International Workers Memorial Day and a sense of perspective about the climate crisis

May 10, 2024


April 28 was International Workers Memorial Day, and GJA is very pleased to reproduce the speech below, made at an event in Leeds by Sam Perry, Green Bargaining Officer for Yorkshire & Humber TUC


We’re here to remember that everyone deserves to work in safety, but the world is becoming less safe.

Last year, the average temperature on Earth was higher than its been for 125,000 years. The last time the world was this hot, humans hadn’t invented art, or agriculture, or buildings, or clothes. Capitalism has not only changed how our human world works, but fundamentally changed the way the natural world works. It’s made it more dangerous.

Capitalism-caused climate change is already leading to higher instances of death and illness among workers. Heat-induced sicknesses, deaths from natural disasters, and vector-borne diseases are all increasing in line with extreme weather, disruptions to agriculture, and disruption to food and water supplies.

And climate change during capitalism is making livelihoods more precarious, access to health care and social care more difficult, and access to healthy and safe housing scarcer. Especially for the most disadvantaged in our societies.

We’re in a new world. So it’s right that on this day we also reflect on the victims of capitalism-caused climate change.

We do need more health and safety reps. And we need to help them identify and mitigate against these new hazards. Occupational health and safety must become carbon literate.

We need our reps to be thinking about windstorms, droughts, heatwaves, heavy rain, floods, landslides, and wildfires.

They need to think about heat stress and dehydration; polluted commutes; the expansion of seasonal allergies; enhanced UV protection; poor indoor air quality; contaminated drinking water; less reliable power supplies; the increased range of poisonous plants and disease-carrying insects; and how hot bodies absorb more toxins, fog up safety goggles, and make tempers short.

And we need to be thinking about how our decarbonisation impacts other societies: Are battery cars a sustainable solution when mining for their component parts costs lives and makes slaves in the DRC? Perhaps health and safety organising now needs to reach down supply chains: Ethical procurement as health and safety action.

Trade unions have the tools to make the transition to a lower-carbon economy safe and to make this a process of empowerment, democratisation, and a rebalancing of power relations.

Our health and safety reps, trade union education structures, democratic traditions, numbers, and spirit of solidarity mean that we can shape the green transition in the interests of workers.

On this day of remembering the dead and committing to fighting for the living, I’m asking that we all demand not only that our immediate surroundings are free from hazards but that our work stops introducing new hazards into this world—that our employers immediately and responsibly cut their carbon emissions, make material moves to protect us and our comrades around the world from the damage they’ve already caused to our environment, and hear our voices in demanding that the natural world which they’ve turned against us and made dangerous be protected.

We—workers and nature—have a common threat. And the name of the threat is climate change caused by capitalism, and now supposedly managed by capitalism. The solution to a world made more hazardous for workers cannot be the same as the cause.

Every workplace now needs a worker-led climate action plan that sets out the scope of safety mitigation in a volatile world, but also how the employer will stop causing harm—stop acting against us. The case for worker control has never been greater.

Solidarity to all those on the frontline of climate change this year, and to the victims—new and old—of capitalism.

Thank you.