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Transition to EVs: a Win for Climate; Let’s Make it a Win for US Workers

By Don Anair - The Equation, October 24, 2023

A global transition to electric transportation is underway and momentum is growing. Traditional and new auto manufacturers are bringing more and more models to market. Even in California, where a tradition of stringent regulation has pushed the industry to innovate over the past 50 years, automakers are selling EVs at levels well above sales requirements. This momentum is spreading across the country with US EV sales now over 9% and climbing.

When a change as big as this is underway, it’s important to understand what impact it can have on employment and to take steps to ensure that workers benefit from the transition and aren’t left behind.

But what is the outlook for jobs in an electric transportation future? Can the EV transition support good, family- and community-supporting jobs and support a strong US economy?  The fundamentals show there’s reason to be optimistic.

'We'll Be Back,' Says UAW Chief Shawn Fain After 'Tough Loss' in Alabama

By Jessica Corbett - Common Dreams, May 17, 2024

Organizers are expected to continue their effort, drawing inspiration from a recent success in Tennessee that followed two defeats.

Workers at a pair of Mercedes-Benz plants near Tuscaloosa, Alabama narrowly voted against joining the United Auto Workers this week, according to a preliminary tally on Friday.

As of press time, the UAW webpage had the National Labor Relations Board tally at 2,045 in favor of joining the union (45%) and 2,642 opposed (56%).

Voting at the large facility in Vance and the battery plant in Woodstock kicked off Monday and wrapped up Friday morning. Speaking to reporters Friday evening, UAW president Shawn Fain said that it was "obviously not the result we wanted" but "we'll be back in Vance."

"These courageous workers reached out to us because they wanted justice," Fain said of the Mercedes employees. "They led us. They led this fight, and that's what this is all about—and what happens next is up to them."

"Justice isn't just about one vote or one campaign, it's about getting a voice and getting your fair share," he continued, noting that "workers won serious gains in this campaign."

Fain added that "it's a David v. Goliath fight. Sometimes Goliath wins a battle but ultimately David will win the war."

The Alabama election followed a UAW win in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Volkswagen workers last month voted to join the union.

Labor reporter Mike Elk noted that the "tough loss" in Alabama was "not a blowout," and organizers now have "a solid base that future campaigns can build on like they did at Volkswagen," where winning a union election took three rounds of voting.

Green Class Struggle: Workers and the Just Transition

By Gareth Dale - Green European Journal, June 12, 2024

Inspiration for decarbonising industry and creating green jobs is within the hands of those already facing precarity in today’s economically unstable times. A resilient history of workers’ initiatives overcoming redundancies, alongside recent activist, trade-union, and workforce collaborations, provides concrete examples for empowered transitioning.

In 2023, when Europe was blasted by a record-breaking heatwave named after Cerberus (the three-headed hound of Hades), workers organised to demand protection from the extreme heat. In Athens, employees at the Acropolis and other historical sites went on strike for four hours each day. In Rome, refuse collectors threatened to strike if they were forced to work during periods of peak heat. Elsewhere in Italy, public transport workers demanded air-conditioned vehicles, and workers at a battery plant in Abruzzo issued a strike threat in protest at the imposition of working in “asphyxiating heat”. 

One could almost say that the Ancient Greeks foretold today’s climate crisis when they euphemistically referred to Hades, god of the dead, as “Plouton” (giver of wealth). The reference is to the materials – in their day, silver, in ours, fossil fuels and critical minerals – that, after extraction from the Underworld, line the pockets of plutocrats. Modern society’s plutocratic structure explains the astonishingly sluggish response to climate breakdown. The much-touted green transition is barely taking place, at least if the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases is taken as a yardstick. These continue to rise, even accelerate, and likewise the rate of global heating. The transition remains in the grip of powerful and wealthy institutions that – even if we leave aside motivations of avarice or greed for status – are systemically constrained to put the accumulation of capital above the habitability of the planet.

Against this backdrop, the politics of transition is class struggle beyond that of workers defending themselves and their communities against weather emergencies. That is part of the picture, of course. But class struggle is, above all, evident in the liberal establishment seeking to displace transition costs onto the masses, even as it presides over ever crasser wealth polarisation. From this, resistance inevitably flows. The question is, what form will it take? 

Some takes the form of an anti-environmental backlash, instigated or colonised by conservative and far-right forces. While posing as allies of “working families”, they denigrate the most fundamental of workers’ needs: for a habitable planet. Some takes a progressive form, the classic case being the gilets jaunes in France. When Emmanuel Macron’s government hiked “green taxes” on fossil fuels as a signal for consumers to buy more fuel-efficient cars, the rural working poor and lower-middle classes, unable to afford the switch, donned yellow safety vests and rose in revolt. Although France’s labour-movement radicals joined the cause, they were unable to cohere into a political force capable of offering alternative solutions to the social and environmental crises.

Hydrogen 101

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