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Industrial Policy Without Industrial Unions

By Lee Harris - The American Prospect, September 28, 2022

In August, as President Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act, pledging to build American semiconductor factories, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker posed on the White House lawn, flanked by the chief executives of vehicle companies Ford, Lion Electric, and Rivian. Thanks to billions of dollars in federal and state investments, Pritzker said, his constituents could expect a manufacturing revival, and “good-paying, union jobs.”

Illinois is refashioning itself as a center for electric vehicle (EV) production and a cluster of related industries, such as microchips. The state just passed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, its flagship industrial-policy plan, and has passed MICRO, a complement to federal CHIPS subsidies. Pritzker is hungry for Chicago to host the upcoming Democratic convention and take a victory lap at factory openings.

But he may have to trot out non-union autoworkers at the ribbon cuttings.

Ford, a “Big Three” union automaker, boasts that the F-150 is a “legendary union-built vehicle,” but battery production is being outsourced to non-union shops. Bus producer Lion Electric is under pressure to use organized labor, but has yet to make public commitments on allowing a union election without interference. Electric-truck startup Rivian, which is 18 percent owned by Amazon, has been plagued by workplace injuries and labor violations. Illinois’s attorney general recently uncovered a scheme to renovate its downstate plant with workers brought in from Mexico, who were cheated out of overtime pay.

Democrats are giddy about the arrival of green industrial policy. With last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, CHIPS, and the new Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Congress has poured money into setting off green growth. The main messaging behind this policy is that government investment can create attractive jobs, and a new political base, by manufacturing the clean technologies of the future.

If you squint, you could almost mistake the IRA’s robust Buy American provisions for worker protections. They are often mentioned in the same sentence. But while new spending is likely to onshore manufacturing, it largely lacks provisions ensuring that those new jobs will adhere to high-road labor standards, let alone that they will be unionized.

Instead, the political logic of the bill is a gamble. The energy sector is still dominated by oil and gas. To accelerate the transition, it will be necessary to create large countervailing industries. After decades of offshoring, the first aim for green manufacturing is to make sure that it happens here at all. The IRA alone could produce as many as nine million jobs over the next decade, according to an analysis by University of Massachusetts Amherst and the labor-environmental coalition BlueGreen Alliance. Many of those jobs will be in old Democratic strongholds where the party is now hemorrhaging support, like mining in Nevada and auto production in the Midwest.

Supporters hope that once new green jobs are created, a mass labor coalition could follow. As Nathan Iyer, an analyst at the climate consultant RMI, told the Prospect in a recent podcast, “It’s hard to have a workers-based movement, and build workers’ power, if there are no workers.”

The Promise and Perils of Biden’s Climate Policy

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, September 15, 2022

The recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is properly recognised as the largest climate policy in US history. In this short essay I will first summarise and comment on its provisions, then outline the reactions to it, with a focus on labour unions, and will close by providing my own thoughts.

The IRA allocates around $370 billion over a period of ten years. About 75% of that is in the form of incentives (rather than direct investments or regulatory mandates) to advance the transition to ‘clean energy’ that includes renewables but also nuclear power, biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration. These incentives focus primarily on advancing the production of clean energy but also on stimulating its consumption. Smaller energy investments focus on tackling pollution in poorer communities and on conservation and rural development.

The IRA also authorises as much as $350 billion of loans to be disbursed by the Department of Energy. While such loans have been around since the Bush Administration, the amounts and the likelihood that they will be used during the Biden Administration are much higher. Finally, its main regulatory provision is the designation of carbon, methane and other heat-trapping emissions from power plants, automobiles, and oil and gas wells as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, one of the bedrocks of US environmental legislation, which the Environmental Protection Agency implements. Overall, it is estimated that by 2030 the IRA will help reduce emissions by around 40% of 2005 levels, compared to the about 25% reduction projected without it. 

However, the policy mandates that renewable energy siting permits cannot be approved during any year unless accompanied by the opening up of 2 million acres of land or 60 million acres of ocean to oil and gas leasing bids, respectively, during the prior year (for more details see 50265 of Act). In either case, the amount of actual leasing and drilling is subject to market dynamics rather than regulatory limits, while the Act also streamlines the permitting process for pipelines. The growing transition to electric vehicles will lessen the market for oil but the strategic repositioning of natural gas in energy production (as well as plastics) suggests that it (along with nuclear power) will be a long-term source of energy, including in the production of hydrogen. Nevertheless, overall, it is the prevailing view that the IRA will decisively transition the US into renewable energy as part of a broader energy mix.

Building Trades End Legislative Session As A Big Political Loser

By unknown - Golden State Grid, September 9, 2022

What You Need To Know:

  • The California Building and Construction Trades Council came down on the losing side of key legislative fights and party platform disputes this legislative session, and found itself crosswise with Governor Newsom and other leading unions on a much-hyped electric vehicle ballot measure.

  • These losses reflect a stunning fall from grace for The Trades, an organization that political insiders and journalists often treat as an all powerful force in Sacramento with the juice to successfully back, or block, key legislation.

  • This year’s losses worsened an already rapidly widening rift between The Trades and key Democratic power players, including other key labor unions, the Newsom Administration, and even senior leadership within the Democratic Party. 

  • This sudden loss of influence corresponds with the tenure of Andrew Meredith, the new and largely untested leader of The Trades, who has positioned the organization as a juggernaut that could threaten and bully the Democratic Party and its leaders into submission—a strategy that appears to be backfiring. 

The Inflation Reduction Act and the Labor-Climate Movement

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 2022

Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act reveals the power that can arise when the movements for worker protection, climate protection, and justice protection join forces.

The fossil fuel industry, the Republican Party, conservative fossil-fuel Democrats, and right-wing ideologues combined to block the climate, labor, and social justice programs of the Green New Deal and Build Back Better. They almost succeeded. But at the last minute, the combined power of climate protectors, worker advocates, and justice fighters was enough to force passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history.[1]

That power was enough to include important positive elements in the Inflation Reduction Act. It will provide the largest climate protection investment ever made. It will create an estimated 1 to 1.5 million jobs annually for a ten-year period.[2] It includes modest but significant funding to address pollution in frontline communities.[3]

But the power of the fossil fuel industry and its allies was still enough to gut important parts of a program for climate, jobs, and justice – and to add provisions that promote injustice and climate change. The legislation includes only one-quarter of the investment necessary to meet the Paris climate goals and prevent the worst consequences of global warming. It allows much of its funding to be squandered on unproven technologies that claim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but whose primary effect may simply be to permit the continued burning of fossil fuels – and enrich their promoters. It allows increased extraction of fossil fuels, especially on federal lands. It allows massive drilling and pipeline construction that will turn areas like the Gulf Coast and Appalachia into de facto “sacrifice zones” where expanded fossil fuel infrastructure will devastate the environment – and the people. It does not guarantee that the jobs it creates will be good jobs. It makes few “just transition” provisions for workers and communities whose livelihoods may be threatened by the changes it will fund.

The Inflation Reduction Act Has Passed

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 8, 2022

The fossil fuel industry, the Republican Party, conservative fossil-fuel Democrats, and right-wing ideologues combined to block the climate, labor, and social justice programs of the Green New Deal and Build Back Better resulting in compromise legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act. 

Passage of the IRA, despite its drawbacks and limitations, is the most significant climate legislation ever passed into law. It could represent a huge opportunity for the labor-climate movement to shape the significant federal subsidies provided for non-fossil energy development, manufacturing, and for consumers. It will create an estimated 1 to 1.5 million jobs. It includes very modest funding to address pollution in frontline communities.

But the power of the fossil fuel industry and its allies was still enough to gut important parts of a program for climate, jobs and justice – and to add provisions that promote injustice and climate change. The legislation includes only one-quarter of the investment necessary to meet the Paris climate goals and prevent the worst consequences of global warming. It allows much of its funding to be squandered on unproven technologies that claim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but whose primary effect may simply be to permit the continued burning of fossil fuels – and enrich their promoters. 

It allows increased drilling for fossil fuels, especially on federal lands. It allows drilling and pipeline construction that will continue to see areas like the Gulf Coast and Appalachia turned into de facto “sacrifice zones” where expanded fossil fuel infrastructure will devastate the environment – and the people. It does not guarantee that the jobs it creates will be good union jobs. It makes no “just transition” provisions for workers and communities whose livelihoods may be threatened by the transition to a climate-safe economy. 

The Inflation Reduction Act can provide the basis for an unprecedented people’s mobilization for climate, labor, and justice. That is what it will take to provide a sustainable future for our environment and a fairer economy.

Biden’s Staff Sounds Climate Alarm...About Biden

By Julia Rock and David Sirota - The Lever, July 25, 2022

President Joe Biden’s surrender on climate policy amid the intensifying crisis has prompted his own agency experts to sound a rare public alarm about their boss’s retreat, according to a letter being circulated throughout the administration and Capitol Hill.

The letter to Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — provided to The Lever by a House Democratic staffer — is initialed by 165 staffers at federal health and environmental agencies and at 75 congressional offices. They are demanding the president use more aggressive tactics to pass his long-promised climate agenda through the Senate.

“President Biden, you have an exigent responsibility to reduce suffering all over the world, and the power and skills to do so, but time is running out,” says the letter, which is now being circulated throughout the administration for more signatures. “You are the president of the United States of America at a pivotal moment in the history of the world. All that we ask is that you do everything in your power. We’ve done our part. We implore you to do yours.”

The letter was provided to The Lever by Saul Levin, a House Democratic staffer and coordinator of the Congressional Progressive Staff Association Climate Working Group. The officials signed the letter anonymously with their initials, to protect against political retribution. Another House Democratic staffer confirmed that the letter was being circulated to government officials for their signatures.

“Our house is on fire, and Manchin burned the stairs. Democratic leaders are walking away,” Levin told The Lever. “We cannot. We must test the fire escape, find the fire extinguisher, tie some sheets together if we have to: Our lives depend on it.”

California Assemblyman Kills Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill

By Nick Cunningham - DeSmog, June 28, 2022

The California legislature was close to passing a bill that would require the state’s two massive pension funds to divest from fossil fuels, but on June 21 the legislation was killed by one Democratic assemblyman who has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the energy industry.

Senate Bill 1173 would have required the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the two largest public pension funds in the country, to divest from fossil fuels. CalPERS and CalSTRS, which manage pensions for state employees and teachers, together hold more than $9 billion in fossil fuel investments.

The global divestment movement now claims that more than 1,500 institutions have divested from fossil fuels, representing more than $40 trillion in value. New York and Maine have also committed to phasing out fossil fuel investments from their public pensions.

But because of the size of the two California pension funds, their divestment from fossil fuels would be a significant achievement for the global movement. The call comes as the state continues to suffer from long-term drought and catastrophic wildfires that are worsening with climate change. Activists say that the state cannot claim to be a leader on climate action while maintaining billions of dollars’ worth of investments in the fossil fuel industry.

Senate Bill 1173 would have required the pension funds to divest by 2027, and the legislation had the support of the California Faculty Association, the California Federation of Teachers, associations representing higher education faculty, and roughly 150 environmental and activist organizations. 

However, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-backed front group with ties to the oil industry, opposed the bill, warning that divesting from fossil fuels would put public sector pensions in financial jeopardy.

The bill already passed the state senate, and still needed to pass in the state assembly, where Democrats command a large majority. But the bill needed to move through the Committee on Public Employment and Retirement, where Democrat Jim Cooper (Sacramento) is Chairman. 

On June 21, Cooper decided to let the bill die in committee, refusing to even bring it up for a hearing. Environmental groups denounced the “one-man veto.” Cooper has accepted more than $36,000 from the oil industry and other polluters over the past two years, including donations from Chevron and ExxonMobil, according to data compiled by Sierra Club, which called him a “Democratic favorite of the oil and gas industry.” 

“Jim Cooper just decided to continue investing public money in the unequal suffering of my community,” said Lizbeth Ibarra, an activist with Youth vs. Apocalypse, a California-based climate justice organization.

'Moral Failure': California Dem Pulls Plug on Fossil Fuel Divestment Legislation

By Brett Wilkins - Common Dreams, June 21, 2022

"This defeat is just a temporary setback," said one campaigner. "We will organize to come back stronger to make our demand for fossil fuel divestment heard because fossil fuel companies are driving us toward unimaginable disaster."

Climate, environmental, and social justice advocates on Tuesday condemned the decision by a Democratic California lawmaker to kill proposed legislation that would require two of the state's leading pension funds to divest from the fossil fuel industry. 

"Today amidst a historic mega-drought, wildfires, and fossil-fueled public health crises, Assemblymember Jim Cooper, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement, refused to allow Senate Bill 1173, California's Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, to be heard in his committee," Fossil Free California said in a statement. "This one-man veto allows the state's pensions to continue to invest billions from public funds into the fossil fuel industry, for now."

S.B. 1173 would have prohibited the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS)—the two largest public pension funds in the United States—from making or renewing investments in fossil fuel companies. The measure would also have required the pensions to liquidate their fossil fuel holdings by 2030. The two funds currently hold an estimated $9 billion in fossil fuel investments.

"This decision is a moral failure that disproportionately impacts young people, Indigenous communities, communities of color, and low-income communities," the coalition asserted. "Climate chaos has already cost California billions in damages and health costs from fossil fuel pollution and climate disasters. Jim Cooper, who has just been elected Sacramento County Sheriff, has reported $36,350 in Big Oil campaign contributions from this election season alone."

State Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-33) said in a statement that "while I am deeply disappointed that my Senate Bill 1173 was not set for a hearing in the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement this week, I remain committed to the necessary and ongoing fight against the impacts of climate change on our state, and especially those communities in my district that are disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of the climate crisis."

"Teachers and state employees whose retirement futures are invested by our state's pension funds have long demanded that CalPERS and CalSTRS cease investing their money in fossil fuel companies, and this demand will only grow stronger and louder," she continued.

Understanding Sunrise, Part 2: Organizing Methods

By Dyanna Jaye and William Lawrence - Convergence, March 24, 2022

Sunrise melded mass protest, electoral work, and distributed organizing to great effect, but 2020 upended its plans and forced a reassessment.

Sunrise Movement grew from a labor of love by 12 young people, including the two of us, into the most prominent climate justice organization in the country. We put the Green New Deal on the map, strengthened the Left insurgency in the Democratic Party, and helped drive youth turnout to defeat Trump in 2020. Climate change became a political priority for the Democratic Party, and Sunrise directly influenced Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

In the last year, though, despite a few impactful protests demanding ambition and urgency from Congress, Sunrise members and observers alike have noted a loss of strategic clarity and organizing power compared to 2017 through 2020. And it’s not just Sunrise: the entire Left has struggled to make the jump from punching upwards in the Trump era to winning material reforms in the Biden era.

In this essay, we’ll pull back the layers of Sunrise’s organizing model: how we actually recruited young people and united them in a structure for collective action. We’ll first discuss the major influences on Sunrise’s organizing and run through how it all played out in practice, the good and the bad.

We share a diagnosis that a central shortcoming in Sunrise’s organizing model was the absence of a sustained method of mass organizing at a local level, which left us nowhere to go once we could no longer rely on the fast-but-shallow growth of distributed organizing methods. We’re proud of the movement’s accomplishments while humble about its shortcomings. We offer our reflection in the practice of learning together in public; we hope our transparency can empower the next generation of movement builders—in Sunrise and across movements—to lead transformative organizing for the next era.

Understanding Sunrise, Part 1: Strategy

By William Lawrence - Convergence, March 14, 2022

Sunrise Movement made climate change a key political issue, but new conditions require new theory and strategy.

The state of Sunrise Movement, one of the more successful and visible U.S. Left organizations to emerge in the last five years, reflects trends in the broader Left. We hit a high-water mark with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ February 2020 victory in the Nevada caucus. Shortly after, the revenge of the Democratic establishment and the COVID pandemic halted all momentum and put Sunrise into a rear-guard attempt to salvage what could be won in a Biden administration. The underwhelming first year of that administration has left us floundering.

Today, a private and public reckoning is well underway. A new generation of leaders is taking account of Sunrise’s successes and failures, and working to design the next life of the movement. Early Sunrise leaders—of which I am one—are in the process of moving on, and handing over leadership of this youth organization to a more youthful cohort.

As a leader in Sunrise’s development from its founding in 2017 through early 2021, I feel obliged to offer an evaluation of our strategy and methods. My aim is to offer a detailed account of Sunrise’s aims and influences, in order that the next generation of strategist-organizers both inside and outside Sunrise may learn from what we did well, while overcoming our limitations.

You can consider just about every word of this essay as a self-critique and a practice of learning in public. As ever, I write with deep appreciation for all the climate justice fighters who find a place to place their hope amidst the looming dread of this crisis.

Part 1 of this essay, which you are reading now, focuses on Sunrise’s strategy, including our demands, rhetoric, and relation to the US party system. Part 2 will look at Sunrise’s methods of organizing.

I hope these essays not only illuminate our specific choices and why we made them, but demonstrate how the theoretical concepts on which we build our organizations actually shape their development. Sunrise’s successes owe much to the theories underpinning our strategy and methods, and our failures reveal much about where these theories fall short. I hope my reflections on these recent experiences may aid in developing better theory to face the challenges of the 21st century.

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