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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.”

Liz Truss’s Overturn of Fracking Ban in Britain Is Sparking Grassroots Resistance

By Gareth Dale - Truthout, September 21, 2022

Britain will soon see the first license to drill for shale gas issued since 2019, when the practice was banned following a Magnitude 2.9 tremor at a fracking test well near Blackpool in Lancashire.

Overturning Britain’s ban on fracking was one of the first initiatives announced this month by the incoming government under Tory leader Liz Truss. It belongs to a package of demand-and-supply interventions aimed at addressing the high price of gas.

The message from Downing Street is clear: This government will not seek to lessen the hold of fossil fuel corporations over citizens’ lives by transitioning from hydrocarbons through efficiency measures (such as building insulation), rapidly ramping up renewables, and a further windfall tax on the oil and gas industry. Instead, it will arrange payment of the full-market price for gas to the energy firms while subsidizing consumer and business bills, particularly for rich, energy-profligate households. The cost, estimated at £150 billion, will be loaded onto future taxpayers and energy consumers. It is the largest single act of U.K. state intervention outside wartime.

Given Truss’s market-fundamentalist instincts, this cannot have been easy. But she has coupled it with a laissez-faire thrust on the supply side: to tear up red tape and issue licenses to drill. The market, she believes, will resolve its problems as new supply brings prices back down.

The focus is North Sea oil, but fracking is part of the program. Fracking also offers the incoming government an opportunity to throw red meat to Tory Party members and the right-wing Daily Mail tabloid. To reactionaries, Truss’s move signals that her government intends to bash the tree-huggers, goad them into setting up camps at fracking sites where the security forces will persecute and ultimately defeat them, much as Lady Thatcher did to the feminists who peace-camped at Greenham Common.

The government’s rationale for fracking, then, has an economic and a political edge. Will either succeed?

On the economic side, the prospects are sufficiently enticing to have sent the shares of some fracking companies soaring, notably Union Jack Oil. (Its very name sets Tory hearts aflutter.) Some pundits are predicting a great British gas rush. Shale extraction, claims the Daily Mail, may begin slowly, but by 2037 could “eclipse” fossil gas output from North Sea wells. At the wilder end are predictions that Britain will enjoy a U.S.-style shale revolution, contributing to lower global prices and securing mega profits for the fossil fuel sector.

New Analysis Destroys Fossil Fuel Industry's Misleading US Job Claims

By Jessica Corbett - Common Dreams, September 19, 2022

"Their false claims do not add up and cannot be allowed to stall a rapid transition to 100% clean, renewable energy," says the Food & Water Watch report.

A Food & Water Watch report released Monday undermines the fossil fuel industry's claims about its positive impact on employment, showing that as oil and gas giants ramped up production and raked in record profits at the planet's expense, jobs have declined.

The advocacy group's fact sheet—titled Oil Profits and Production Grow at the Expense of Jobs, Consumers, and the Environment—comes as scientists continue to call for a swift transition to clean energy and critics around the world accuse the fossil fuel industry of war profiteering.

"The oil and gas industry would rather pay shareholders than workers," said Food & Water Watch (FWW) senior researcher Oakley Shelton-Thomas. "It should be clear by now that more production means more pollution, but it hasn't meant lower prices or more jobs."

Global Climate Jobs Conference 2022: Fossil fuel workers and climate jobs

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.

Democratising Work in the 21st Century

By Isabelle Ferreras - Green European Journal, September 14, 2022

With digitalisation and shocks like the Covid-19 pandemic and extreme weather, the world of work is changing rapidly. But this transformation should not become an inevitability that workers must passively endure. Rather, it should be a democratic process shaped and decided by workers themselves. On the sidelines of the European Trade Union Institute’s Blueprint for equality conference, we sat down with Isabelle Ferreras, who has co-authored a new book calling for a re-organisation of the economy, to discuss democratising work in the 21st century.

Green European Journal: Digitalisation and automation are transforming how we work. How do you see the new face of work?

Isabella Ferreras: What is most notable about digitalisation is the loss of work’s physicality. As soon as jobs adopt technological tools that allow remote or computer-assisted working, workers cease to come together in the same place. In Marx’s analysis of the first age of industrial capitalism, the concentration of workers in factories was an important factor in the development of class consciousness. It enabled the working class to shift from what he called a “class in itself” to a “class for itself”. The opportunity to come together in one place, at a frequency imposed by industrial capitalism, meant that workers could get to know one another, take their breaks together, talk to one another. They realised that they shared very similar lives and problems that needed shared solutions.

The digitalisation of the economy individualises the experience of work. You might find an engineer based in Delhi, another in Boston, and a third who is subcontracted to write some lines of code from South Africa or Ukraine all working on the same project. All these people interact via an online platform, without getting to know one another and without the opportunity to realise that they are all part of the same “work investment” necessary for a business. By work investment, I mean all the workers required to successfully produce something or provide a service.

So the fragmentation of work, brought about by digitalisation, leads to a less social experience of work and, in the end, a loss of power for workers?

As this fragmentation has taken root, workers have grown more aware. Workers aspire to something else. We can see this in two ways. First, since the pandemic, there is a massive rise in people changing careers because they aspire to more meaningful work. There was a real misery for “non-essential” workers slaving away in front of their computers, stuck at home with this interface. In the hope of keeping their workers, some British companies have embarked on a full-scale experiment: the biggest ever trial of a four-day working week has just begun in the UK. About 50 businesses are implementing it, offering a better work-life balance for the same salary. Workers are expected to be just as productive over four days and gain a better quality of life.

Second, businesses are going to great lengths to improve job satisfaction. This is essentially a retention strategy whereby companies work to increase job satisfaction so that employees remain loyal. Employers are giving workers more say in decisions that affect them, such as combining working from home and the office.

In France, a survey conducted by the Association Pour l’Emploi des Cadres (APEC) in January 2021 revealed that 9 out of 10 managers are listening much more, building bonds within teams, and empowering employees as a result of the pandemic. This is an opportunity to be seized. On 16 December 2021, the European Parliament passed a historic resolution demanding, among other things, a revision of the European Works Council Directive. In Democratize Work, we call for a collective veto right for workers so that they can influence decisions taken by company boards or works councils.

The opposite trend is the growing physicality of work in the care sector. What does the rising need for care, both for people and the planet, mean for the world of work?

Alongside the trend towards automation is a realisation that we’re going to need more human labour and, let’s hope, not more unrecognised and unpaid exploitation. Taking care of both the planet and other human beings, like through public services, requires more and more work but nobody is talking about paying for this work. Neglecting the remuneration side of care comes from misconceptions about the future of work.

The intrinsic content of all jobs has changed with each technological revolution. But the key issue we must grasp here is that there’s much more work for us to do so that we’re no longer dependent on our energy slaves [the quantity of energy required to replace human labour]. We must also formalise that part of the care sector which just exploits women’s labour. Equalising living standards and giving men and women the same number of opportunities means investing massively in childcare, for example.

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.

Sweden: Activists and locals take action against limestone mining

By Take Concrete Action - Freedom, August 31, 2022

Right now in Sweden, activists are fighting to stop the state from throwing open the doors to corporate impunity. When the company Cementa was barred from continuing to mine limestone on the island of Gotland on the basis of environmental protections in the Swedish constitution, the government decided the constitution was the problem. They granted an exception to the company, despite the fact that thousands of people were facing water shortages due to the mine draining Gotland’s groundwater. Not only that, but Cementa is also Sweden’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Now, locals and climate activists teamed up under the name Take Concrete Action to shut Cementa down by sending hundreds of people to occupy the mine.

At the end of August, they travelled to the remote island in the middle of the Baltic sea, donned their best hazmat suits and walked into a limestone mine to stay there as long as possible. Below, they explain why.

Because Sweden is at a political crossroads that could have grave implications for its people and environment – and we see this as our best chance of stopping it.

Stop EACOP Trade Union briefing July 2022

The Case for Not Flying

By Fabrizio Menardo - Green European Journal, July 7, 2022

Although aviation accounts for 2.8 per cent of global CO2 emissions, its harmful impact rarely rises on the climate action agenda. In a globalised economy with businesses and lifestyles built around air travel, flying can be a hard habit to shake. To Fabrizio Menardo, individuals must make behavioural changes and policymakers must address the socio-economic challenges in the sector to bring travel in line with climate goals.

In 2015, under the famed Paris Agreement, almost every country on Earth pledged to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels and “pursue efforts” to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities have already caused around 1.1 degrees of warming, leading to an increase in extreme weather and climate events such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, and droughts. Many of these impacts will last for centuries, and their magnitude will grow in line with cumulative future emissions. The IPCC estimates that, in order to achieve a 67 per cent probability of staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius, our cumulative CO2 emissions from the beginning of 2020 must remain below 400 billion tonnes. Current annual CO2 emissions stand at around 35 billion tonnes

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