Weegie climate warriors go to war to green up the dear old ‘Green Place’ of Glasgow

Stuart Graham lays out what union activists in Glasgow are organising for in the run-up to COP26.

Glasgow Trades Union Council (GTUC) attended the STUC Trades Councils conference at the end of January. We requested a session was added to deal with the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November and the required level of mobilisation for it. Consequently, two of the Glasgow delegates led a session to discuss the work started on one campaign (Free Our City campaign for free public transport) and the intention to devise another (along similar coalition-building type lines) around a retro-fitting agenda for the city.

The opportunity to engage with Glasgow City Council (GCC) on these issues has been presented by it declaring a climate emergency in June 2019 as well as publishing a list of recommendations from the Climate Emergency Working Group and undertaking public consultations on transport and the wider Climate Emergency Implementation Plan (CEIP). While these are not always going to provide the desired solutions – indeed, the transport proposals are particularly frustrating at this stage, this does provide some kind of opening to initiate dialogue and discuss what social protections are needed in the process of just transition. However, we need to ensure that such dialogue remains sincere and capable of being a two-way conversation and not just a monologue with the option to tell the council in question how much you agree or disagree with an already defined endpoint.

The provision of renewably-powered, free public transport is one of the significant, societal transformations that the Free Our City coalition (which includes GTUC) has identified as capable of delivering the just transition to a low carbon/carbon neutral economy. Thus, GTUC will be meeting with trades councils from the local authorities surrounding Glasgow to devise a common approach to take to the politicians which sit on the Strathclyde Regional Cabinet. Bus service provision in Greater Glasgow cuts across local authority boundaries to such an extent that we will require a common mobilising agenda that is also capable of being adapted as we go.

Whether we view this solely from the perspective of municipal bus transit for a domestic population, or consider the number of visitors we may yet be hosting come November, we need to continue to make the case that the Bus Service Improvement Programmes (BSIPs) that continue to subsidise private companies with public funds are neither good enough nor capable of delivering what bus users across Greater Glasgow need. Therefore, irrespective of the current or anticipated positions of the various administrations which make up the Strathclyde Regional Cabinet, part of any campaign on public transport/buses needs to have the demand for public ownership and democratic control at its centre. Public sector job creation – as drivers or mechanics as well that offered through renewables-focused supply lines – would also result from re-municipalization.

GTUC is in the early stages of devising a local retro-fitting campaign too and is watching with interest the progress of, and obstacles to, Leeds TUC’s retro-fitting report and recommendations. Carbon emissions from domestic energy use/consumption remain a significant contribution to the city’s overall emissions levels. But while GCC’s CEIP has a commitment to a retro-fitting programme, it is nowhere at the scale or level of ambition which will be required to retro-fit all of the city’s homes, which will have different specifications depending on property types, ranging from multi-storey flats to tenement and four-in-a-block properties. While still in its very early stages, what is known about the scale of the retro-fitting task ahead is that it has massive, public sector job creation potential. Here, hundreds, if not thousands, of newly created jobs are needed to carry out the deep retro-fitting of all homes. This must be accompanied by training available to those who want to do this work as well as for those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic or are finding it particularly difficult as they are younger workers with little to no work experience. We will once again attempt to do so through coalition-building, and hope that Living Rent will also be one of the coalition partners due to its status and work as the only tenants’ union in the city.

We appreciate that the priorities detailed are specific to Glasgow/Greater Glasgow and rely upon the demands of urban societies/economies. And we know that some of the more rural local authorities/trades councils, like Highlands & Islands, will have significantly differing demands, including a greater reliance on electrical vehicles. Once known, these aspects can be better articulated but they will take some time to properly assess. However, the proposal is to use one, other or both campaigns as a mobilising template or impetus which trades councils can then use to build coalitions and bespoke campaigning agendas around. Transport and housing affect everyone – so the aim is to try and harness the energy that type of appeal can bring as a common mobilising agenda across trades councils. Scottish trades councils will be meeting more regularly throughout 2021 under these and other auspices to bring their affiliates under the banner of the COP26 coalition and call for more participation and action at all levels. We – in Glasgow at least – will definitely be here in person for COP26.

Stuart Graham is a Glasgow City UNISON delegate to the GTUC and a member of the COP26 coalition for both.