Trades Unions and the Transition away from 'actually existing unsustainability': From economic crisis to a new political economy beyond growth

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

4 Citations (Scopus)


Traditionally trades unions have accepted and promoted orthodox economic growth as a policy imperative. In recent years there has been a noticeable ‘greening’ of trade unions in relation to initiatives such as the ‘Green new deal’ and the creation of ‘green collar’ employment and the focus on a ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy. Yet given the growing evidence of the negative impacts of economic growth in terms of environmental, resource and pollution impacts as well as the inability of economic growth to tackle (as opposed to managed) socio-economic inequality, it is timely to review the case for trades unions to fundamentally rethink the commitment to orthodox economic growth. That is, for trades unions to consider going beyond their current ‘green/sustainability’ strategies to consider more radical ‘post-growth’ policy positions. This chapter will explore some of the dimensions of a ‘post-growth’ trade union agenda by considering the evidence for going beyond growth from within the trade union movement (specifically looking at the International Labor Organization’s 2004 report on Economic Security, to internal union discussions around trades unionism and climate change) and external evidence ranging from Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level (which suggests amongst other things that in the developed world what is needed is not economic growth but greater redistribution and lowering inequality – issues also of traditional interest to the Trades Union movement) to Tim Jackson’s Prosperity without Growth (which suggests that economic growth is ecologically unsustainable as well having passed a threshold beyond which it is contributing to human well-being in the developed world). As well as discussing the relationship between trades unionism and what may be called ‘green political economy’ (such as the ‘degrowth’ and ‘limits to growth’ perspectives) this chapter will also discuss the practical/policy implications of this ‘post-growth’ perspective in relation to trades unionism’s analysis of capitalism and its transformation in the context of a climate changed, carbon constrained world, including implications for ideas such as basic income, a shorter working week and what a trades unionism focused on how to achieve high quality of life within a low carbon context might look like.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTrades Unions in the Green Economy
Subtitle of host publicationWorking for the Environment
EditorsNora Rathzel, David Uzzell
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


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