Comment of the Secretary-General Klaus Heeger on Thomas Cook collapse and Greta Thunberg intimidating speech at the UN Climate Summit.

25 Sep 2019

Comment of the Secretary-General Klaus Heeger on Thomas Cook collapse and Greta Thunberg intimidating speech at the UN Climate Summit.

As the 178 years old travel giant Thomas Cook collapses, not only does the oldest travel institution come to an end, it also marks a trend in the travel market which may be due to debt, heatwaves, the internet, merciless competition and, as some speculate, Brexit.

While it remains unclear which impacts it will have on other British and continental European companies, it becomes obvious that tens of thousands of jobs are in the line of fire.

And it goes without saying that in particular (as always) trade unions, national public authorities and not least public treasury will be called upon to alleviate the consequences on the workers and to avoid major spill-over effects on other companies.

Thomas Cook´s bankruptcy will remain a monumental turning point in the history of tourism. And I think it leaves many of us quite deeply concerned.

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In New York, Greta Thunberg delivered an intimidating speech at the UN, attacking world leaders in an unforeseen manner: “How dare you? … You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words… We are at the beginning of mass extinction, but all you can talk about is money and fairy-tales of eternal economic growth! How dare you?”

Watching the speech made me feel uncomfortable.

Maybe it was because I sensed she may be right. Maybe because, belonging to the older generation, I felt directly concerned by her speech as one of “those who dare”. And maybe because I felt guilty.

And yet, there was something else: Her words and face were expressing strong contempt for “those who dare”, as if, beyond all legitimate concerns, she felt fury and hatred.

In my youth, I spent much time in the forest. We created marshes and planted trees. We built birdhouses and toad tunnels. We saved owls and snakes. And we campaigned, above all against the pollution of the Rhine.

Day after day. Year after year.

It is commonly said that every human being can only be judged in the context of the lifetime, in the given reality he/she lived in.

That applies to the “those who dare” generation too.

Greta Thunberg will not remember it, but also in the eighties, it seemed that nothing less was at stake than the survival of the planet: the ozone hole, the dying of forests and rivers, acid rain… The Global 2000 report had set the tone.

Of course, we were angry at the older generation; for its carelessness, consumption-mindedness and self-centeredness.

And yet: I never felt the moral superiority that Greta Thunberg exhibits.

Many things have improved to the better in the last thirty years.

Some of the “those who dare” even claim that “the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we think”.  Let us just mention life expectancy, literacy, health, child mortality, poverty, social and labour protection.

And the water of the Rhine has never been so clean in centuries.

Yes, too much time has been wasted.  And maybe, as Greta Thunberg conjures us, it is already too late.

But I am sure that we, “those who dare”, are still willing to give everything to fight climate change. Because Greta Thunberg may be right, when she refuses to believe that we are evil.

And because (which seems to be forgotten in the increasingly robust generational conflict) we love our children too.

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So this commandment also applies to us trade unions.

Traditional interest representation and defence will have to reflect greener and more sustainable agendas – already now.

That will impact on trade union members, especially those working in CO2 intensive industries and… tourism.

It is not without a certain irony, that a warmer summer has led many Brits to stay home, to fly less, to reduce CO2 emissions.

Ultimately, it led to the demise of Thomas Cook.