Today, industriAll Europe, representing workers across Europe’s manufacturing, energy and mining industries, is publishing its Just Transition Manifesto. The manifesto is our call to policymakers in Europe to ensure a transition to a green economy that is fair to ALL workers, a transition that does not destroy but preserves and creates good quality jobs. A transition that is anticipated, managed and negotiated with workers for every aspect that concerns them. Nothing about us without us!

The scale of the challenge confronting us is enormous. Our manufacturing, energy and mining sectors must rapidly cut their greenhouse gas emissions to zero-emissions by 2050. This will impact the lives of millions of people who work in these industries. It is estimated that the jobs of 25 million industrial workers will change, move or disappear as part of the ‘green transition’.

The transition is already happening. The pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the energy price crisis are all accelerating the pace of change. Industrial workers across Europe have consistently been raising their voices. Now, we need political leaders to hear us and respond urgently.

A difficult context

We are launching our manifesto in volatile times. The energy price and cost of living crises are intensifying the socio-economic inequalities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Supply shortages are adding further pressure, potentially threatening industries and decarbonisation efforts alike, and raising questions about security of energy and raw materials supplies and independence from imports. Another key shortage we face is skilled workers. Attracting and retaining workers in industries that are changing is an immense challenge. This context pre-existed the war in Ukraine but has been worsened further by it.

We know from bitter experience that the accumulated impact on purchasing power we are now seeing creates simmering social pressure, which can quickly and unexpectedly boil over, causing long-term damage to Europe and our societies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put economic pressure on sectors, companies and workers. Combined with the twin green and digital transitions, it has accelerated change in many sectors, and fundamentally changed our industries and workplaces.

Over the past two years, through the difficulties of the pandemic, industriAll Europe has organised discussions all over Europe to try and understand how the green and digital transitions are impacting our members and transforming their working places and industries – often at speed.

Our conclusion is clear:

The lack of a sufficiently strong social strategy is the Achilles heel of the Green Deal.

We have also participated in numerous EU policy processes and debates in which the term ‘Just Transition’ has become a catch-all synonym for the aspiration of a fair transition. Once a trade union campaign slogan, after 20 years of campaigning it has finally made its way into the common language of European policymakers and national leaders. However, while the term has been let into the room, the workers that invented it are often still left outside the rooms in which their fates are decided.

All too often trade unions are accused of trying to slow down the transition, but our case studies show otherwise. Workers are proactively supporting change in the face of the climate emergency and global competition. They also demand a change that is just and delivered with a strategy that goes beyond the rhetoric.

For trade unions, Just Transition means the transformation of the economy in a fair and inclusive manner to ensure the maintenance and creation of good quality jobs. The participation of workers and their trade unions in the anticipation and social management of industrial change is a prerequisite, not an optional extra: Nothing about us without us.

Our demands:

IndustriAll Europe has consistently demanded a comprehensive Just Transition framework that provides for adequate resources, is based on effective policy planning, promoting and strengthening workers’ rights, and involves trade unions through intense social dialogue. The urgency of creating this framework has only increased in this volatile context in which we find ourselves.

Our Just Transition Manifesto comprises five key pillars. Altogether, they make up the much-needed Just Transition framework:

  1. An industrial policy fit for ambitious climate goals and good quality jobs. Moving to a low-carbon economy depends on sustainable and resilient industries. Our industries provide for millions of high quality jobs across Europe and deliver solutions to decarbonise our economy. They require supportive industrial policies.

  2. Funding the transition today to avoid the cost of inaction tomorrow. A Just Transition is not free, but the costs of poorly managed transitions are much higher for individuals, regions and society at large. Reaching climate targets in a fair and inclusive manner requires higher public spending, but potentially delivers long-term savings to society.

  3. Stronger collective bargaining and social dialogue. These are a prerequisite for a Just Transition. They enable social partners to discuss and negotiate solutions that mitigate negative employment consequences and guarantee high-quality jobs throughout the transition.

  4. A toolbox of workers’ rights to anticipate and shape the change. The transition to decarbonised industries will ultimately be implemented at company level. An inclusive and just transition can only be achieved if workers and representatives have their say.

  5. Tackling new skills needs and a right to quality training and life-long learning for every worker. A Just Transition requires support for job-to-job transitions, including the necessary reskilling and upskilling of the current workforce. It also requires investing in our education systems to develop new training programmes for the changing and emerging job profiles of the green economy.

Reaching climate neutrality by 2050 requires steep emission cuts, starting today. This is an unparalleled challenge to meet.

Just as the ‘business as usual’ approach no longer works for climate reasons, it cannot continue for social reasons either. Achieving our climate ambitions at this stage is dependent on delivering the social dimension. The market alone cannot and will not deliver it. Technological solutions will not and cannot deliver it. Since Europe’s Green Deal is a deliberate political intervention into market forces, national and European politicians have a direct responsibility for delivering the Just Transition framework promised to affected workers and regions.

There is no silver policy bullet. But our research and discussions have shown that well-functioning industrial relations systems and strong welfare states provide the confidence needed for workers to see the transition as an opportunity. Hard rights are needed, not just soft coordination.

The EU must embrace the social dimension of the Green Deal. Not as an optional extra, but as a reinforced and proactive foundation for the decarbonisation of our industries. And with workers at its core, who are actors in co-designing their future, not recipients of policy or corporate decisions.

Nothing About Us Without Us.

This article has been published in the Brussels Times and in Euractiv