Above: With the human race facing the threat of mass extinction amid global climate change, the Green New Deal, the foundational outline for labor protection in the climate justice movement, was a prominent message during the September 2019 #climatestrikes.

Two prominent international labor lawyers, one of them an official of the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, have just published an article in Equal Times saying “Unions Must Join the Global Climate Strike to Avert a Climate Catastrophe.” The authors, who write in a personal capacity, are Ruwan Subasinghe and Jeff Vogt. Subasinghe is Legal Advisor to the International Transport Workers’ Federation and Jeff Vogt, director for the Solidarity Center’s Rule of Law department and previously the legal director of the International Trade Union Confederation.

The authors argue that, at least in some circumstances, climate strikes may be legal under international law. The Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) of the International Labor Organization has stated that

organizations responsible for defending workers’ socio-economic and occupational interests should be able to use strike action to support their position in the search for solutions to problems posed by major social and economic policy trends which have a direct impact on their members and all workers in general, in particular as regards employment, social protection and standards of living.

The CFA has “given its imprimatur” to protests and strikes concerning a range of issues including trade agreements, labor law reform, pensions, tax policy, social protection and similar demands. The CFA should find a climate strike to be similarly protected. “Indeed, there is no issue today that has a more direct, immediate and serious impact on the world of work than the climate emergency.”

They propose “recognition of the right to strike” where “an employer engages in activity which is demonstrably harmful to the environment.” This would extend the principle that “workers can remove themselves immediately from dangerous work” without fear of retaliation. They ask, “What can be more dangerous than activity that threatens our workplace, our communities and indeed life on Earth as we know it.”

With only 11 years left to avert climate catastrophe, “trade unions must be given the means to help prevent irreversible damage from climate change.”