Climate Debates at Unite the Union’s Policy Conference

18 Jul, 2023


Last week Safe Landing’s Finlay, Tom, and Sacha were at Unite the Union’s (biennial) Policy Conference, working with conference delegates and other Unite activists from across the country to promote debate and motions on fossil fuels and Workers’ Assemblies. You can read more about our thoughts and aims in the runup to the conference here.

Fossil Fuel Motions – Hearing Unite leaders and industry experts highlight the need for Workers’ Assemblies (without realising it!)

Unfortunately, the motions promoted by the Unite Grassroots Climate Justice Caucus on “No new fossil fuels” (seven motions merged into a single “composite”) were quashed by an overriding statement from the Unite Executive Council. When the statement passed, the “No new fossil fuels” motion automatically fell. We agreed with 80-90 percent of what the statement said, but crucially the EC dropped the commitment to no more fossil fuels! This provides companies with continued effective Unite the Union support for further UK oil and gas exploration. It is very good that Climate Justice Caucus activists pushed the debate – despite resistance, we must keep pushing.

Though the motion failed, we were buoyed to hear a number of delegates and reps talk about the need for a worker-led vision of decarbonisation – something we at Safe Landing couldn’t agree with more. Several speakers, who possibly thought they were speaking “against” us, talked passionately about the need for workers’ rights to be a crucial part of a just transition, and one who works in oil and gas spoke about how the changing of her industry must come from experts within, not by being “preached” to from the outside – exactly what the idea of Workers’ Assemblies is about.

A number of our friends from the Unite Grassroots Climate Justice Caucus who were delegates gave powerful speeches to the room of 700 people – an impressive display!

Workers’ Assemblies Motion

After the debate (though inadequate) on fossil fuels, the next day the conference heard a motion advocating for Unite to investigate using Workers’ Assemblies, and how they might inform existing democratic union frameworks in aiding a just transition. To read up on the motions see our previous post here.

The motion was proposed, debated, then with our agreement “remitted” – withdrawn, but with agreement that we could immediately follow up with the Executive Council so that they can learn more. We hope to present to them soon in order to continue the dialogue and progress.

Fringe Events

In advance of discussion on the motions, we helped organise two fringe events with the Grassroots Climate Justice Caucus – one on “No new fossil fuels” and one, which we led on, about Workers’ Assemblies.  Both provided opportunities for delegates and visitors at the conference to come and discuss the climate crisis and a worker-led transition. Both were productive and enjoyable, and it was great to share a room with other climate-focused Unite members.

Workers' Assemblies: Unite the Union Policy Conference - Fringe Event Poster

A recording of our Fringe Event on “Workers’ Assemblies” (including Sarah Castell, the Director of Involve [] taking us through Citizens’ Assemblies) can be watched here:

Why Unite Delegates Were Better Than Keir Starmer!

We also watched the speech from Labour leader Keir Starmer. It was more than a little underwhelming, and worst of all he spoke highly of the need for technologies like “carbon capture” to provide the “green jobs” of tomorrow. If only he followed Safe Landing, he might have learned all the issues with that as a “techno-fix”!

Better was the opportunity we got as a team to spend every evening meeting delegates, getting to know people in the climate movement better, and enjoying a drink near the conference centre while we talked all things workers’ rights and climate. We’ve met many new acquaintances, made new connections, and gained some incredibly useful contacts for progressing the UK climate-worker movement forward. The conference also served us with a reminder of the collective potential of an organised working class if we leverage our power through the means of industrial disputes, collective bargaining, and the ability to “down tools” and shut down any industry when we reject the direction that leaders are taking us in.


It was a hard week, and the culmination of month’s hard work. Though we didn’t achieve everything we might have hoped for, we sparked debate, made new contacts and pushed the door further open for more detailed discussions on Workers’ Assemblies and what a worker-led just transition looks like. Of course, the climate crisis is not going away. The pressure on high-carbon sectors, including our own, will only intensify as time goes on. As union members and climate campaigners, we will keep the pressure on: we hope that Unite will prove able to adapt and respond to it.

As the saying goes: “transition is inevitable, justice is not.

What’s Next?

With wind in our sails, we’ll be looking ahead to the UK Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, in October. We’ll also get straight onto the Unite Executive Council to follow-up with presentations and advocacy around Workers’ Assemblies wherever they’ll let us. Finally, and most importantly, we’ll be continuing organising in Unite and other unions’ grassroots, particularly in order to strengthen connections and initiatives among workers in high-carbon sectors. We’ll be sharing our ideas (including through model motions) with workers in a range of sectors, countries and unions and trying to spark further discussion. Sign up to our newsletter via the top of our homepage to stay tuned for more updates!


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