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The Case for Public Ownership of the Rails in the US

Working Paper 16: Towards a Public Pathway Approach to a Just Energy Transition for the Global South

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, December 2022

This TUED Working Paper was written to inform discussion at the launch of “TUED South” meeting that took place in Nairobi, Kenya, during October 11th-13th, 2022.

In the weeks following the meeting, it was revised to reflect the discussions that took place. The Nairobi meeting occurred at a time of geopolitical turbulence due to the war in the Ukraine. In many countries, energy has become front page news as prices rise and the major economies rush to secure new sources of gas, coal, and oil. Energy-related anxieties have been accompanied by growing concerns about climate change. The year 2022 produced several headline-making extreme weather events, with devastating floods in Pakistan and in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province together claiming the lives of more than 2,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands of poor people homeless. Europe’s record-breaking heatwave and wildfires killed 16,000 people, and China’s summer produced a heatwave more severe than any in recorded history.

Today it is widely recognized that the impact of climate change on the poorest countries is already more severe than it is for the richer countries, and that inadequate public services are contributing to its many damaging effects.

In 2019 the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights noted “hundreds of millions will face food insecurity, forced migration, disease, and death.”

Climate change is a huge threat to jobs, livelihoods, and security to workers everywhere. But it is the working class and poor people of the South who will be hit the first and the hardest.

Download this document (PDF).

Towards a Public Goods Approach for Climate Finance: the Case Study of the Green Climate Fund

By Sun-Chul Kim, Seungmin Ryu, Sandra Van Niekerk, and Tom Reddington, et. al. - KPTU, KCTU, and Public Services International, November 17, 2022

Strengthening quality public services in the Global South should be a key priority ofinternational climate finance. Important lessons can be taken from the COVID-19 pandemic. To protect people from the deadly virus governments of all persuasions have had to take back control of privatised public services and rein in international supply chains designed to maximise profit.

This study aims to assess the degree to which international climate finance strengthens universal quality public services in developing countries. It focuses on the case study of the Green Climate Fund to assess whether the concerns of workers and communities have been heeded.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Railroad Workers Threaten to Strike and Call for Public Takeover of the Rails

By Mike Ludwig - Truthout, October 22, 2022

A potential showdown between organized labor and Wall Street looms over the world of freight trains: An influential railroad workers group is urging fellow union members to reject a tentative labor agreement that has prevented an industry-wide strike, and to fight for public ownership of railroads. Negotiations are tense, and the unions are telling members that every vote counts.

Fearing further stress on supply chains and the economy ahead of the midterm elections, President Joe Biden convened an emergency board to negotiate a tentative agreement between rail carriers and unions threatening a nationwide strike. Railroad Workers United (RWU), an advocacy group of rank-and-file workers, recently called on fellow union members to reject the tentative agreement in a vote scheduled for early December, and to strike if necessary.

The tentative agreement announced in September by two major unions calls for an immediate 14 percent wage increase, but concerns over working conditions, health insurance and medical leave remain. SMART, a union representing sheet metal, air and rail workers, recently told its members that the tentative agreement is still being finalized, and it will be up to the rank and file to vote yes or no on the deal.

A nationwide rail strike would incapacitate shipping and force rail companies and the public to contend with the demands of railroad workers, who say their employers have maximized profits while safety and working conditions deteriorate. BNSF Railway, one of the top freight rail operators, made $23 billion in revenue in 2021 alone.

While RWU is urging the rank-and-file to fight for a better contract with their employers, the group says the ultimate solution to the problems raised at the negotiating table is a public takeover of the railroads for freight trains.

Safe and Sustainable Rail

Railroad Workers United Supports Public Ownership of the Rails

By Railroad Workers United - Railroad Workers United, October 5, 2022

More than a decade ago at the 2012 Convention of Railroad Workers United, the question of railroad ownership first came before those members assembled. Since that time the organization has discussed and debated whether or not to take a position on the question. In face of the degeneration of the rail system in the last decade, the RWU Steering Committee voted unanimously at the October monthly meeting to adopt such a position (see Resolution below).

While the rail industry has been incapable of expansion in the last generation, while it has become more and more fixated on the operating ratio to the detriment of all other metrics of success, Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) has escalated this irresponsible trajectory to the detriment of shippers, passengers, commuters, trackside communities, and workers. On-time performance is in the toilet, shipper complaints are at all-time highs. Passenger trains are chronically late, commuter services are threatened, and the rail industry is hostile to practically any passenger train expansion. The workforce has been decimated, as jobs have been eliminated, consolidated, and contracted out, ushering in a new previously unheard-of era where workers can neither be recruited nor retained. Locomotive, rail car, and infrastructure maintenance has been cut back. Health and safety has been put at risk. Morale is at an all-time low. The ongoing debacle in national contract bargaining sees the carriers – after decades of record profits and record low Operating Ratios – refusing to make even the slightest concessions to the workers who – contrary to what the Class Ones may state – have made them their riches.

Since the North American private rail industry has shown itself incapable of doing the job, it is time for this invaluable transportation infrastructure – like the other transport modes – to be brought under public ownership. During WWI, the railroads in the U.S. were in fact temporarily placed under public ownership and control. All rail workers of all crafts and unions supported (unsuccessfully) keeping them in public hands once the war ended, and voted overwhelmingly to keep them in public hands. Perhaps it is time once again to put an end to the profiteering, pillaging, and irresponsibility of the Class One carriers. Railroad workers are in a historic position to take the lead and push for a new fresh beginning for a vibrant and expanding, innovative and creative national rail industry to properly handle the nation’s freight and passengers.

Please, read the full text of the Resolution below, along with the supporting information. And if you wish to take part in the movement to bring the railroads under public control, please contact RWU at info@railroadworkersunited.org

TUC welcomes Labour proposal for a new public energy champion (Public ownership of clean power: lower bills, climate action, decent jobs)

By staff - Trades Union Congress, September 27, 2022

Commenting on the announcement today (Tuesday) by Labour leader Keir Starmer of proposals for a new publicly owned energy champion called Great British Energy, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“This is a big, bold move that will cut bills and secure our energy future.

“This new national energy champion can provide high-quality jobs to every corner of the UK.

“And it’s about time the public shared in the profits of British energy.”

Editors note

- TUC report ‘Public ownership of clean power: lower bills, climate action, decent jobs’: A recently published TUC report set out an approach for the creation of a publicly owned national energy champion. The report is here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/public-ownership-clean-power-lower-bills-climate-action-decent-jobs

Global Climate Jobs Conference 2022: Jonathan Neale on the meaning of Climate Jobs

What nationalising energy companies would cost; and how to do it

By Andrew Fisher - Open Democracy, August 17, 2022

When 62% of Conservative voters want energy run in the public sector, it’s fair to say the left has won the argument (75% of Labour voters agree, 68% of Lib Dems).

Yet public ownership is opposed passionately by the Conservative government, while the leader of the opposition has said he is “not in favour” of it – despite his election on a platform that committed to “bring rail, mail, water and energy into public ownership to end the great privatisation rip-off and save you money on your fares and bills”.

Public ownership is on the media’s radar, too. When Labour leader Keir Starmer announced his policy to freeze bills this week, he was asked why he wouldn’t also nationalise energy, replying that: “In a national emergency where people are struggling to pay their bills … the right choice is for every single penny to go to reducing those bills.”

But so long as energy remains privatised, every single penny won’t. Billions of pennies will keep going to shareholders instead.

The energy market was fractured under the mass privatisations of the Thatcher governments in the 1980s. It contains three sectors: producers or suppliers (those that produce energy), retailers (those that sell you energy), and distribution or transmission (the infrastructure that transports energy to your home).

It is important to bear this in mind when we’re talking about taking energy into public ownership. We need to be clear about what we want in public ownership and why.

Mick Lynch on the Rail Strikes and Climate Crisis

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