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2022 Oil Change International Supporter Briefing

Ukrainian Miners Win Their Wartime Strike, but Victory Looks Short-Lived

By Kateryna Semchuk - Open Democracy, October 21, 2022

On 6 October, Ukraine’s energy ministry dismissed Trotsko following pressure from a delegation of strikers that visited the energy minister twice. But some workers at the mine and the union representative fear this is not the end of their struggle against what they allege is a continuous corrupt attempt to take control of the mine.

“This is not a victory. Victory is when we mine an extra 1,000 tonnes of coal. This [whole situation] was a misunderstanding,” said Volodymyr Yurkiv, the mine’s previous director, who during the strike period was demoted to chief engineer. In the month of strike action, the mine could have earned five million hryvnias (£110,000), Yurkiv added.

Workers at Mine No. 9 have been fighting to keep Yurkiv – who was reinstated as director by the ministry on 8 October after Trotsko was dismissed – in office, as they say they are completely satisfied with his management. But Mykhailo Volynets, a Ukrainian MP who is also chair of the Independent Trade Union of Ukrainian Miners, is among those who think Yurkiv could be dismissed once again. He told openDemocracy that the latest events “are not the end of this story”.

“It will happen again,” Volynets said, claiming the energy ministry will try to appoint a new director at mine No. 9 for a third time. Volynets believes there are still corrupt insiders at Ukraine’s energy ministry, claiming the recent new managerial appointments have been made on behalf of the smotriashchiy.

After 18 Months, Striking Warrior Met Miners and Families Hold the Line

By Ericka Wills - Labor Notes, October 7, 2022

A somber bell toll broke the silence outside the West Brookwood Church in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The white-gloved hand of Larry Spencer, International Vice President of Mine Workers (UMWA) District 20, solemnly struck the Miners’ Memorial bell as the names of victims of mine-related deaths were read aloud.

“As we gather this evening for our service, it is appropriate that we remember in the past twelve months over 2021 and 2022 there has been tremendous heartache as the result of mining accidents across this country,” Thomas Wilson, a retired UMWA staff representative, announced from the podium. “Twelve coal miners’ lives have been snuffed out—also, 19 metal and non-metal miners—for a total of 31 fallen miners since we last gathered.”

The annual Miners’ Memorial Service commemorates not only those who left for work in the mines over the past year never to come home again; it also honors the 13 men who died in a series of explosions in Jim Walter Resources Mine No. 5 in Brookwood on September 23, 2001. Standing on the front lawn of the church in the shadows of mine tipples, families reminisced about gathering at the same location on that fateful day in September when they anxiously waited to hear if their loved ones had survived the blasts.

In 2001, the No. 5 mine was owned by Walter Energy. Today it is part of Warrior Met Coal, the company at the center of the UMWA’s 550-day strike, the longest and largest ongoing strike in the United States. As strikers, families, and community members gathered to remember the fallen miners, all were reminded that what is at stake in the Warrior Met strike is, literally, life and death.

Coal industry workers in Australia are taking their destiny into their own hands

By Léo Roussel - Equal Times, September 30, 2022

The coal industry is to Australia what the Second Amendment of the US Constitution (granting citizens the right to bear arms) is to the United States: it would be hard to imagine the country without it. With fossil fuels still accounting for 92 per cent of Australia’s energy mix, including 29 per cent for coal in 2021, the industry is still vigorously defended by lobbies, even in parliamentary circles and the corridors of ministries.

Australia’s conservative former prime minister Scott Morrison famously held up a piece of coal in Parliament in 2017, when he was finance minister, admonishing his colleagues not to be afraid of it. When he became prime minister, he also directly surrounded himself with lobbyists like John Kunkel, former vice-chairman of the Minerals Council of Australia, who he appointed chief of staff in 2018.

In the Hunter Valley, a region north of Sydney in the state of New South Wales, the local economy is still dominated by coal. From the mines to the cargo ships departing from the port of Newcastle, the industry directly and indirectly employs more than 17,000 people. “Newcastle is the world’s largest coal port,” says Dr Liam Phelan, a researcher at the University of Newcastle (Australia) specialising in the uncertainties and risks of climate change. “Coal mining has been a part of life here since white people arrived in Australia.”

For many years, mining projects were still supported and approved, not least by the Morrison government, which was widely condemned in Australia and around the world for its inaction on climate change. But the tides have begun to turn. In May 2022, voters ousted ‘ScoMo’ and returned Labor to power. The new prime minister Anthony Albanese has promised to make Australia a “renewable energy superpower” and to reduce the country’s CO₂ emissions by 43 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 – a target that the scientists of the Climate Change Authority nonetheless still consider to be insufficient.

Leaving energy transition aside, the Australian coal industry has already seen its exports slow in recent years, partly as a result of the trade war with China since 2020, while domestic demand has shifted to cleaner energy sources which are gaining ground. According to Clean Energy Council’s 2022 energy report: “The Australian renewable energy industry accounted for 32.5 per cent of Australia’s total electricity generation in 2021, which represented an increase of almost 5 percentage points compared to 2020.”

Supporting Coal Workers and Communities in the Energy Transition

By Sam Mardell and Jeremy Richardson - Rocky Mountain Institute, September 15, 2022

Across the United States, the transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy is accelerating and will be supercharged by the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The clean energy transition is creating widespread social benefits ranging from lower and more stable energy costs to improved air quality. However, without thoughtful planning, the shift to clean energy will harm workers who depend on fossil fuels for their livelihoods, as well as the communities where they live and work.

Policymakers have an opportunity to shape a clean energy transition that supports workers and communities instead of leaving them behind. The fossil fuel industry is central to the economic life of communities across the country, and the real risks these communities face in the clean energy transition — job loss, depressed property values, and reduced local tax revenue for social services and institutions — can be devastating. Well-designed, targeted, proactive, and long-term interventions can help diversify local economies and drive new economic activity that aligns the global need for rapid decarbonization with local visions and priorities.

And governments are beginning to take notice of this risk and opportunity. Over the past few years, seven states passed bills designed to support coal workers and communities facing economic transition. The IRA and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 represent the largest set of investments and resources available to support energy communities in history. These laws could even eclipse 50 years of investments in economic development by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Building on previous work by key stakeholders, we introduce a policy framework that outlines the risks facing fossil fuel workers and communities in the shift to clean energy and provides guiding principles for supporting them in the transition. RMI’s fossil fuel community recovery and revitalization framework can be used to assess the strengths and gaps in existing legislation and help policymakers and advocates develop and implement comprehensive, strategic policies to support a fair transition from fossil fuels.

RMI’s recovery and revitalization framework consists of three steps:

  1. Relief for fossil fuel workers and communities to alleviate losses of local revenue and jobs that occur immediately following fossil fuel facility closure
  2. Reclamation of remaining fossil fuel sites to prevent prolonged pollution risks and promote short- and medium-term job creation and local economic activity
  3. Reinvestment in fossil fuel communities to promote long-term economic resilience and diversification

Ukrainian Coal Miners Defy National Protest Ban to Go on Strike

By Kateryna Semchuk and Thomas Rowley - Open Democracy, September 14, 2022

Miners and management at a state-owned coal operation in western Ukraine have called a strike over what they say is an attempt to seize control of the mine.

The strike action at Mine No. 9 in the town of Novovolynsk continues the first major workers’ protest in Ukraine since Russia’s 24 February invasion and the Ukrainian government’s announcement of martial law, which forbids all protests.

Last month, the miners prevented a new director from taking up his post, citing his alleged link to an embezzlement scandal at another coal mine in the region.

They also claimed that his appointment had been made on the say-so of local smotriashchiy – a term for the Ukrainian coal sector’s network of corrupt unofficial overseers. That director denied any wrongdoing and stated he was not under investigation.

Now, they say, efforts to take control of the mine have reached a new level and the miners have gone on strike to protect their jobs and working conditions.

They describe a stark sequence of events. On 9 September, a new manager arrived at Mine No. 9 with a lawyer and a dozen private security guards.

Railroad Strike Threatens Power in Coal-Dependent States

By Jake Bittle - Grist, September 14, 2022

Tens of thousands of U.S. railroad workers in several different unions are poised to strike at the end of this week after a prolonged labor dispute. The workers have been unable to reach an agreement with a group of six rail carriers despite months of back-and-forth on issues like stagnant pay, long shift lengths, and an inability to take time off.

Biden administration officials have been racing to mediate between the parties ahead of a Friday deadline, hoping to avoid a railroad strike and shutdown that the Department of Transportation has estimated would cost the economy about $2 billion a day. Biden himself convened a Presidential Emergency Board two months ago to help supervise the talks, but the board has been unable to help the two sides come to a final resolution. Marty Walsh, the administration’s labor secretary, postponed a planned visit to Ireland this week to help with the negotiations.

The looming railroad workers’ strike threatens to deliver a blow to the economy by disrupting critical supply chains for commodities like lumber and wheat. No sector stands to lose as much as the coal industry, which is almost entirely dependent on railways to move its product around. A work stoppage could reduce coal stockpiles that have already been thinned by poor rail service and the high levels of consumption caused by recent volatility in global energy markets. This could lead to electricity shortages and sky-high prices in coal-dependent parts of the country.

Coal is by far the most rail-dependent fossil fuel. The lion’s share of crude oil and natural gas moves around the country on pipelines, but you can’t put coal in a pipeline, so it has to move on trains, trucks, and barges. Because the fuel is so heavy and takes up so much space, rail is the only economical way to transport it from mines to power plants: The average coal train consists of 140 cars that each hold about as much coal as could fit on ten trucks. Even if coal could be shifted onto trucks, the trucking industry itself has also been experiencing labor shortages, and there’s not much excess truck capacity to absorb rail freight.

Here’s How Appalachian States Can Create “Good-Paying, Union Jobs” Cleaning Up Mines

By Ben Hunkler - Ohio River Valley Institute, August 25 2022

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) earmarks $16 billion for cleaning up legacy damage from the coal and gas industries, an investment that Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, has promised will create “good-paying, union jobs” across Appalachia.

Ohio River Valley Institute research shows that BIL funding could create as many as 4,000 jobs reclaiming coal mine damage, primarily in Appalachian counties with disproportionately high unemployment and poverty rates. But how will these jobs compare to the precarious, low- wage jobs that proliferate in the region? They may provide above-average wages, but they likely won’t be union and won’t pay enough to support a family.

Read the text (PDF).

NLRB Orders UMWA To Pay Strike Costs

By United MIne Workers of America - Portside, August 6, 2022

NLRB demand for UMWA to pay Warrior Met Coal strike costs “outrageous,” threatens American workers’ right to strike.

The United Mine Workers of America today made it clear that it will vigorously challenge an outrageous assessment of damages made by the National Labor Relations Board Region 10 regarding the UMWA’s 16-month strike against Warrior Met Coal in Alabama.

“This is a slap in the face not just to the workers who are fighting for better jobs at Warrior Met Coal, but to every worker who stands up to their boss anywhere in America,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “There are charges for security, cameras, capital expenditures, buses for transporting scabs across picket lines, and the cost of lost production.

“What is the purpose of a strike if not to impact the operations of the employer, including production,” Roberts asked. “Is it now the policy of the federal government that unions be required to pay a company’s losses as a consequence of their members exercising their rights as working people? This is outrageous and effectively negates workers’ right to strike. It cannot stand.”

Blockade Australia: Our Perspective

By staff - Black Flag Sidney, July 27, 2022

Blockade Australia (BA) is a climate activist group whose primary strategy is to shut down activity at fossil fuel sites and disrupt the economy as a form of protest. So far, they have coordinated two major blockades in NSW: in November 2021, they disrupted $60 million worth of coal exports for eleven days in the Port of Newcastle; in March 2022, activists blockaded terminals for five days at Port Botany; at the end of June, they attempted a six-day blockade of Sydney’s economic centre.

Their activism has been met with alarming state violence. Earlier this month, around one hundred police raided a BA camp of activists and made several arrests. The Port Botany blockade earlier this year triggered the bipartisan enactment of new laws in NSW Parliament, increasing the penalty for protesting without police or state approval to up to $22,000 in fines and/or two years’ imprisonment. These laws will affect all protests which are unapproved by police, and should be fiercely opposed.

BA doesn’t formally adhere to a specific political ideology, although their social media activity suggests anti-capitalist and anti-electoral leanings. They aim to create a “consistent and strategic” disruption “that cannot be ignored,” to temporarily shut down the fossil fuel industry’s operation and force a “political response,” though BA does not define what this would look like concretely.

Overall, BA’s strategy relies on small affinity groups rather than a political organisation to coordinate individual non-violent disruptive stunts, a strategy which places them outside of the mass movement for working class liberation. It’s important to note here that we condemn in the strongest terms the state violence against BA activists. We express our solidarity to activists who, like us, are interested in building “power… opposing the colonial and extractive systems of Australia.” We argue, though, that BA cannot build this power with isolated actions and sporadic disruption alone.

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