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UPDATE: Barlow speaks at labour-environmental movement gathering

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow spoke late this afternoon to an audience of 200 people at a labour and non-governmental organization gathering at a rooftop cafe in downtown Cancun.

The discussion was about how to bring labour and the environmental movement together to address the challenge of climate change.

Bill McKibben of 350.org, Roger Toussant of the Transport Workers Union in the United States, and Joaquin Turca of the CTA, the Argentinian labour federation, were also on the panel.

In the audience were Claude Generoux of CUPE, Rick Arnold of Common Frontiers, Louise Casselman and members of the Public Service Alliance, and Andrea Peart of the Canadian Labour Congress. The International Trade Union Confederation was also represented here.

McKibben highlighted that climate change is happening faster than expected and inconvenient change – more than politically or economically may be acceptable now – is going to be needed to address this.

He said the debate is really about whether we are going to maintain the current system for the next 15 years and do irreparable harm to the planet or make a significant transition to a profoundly different economic model.

Toussant said that science is saying to the planet change your ways for a better future or continue on your way at great risk. This has created a tremendous opportunity for social justice, enlightenment and progress. He said labour needs to rise to the situation and embrace environmental justice, but hasn’t fully done so.

He added that labour and social justice organizations have failed to counter neo-liberalism. We have had three decades since Reagan and Thatcher to do this and we haven’t done so. Labour must remain a change agent.

Turca said labour has focused on collective agreements. Labour hasn’t had a good understanding of environmental destruction, and that the environment has been seen as an obstacle to jobs.

In Argentina, labour helped to create a new social constituent model. In this context they worked on a new collective and participatory model/process to describe the kind of country they wanted and how they would achieve that. Union members then involved themselves in environmental issues.

Barlow apologized for the role Canada is playing to kill Kyoto here at the Cancun talks and that we will go home and fight harder. She stated the labour pension funds are invested in private water in Chile and that this needs to change. She noted that some big environmental NGOs have accepted the system and even promote market mechanisms as solutions to climate change. Then she said social justice organizations seek equitable distribution of resources, but caution is needed when those resources are scarce.

Barlow raised the need to respect the rights of Mother Earth as a United Nations universal declaration and to embrace the commons. She linked this to the recognition of the right to water and sanitation by the UN General Assembly this past July.

She asked, what can we do to bring all of this together? She said survival of the human species will unite the movement. We need to forge a powerful new movement. She concluded that every so often the world takes a step forward and that is our challenge.

A very good, thoughtful and challenging question and answer session, plus additional interventions, followed the panel presentation.

Democracy Now! is filmed the event and we will circulate that web-link when it is posted. We also videotaped most of the event and should be able to post that to www.canadians.org soon.