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Trades Union Congress (TUC)

Power, Workers, and the Fight for Climate Justice

By Tara Olivetree (Ehrcke) - Midnight Sun, July 12, 2021

Power

Who has more power than Shell Oil? This is one of the first questions a climate activist should ask themselves, because without finding an answer, we can’t win.

The power of the fossil fuel industry is massive. Fossil fuel companies are worth at least $18 trillion in stock equity, which represents about a quarter of total global stock markets. These vast resources and their outsized share of the world economy allow the industry to continually assert their interests, no matter the destruction this entails. They do so through any means available, of which there are many.

The notorious work of Exxon in first understanding, and then deeply misrepresenting, the science on climate change is one example. After generously funding its own climate research, and being told explicitly in 1977 that global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels was likely to lead to a two- to three-degree increase in global temperatures, Exxon embarked on an industry-wide quest to promote doubt in the science. This lengthy “fake news” campaign cost millions of dollars, and arguably set back the climate movement by decades.

However, the power of the fossil fuel industry goes well beyond the manipulation of global public thought. From the time of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the history of modern capitalism has been replete with wars fought over fossil fuels. These have served to maintain strategic interests and, just as importantly, the profits of fossil fuel companies. A map of twentieth-century imperial conquest would show the disproportionate number of wars waged in the Middle East, where the world’s largest and cheapest oil deposits lie. As Alan Greenspan, a former chair of the US Federal Reserve, stated about one of these wars: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

How, then, do we go about exerting equivalent force, in order to dismantle the fossil fuel industry within the limited timeline outlined by scientists, while at the same time building an equitable, habitable, and just society?

There are a number of competing answers to this question. 

Ranking G7 Green Recovery Plans and Jobs: Can the UK boost its climate action and green job creation in line with its G7 peers?

By staff - Trades Union Caucus (TUC)May 2021

This report ranks G7 countries’ green recovery and job creation plans. It shows how the UK is lagging behind its G7 peers, and the potential to do much more to expand green jobs and accelerate climate action.

The TUC’s ranking of all G7 countries’ green recovery and jobs investments shows that the UK comes sixth. Only Japan scores worse per person.

The UK’s green recovery plans remain only a tiny fraction of that in other G7 countries, despite the government’s flagship Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution which purports to support the UK’s climate targets and establish UK world leadership in some areas of green technology. Scaled by population, the UK green investment plans are only 26% of France’s, 21% of Canada, 13% of Italy’s and 6% of the USA’s.

This means that the UK Prime Minister would need five Ten Point Plans to match Prime Minister Trudeau in Canada, eight Ten Point Plans to match Prime Minister Draghi in Italy, and sixteen Ten Point Plans to match President Biden’s in the US.

Read the text (PDF).

U.K. guide to pension fund divestment includes a role for unions

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 18, 2021

Chasing Carbon Unicorns: The Deception of Carbon Markets and

Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet: An analysis of local government investments in coal, oil and gas was released in February by Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Friends of the Earth England Wales and Northern Ireland.

The report details the extent of fossil fuel investment by local governments in the U.K., and their progress in divestment. However, of broader interest, it summarizes the financial status of the declining fossil fuel industry, explains the process which lead to stranded assets, and describes the financial dangers for all pension funds in quite understandable terms: “pension funds exposed to the fossil fuel system in the coming decade will face a rollercoaster ride of disruption, write-downs, financial instability and share price deratings as markets adjust.” In an explanation very relevant to Canadians, whose own Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board still clings to the “staying invested and ‘engaging’” approach – the report uses the example of investing in Blockbuster videos vs. Netflix, to debunk the “engagement” approach: “The argument for ‘engagement’ tends to be one made by asset owners who employ investment managers who won’t or can’t accept that there is a technology-driven transition occurring. …. this approach of ‘we’ll decarbonise when markets decide to decarbonise’ is clearly not a risk management strategy. It is a ‘do nothing, and hope a few meetings will help’ strategy.”

Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet offers practical steps for local councillors, community members, and labour unionists. For unions, it points to the leadership of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which passed a climate action motion in 2017 which included support for divestment, based on a motion by their constituent unions representing food workers, communication workers, fire brigades, train drivers, and other transport workers. Unison, the primary union representing U.K. government workers, also passed a strong divestment motion in 2017 – meaningful because in the U.K., union members in government workplaces are usually entitled to some form of representation on their pension fund committee and board. The report urges union members to become knowledgeable about financial issues and to speak up in committee meetings – advocating for divestment and re-investment in lower-carbon, socially just funds which benefit their local communities and economies, especially after Covid. The report cites inspiring examples, such as investment in wind farms by Manchester and London Councils, the U.K.’s first community-owned solar power cooperative by Lancashire County Council, and social housing in the Forth Valley and in London Councils.

An earlier guide for unions was Our Pensions, Our Communities, Our Planet: How to reinvest our pensions for our good? published by the Trade Union Group within Campaign against Climate Change. The 6-page, action-oriented fact sheet lacks all the up-to-date statistical detail in Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet but makes many of the same arguments for divestment, and includes links to U.K. resources, as well as a model motion for local unions.

Wales TUC releases a Just Transition toolkit

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 17, 2021

Greener workplaces for a Just Transition is a toolkit published in March by the Wales Trades Union Congress, aiming to provide information, tools and ideas for union representatives working towards climate solutions. Intended as a training resource, the 202-page manual includes case studies, bargaining checklists, action plans, and sample documents which workplace reps can adapt to use for their own workplaces. Workplace issues addressed include homeworking, procurement and ethical supply chains, waste and conservation measures, financial disclosure and pension management, among others. The sample documents include a workplace survey, and a joint environment and climate change agreement, which includes language for workplace Joint Environment Committees and Green Workplace Representatives. The toolkit is quite specific to Wales, although the topics are relevant to any jurisdiction. It follows the 2020 policy publication by the Wales TUC , A Green Recovery and a Just Transition.

A Better Recovery: Learning the lessons of the corona crisis to create a stronger, fairer economy

By staff - Trades Union Congress - May 20, 2020

A plan to get Britain growing out of the crisis – and stop mass unemployment

The pandemic alone did not cause this economic crisis. It was made worse by a decade of austerity and the government’s failure to strengthen the UK’s economy. Choosing the wrong approach to recovery now risks embedding low growth, long-term unemployment and all the social ills that go alongside.

An investment for growth approach means taking action on six key areas:

  • Decent work and a new way of doing business: New business models based on fairer employment relationships. A fairer share for workers of the wealth they create, with a higher minimum wage and new collective bargaining rights.
  • Sustainable industry: Economic stimulus for a just transition to net zero carbon. Rebuilding the UK’s industrial capacity with modern tech and training in new skills.
  • A real safety net: Reforms to social security to provide help faster and prevent poverty. A job guarantee scheme so everyone can work and long-term unemployment does not take hold.
  • Rebuilding public services: Bringing our public services back to full strength, with decent pay for those who looked after us in the crisis, and a new focus on good jobs and direct employment in social care.
  • Equality at work: Specific actions to make sure women, disabled people and BME groups do not suffer disproportionately from the impact of the coronavirus recession.
  • Rebuilding internationalism: New international rules must prioritise decent jobs and public services for all.

The evidence from the post-war recovery is that this investment for growth recovery plan can pay for itself. Millions of working families with higher disposable income create the economic demand needed for strong growth and healthy public finances. Stronger public services and an effective safety net will support people to start and grow businesses, and will better protect against a future pandemic.

Read the report (PDF).

Motion: climate strikes and COP26

By RS21 members - RS21, January 18, 2020

As temperature records tumble and states fiddle while the world burns, we can’t afford to wait five years for a new government to tackle the climate emergency. Convergence between the climate movement and the labour movement offers the only hope of averting catastrophe. rs21 members have produced a model motion you can adapt and use in unions and the Labour Party to popularise the idea of a climate strike on International Workers’ Day, 1 May 2020, mobilise for the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November, and organise for action on climate in every workplace.

You can download a PDF copy of the motion here.

This (branch/region/committee/trades council/union/conference) notes the urgent need for action on the climate emergency, both in response to existing negative impacts such as extreme weather, fires, droughts, floods and loss of habitat and species; and to avoid the catastrophic and irreversible climate damage which people increasingly realise the world is on course for, after the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

We recognise that big business, the military and the richest individuals are responsible for the vast majority of climate change, yet the global working class and poor are disproportionately at risk. A just transition (that protects the lives, livelihoods and rights of the working class, poor and disadvantaged) to a decarbonised economy is not only right, but is the only way the movement against climate chaos will secure the mass support needed to win, and avoid a rich minority protecting themselves at the expense of the planet and the vast majority of people.

We congratulate the school students striking around the world for real climate action and welcome the decision of the TUC to support them and call for a solidarity stoppage. We note that many workers did strike on 20 September 2019, despite Britain’s repressive legislation, by campaigning to pressure employers not to apply sanctions to climate strikers.

We note that there is discussion about the possibility of making Friday 1 May 2020, traditionally International Workers’ Day, also a climate strike. We note that the UN ‘COP’ climate change conferences have become a major focus for campaigners, that COP26 will be taking place in Glasgow from 9-20 November 2020, and that many organisations are already making plans.

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.

A Just Transition to a Greener, Fairer Economy

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trades Union Congress, July 2019

The trade union movement recognises that there is overwhelming scientific evidence of the need to decarbonise our economy. Energy-intensive industries, including the energy, transport, manufacturing and construction sectors, will be key to achieving this transition, but this is a project that will require change right across our economy, and trade union members have the expertise to deliver it. The voices of workers who are at the forefront of dealing with the challenge of climate change must be at the centre of achieving a successful transition to the economy we will need.

Such a change, if left to solely to the market, could have massive economic and social consequences, in terms of jobs, skills and knowledge lost and communities destroyed. We need a different approach to the failed neoliberal approach of the 1980s, which left workers behind, and communities devastated.

The international trade union movement has called for a ‘just transition’ to a greener economy, where new jobs that are just as good in terms of pay, skills, pensions and trade union recognition replace those that are lost. Following union pressure, the concept of a just transition was included in the preamble to the 2015 Paris Agreement and in the Silesia Declaration at the climate talks in 2018.

The move to a low-carbon economy has implications and potential opportunities for industrial policy and the quality of employment. However, the opportunities will not be realised unless the workers most affected have a seat at the table where key decisions are taken. They should be able to contribute to solutions, not be told after decisions have been made.

Read the report (PDF).

Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction

By Greg Muttitt, Anna Markova, and Matthew Crighton - Oil Change International, Platform, and Friends of the Earth Scotland, May 2019

This new report released by Oil Change International, Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland shows that a well-managed energy transformation based on Just Transition principles can meet UK climate commitments while protecting livelihoods and economic well-being, provided that the right policies are adopted, and that the affected workers, trade unions and communities are able to effectively guide these policies.

This report examines the future of UK offshore oil and gas extraction in relation to climate change and employment. It finds that:

  • The UK’s 5.7 billion barrels of oil and gas in already-operating oil and gas fields will exceed the UK’s share in relation to Paris climate goals – whereas industry and government aim to extract 20 billion barrels;
  • Recent subsidies for oil and gas extraction will add twice as much carbon to the atmosphere as the phase-out of coal power saves;
  • Given the right policies, job creation in clean energy industries will exceed affected oil and gas jobs more than threefold.

In light of these findings, the UK and Scottish Governments face a choice between two pathways that stay within the Paris climate limits:

  1. Deferred collapse: continue to pursue maximum extraction by subsidising companies and encouraging them to shed workers, until worsening climate impacts force rapid action to cut emissions globally; the UK oil industry collapses, pushing many workers out of work in a short space of time. Or:
  2. Managed transition: stop approving and licensing new oil and gas projects, begin a phase-out of extraction and a Just Transition for workers and communities, negotiated with trade unions and local leaders, and in line with climate change goals, while building quality jobs in a clean energy economy.

The report recommends that the UK and Scottish Governments:

  • Stop issuing licenses and permits for new oil and gas exploration and development, and revoke undeveloped licenses;
  • Rapidly phase out all subsidies for oil and gas extraction, including tax breaks, and redirect them to fund a Just Transition;
  • Enable rapid building of the clean energy industry through fiscal and policy support to at least the extent they have provided to the oil industry, including inward investment in affected regions and communities;
  • Open formal consultations with trade unions to develop and implement a Just Transition strategy for oil-dependent regions and communities.

Read the text (PDF).

5.7-Million-Member TUC Supports Labour Party’s Manifesto Commitments on Public Ownership of Energy and Climate Change

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, September 25, 2017

The annual congress of the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) has passed a historic composite resolution (also below) on climate change that supports the energy sector being returned to public ownership and democratic control.

The resolution—carried unanimously by hundreds of delegates—calls upon the national center to work with the Labour Party to achieve this goal, as well as to: implement a mass program for energy conservation and efficiency; lobby for the establishment of a “just transition” strategy for affected workers; and, investigate the long-term risks to pension funds from investments in fossil fuels.

The Labour Party’s 2017 election manifesto, For the Many, Not the Few,pointed to the failures of electricity privatization, energy poverty, the need the honor the UK’s climate commitments, and to put the UK on course for 60% of its energy to be met by zero carbon or renewable sources by 2030.

The Manifesto also committed to “take energy back into public ownership to deliver renewable energy, affordability for consumers, and democratic control.” It calls for the creation of “publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and co-operatives to rival existing private energy suppliers.”

Moved by Sarah Woolley, Organising Regional Secretary for the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), the resolution refers to the “irrefutable evidence that dangerous climate change is driving unprecedented changes to our environment,” as well as the risks to meeting the climate challenge posed by Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and by the chaotic approach to both Brexit and broader policy by the current Conservative government.

The resolution affirmed that combating climate change and moving towards a low-carbon economy cannot be left to markets, but requires a strong role for the public sector in driving the transition. In supporting the resolution, several speakers referred to the devastation unleashed across the Caribbean over the previous several days by Hurricane Irma—the most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm in recorded history—and across southern Texas only days before that by Hurricane Harvey.

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