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The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership

By John Treat, Sean Sweeney, and Irene HongPing Shen - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 15, 2019

On September 28, 2019, more than 150 trade union representatives, activists and policy allies from more than a dozen countries came together in New York City for a one-day international conference on “The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership.”

The conference took place against the backdrop of the massive “Global Climate Strike” actions led by young people in numerous countries around the world, coinciding with the UN “Climate Week” of talks in New York City. In the weeks before those actions, TUED organized a “Global Web Forum” on the #Strike4Climate, and subsequently compiled a list of union statements and actions in support of the strikes.

Framing and Meeting Highlights

The conference program was framed around a number of issues and concerns that have emerged out of recent union-led struggles to both defend and extend public ownership of energy in key countries and regions. Over the course of the day’s proceedings, a number of key themes and broadly shared conclusions emerged, including:

  • Investor-focused climate policy is not delivering the energy transition
  • Privatization of state-owned electricity utilities has failed—but alternatives exist
  • Defending public ownership of energy requires a reform agenda that can drive “de- marketization”
  • Confidence is rising to reverse electricity privatization where it has happened
  • Defending and reclaiming public energy requires building union power
  • The transition must take into account the real development needs of the global South, while contesting carbon- intensive “development as usual”
  • There is an urgent need for technical, programmatic work to make achieving the ambitious goals of the Green New Deal possible

Read the report (PDF).

From Ambition to Action: UK Unions and Allies Work to Develop Energy Transition Vision, Promote Public Ownership

By Staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, July 23, 2019

On July 9-10, 2019, unions and allies in the UK came together in Manchester for a two-day working meeting. Titled Energy Transition and Economy-Wide Decarbonisation, the meeting carried forward recent discussions on how unions and close allies can work with the Labour Party to shape its commitments on extending public control over the power sector, and the Party’s strategy for decarbonisation. The event built on discussions at the previous year’s TUED meeting in Sheffield, England.

The Manchester meeting took place against a backdrop of mass student demonstrations for climate action as well as “climate emergency” declarations by the UK parliament and scores of city councils. Participants in the meeting included representatives from 15 UK trade union bodies, Labour Party staff and advisors working around energy, transport, and community organizing, and more than 20 close allies from research, policy advocacy and campaigning organizations in the UK and beyond. The full program is available here, and the list of attendees is here.

Linking Ambition to Ownership

In opening the meeting, TUED Coordinator Sean Sweeney noted that many UK unions and the TUC formally support public ownership of energy. They also generally support the need for rapid decarbonization of the economy. However, he noted that unions—and key environmental organisations—could do a better job in showing that public ownership and decarbonisation are in fact inseparable. “Climate targets,” said Sweeney, “simply will not be met if energy systems are not comprehensively reclaimed to public control.” Sweeney emphasized as goals for the meeting the need for: moving from calls for ever-greater “ambition” to developing concrete plans and programs; embracing public ownership as essential to achieving decarbonization goals; establishing and maintaining consistent engagement with these issues across the labour movement; and consolidating and strengthening our collective capacity to tackle the immense technical challenges that must be faced.

Unions representing 4.6 million workers have joined TUED

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, January 3, 2016

Note: The IWW is not an affiliate of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, or any of its affiliate unions, and this article is posted here for information purposes only:

The final months of 2015 saw a large growth in support for TUED in the US and UK

In the final months of 2015, seven unions representing approximately 4.6 million workers have joined Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.  Five of the unions are from the US and two are from the UK.

Screenshot 2015-10-11 13.39.10In a letter dated October 1, 2015, the General Secretary of the UK union Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, Manuel Cortes, informed TUED that the decision to participate in TUED had been made by the union’s Executive Committee. TSSA is a 22,000 member union representing drivers working for railway companies, shipping companies, bus companies, travel agencies, airlines, call centers, and IT companies in the UK and Ireland.

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On October 7th, the policy committee of the UK’s second largest union, UNISON (1.3 million members) also agreed to participate in TUED. UNISON represents workers in a range of public services and hosted a TUED meeting in London on November 27 prior to COP 21 in Paris.  UNISON’s 2014 Warm Homes Into the Future report has drawn attention to the important role of energy conservation in the residential sector both for reducing energy use and for creating jobs. In a statement on the report, UNISON national officer Matt Lay said, “We need to lead the energy agenda and we are in a key position to achieve this.”

Screenshot 2015-10-11 13.42.22In the United States, the United Electrical Workers (UE) has also joined TUED, by way of a resolution passed at its 74th national convention in August 2015. The UE represents roughly 35,000 workers in companies like General Electric, and also newly-formed worker cooperatives, such as the Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago.

The resolution, “Protect our Planet for Future Generations”, endorsed TUED and other “worker-oriented efforts to address climate change.” The resolution called for “public ownership of the energy industry and for massive investments in renewable energy.”

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Also in October, the US’ largest union, the National Education Association (2.9 million members) joined TUED. The union has been supporting teachers with lesson guides on climate change. Another education union, the Professional Staff Congress, which represents 25,000 faculty and research staff working for the City University of New York, joined TUED in November.

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Education unions from Australia, Romania, the US and the UK are now part of TUED, as is their global union federation, Education International (EI.) At its quadrennial world congress in July 2015, resolutions were passed to make sustainable development and climate change one of EI’s priorities in the coming years.

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In late November 2015, District Council 57 AFSCME joined TUED. The union represents 25,000 workers in schools and community colleges, transit agencies, public works and services, clinics and hospitals, and water and wastewater facilities throughout Northern California and the Central Valley.

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Finally, in early December the 270,000 member union UNITE-HERE joined TUED.  The union represents workers in the US and Canada in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation, and airport industries. At the global level,UNITE-HERE has played a leading role in major campaigns around domestic workers and textile workers’ struggles in countries like Bangladesh. Ashwini Sukthankar,  Director of the Global Campaigns Department, will represent UNITE-HERE on TUED’s Global Advisory Group.

Trade unions in the UK engagement with climate change

By Catherine Hookes - Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, August 15, 2017

Despite being faced with many immediate battles to fight, it is to the credit of many trade unions that they are also addressing the long term wellbeing of their members, and of future generations, by introducing policies to tackle climate change. A new report providing the first ever overview of the climate change policies of 17 major UK trade unions could help raise wider awareness of this important work.

The author, Catherine Hookes, is studying for a masters degree at Lund University, Sweden, and her research drew on a comprehensive web review of policies in these unions, going into more depth for many of the unions, interviewing key figures and activists. The research was facilitated by the Campaign against Climate Change.

For anyone within the trade union movement concerned about climate change (or for campaigners wishing to engage with trade unions on these issues) this report is of practical use in understanding the context, the diversity of different trade unions' approaches, and the progress that has been made in the campaign for a just transition to a low carbon economy.

While every attempt was made to ensure the report is comprehensive, and accurately reflects union positions, there are clearly controversies and different viewpoints over issues such as fracking and aviation. Trade unions with members in carbon intensive industries will always have a challenging task in addressing climate change, but their engagement in this issue is vital. And, of course, this is a rapidly changing field. It is very encouraging that since the report was written, Unison has voted to campaign for pension fund divestment. This is an important step in making local authority pension funds secure from the risk (both financial and moral) of fossil fuel investment.

Anyone attending TUC congress this September is welcome to join us at our fringe meeting, 'Another world is possible: jobs and a safe climate', to take part in the ongoing discussion on the role of trade unions in tackling climate change.

Read the text (PDF).

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