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Remaking Our Energy Future: Towards a Just Energy Transition (JET) in South Africa

By Richard Halsey, Neil Overy, Tina Schubert, Ebenaezer Appies, Liziwe McDaid and Kim Kruyshaar - Project 90 by 2030, September 19, 2019

A just transition (JT) is a highly complex topic, where the overall goal is to shift to systems that are better for people and the planet, and to do so in a fair and managed way that “leaves no one behind”. A JT is about justice in the context of fundamental changes within the economy and the society.

Both of these areas are extremely contested, consensus is hard to achieve, and people are generally resistant to change. A JT confronts “business as usual” and threatens powerful vested interests in certain economic sectors. In recent years, a vast amount of literature on the subject has been published, and in South Africa the conversation has picked up pace. The urgency of acting now is indisputable.

While a JT can apply to many sectors and industries, this publication focuses on energy. In addition to being a major contributor to climate change, environmental damage and impacts on human health, the energy sector (particularly Eskom), is facing significant challenges in South Africa. We fully acknowledge that energy is linked to other sectors such as transport, agriculture, water and land use, and that a just energy transition (JET) is a part of a wider JT. While the focus of this report is on one sector, we do so recognising that it is linked to other parts of a larger system in many ways.

Our approach was to look at what we can learn from international experience, to combine that with what has already been done in South Africa, and to make recommendations about how to move forward. This publication focuses on the shift from coal to renewable energy (RE), mainly for electricity generation. We are well aware that a movement away from fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) is far more than just moving from coal to RE, but as discussed in Chapter 3, this particular transition is the obvious starting point in South Africa. The lessons and recommendations presented here can also be adapted to other fossil fuel sectors. While the focus of this study is on coal, a big picture perspective of the energy system is crucial. South Africa must adopt an integrated planning approach, for energy and other sectors.

Read the text (PDF).

Time has come to nationalize the US fossil fuel industry

By Carla Santos Skandier - ROAR, August 15, 2019

No other generation understands better the implication of climate change than today’s teens. As sixteen year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has famously summarized it, “this is an emergency.” But despite this emergency, the response from national governments has been to hype up the private sector as the silver bullet capable of providing the financial means and innovations needed to address climate change — even when the private sector itself is pointing out it can neither fund the massive costs nor create the technological breakthroughs necessary to do the job at the pace and scale required.

Fossil fuel companies are the enemy

Over the past few months a handful of US politicians, spurred by a youth-led climate mobilization, have started to wrap their heads around of what it will actually take to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change in the country. This has led to the introduction of the Green New Deal Resolution back in February, and the recently proposed Climate Emergency Resolution.

Despite their different purposes, the proposed resolutions agree in one aspect of the climate fight; if we are to successfully transform our energy system in the next decade mobilization efforts will need to resemble those taken during World War II.

But let’s be clear about how WWII was fought in political-economic terms: when the private sector got in the way of defeating fascism, it was removed from the equation. If we want to win our fight against the fossil fuel industry, we need to center a similar commitment to nationalization.

It is well documented that in both World Wars the US government did not shy away from seizing the control of industries deemed crucial to the war efforts. This included the nationalization of the railroad system, telegraph, telephone and radio networks and manufacturers in World War I, in addition to coal mines, oil companies and refineries, and even a department store in World War II.

But nationalization initiatives did not stop there. In fact, the US nationalized what it considered “enemy” companies — US subsidiaries of German and Japanese companies, such as Merck & Co. If we were to translate those actions to today’s fight to keep any global temperature increase within the 1.5 Celsius limit, that means gaining control over companies that continuously work against climate safety in the country. In other words, fossil fuel companies are the enemy, and we need to treat them as such.

Internationalising the Green New Deal: Strategies for Pan-European Coordination

By Daniel Aldana Cohen, Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, and Thea Riofrancos - Common Wealth, 2019

Climate politics are today bursting to life like never before. For four decades, market fundamentalists in the United States and United Kingdom have blocked ambitious efforts to deal with the climate crisis. But now, the neoliberal hegemony is crumbling, while popular climate mobilisations grow stronger every month. There has never been a better moment to transform politics and attack the climate emergency.

When the climate crisis first emerged into public consciousness in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were consolidating a neoliberal doctrine that banished the most powerful tools to confront global heating— public investment and collective action.

Instead, neoliberals sought to free markets from democratically imposed constraints and the power of mass mobilisation. Thatcher insisted that there was no alternative to letting corporations run roughshod over people and planet alike in the name of profit. Soon, New Democrats and New Labour agreed. While the leaders of the third way spoke often of climate change, their actual policies let fossil capital keep drilling and burning. Afraid to intervene aggressively in markets, they did far too little to build a clean energy alternative.

Then the financial crisis of 2008 and the left revival that exploded in its wake laid bare the failures of the neoliberal project. An alternative political economic project is now emerging—and not a moment too soon. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it, keeping global warming below catastrophic levels will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” In other words: public investment and collective action.

Fortunately, movements on both sides of the Atlantic have been building strength to mount this kind of alternative to market fundamentalism. On the heels of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders’s 2016 Democratic primary campaign breathed new life into the American left and its electoral prospects. Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party, spurred by a vibrant grassroots mobilisation, gives those of us in the U.S. hope: if New Labour could give way to Corbynism, surely Clintonism can give way to the left wing of the Democratic party. In the U.K., drawing on tactics from the Sanders campaign, Momentum has developed a new model of mass mobilisation to transform a fossilised political party. It’s restoring the dream that formal politics can be a means for genuinely democratic political organising. In turn, U.S. leftists are learning from Momentum’s innovations.

The vision of the Green New Deal that has taken shape in the United States in the past few months is in many ways a culmination of the U.S. left’s revival. The Green New Deal’s modest ambition is to do all that this moment requires: decarbonise the economy as quickly as humanly possible by investing massively to electrify everything, while bringing prodigious amounts of renewable power online; all this would be done in a way that dismantles inequalities of race, class and gender. The Green New Deal would transform the energy and food systems and the broader political economy of which they are a part.

Read the report (PDF).

Backing Corbyn, UK Unions Call for Energy to be Returned to Public Ownership and Democratic Control

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, September 12, 2017

5.7-Million-Member TUC Supports Labour Party’s Manifesto Commitments on Climate Change and Energy Transition

When addressing climate change, “public ownership of energy under democratic control is crucial” – Iain Dalton, USDAW

September 12, 2017, Brighton, U.K.

The annual congress of the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) has passed a historic composite resolution on climate change that supports the energy sector being returned to public ownership and democratic control.

The resolution—carried unanimously—calls upon the 5.7-million-member national federation to work with the Labour Party to achieve this goal, as well as to: implement a mass program for energy conservation and efficiency; lobby for the establishment of a “just transition” strategy for affected workers; and, investigate the long-term risks to pension funds from investments in fossil fuels.

The Labour Party’s 2017 election manifesto, For the Many, Not the Few, pointed to the failures of electricity privatization, energy poverty, the need the honor the UK’s climate commitments, and to put the UK on course for 60% of its energy to be met by zero carbon or renewable sources by 2030.

The Manifesto also committed to “take energy back into public ownership to deliver renewable energy, affordability for consumers, and democratic control.” It calls for the creation of “publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and co-operatives to rival existing private energy suppliers.”

Moved by Sarah Woolley, Organising Regional Secretary for the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), the resolution refers to the “irrefutable evidence that dangerous climate change is driving unprecedented changes to our environment,” as well as the risks to meeting the climate challenge posed by Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and by the chaotic approach to both Brexit and broader policy by the current Conservative government.

Trump Is Handing Us the Weapon We Need to Avert Climate Catastrophe

By Johanna Bozuwa and Carla Skandier - Truthout, June 26, 2018

Recently, President Trump launched his latest scheme to keep imperiled coal and nuclear plants kicking. According to a memo obtained by Bloomberg News, the Department of Energy (DOE) plans to use Cold War-era authorization to require grid operators to buy energy generation from “at-risk” coal and nuclear facilities. News reports have breathtakingly referred to this plan as “nationalization.” In reality, it is just another bailout of a failing private industry.

Just a few months ago, energy regulators denied the Trump administration’s efforts to modify energy markets to benefit coal and nuclear power in the name of grid reliability. The administration is now seeking to use broad powers given to the president in the 68-year-old Defense Production Act to override those decisions. The Act allows the president to either nationalize vital companies or require purchasers to contract with them in order to avert a national security catastrophe.

Trump’s plan uses his authority under this Act to require grid operators to buy enough energy from the plants to stop any “further actions toward retirements, decommissioning, or deactivation” for two years while the DOE conducts additional grid resilience studies.

The circulated DOE memo argues that coal and nuclear power plants secure grid resilience because they store fuel on site, unlike renewables or gas (a claim disputed by grid regulators), and “too many of these fuel-secure plants have retired prematurely and many more have recently announced retirement.” Therefore, the administration insists, the federal government must manage the decommissioning and “stop the further premature retirements of fuel-secure generation capacity.”

This is crony capitalism at its worst. The proposal was actually put forth by FirstEnergy, a for-profit electric utility in Ohio, in a thinly veiled attempt to get the government to subsidize its failing business model. Unable to compete with increasingly cheaper, cleaner sources of energy such as renewables, energy corporations like FirstEnergy are using their political power to extract a public bailout.

As was the case with the big Wall Street banks 10 years ago, this plan once again exposes the dangerous myth of the supposed superiority of free markets and for-profit, corporate forms of ownership. In reality, corporations have long known that in US capitalism, they can extract as much profit as possible when times are good and rely on the government to protect them against losses when the going gets rough.

Corbyn calls for “public, democratic control and ownership” of energy in order to transition to renewables

Jeremy Corbyn speech to Alternative Models of Ownership Conference - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, February 11, 2018

Disclaimer: The IWW does not organizationally participate in electoral campaigns, but while we remain skeptical of the efficacy of Corbyn's call for nationalization absent a militant, rank-and-file, independent workers' movement, the proposal he lays out hereis something that could inspire such a movement to organize around.

It is a pleasure to close today’s conference which has shown once again that it is our Party that is coming up with big ideas.

And we’re not talking about ideas and policies dreamed up by corporate lobbyists and think tanks or the wonks of Westminster, but plans and policies rooted in the experience and understanding of our members and our movement; drawing on the ingenuity of each individual working together as part of a collective endeavour with a common goal.

Each of you here today is helping to develop the ideas and the policies that will define not just the next Labour Government but a whole new political era of real change.  An era that will be as John said earlier  radically fairer  more equal  and more democratic.

The questions of ownership and control that we’ve been discussing today go right to the heart of what is needed to create that different kind of society.

Because it cannot be right, economically effective, or socially just that profits extracted from vital public services are used to line the pockets of shareholders when they could and should be reinvested in those services or used to reduce consumer bills.

We know that those services will be better run when they are directly accountable to the public in the hands of the workforce responsible for their front line delivery and of the people who use and rely on them.  It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts.

That’s why, at last year’s general election, under the stewardship of Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald  and Environment Secretary, Sue Hayman, Labour pledged to bring energy, rail, water, and mail into public ownership and to put democratic management at the heart of how those industries are run.

This is not a return to the 20th century model of nationalisation but a catapult into 21st century public ownership.

The failure of privatisation and outsourcing of public services could not be clearer.

TUC Resolution on Public Ownership of Energy and Climate Change

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, September 11, 2017

Composite Resolution 4, on climate change and public ownership of energy, adopted unanimously by TUC, September 12th, 2017, Brighton, UK.

At right: Sarah Woolley, moving the resolution on behalf of the Bakers, Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAWU).

TUC Congress 2017: UK Unions to Vote on Public Ownership of Energy, Climate Crisis

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, August 25, 2017

The annual conference of the 5.7 million member TUC will take place on September 10-13, 2017 in Brighton.  The Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union (BAFWU) has submitted a resolution that calls on the TUC to “work with the Labour Party and others that advocate for an end to the UK’s rigged energy system to bring it back into public ownership and democratic control.”  Amendments to the resolution have been submitted by the Communication Workers Union,  Fire Brigades Union, the train drivers union ASLEF, and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association. 

Resolution 10

Congress notes the irrefutable evidence that dangerous climate change is driving unprecedented changes to our environment such as the devastating flooding witnessed in the UK in 2004.

Congress further notes the risk to meeting the challenge of climate change with the announcement of Donald Trump to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement. Similarly, Brexit negotiations and incoherent UK government policy risk undermining measures to achieve the UK carbon reduction targets.

Congress welcomes the report by the Transnational Institute Reclaiming Public Services: how cities and citizens are turning back privatization, which details the global trend to remunicipalise public services including energy.

Congress believes that to combat climate change effectively and move towards a low-carbon economy we cannot leave this to the markets and therefore need a strong role for the public sector in driving the measures needed to undertake this transition.

Towards a Progressive Labor Vision for Climate Justice and Energy Transition

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 2, 2017

Discussion document submitted to Labor for Our Revolution (LFOR):

This memorandum proposes an analysis and provisional framework around which to construct an ambitious and effective agenda for progressive labor to respond to the converging environmental crises, and to pursue a rapid, inclusive approach to energy transition and social justice.

Such an agenda could serve to bring a much-needed independent union voice to policy and programmatic debates on climate change and energy within Our Revolution spaces and processes. Labor’s voice in these debates frequently echoes the large energy companies on one side, or the large mainstream environmental NGOs on the other.

Unions that supported Bernie, alongside other union locals and individual leaders and activists who participate in Labor for Our Revolution (LFOR), understand that we cannot afford to regard environmental issues and climate change as peripheral concerns situated outside of labor’s “core agenda.” This is not the place to review the science, but recent assessments from climate scientists, already sobering, have become increasingly grave. The health impacts of rising airborne pollution and warming temperatures already cut short the lives of millions on an annual basis, and will increasingly do so without a major change in direction.

Importantly, a global movement has emerged that today challenges the destructive trajectory of “business as usual.” This is a movement that progressive labor in the US can work with and should support.

Progressive labor can and should articulate a clear alternative to the anti-scientific, “energy superpower” agenda being advanced by Trump—an alternative that can help build and strengthen alliances with the climate and environmental justice movements. Progressive unions are already involved in Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) and / or Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED); both LNS and TUED bring significant experience and capacity, and can serve as platforms for expanded and accelerated collaboration and programmatic work.

Many would agree that progressive labor’s approach must be science-based and internationalist. It must aspire to be socially and economically transformative, and must be able simultaneously to inspire and mobilize union members, and provide a basis for durable, effective alliances with other social movements. This, then, is our starting point.

At the same time, progressive labor’s approach must recognize that incremental efforts to “move the needle” are no longer sufficient. For this reason, such an approach must also be built around clear programmatic commitments that are evidence-based, grounded in a realistic assessment of the urgency, and commensurate to the task.

Ecosocialism or Bust

By Thea Riofrancos, Robert Shaw, Will Speck - Jacobin, April 20, 2018

At this past February’s “Alternative Models of Ownership Conference” hosted by the Labour Party in London, party leader Jeremy Corbyn asserted the centrality of energy policy to his vision of socialism: “The challenge of climate change requires us to radically shift the way we organize our economy.” He outlined a radical vision of an energy system powered by wind and solar, organized as a decentralized grid, democratically controlled by the communities that rely on it, and — crucially — publicly owned.

Corbyn’s declaration laid out an exciting and ambitious vision of how socialists can press on climate change. But it also served as a reminder that socialists need to get serious about the politics of energy — lest disaster capitalism continue to shape energy policy. We must get involved in concrete campaigns to transform how energy is governed and push for a just transition to renewable sources. The terrain of energy politics is multifaceted, comprising the production, transformation, distribution, and consumption of energy. Energy sources such as coal, oil, natural gas, biomass, hydropower, sunlight, and wind each entail distinct social and environmental costs related to their extraction or capture, and their subsequent transformation into usable electricity. Electrical grids connect energy production and transformation to its sites of consumption. Grids encompass both the high-voltage transmission of electricity from where it’s generated to population centers, and the direct distribution of that electricity to homes and businesses. In the US, beginning in the early 1990s, energy deregulation encouraged a separation in ownership between energy generation and its distribution, resulting in an increasingly complex set of state-level markets of competing energy providers, which in turn sell energy to the private, public, or cooperatively owned utilities.

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