to mitigate greenhouse gases. It entails reconsidering the legal, political and economic contexts that hinder or facilitate workplace low-carbon adaptation, bringing labour and environment law together, criticising work design and current business models for their carbon excesses, and rediscovering the influential roles that workers, their unions and professional associations can play in adapting and improving the labour process. And, finally, it means understanding the ways in which political economies and responses to climate change affect not only the labour process, but union goals, alliances, modes of action, organisation of young workers, political strength and strategic creativity.

Within this framework, papers were presented in four separate sessions over two days by ACW researchers, academics from universities in the UK and further afield, and those from trade union organisations.

The contributions within each themed session included:

Just Transition
• Slow Greening: Climate Literacy and the Labour Movement: Carla Lipsig-Mummé, York University, Canada
• Just Transition in a Neoliberal Context: the contradictions of labour-market policy in post-petro-state Canada: Donald Lafleur and Chris Roberts, Canadian Labour Congress
• Contesting Just Transition: a sufficient challenge to capitalist labour processes? (Ewan Kerr, University of Glasgow)

Energy Provision
• Romance or Chimaera? Industry Policy and Job Quality in European Offshore Wind Turbine Manufacturing: Lisa Shulte, Middlesex University, UK
• Decarbonising the Electricity Grid: the implications for organised labour: Colin Patrick Gleeson, University of Westminster, UK

VET for low energy construction
• Promoting Climate Literacy in British Columbia’s Apprenticeship System: evaluating one union’s efforts to overcome barriers to low carbon construction: John Calvert, Simon Fraser University, Canada
• The Role of Labour and VET in meeting Low Energy Construction Targets, Linda Clarke and Melahat Sahin-Dikmen, University of Westminster

Green Employment
• More and Better Jobs in a Low Carbon Future: provocations and possibilities: Steven Shelley, University of Hertfordshire, UK
• Gamification as Employment Strategy for Greening the Labour Process: Dean Stroud and Claire Evans, Cardiff University, UK
• The Role of Trade Unions in the Transformation towards a Low Carbon Economy: Bela Galgoczi, European Trade Union Institute, Belgium

Lively discussions followed the presentations, highlighting the significance of agency and vision in influencing the nature of the response to climate change and the critical necessity of bringing a labour perspective to bear on green transition approaches and policies by government and non-government organisations and agencies. Presentations were also informative about regional green transition initiatives involving trade unions, with discussions focusing particularly on British Columbia, Canada, the Ruhr region in Germany and Yorkshire and Humberside in the UK. Insights into the practical implementation, consequences and implications of green transitions were given in discussions about work and employment conditions in wind turbine manufacturing, training and skill needs in construction, and energy efficiency regulations in energy-intensive industries.

On the third day, the stream concluded with a panel discussion on ‘Green labour in dark times’, facilitated by responses to an imaginary scenario from 2035, when two major forces co-exist, digitalisation and climate change: can they combine or are they on a collision course? With examples of green transition initiatives from across a number of countries and regions, the possibility and need to allow for different green transitions pathways also came to the fore in the final debate. Above all, the fundamental role trade unions play in representing the interests of labour in what is a hugely complex, uneven and long transition to a green economy was reinforced.

It is intended that some of the contributions given at Sheffield and at last year’s Berlin conference will, together with contributions from ACW and other international researchers be included in two books and a special journal.

Linda Clarke, Carla Lipsig-Mummé and Melahat Sahin-Dikmen
June 2017

Evaluating the Impact of the BC Insulators’ Union Campaign to Promote Improved Mechanical Insulation Standards in BC’s Construction Industry

These papers are part of a series being produced for the ACW’s Built Environment Working Group—chaired by John Calvert —which is investigating the BC Insulators union’s efforts to promote a major climate initiative in the construction industry.

Buildings account for between 35% and 40% of GHG emissions and energy use (Stern 2006, IPCC 2014). Consequently, improving the energy efficiency of buildings is an important mechanism to address climate change. One key method to accomplish this objective is through establishing higher energy efficiency standards for mechanical insulation (e.g. Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning – HVAC) systems.

The BC Insulators Local 118 represents unionized skilled insulators who have a Trades Qualification (TQ) and have completed a 4 year apprenticeship in HVAC systems and related building insulation methods. Over the years, the BC Insulators campaigned to encourage municipalities in BC to require higher insulation standards in their building requirements and procurement contract tenders.

The BC Insulator’s initiative is unique in Canada. It illustrates the efforts of a labour organization to promote a major climate initiative in the construction industry.

This project documents the Insulators’ campaign, including the union’s rationale for initiating it, describe its various components and evaluate the extent to which it has influenced standards of mechanical insulation in BC. The study explores the question of why the BC Insulators chose to align their campaign with climate change objectives and why they decided to target local governments as a key part of their strategy for generating broader industry support for the enhanced standards they favoured.

 

The Union as Climate Change Advocate: the BC Insulator’s Campaign to “Green” the Culture of the Building Industry in British Columbia
April 2016
By John Calvert and Corrine Tallon, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University (SFU)

Download the full report (PDF)

 

Promoting Climate Literacy in British Columbia’s Apprenticeship System: Evaluating One Union’s Efforts to Overcome Attitudinal Barriers to Low Carbon Construction
April 2017
By Corinne Tallon and John Calvert, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University SFU)

Download the full report (PDF)

Promoting Climate Literacy in British Columbia’s Apprenticeship System: Evaluating One Union’s Efforts to Overcome Attitudinal Barriers to Low Carbon Construction

By Corinne Tallon and John Calvert

Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University

Prepared for the International Labour Process Conference (ILPC), Sheffield, United Kingdom, April 4 – 6, 2017

 

Abstract

 

Buildings account for a significant component of total energy consumption and are thus a critical target in lowering society’s carbon footprint and mitigating climate change. While there has been considerable progress in developing new technologies, materials and building designs to achieve this goal, one key element of making buildings more energy efficient is too often overlooked: the competency and commitment of the workforce responsible for the building construction. There is considerable evidence of a significant gap between the needed skill sets for low carbon construction and the capacity of the training and apprenticeship systems to deliver appropriate skills – including climate literacy – to the construction workforce, both in Canada and internationally. Furthermore, an apparent gap exists in terms of interest and investment on the part of government, employers, and union leaders within the industry to encourage this type of training and, more importantly, implementation of this training on the work site.

This research paper examines the efforts of one building trades union to promote climate literacy within British Columbia (BC) via the classroom. The BC Insulators union has responsibility for training all mechanical insulation (MI) trades’ workers in the province under an agreement with the BC government. It delivers the classroom training under contract with the province’s largest public training college, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). As part of its commitment to address sustainability and green construction practices within the industry, the union has introduced a ‘Green Awareness’ course to their apprenticeship program curriculum. The two-module course was introduced in 2011 and is taught over the course of the first two years of the four-year program.

After conducting a review of the ‘Green Awareness’ course content, the research team performed qualitative interviews with a cohort of 2nd and 4th year apprentices. The former cohort had, at the time of the interviews, received both modules of the new course. The fourth-year cohort on the other hand had completed most of their classroom training before the module had been fully refined. They therefore had not received the formal ‘Green Awareness’ training. The purpose of this research was to determine whether exposure to the new ‘Green Awareness’ course content influenced the apprentices’ views on climate change, and whether they identified links between climate change, their performance as insulators, and the performance of the construction industry more broadly.

The interviews identified significant differences in the two cohorts’ levels of understanding of the links between the construction industry, MI, and climate change. Degree of understanding and interest also varied depending on the sector in which the apprentice had employment experience and the specific types of projects on which they had worked. Significantly, apprentices identified a number of barriers to their ability to implement best practices and low carbon construction, including: lack of co-ordination between insulators and other trades; the absence of stringent inspection of finished work; pressure to complete tasks at the expense of quality work; and a more general pattern of industry indifference to implementing best practices and low carbon construction. These findings indicate the need for further refinements in the content and delivery of the ‘Green Awareness’ course material. The authors conclude that incorporating climate change-related course content into the training process is an important step in fostering climate literacy within the industry and should be encouraged in other trades. However, its degree of impact will be limited unless more sweeping changes are made to the organization and culture of the construction industry itself.

 

Download the full report (PDF)

 

The Union as Climate Change Advocate: the BC Insulator’s Campaign to “Green” the Culture of the Building Industry in British Columbia

By John Calvert and Corrine Tallon, Simon Fraser University (SFU)

Prepared for the International Labour Process Conference (ILPC) Berlin, Germany, April 2016

Abstract:

This paper examines the efforts of one Canadian building trades’ union, the BC Insulators, to influence the culture and climate change policies of the construction industry in British Columbia. The union’s members install and inspect mechanical insulation (MI) on heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in commercial and industrial buildings. Its climate advocacy was prompted by the failure of the province’s construction industry to implement appropriate quality standards due to its culture of low bid construction practices and its unwillingness to train and employ qualified insulation workers. This failure was compounded by the reluctance of government to impose and enforce stringent building codes to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings. Recognizing the significant contribution that MI can make to reducing energy use and GHG emissions, the union embarked on a major campaign to promote the climate benefits of MI. It funded independent, technical research papers, commissioned best practice manuals with detailed guidelines on installing MI and initiated an extensive and carefully organized public education campaign to pressure industry and government to raise standards. It approached municipalities, building contractors, government officials, property developers, industry professionals and trade organizations to alert them to the importance of reducing the energy footprint of buildings. It pressured governments to raise MI standards in procurement of new and refurbished buildings and implement tougher requirements in their building codes. And it introduced climate change literacy into the curriculum of the apprenticeship system it oversees. This paper documents the union’s comprehensive campaign as an illustration of the contribution labour can make to addressing the critical challenge of global warming.

 

Download the full report (PDF)