Environmental Racism: Adding African Canadians’ Voices to the Climate Change Debate

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By Mark Brown

A ground-breaking undertaking between The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Canadian Chapter (CBTU) and an organization known as Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces (ACW) threatens to blow a hole through the climate change debate that rivals the current hole in the ozone layer.

With the inception of a ground breaking research initiative called “The Impact of Climate Change on Racialized Canadian Communities: An Environmental Justice Perspective” the two organizations have lunched a research initiative on Environmental Racism. The goal of the research project is to assess the effect of climate change on racialized communities within Canada. The Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces (ACW) is a partnership grant of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Photo of Carla Lipsig Mumme
Dr. Carla Lipsig-Mummé
Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces (ACW)

Dr. Carla Lipsig-Mummé is the Principal Researcher for Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces (ACW). When asked how did the CBTU/ACW partnership came about Dr. Mummé stated that the ACW is a 7-year grant funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). With 47 individual researchers and 24 partner organizations the ACW spans 4 countries. Included among the list of organizations were York University, (Lead Organization), the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Ontario Federation of Labour and more. Dr. Mummé went on to say that “CBTU was invited to become a partner organization given the organizations unique mandate to provide a voice for workers of African-descent along with CBTU’s engagement within the environmental justice movement.”

Dr. Mummé was then asked what the ACW expects to achieve by this project? “Climate literacy for every stage and age in the Canadian workforce,” she stated. “Community involvement and mobilization in the struggle to slow climate change; making resources and curriculum available for green training and education by unions for labour environmentalists and students; Youth—young workers and young students—taking leadership to reduce greenhouse gases in their schools and their workplaces; a larger role for young people who are passionate about the environment, in shaping union renewal. Linking greening work and youth union activism in union renewal. ACW hopes that Black Trade Unionists, and other racialized communities’ engagement in the fight to slow global warming will point the way to new pathways to green jobs. CBTU is very well placed to recognize pathways to new green jobs that are developing from responding to the threat of climate change, and to take steps so that this and the next generations of Black Trade Unionists are leaders in the shift to a green world of work. CBTU is very well placed to be a model for other communities as well.”

Photo of Chris Wilson
Chris Wilson, 1st Vice President and International Board Member of CBTU Canada

Chris Wilson is the Project Lead, 1st Vice President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) in Canada and an International Board Member. When asked why African-Canadian workers should be concerned about climate change? He responded by stating that, “The destructiveness and speed of climate change is a call to action. This project is designed to explore the impact of climate change upon racialized communities within Canada.”

Wilson went on to say that, “A significant amount of research has gone into exploring the impact of Climate change upon indigenous peoples with the Idle No More movement. This project intends to bring this vision of community mobilization around climate change to other racialized communities by drawing Black Trade Unionists and other racialized communities into the fight to slow climate change while linking this fight with the development of pathways to good green jobs for the aforementioned communities.”

Wilson further stated that, “The debate over climate change is already here and the consequences are real; CBTU and ACW want to ensure that the voices of Black Trade Unionists are included in this debate to ensure that as our economy evolves and adapts to climate change and the voices of racialized workers are heard.”

According to the ACW’s website the research project is expected to encompass multiple stages with a focus upon research and mobilization.

The first stage is described as a participatory research model which evolves the use of social media to engage anti-racist activists in the process of collecting written materials that have been composed about environmental racism.

The second stage of the project is comprised of a workshop/focus-group of Black Trade Unionists. The purpose of this stage is to accumulate research data on the participants’ experience surrounding climate change and environmental racism.

The third stage is expected to provide a workshop/community forum for community engagement. The themes of the workshops include:

  • What is to be understood by the words “environmental racism?”
  • How it is affecting communities and their environment?
  • Exploring case studies in Canada.
  • The present and future role of racialized communities in the “Green Economy” and Developing an Environmental Racism Charter

The fourth and final stage of the project will be a joint report and video. Both the video and report are expected to be housed on the ACW and CBTU Canada websites.

Whether one believes in the existence of climate change or believes that climate change is fiction what is evident is that the debate on climate change has been ongoing for some time. What is also apparent is that if the African Canadian voicesof this generation continue to be omitted from the debate the African Canadians faces of the next generation risk being omitted from the solution.

Picture of Mark Brown


Mark Brown is the Chair of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council’s Equity Committee, an Executive Board Member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionist (CBTU), An Executive Board Member of the Labour Education Center and a member of the Toronto Local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

Contact him on Facebook and Twitter @MarkAAABrown

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