More Than Business As Usual? the Socio-Ecological Activities of Austrian and German Trade Unions

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 09:05
Oral Presentation
Beate LITTIG, Sociology, Institute for Advanced Studies Vienna, Vienna, Austria
Thomas BARTH, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Germany
In our contribution we discuss, how the current environmental engagement of Austrian and German trade unions meet the challenges of two concepts linked to socio-ecological transformation, namely the imperial mode of living and the logic of externalization.

In this discursive context we detect a rising attention for sustainable work: Sustainable development is increasingly framed as socio-ecological transformation towards sustainable working societies. This relates to issues which have been fostered by trade unions for a long time. At the same time interrelated social, economic and environmental inequalities enlarge. Historically an imperial mode of living has been established in the global North, which due to the logic of externalization passes on the costs of the good life on the global South. This divide results in problems of transnational solidarity for trade unions of the global North.

Based on this diagnosis we want to put forward the theses that firstly, sustainable positions and strategies of trade unions regarding climate change and environmental protection have to overcome the logic of externalization. Secondly, trade unions need to address issues of the workplace and business as interconnected with everyday practices of the employees.

This approach comprises big challenges for the trade unions of the global North. Contrary to the social movement oriented trade unions of the global South their Northern counterparts are bound to corporatist structures. Thus, they are a structural part of the environmentally destructive capitalist growth regime, which intensifies global inequality. At the same time they are in a privileged position, since they are the only democratic and global institutions that act at the interface of work-ecology, work-life. But how about trade unionist concepts of sustainable work or related approaches which question the imperial mode of living and working? Based on recent case studies we want to discuss this question.