International panel tackles COVID-19 and climate action on Earth Day

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Photo of Zoom call with five panelists

In a panel discussion on Zoom, U.S. and Canadian workers discussed how many of the same systemic problems of capitalism are fuelling both the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

Hosted by the North American Solidarity Project, the panel brought together workers from Texas, Pennsylvania, Vancouver, Montreal, and New York City. Catherine Abreu of the Climate Action Network Canada emceed the event.

Vice President Local 6001 and member of Unifor Quebec Safety and Environment Committee Raymond Thibert discussed how COVID-19 exposed underlying weaknesses of Canada's economic model and how it funds social services. He said the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage early in 2020 was just one of many examples of how Canada's globalized supply chain failed Canadian workers and was directly responsible for workplace infections, especially health care workers.

"I think the failures of the carbon-intensive global supply chain have led to a re-think of our more sustainable, local manufacturing options," said Thibert.

Unifor BC Regional Council Chair and Local 2200 member Leanne Marsh talked about the intersection of the clean water crisis in Indigenous communities and an adequate public health response to the pandemic. Colonization and the free market have utterly failed these communities as many have been living with water boil advisories for decades, she said.

Irene HongPing Shen from Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) added insights about replacing profit with people's needs as the top priority of global energy development. Shen said government intervention is critical to halting the ongoing pattern of energy development in which the financial and social costs are borne by workers but the benefits are hoarded by elites.

"It's time for a 'public option' for energy security," she said, referring to the state-funded and controlled model of health care that has been so successful compared to for-profit models.

The other two American panelists, Kim Smith of National Nurses United and John Miles of UE Local 506, both emphasized that workers have to unite and fight for change. International solidarity and militant unionism are key to winning a just transition for workers that generates good, unionized jobs in a greener economy, they said.