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“We Want Everything”: A Four-Day Work Week

By Samantha O’Brien - Rupture, June 9, 2022

“It’s not fair, living this shitty life, the workers said in meetings, in groups at the gates. All the stuff, all the wealth that we make is ours. Enough. We can’t stand it any more, we can’t just be stuff too, goods to be sold. Vogliamo tutto - We want everything”

- Nanni Balestrin

Labour Power

The four-day work week has captivated media headlines internationally, with different countries piloting programmes in the Global North. Seventeen companies have signed up to commit to a pilot programme in Ireland. Thirty companies in the UK are taking part in a new pilot. Workers will maintain one-hundred per cent productivity for eighty per cent of their time.[1] Belgium has given workers the right to request a four-day work week with no loss of pay, effectively condensing their five day work week into four days. This has rightfully attracted criticism, as working time has not reduced, but workers get to maximise their stress levels by working nine and a half hours per day.[2] The central theme of many global campaigns is that the implementation will look different in varying sectors, rosters and working arrangements. The campaign’s main aim is for a shorter working week with no loss of pay and challenging the dominant narrative that long hours equate with greater productivity.[3]

The key demand of socialists has long been a shorter working week with no loss of pay. Karl Marx in Capital describes how the hours that make up the working day mean different things to employees and employers. Workers put in their time to afford the basic necessities in life. Employers buy labour-power, and the value is determined by working time. Any labour-power beyond what is required to produce the necessities of life is surplus-value that employers get for free. It is not necessary for us to work long hours to produce what is needed, but instead employers maximise their profits by taking our surplus value. Marx notes that “the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., working-class.”[4]

There are many examples of struggles over shorter working hours throughout history. The eight-hour working day in the Global North was not granted because of benevolent employers or lobbying politicians, but fought for and won through struggle. In 1856, Australian Stonemasons who were working harsh ten hours days walked off their job and eventually won an eight-hour day.[5] The same story was echoed in struggles internationally, with workers taking a collective stand for their pay and conditions. Eleanor Marx, who was a founder of the GMB Union in 1889, fought and won an eight hour workday for gas workers. On May Day in 1890, she also played a crucial role in organising the Hyde Park protest in London. This protest gathered hundreds of thousands of people with the key demand of an eight-hour workday.[6]

Digital Ecosocialism: breaking the power of Big Tech

By Michael Kwet - ROARMag, April 4, 2022

In the space of a few years, the debate on how to rein in Big Tech has become mainstream, discussed across the political spectrum. Yet, so far the proposals to regulate largely fail to address the capitalist, imperialist and environmental dimensions of digital power, which together are deepening global inequality and pushing the planet closer to collapse. We urgently need to build a ecosocialist digital ecosystem, but what would that look like and how can we get there?

This essay aims to highlight some of the core elements of a digital socialist agenda — a Digital Tech Deal (DTD) — centered on principles of anti-imperialism, class abolition, reparations and degrowth that can transition us to a 21st century socialist economy. It draws on proposals for transformation as well as existing models that can be scaled up, and seeks to integrate those with other movements pushing for alternatives to capitalism, in particular the degrowth movement. The scale of needed transformation is massive, but we hope this attempt at outlining a socialist Digital Tech Deal provokes further brainstorming and debate over how an egalitarian digital ecosystem would look and the steps we might take to get there.

On the Dialectics of Technology: Past and Present

By Brian Tokar - Green Social Thought, March 3, 2022

Since the heyday of technological determinism in the 1960s, many authors have written eloquently about how developments in technology are more typically the outcome of particular social and economic arrangements. Some contributions that have significantly shaped my own thinking include:

Electrification of vehicles in Canadian mines

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

Trade magazine Electric Autonomy has published a series titled BEV’s in Mining, and while clearly from an industry point of view, the articles provide a useful overview of the transformation being wrought by electrification of the mining industry in Canada. “Deep secrets: How Canada’s mining sector grabbed the global lead in mining electrification “ (Nov. 2020) introduces the topic of Battery Electric Vehicles and highlights the specific activities of mining majors GlencoreVale and Newmont, as well as Maclean Engineering, a Collingwood, Ontario-based equipment manufacturer. A related, brief article highlighted the use of Rokion-manufactured trucks at Vale Canada mining sites in Manitoba and Ontario. “Human capital: How BEVs in underground mining change the working environment for the better” was published in February 2021 – discussing the benefits for operators from less noise and vibration, cleaner air, and less fire risk underground. This healthier environment is linked to greater worker satisfaction and a competitive edge for employers to attract scarce talent. The article also states that “the ventilation system for an all-electric mine will operate at roughly 50 per cent of the cost of a diesel mine and cut greenhouse emissions per mine by 70 per cent, according to government data. The Canadian government estimates transitioning to electric could save 500 tonnes of CO2 emissions per vehicle, every year.”

Most recently, “There’s a skills shortage maintaining electric mining vehicles. One training program is trying to fix that” ( Aug. 25), which describes the new “ Industrial Battery Electric Vehicle Maintenance Course”, associated with Cambrian College’s research-oriented Centre for Smart Mining in Sudbury, and with Maclean Engineering. What the series does not discuss are the other labour market implications – including layoffs – from the automation of vehicles and other operations.

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.

Just Minerals: Safeguarding protections for community rights, sacred places, and public lands from the unfounded push for mining expansion

By staff - Earthworks, June 17, 2021

Mining has harmful climate, equity, and resource impacts that, without reform, may ultimately undermine the benefits of transitioning to renewable energy. Building a sustainable economy based on clean energy gives us an historic opportunity to confront the legacy of injustice to Indigenous communities and damage to the public lands held in trust for future generations.

This report outlines how current federal minerals policy conflicts with the Biden-Harris administration’s clean energy and environmental justice agendas, and how those policies must change to ensure minerals are sourced in a way that better protects marginalized communities and the environment. The infrastructure to support the transition to low-carbon energy requires a variety of minerals—cobalt and lithium, among others. Just Minerals encourages government officials to prioritize recycling, reusing and substituting minerals needed for renewable energy technology over new extraction.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Updating the rules that govern mining on public lands must be an integral part of this administrations’ environmental justice agenda, until Congress acts to reform the antiquated 1872 Mining Law. Even without Congressional action, the Biden administration has a variety of policy tools available to reduce the pressure to source minerals from irresponsible mines.
  • There is significant untapped mineral recycling and reuse potential available using current technology. With the right policies in place, we can create a more circular economy that may approximately halve global demand for certain minerals, like cobalt, lithium, and nickel, key to the clean energy transition.
  • Major consumers, including automakers and electronics companies, have also directed their suppliers to source more responsibly. Ford, Microsoft, BMW, and Daimler-Benz, among others, have committed to the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), which independently audits and certifies environmental and social performance at mines.

Read the text (Link).

Deep-Sea Mining for Metals: Treading Carefully on the Path Toward Renewables

By Katherine Wilkin - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, June 8, 2021

As the push for renewable energy sources continues as a means to combat climate change, the demand for metals and minerals that make up critical components of clean energy technology will be on the rise. While some of these minerals can be obtained via deep-sea mining, the environmental impacts of such efforts are not well understood. In moving to a clean energy economy, governments and international non-governmental organizations need to research, understand, and mitigate the negative impacts to the environment and communities that can and will result from activities like deep-sea mining before allowing projects to go forward.

The United States Geological Survey has identified 11 metals and minerals as critical commodities in renewable energy technologies: arsenic, gallium, germanium, indium, tellurium, aluminum, cobalt, graphite, lithium, manganese, and rare earth elements. Silver, copper, selenium, silica, nickel, and cadmium are also used in solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries. Several of these critical metals and elements can be obtained via deep-sea mining from three different types of deposits: (i) cobalt-rich crust that contains manganese, iron, cobalt, copper, nickel and platinum; (ii) polymetallic nodules which are rich in manganese, nickel, copper, cobalt, molybdenum and rare earth elements; and (iii) sea-floor massive sulphides which contain copper, gold, zinc, lead, barium and silver.

Whether deep-sea mining is necessary to acquire enough minerals to fuel the renewable energy shift remains an unanswered question. In a May 2021 report on the need for minerals to power energy transition technologies, the International Energy Agency predicted that by 2040, total mineral demand for clean energy will be four times current demand. Electric vehicles and battery storage technology account for about half of this predicted growth in mineral demand. The Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney indicated in 2016 that this increased demand for materials can be satisfied without utilizing deep-sea mining even under a target of 100% renewable energy use by 2050. Further, Carbon Brief reported in 2018 that reserves of lithium and cobalt are likely to be sufficient to meet demand, but there are outstanding concerns of supply chain bottleneck causing delays. This is supported by the IEA report, which indicated that problems in supply of minerals is more likely to be a matter of quality rather than quantity. However, a 2018 study supported by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure found that the current supply of critical metals is not enough to transition to a fully-renewable energy system in the Netherlands. Additionally, a 2019 projection of demand for cobalt, lithium, and silver looking as far as 2050 found that “reserves” of these materials—a portion of total available resources that can be extracted economically—will not be sufficient to meet demand for cobalt, and demand for lithium can only be met in a “potential recycling scenario” with improved recycling rates over what is being conducted at present.

With the growing demand for metals and materials for use in renewable energy technologies, concerns arise about the environmental impacts and environmental justice implications of mining on land. For example, cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been the site of human rights violations, child labor, and severe environmental pollution. For that reason, deep-sea mining of these materials may present an option with fewer direct human impacts and environmental justice concerns.

Breaking Things at Work: An Interview with Gavin Mueller

Gavin Mueller interviewed by Harry Holmes - Viewpoint Magazine, May 27, 2021

[Bright Green] Culture editor Harry Holmes interviews Gavin Mueller, author of the newly released Breaking Things at Work from Verso Books. Gavin Mueller is a lecturer in New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam and a member of the editorial collective of Viewpoint Magazine.

So first, for those who won’t have read it yet, can you tell us a bit about the book?

The book is essentially thinking about technology from the perspective of labour struggle. The left was in this accelerationist moment for a few years where there was an idea that technologies, particularly those tied to automation in the workplace, were leading to a ‘post-work’ or ‘post-capitalist’ future based on their own course of development. I was troubled by this discourse, which set me off on the research that led to this book.

From my perspective, and what I argue in the book, is that actually quite a lot of these technologies are not leading to a ‘post-work’ future. They are certainly not leading to a ‘post-capitalist’ future. Instead, they are actually weapons that make it difficult for workers to struggle, to establish autonomy at work, and to move the economy in a more egalitarian direction.

I wrote this book to show there is a different way of thinking about technology, one that I argue is more closely aligned to the political self-activity of workers. It also suggests that for those who care about more egalitarian futures we must start politicising technology and having a critical approach to it, rather than assuming it’s developing in a progressive way on its own.

In actually existing struggles both in our contemporary moment and in history, a critical perspective on technology has been there all along. This is why I start the story with the Luddites, who are famous, in quite a pejorative way, for opposing technology. I think there is quite a lot we can understand once we learn their history a little better and relate it to our present condition.

How much is this Luddite approach a strategic one about being able to be in solidarity with workers currently at the sharp end of technology’s impact, for example in an Amazon warehouse, or do you see it as part of a wider approach to technology in general? Is it an opposition to technology per se or a more qualified position based on current workplace struggles?

My political and intellectual influences are these ‘from below’ histories and thinking about struggle from that perspective, as well as being very alive to when there are tensions within the workers’ movement between rank-and-file struggles and the leadership, whether trade union, political party, or intellectual. It’s important to know this history because we have to learn from it.

So I think that’s where I always start, but politics is a sophisticated thing, I don’t think that all politics is oriented on the shop floor. We have to mediate to different levels, but I want to keep that kernel of struggle in our perspective.

We are seeing a lot of encouraging and exciting things. I don’t consider myself that old, but things that have never happened in my life before are happening – like lots of people identifying as socialist. We see these impressive electoral challenges, but they don’t quite ever get over the finish line. One reason for this is the base is still quite depoliticised and fragmented.

My idea of how you solve that problem is really to recognise the ways in which people are already engaged in struggle, particularly people in these incredibly exploited positions. There’s always resistance. But that resistance doesn’t always get amplified, it doesn’t always get connected or articulated with other forms of resistance. To me, that’s something that has been missing from these left-wing political challenges.

Maybe launching out a lot of policy proposals can be very exciting and interesting, but it doesn’t seem to quite do what we’ve hoped it would do. One reason for this is it still has this top-down perspective of ‘we are going to help you out.’ A lot of people don’t relate to that, they don’t believe in it, or they don’t hear those messages because I don’t think we’ve done the work of really building a base that will then get attached to policies and start actually informing policies. So that’s one reason I really orient the politics of the book in these struggles, because it is important to do at this moment.

My belief is we need to meet people where they are, which for most people is in the everyday struggles they have at work and in their wider life. Technology is a huge part of that, and often something many people already have already a critical approach to. They don’t like the way it is, they want things to be changed. They don’t want to hear a science fiction story about the robots allowing them to stay at home all day. I don’t think that will resonate. So that is a big motivation for the book. It’s an intellectual perspective I have, but I do think there is political value in it as well.

The plan to turn coal country into a rare earth powerhouse

By Maddie Stone - Grist, May 26, 2021

At an abandoned coal mine just outside the city of Gillette, Wyoming, construction crews are getting ready to break ground on a 10,000-square-foot building that will house state-of-the-art laboratories and manufacturing plants. Among the projects at the facility, known as the Wyoming Innovation Center, will be a pilot plant that aims to takes coal ash — the sooty, toxic waste left behind after coal is burned for energy — and use it to extract rare earths, elements that play an essential role in everything from cell phones and LED screens to wind turbines and electric cars. 

The pilot plant in Wyoming is a critical pillar of an emerging effort led by the Department of Energy, or DOE, to convert the toxic legacy of coal mining in the United States into something of value. Similar pilot plants and research projects are also underway in states including West Virginia, North Dakota, Utah, and Kentucky. If these projects are successful, the Biden administration hopes that places like Gillette will go from being the powerhouses of the fossil fuel era to the foundation of a new domestic supply chain that will build tomorrow’s energy systems.

In an April report on revitalizing fossil fuel communities, administration officials wrote that coal country is “well-positioned” to become a leader in harvesting critical materials from the waste left behind by coal mining and coal power generation. Several days later, the DOE awarded a total of $19 million to 13 different research groups that plan to assess exactly how much rare earth material is contained in coal and coal waste, as well as explore ways to extract it. 

“We have these resources that are otherwise a problem,” said Sarma Pisupati, the director of the Center for Critical Minerals at Penn State University and one of the grant recipients. “We can use those resources to extract valuable minerals for our independence.”

Those minerals would come at a critical moment. The rare earth elements neodymium and dysprosium, in particular, are essential to the powerful magnets used in offshore wind turbines and electric vehicle motors. A recent report by the International Energy Agency projected that by 2040, the clean energy sector’s demand for these minerals could be three to seven times greater than it is today. 

Myth and Reality About Technology, Skills and Jobs

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