Developing Environmental Labour Studies
Over the past ten years, the scholarly as well as the activist interest in ‘labour environmentalism’, ‘just transition’, ‘environmental justice’ to name but a few key concepts has been rising. Academic research has aimed to analyse environmental policies of unions in the global north and the global south. This has included the conflicts of power and resources that often characterise north-south relationships between unions. Amongst other this research has analysed the meaning and application of the term ‘just transition’, finding that there are many interpretations and thus ways of formulating environmental politics around it. Some writers prefer the term ‘environmental justice’ indicating that issues such as class, ‘race’, gender relations, work and workplaces, nature, and spatial relations need to be integrated into our analysis of the politics of labour and environment. Environmental labour studies, some argue, cannot limit itself to trade union policies alone, but has to be taken further into the struggles of workers (unionised or not) and their communities against all environmental degradation. Moreover, it has to address the political economy as a whole.
While industrial unions are especially challenged to engage in the environmentally sustainable transformation of their industries, farmers, agricultural workers and indigenous peoples have not been prominent enough in research on labour environmentalism, even though the agricultural sector is a significant source of pollution and carbon emissions. Nor have we paid systematic attention to the service economy, a major component of the political economy employing also the largest number of vulnerable people.
We take a critical overview of the developing field of environmental labour studies, identifying its principal theoretical and methodological perspectives. What has been achieved so far? What have been the consequences of red-green alliances? Where are the gaps, what should be the priorities?