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strategy and tactics

Working for Climate Justice: Trade unions in the front line against climate change

By Ben Crawford and David Whyte - Institute of Employment Rights: Centre for Climate Crime and Climate Justice, November 23, 2023

For further background, visit this site.

Co-authors of the report, David Whyte, Queen Mary University of London and Ben Crawford, The London School of Economics, argue that the transition away from a carbon-based economy relies on the collective action of workers and their organisations, challenging an economic system focused on extracting value at any cost. While the primary analysis addresses the British context, the authors acknowledge the global nature of ecological sustainability and its transformation of social existence both within and outside the workplace.

Focusing on the economic sphere of production as the engine of climate change, the authors contend that the future of the planet relies heavily on workers' power and collective action. Contrary to decisions made in boardrooms and cabinets, they stress that a sustainable transition depends on workers and their communities organising a new social and economic system.

Co-author of report Professor David Whyte, and Director of the Centre for Climate Crime and Climate Justice, Queen Mary University of London explains: “Time is running out for us. We don’t have time to wait politely until employers decide to do the right thing. This is why a transition to a low carbon economy has to be led by workers taking action in their workplaces. A sustainable planet has to be based on sustainable jobs and sustainable ways of working and living.”

Trade unions, historically not prioritising climate change in bargaining, have a rich history of environmentalism and struggles against the commodification of labour. The pamphlet argues for a "secret solidarity" between workers and nature, emphasising the shared interest in slowing down production processes causing social and environmental harm.

To achieve a transition at the necessary scale and pace, the pamphlet proposes priorities for the trade-union movement:

  1. Empowering Members: Workers must put climate change on an industrial footing, building a grassroots power base through coordinated workplace representatives and political education.
  2. Integrating Climate Bargaining: Climate bargaining should be integrated into campaigns for employment rights, demanding a statutory basis for the right to bargain on climate and ecology.
  3. Allocating Resources: Trade unions must allocate greater resources to climate campaigning, countering the false dichotomy between jobs and a green economy and advocating for public ownership of key sectors.
  4. Engaging Globally: Unions should organise and recruit along global supply chains, recognising the need for international coordination and bargaining.

The report concludes by urging a transformative approach to just transition, where workers and trade unionists rethink the production and purpose of value, ensuring products and services align with socially useful and sustainable goals. The call is clear: workers must harness their collective power to lead the way towards a low-carbon economy.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Unjust Transitions: Climate Migration, Heat Stress, and Labour Exploitation in the United Arab Emirates

By staff - Equidem, November 20, 2023

Workers at the heart of the United Arab Emirates's renewable and gig sectors, and at the site that will host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) have left homes in Africa and Asia because of climate change only to be subjected to physical abuse, heat stress, exploitation and discrimination, a new report from Equidem reveals. Serious labour violations have taken place at the site of COP28, Expo City, as well as at five renewable energy firms, including Siemens Energy. 

Based on correspondence with 248 workers, and interviews with 102, the expansive report offers unprecedented insight into the renewables, construction, security, and delivery sectors in the UAE, shedding light on both industrial and service sector working conditions for 9 million migrant workers. 

The shining facilities at Expo City Dubai boast internationally lauded solar and wind parks and a booming local gig economy. Underneath that cheerful exterior, however, women and men from some of the poorest countries on earth are falling victim to an unjust transition: Migrant workers from Africa and Asia are being subjected to serious human rights abuses in a nation whose oil and gas-powered economy is at the heart of the planet’s climate crisis. 

“Hosting this peak global conference in a climate and rights abusing state was bad enough. Equidem’s research starkly reveals that the UAE is failing on almost every metric of the UN’s own human rights benchmarks for addressing climate change through the COP process,” said Mustafa Qadri, CEO of Equidem. 

Abuses include workplace violence, wage theft, working in extreme heat and other occupational health and safety risks, nationality-based discrimination, exploitative hiring practices, understaffing and overwork, lack of opportunities for promotion, overcrowded accommodations, inadequate food allowances, and inadequate channels for workers to seek relief from these violations. 

Investigations by Equidem were carried out between February and October 2023 at Expo City Dubai and in the renewables and delivery sectors, including at Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, Al Dhafra Solar Power Project, Noor Abu Dhabi Solar Plant, Sir Bani Yas Wind Farm Project; and in the delivery sector in the UAE. 

  • Together, 57% of the migrant workers interviewed come from climate impacted areas of Asia and Africa.
  • 41 % of the workers reported nationality-based discrimination.
  • 77.% of the workers in renewable sector reported living in overcrowded accommodations, with up to 20 people in a room fit for six or fewer workers.
  • 83% of the African and Asian workers interviewed reported being unable to afford nutritious and healthy food.
  • 40% of the workers said they were skipping meals.

Equidem’s research found that African and Asian workers have migrated for employment based upon climate impacts in their own country, and then find employment in the industrial and service sectors in the UAE. These migrant workers are doubly impacted by the global climate crisis—they migrate in response to climate impacts and find employment in exploitative industrial and service contexts where they work long hours in extreme heat. These rights violations take place against a backdrop of racially delineated exclusion from labour rights protections, denial of freedom of association, and authoritarian suppression of dissent in the UAE. 

Download a copy of this publication here (Link).

Social Change Movements Are Winning Big, Thanks to Rigorous Strategy

By Deepak Bhargava and Stephanie Luce - Newsweek, November 16, 2023

Amid growing threats to our climate, economy, and democracy, one thing has become increasingly clear: those who care about confronting these challenges need to get smarter about strategy.

We've seen right-wing extremists make enormous gains on everything from abortion restrictions to anti-trans legislation, and we'd be foolish to believe their war on our rights will slow down anytime soon. They've done so by being laser focused on strategy: specifically dividing and weakening their opposition. The assault on voting rights or on unions through state legislation are both highly strategic efforts to weaken pillars of the progressive coalition. The same goes for the moral panics about trans rights or critical race theory the right is relentlessly pushing.

To help point today's activists in the right direction, we wrote a book around seven strategies that, when used properly, can help progressives win some of our biggest battles ahead. These timeless strategies were deployed by some of our nation's most successful grassroots movements—from the abolition of slavery to the New Deal to the civil rights movement—in the face of enormous opposition, and we've seen a number of them resurrected to great effect in the past year by workers, voters, and progressive coalitions who've enacted sweeping and significant change, even with the odds heavily stacked against them.

Take, for example, the use of disruption to stop business as usual and build economic power. This time-tested strategy used by workers throughout history led to a major victory when auto workers at Ford Motor, Stellantis, and General Motors reached tentative agreements with their employers for record 25 percent raises nearly six weeks after the United Auto Workers (UAW) began a growing wave of strikes against the Big Three. These workers' win is an exemplary testament to the power of prolonged, creative, and unpredictable disruption to bring about a desired result. As we write in our book, disruption is the ability to stop those in power from doing what they want to do and to break up the status quo. After their union contracts expired last month, that's exactly what thousands of workers from the Big Three automakers did when they began ratcheting up a series of walkouts strategically at factories producing some of the automakers' most profitable models.

This was the first time ever that the UAW had struck all three companies simultaneously, and the choice to do so dealt a significant blow to the Big Three's profits. Altogether, 45,000 workers went on strike. Estimates show that after five weeks of strikes, the economic losses for the auto industry surpassed $9.3 billion. To stop the financial bleeding, the Big Three had no other choice but to meet workers' demands at the bargaining table.

Socialize the Railways!

By Tom Wetzel - East Bay Syndicalists, November 13, 2023

The downward slide of the major (Class 1) American freight railroads in recent years shows how capitalist ownership of the railway system is dangerous and inefficient — and fails to make use of the potential of the railways as a solution to the global warming crisis.

Downward slide has been accelerated over the past decade due to the adoption of “Precision Scheduled Railroading” (PSR). This has no precise definition but the aim is to reduce costs. As in “lean production” management theory, any expense not directly needed for profit is regarded as “waste.” PSR is a cost-cutting strategy that puts short-term profits for stockholders as the controlling priority. To maximize the rate of return, the railroads cut corners on maintenance, constantly work to reduce the number of railroad employees, and actively discourage shipments that are less profitable for them to haul. To keep Wall Street investors happy, they work to maximize short term profit. To enrich stockholders, the rail companies have poured billions of dollars into stock buybacks rather than invest in system improvements.

Auto Workers Debate Contracts: Tall Gains, Taller Expectations

By Keith Brower Brown - Labor Notes, November 10, 2023

On breaks between harnessing wires and bolting fenders, Auto Workers across the country are debating the contract offers their strike wrenched out of Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis.

Just a fraction of plants have voted, with the rest set to cast ballots in the next two weeks. Contract details are here.

Ford locals have been the first to weigh in. Three larger locals voted heavily in favor of the deal. Two other major locals passed the offer with a narrower majority, reflecting that members’ expectations were raised sharply by new leaders and an aggressive contract fight.

The first Ford plant to strike was Michigan Assembly near Detroit. With about four-fifths of the 5,000 members casting ballots, the local voted ‘yes’ by 82 percent.

Longtime production worker Audrey Bell says she and her co-workers had few qualms about the major gains made: “I think it’s basically good, especially for the new workers. We made big progress on two tiers. Got the COLA [cost-of-living adjustment] back.”

At Ford Chicago Assembly, members passed the deal by a slimmer 57 percent, on 56 percent turnout. This local has often rejected tentative contracts, turning down the 2019 deal by nearly two-thirds. Members there joined the Stand-Up Strike on September 29.

Scott Houldieson, who’s worked as an electrician at the plant for 34 years, supported the agreement. (He is chair of the caucus Unite All Workers for Democracy, UAWD, which opted for a neutral stance.) “It was a strike that was trying to dig us out of 40 years of concessions, 40 years of cooperating with the companies, 40 years of corruption,” Houldieson said.

This Strike Worked

By Dave Kamper - The Forge, November 10, 2023

In a monumental labor victory echoing the 1937 Flint Sit-Down Strike, the UAW's triumphant strike against top automakers marks a defining moment in modern labor history.

When I was a kid, my church youth group in the summers would often go to a water park in Rockford, Illinois. To get there we’d take Interstate 90, and even now, I remember what it looked like when we drove past the Chrysler plant in Belvedere. Even on Sundays, that place was humming. It looked like what a factory was supposed to look like - a steady hum of activity, car carriers rolling onto the highway, people coming and going.

Earlier this year, Stellantis, the successor to Chrysler, closed the plant. Its workers were scattered to backup jobs across the country. I marched with some of them on the picket line at the parts distribution center in Plymouth, Minnesota.

Last week, the United Auto Workers settled their contract with Stellantis. It includes the reopening of the Belvedere plant. That’s… that’s never happened before.

The United Auto Workers have won a signal victory in their strike against the Big 3 Automakers. It’s easily the most important strike win since the 1997 Teamsters strike. If you’re feeling particularly enthusiastic, you can even make the case that the last time a US strike was this successful - in terms not just of the size of the victory, but its importance for the moment - was the original Sit-Down Strike in Flint, Michigan, in 1936-37, that launched the UAW and the modern American labor movement. A stretch, to be sure, but this was a pretty big win.

From where we sit now, it’s easy to feel like it was always going to go this way. But while we like to repeat the mantra, “strikes work,” the more accurate formulation is, “strikes can work.”

Sometimes they don’t work. A strike is a risk.

The Big Three Have Fallen

Shawn Fain on How the UAW Whipped the Big Three

By Shawn Fain and Ryan Grim - Deconstructed, November 10, 2023

In late October, after a six-week strike, the United Auto Workers reached a historic contract deal with the big three Detroit automakers. This week, as membership votes to approve the contract are underway, President Joe Biden rallied with the UAW president in Illinois to celebrate the tentative agreement between the union and the automakers. This week on Deconstructed, UAW President Shawn Fain joins Ryan Grim to discuss the victory. Fain was elected president of the union earlier this year by the union membership, in the first UAW election in which members could directly vote for the union president. Fain discusses the recent win, the union election that led to his victory, corruption inside union ranks, and the broader labor reform movement for direct democracy within unions.

“What Could We Win Together?” Labor in Minnesota Gears up for a Major Escalation

By Isabella Escalona and Amy Stager - Workday Magazine, October 31, 2023

Minnesota unions have been planning for this moment for a decade.

Over the years they’ve meticulously coordinated their contracts to expire at the same time in order to maximize unity and bargaining power. Now, as these expiration dates are within sight, union organizers and rank-and-file members are beginning to prepare.

SEIU Local 26 has a contract expiring for 4,000 commercial janitorial workers on December 31. Their contracts for another 1,000 airport workers and 500 retail janitorial workers close on January 31, 2024. And the contract is up for 2,500 security workers on February 29, 2024.

In the world of public schools, the contracts for the St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) Local 28, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) Local 59, and SEIU Local 284 (which represents support staff), already expired on June 30, but those contracts remain in effect until an agreement is put in place due to the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA).

The contract for the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1005 also expired over the summer, on July 31, but has been extended until a new contract is ratified. (The ATU is currently negotiating with the Metropolitan Council.)

Meanwhile, the Metro Transit bus and rail operators with the ATU and maintenance workers voted to authorize a strike in September. One of the ATU’s main demands is a cost of living adjustment plus 1%. 

While the unions are organizing and bargaining separately, the shared expiration timeline was no accident. After decades of communication and coalition, many Minnesota unions have been eyeing opportunities like this in order to pool resources, strategize around bigger demands, and build a synergy they hope will lead to major gains.

Our Strategy for Avoiding Total Catastrophe

By collective - Earth Strike UK, October 2023

Our mission is to achieve a world in which humanity is not in constant competition with itself or with the environment, to halt the rapid deterioration of our biosphere and to live in a world that is not on the brink of ecological collapse. In order to do that we must end capitalism and all other forms of oppression and exploitation which are the cause of injustice and threaten the stability and viability of our environment.

We believe that collectively we have the ability to bring about that better world through the power of organised labour and the application of industrial action. Through strikes, occupations and other forms of industrial action over environmental issues in our own workplaces we can have a direct, tangible impact on the trajectory of our climate. By employing those same tactics on a massive scale, across industries and across countries, we can launch a direct challenge to capitalism and the institutions that are driving the climate and ecological crisis.

With this in mind, we aim to promote, support or initiate general strikes for the climate nationally and internationally, as well as employ industrial action in defence of the climate more generally, and to create foundations of solidarity and mutual struggle on which we can build a better and more sustainable society.

However, organising a general strike for the climate is no easy task. We could simply set a date and call a strike but without a broad base of support, a mandate given by all of the people actually striking, it is unlikely that enough people would be willing to take the risk and participate. To be able to build a general strike that is actually effective there are a few things that need to happen first. It is not enough to simply mobilise, first we must organise!

There are several conditions that need to be met for a general strike for the climate to become a viable option in the struggle for climate justice. These conditions do not necessarily need to be fulfilled directly by Earth Strike UK. Our aim is not to be the banner under which all action should be taken, but to facilitate and encourage action that moves us towards a general strike. In fact, it is better if these conditions are fulfilled by a variety of groups, organisations and movements working independently and in parallel with one another, as this will lead to a more broad, dynamic and robust movement. There are several elements to our strategy.

None of them are mutually exclusive and any action that reinforces one is likely to reinforce others. Importantly, each strand of our strategy is also an end in itself; each will individually improve the world in a tangible way, even if they can’t all be brought together to materialise a general strike.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

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