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Unions and Climate Change: Toward Global Public Goods

Scotland's Rail Unions at COP 26

Rail Unions call for action on climate change

By staff - Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, November 10, 2021

TSSA, ASLEF, RMT, and Unite unions today united with Jeremy Corbyn and the STUC at COP26 to call on the Scottish Government to invest in Scotland’s Railways in order to fight climate change.

The unions held an event in Websters Theatre to promote their report “A Vision for Scotland’s Railways” which calls for better investment in railway infrastructure and staffing in order to encourage passengers back onto the railway. The report argues that staffed stations are safer at night and more accessible for passengers with disabilities.

Jeremy Corbyn said, “The land taken up by railways compared to roads is utterly minimal… For environmental considerations railways are the right way forward and this document indicates all of that.”

TSSA Organiser Gary Kelly said, “It’s not just the climate which is code red, it’s the railway itself. We're in the middle of a climate catastrophe when rainfall puts the railway at risk and the government's answer is to cut Network Rail staff. We're facing a real Code Red here. The question is what are we going to do about it?

ASLEF Organiser Kevin Lindsey said, “We want to see our vision become the template…. It’s crucial that passengers have an input, whether that’s people representing women, people representing young people or people representing disabled passengers, or just general passengers we want all voices to be heard. It’s so crucial to have a railway for all of Scotland.”

RMT Organiser Mick Hadley said “If we are serious about addressing the concerns about Scotland by giving the most vulnerable people access to trains, we need to give them access to staff - we need station staff to ensure it's safe to use Scotland's trains”

The unions criticised privatisation for failing both ScotRail and the people of Scotland.

Unite the Union Organiser Pat McIlvogue said, “All Abellio are concerned about is the profit, not concerned about the service, not concerned about the people, not concerned about the country. We've got a chance for a change now.”

Chairing the event, STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer said, “The current rail model fails services users and employees. We have a real opportunity when Scottish Government takes over ScotRail in April… There's an absolute need for us to mobilise people to demand that it stays a public service”

The tragic events at Stonehaven show climate change is real - it's here we're living with the effects. We need change. The rail unions are committed to working together to make that change happen.

Better public transport is the only way to cut carbon emissions, unions and campaigners urge

By Niall Christie - Morning Star, November 10, 2021

Cop26 summit ignores rail, buses, ferries and bicycles and puts its focus on cars and planes instead.

CREATING universal and comprehensive public transport is the only way to effectively cut carbon emissions from travel at home and abroad, unions and campaigners have said during Cop26.

Campaigners and politicians condemned the lack of consideration of rail, bus, ferry and cycle transport during proceedings at the summit today, where the focus was put on cars and planes instead.

Officials and delegates at the gathering in Glasgow made a number of announcements on transport, including on zero-emissions vehicles, so-called green shipping corridors, and on decarbonising air travel.

Tory Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that travel, including aviation, should be “guilt-free.” He also said that the government did not see flying as “the ultimate evil,” after officials, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, were condemned for using planes for short journeys during Cop26.

But unions and campaign groups highlighted the need for stronger rail and bus services throughout Britain, and backed public ownership to ensure that services work for all.

Before talks began at the conference hall on the River Clyde, a large demonstration took place in George Square with demands for equal access to transport systems in the summit’s host city.

Delegates at the summit have been given a travel pass which grants free travel on buses, trains and the subway system.

But no integrated travel system exists in Scotland, and the cost of the largely privatised sector has been on the rise in recent years.

Friends of the Earth Scotland transport campaigner Gavin Thomson told the Morning Star that only a radical overhaul of the transport system can deliver a just transition to a greener planet.

“We need to start thinking about transport like we do about health and education: as so important to public life that it’s paid for out of general taxation and free at the point of use,” he said.

“Not just because we drastically need to reduce emissions from transport, but because it is so important to things like education, employment and reducing social isolation.”

Trade union leaders joined the call for focus on public transport, with STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham asserting that the free market has no place in the sector.

The alternative is to run our own bus and rail networks, he said, adding that now is the time to act.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said the government “is taking forward a comprehensive suite of measures to promote more sustainable, affordable public transport journeys and deprioritise car use.”

At an event organised by the Peace and Justice Project, rail unions set out their vision for the railways.

Kevin Lindsay, Aslef’s organiser in Scotland, said that rail in Scotland will largely remain privatised even after Scotrail returns to public hands next year.

In a move towards providing a railway for all, he said that everybody under the age of 24 should be given free transport on rail services.

RMT organiser Mick Hogg said he was increasingly concerned about suggested cuts to services, and called for passengers, vulnerable communities and railway infrastructure to be put first.

We Own It director Cat Hobbs said that Britain must bring buses and trains back into public ownership and control.

“We can’t tackle the climate crisis unless we give people a real alternative to cars and planes, instead of just trying to make them greener,” she said.

“We need a decent, affordable, high-quality public transport network that we can all rely on, to make the best use of shared resources.

“The privatisation money-grab of the last 30 years hasn’t served passengers or the planet.”

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said there must be an increase in rail capacity from north to south, and called for urgent action to protect the future of the railways in Scotland and beyond.

The transfer of Scotrail to public hands must be the beginning of full public ownership of public transport in Britain, he said, adding: “Get the leeches off the railway, get the staff into the trains, and get the public back onto the railway.”

Trade Union Program for a Public, Low-Carbon Energy Future

By various unions - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 9, 2021

The following “Trade Union Program for a Public, Low-Carbon, Energy Future” (“Program”) is the result of the work of a Trade Union Task Force consisting of more than 30 unions. Focusing mainly on the power sector, the Program is an attempt to rally the international trade union movement behind an ambitious political effort to bring about a fundamental shift in climate and energy policy. This shift is needed both to correct the failures of the market model and to ensure that the energy transition is socially just, economically viable, and effective in terms of reaching climate goals.

Recognising That:

  • Access to a healthy environment has been declared a human right by the UN Human Rights Council, in recognition of the interconnected human rights crises of environmental degradation and climate change.
  • Lack of adequate access to energy remains a major source of poverty, inequality and insecurity, in violation of human rights and contrary to the aims of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Widespread electrification of many energy-dependent processes will be necessary to meet agreed, science-based decarbonisation targets.
  • Ensuring access to affordable, safe, secure, reliable, low-carbon electricity will therefore be essential to meeting most future energy needs.
  • All known methods of capturing, transforming, and distributing energy for use involve some degree of environmental disruption.
  • Neoliberal climate and energy policies – which are tied to privatisation and commodification – have failed to halt the rise of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Privatisation, marketisation, and liberalisation of electrical power systems have led to price increases, falling levels of service quality, and inadequate investment.
  • The transition required to meet decarbonisation targets will entail substantial changes affecting workers, especially in many energy-related areas of employment, and many of these changes may be very disruptive if their impacts are not addressed.
  • Many countries in the global south continue to face a crippling legacy of colonialism and debt, constraining their ability to procure the technologies and resources needed to ensure universal access to electricity.

(TUED Working Paper #14) Beyond Disruption: How Reclaimed Utilities Can Help Cities Meet Their Climate Goals

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, November 3, 2021

In TUED Working Paper 14, Beyond Disruption: How Reclaimed Utilities Can Help Cities Meet Their Climate Goals, Sean Sweeney and John Treat showcase how the energy transition that was promised has yet to come to fruition. They argue specifically the arguments around cities leading the transition have not been fully accurate and provide a sober analysis of where we stand.

As Sweeney and Treat argue, “the incumbent energy companies will not be dis­rupted out of existence; rather, they will remain dominant as market players and, under the current neoliberal framework, they will help perpetuate an energy for profit regime. If this is not changed, then cities will not be able to reach their energy and decarbonization targets. There is a need, therefore, to develop an alternative approach, one that goes beyond disruption (in a politi­cal sense).”

Through the piece they outline an “alternative approach that is offered shifts attention away from disruption of the incumbent companies toward the need to focus efforts on reclaiming these companies to public ownership.”

This Working Paper, released during COP 26 in Glasgow provides a clear-eyed analysis of the challenges ahead but also highlights an alternative public-goods approach to overcoming the worst of the crisis. Download the PDF here.

Read the text (PDF).

Getting to Net Zero in UK Public Services: The Road to Decarbonisation

By Dr. Vera Weghmann, et. al. - Unison, November 2021

Public services as a whole (excluding transport) represent about 8% of the UK’s direct greenhouse gas emissions. The NHS alone represents about 4% of the UK’s emissions. When procurement, construction, and social housing are taken into account, public services’ impacts are much greater.

Different sectors within the overall framework of public services have declared their decarbonisation plans. Some are ahead of the national targets. The NHS has declared that it will reach net zero by 2040, with an ambition to reach an 80% reduction by 2028 to 2032. More than one-third of local authorities (single- and upper-tier) committed themselves to decarbonise their local area by or before 2030.

The government aims to reduce direct emissions from public sector buildings by 75% against a 2017 baseline by the end of the Sixth Carbon Budget.

This report identified 21 different measures that should be taken across buildings, transport, electricity generation, waste, procurement and land use along with costed measures for each of nine different public services.

In our analysis, the UK’s public services need a capital investment injection of over £140 billion to 2035 to meet their Net Zero obligations. This will set the public sector on track to meet their climate targets and contribute to the UK’s overall carbon reduction aims. The analysis also identified measures that required annual operational expenditures of £1 billion to hit net zero targets. UNISON fully advocates that quality public services are best delivered by public ownership of public services and utilities rather than privatisation, outsourcing or PFI contracting of public services.

As well as improving the quality of life for service users, workers and the wider community, a number of the measures will also result in significant savings to public services’ budgets, through lower energy bills, cheaper to run fleets, and procurement savings. UNISON fully advocates that quality public services are best delivered by public ownership of public services and utilities rather than privatisation, outsourcing or PFI contracting of public services.

Read the text (PDF).

A Vision for Scotland’s Railways

By staff - Unity Consulting, ASLEF, RMT, TSSA, and Unite the Union, October 29, 2021

Scotland cannot meet its environmental obligations without a world-class rail service that shifts people and goods from cars and lorries onto trains.

This requires a service that is fully staffed, with affordable fares, stations that are accessible and trains that are clean, green and attractive.

What is needed is an ambition for Scotland’s railways that is expansive, that encourages people to make rail their first travel choice and increases freight capacity.

Our long-term vision for Scotland's railways:

  • It should be a publicly operated and governed system run as public service and not for private profit
  • A system that helps Scotland meet its wider environmental and public policy ambitions
  • A railway that is supported by public subsidy
  • Is fully staffed
  • That reinvests in rail infrastructure, to help grow the economy.
  • Takes ScotRail (and the Serco operated Caledonian Sleeper) back under public ownership permanently
  • A railway that is part of a wider integrated public transport system with through ticketing
  • Is part of an industrial strategy that recognises rail services are a vital part of Scotland’s economy helping create jobs and growth
  • Has a democratic regulatory and governance structure
  • Has a cross representation of Scottish society and rail interests at the heart of decision making
  • Has representation from all four trade unions on the board of the new operator
  • Has local political representatives on the board
  • Has passenger representatives on the board

Read the text (PDF).

Renewable Energy companies seen as barriers to a successful public energy transition

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 8, 2021

Recent issues of New Labor Forum include articles promoting the concept of energy democracy, and bringing an international perspective. In “Sustaining the Unsustainable: Why Renewable Energy Companies Are Not Climate Warriors” (New Labor Forum, August), author Sean Sweeney argues that renewable energy companies “are party to a “race to the bottom” capitalist dynamic that exploits workers – citing the example of alleged forced Uyghur labour in China-based solar companies, and the offshoring of manufacturing for the Scottish wind industry. He also argues that “large wind and solar interests’ “me first” behavior is propping up a policy architecture that is sucking in large amounts of public money to make their private operations profitable. They are sustaining a model of energy transition that has already shown itself to be incapable of meeting climate targets. In so doing, these companies have not just gone over to the political dark side, they helped design it.”

The theme of the Spring New Labor Forum was A Public Energy Response to the Climate Emergency , and includes these three articles: “Beyond Coal: Why South Africa Should Reform and Rebuild Its Public Utility”; “Ireland’s Energy System: The Historical Case for Hope in Climate Action”; and Mexico’s Wall of Resistance: Why AMLO’s Fight for Energy Sovereignty Needs Our Support .

The author of Sustaining the Unsustainable is Sean Sweeney, who is Director of the International Program on Labor, Climate & Environment at the School of Labor and Urban Studies, City University of New York, and is also the coordinator of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED). In August, TUED convened a Global Forum, “COP26: What Do Unions Want?” – with participation from 69 unions, including the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), the UK’s Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and Public Services International (PSI). Presentations are summarized in TUED Bulletin 111, (Aug. 18), and are available on YouTube here .

Sustaining the Unsustainable: Why Renewable Energy Companies Are Not Climate Warriors

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, August 27, 2021

In the fight to address climate change, renewable energy companies are often assumed to be Jedi Knights. Valiantly struggling to save the planet, wind and solar interests are thought to be locked in mortal combat with large fossil fuel corporations that continue to mine, drill, and blast through the earth’s fragile ecosystems, dragging us all into a grim and sweaty dystopia.

In the United States and elsewhere, solar panels glitter on rooftops and in fields; turbines tower majestically over rural landscapes. The fact that, globally, the renewables sector continues to break records in terms of annual deployment levels is, for many, a source of considerable comfort. Acting like informational Xanax to ease widespread climate anxiety, news headlines reassure us that the costs of wind and solar power continue to fall, and therefore wind and solar is (or soon will be) “competitive” with energy from coal and gas. The transition to clean energy is, therefore, unstoppable.

By Any Means Necessary

Of course, wind and solar companies are not charities. They are, in a phrase, profit driven. They want to attract investment capital; they seek to build market share, and they all want to pay out dividends to shareholders. In this respect, renewable energy (and “clean tech”) companies are not fundamentally different from fossil fuel companies.

. . . [W]ind and solar companies are not charities. . . . In this respect, [they] are not fundamentally different from fossil fuel companies.

But so what? North-based environmental groups frequently point out that we have just a handful of years to start to make major reductions in emissions. Therefore, this is not a time, they insist, to split hairs or to make the perfect the enemy of the good. If electricity generation is the leading single source of CO2 pollution, then surely the more electrons generated by renewable sources of energy will mean fewer electrons being generated by fossil fuels. What more needs to be said?

But there are several reasons why, in their current role, renewable energy companies could be more part of the problem than they are part of the solution—which, if true, means a lot more has to be said. As we will see, they are beginning to squander their “social license” by being party to a “race to the bottom” dynamic that risks turning workers and many ordinary people against action on climate change. Equally serious, large wind and solar interests’ “me first” behavior is propping up a policy architecture that is sucking in large amounts of public money to make their private operations profitable.

They are sustaining a model of energy transition that has already shown itself to be incapable of meeting climate targets.[1] In so doing, these companies have not just gone over to the political dark side, they helped design it.

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