You are here

Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)

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. 

Jim Stanford lauds Canadian unions for their climate activism

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 6, 2021

Well-known Canadian unionist Jim Stanford gave a shout-out to Canadian labour unions in Canada’s Secret Weapon in Fighting Climate Change: Great Trade Unions” , posted in the Progressive Economics Forum on May 3. Stanford is well-placed to make the observations and analysis, after a long career and wealth of experience at Unifor – for example, he correctly recalls the genesis of “Just Transition” here : “For example, it is significant that one of the first uses of the phrase ‘just transition’ was by a Canadian union activist, Brian Kohler: a member of the former CEP who coined the phrase in 1998 to refer to the needed combination of planned energy transition, alternative job-creation, and income supports and transition assistance.”

In this brief Great Trade Unions article, he specifically cites the work of Unifor, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the Alberta Federation of Labour, and supports his assessment of “greatness” partly by citing the work of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change research project – specifically, the Green Agreements database. He states:

“….Many other unions in Canada have used their voices, their bargaining clout, and their political influence to advance progressive climate and jobs policies in their workplaces and industries. This database, compiled by the York University-based ACW research project, catalogues many innovative contract provisions negotiated by Canadian unions to improve environmental practices at workplaces, educate union members and employers about climate policy, and implement concrete provisions and supports (like job security and notice, retraining, and adjustment assistance) as energy transitions occur. It confirms that Canadian unions are very much ahead of the curve on these issues: playing a vital role in both winning the broader political debate over climate change, but then demanding and winning concrete measures (not token statements) to ensure that the energy transition is fair and inclusive.”

Stanford concludes with high praise for Canada’s unions

“Of course, the approach of Canadian unions to climate issues has not been perfect or uniform: there have been tensions and debates, and at times some unions have supported further fossil fuel developments on the faint hope that the insecurity facing their members could be solved by approval of just one more mega-project. But in general the Canadian union movement has been a consistent and progressive force in climate debates. The idea of a Canadian union endorsing a pro-jobs climate plan (like Biden’s) wouldn’t be news at all here. And that has undoubtedly helped us move the policy needle forward in Canada.

I have worked with unions in several countries around climate, employment and transition planning issues. In my experience, Canada’s trade union movement sets a very high standard with its positive and pro-active approach to these issues. Our campaigns for both sustainability and workers’ rights are stronger, thanks to our union movement’s activism, vision, and courage.”

Stanford now focuses on both the Canadian and Australian scenes, and posts his thoughts at the Centre for Future Work, where he is Director.

Forward Together: A Good Jobs and Climate Action Budget

By staff - Canadian Labour Congress, August 2020

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) believes that saving lives, protecting public health, and containing the coronavirus outbreak must remain the federal government’s overriding priority. In the near term, this includes continued income support for individuals unable to work due to COVID-19, as well as proper personal protective equipment, workplace health and safety precautions, and training for workers.

As public health measures permit, fiscal policy measures responding to the recession and unemployment crisis will need to prioritize helping Canadians return to decent jobs. The economic crisis has disproportionately affected low-paid, vulnerable workers in precarious employment, especially women, young workers, newcomers, workers of colour, and workers with disabilities. Accordingly, the plan for economic recovery must be gendered, inclusive, inequality-reducing, and sustainable.

Read the report (PDF).

Labour’s Vision for Economic Recovery

By staff - Canadian Labour Congress - May 13, 2020

Canada is in the midst of the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of workers have lost their jobs and now face an uncertain future.

Canada’s unions are proposing a set of ambitious initiatives in order to achieve a strong, sustainable and inclusive economic recovery. It is a recovery that places workers directly at the centre of every policy and strategy going forward.

COVID-19 has laid bare the underlying inequalities of our society. The labour movement has been witness to the growing divide between the have and have-nots and is ready to advise on ways to narrow the gulf to ensure fairness for everyone.

By fixing what has long been broken, we can ensure that no one is left behind in the coming phases of recovery.

The guiding principles we propose build on current government efforts to respond to economic disruptions wrought by the pandemic. These priorities aim to ensure that the economic recovery:

  • Focuses on getting Canadians back to work and fully employed in decently paid, productive jobs. As we learned from the Great Recession in 2008, joblessness and labour underutilization will persist without labour market planning, coordination and concerted action by governments.
  • Focuses on public investment in infrastructure, and on renewal and expansion of public services. Amidst general uncertainty, weak consumer demand and high levels of indebtedness, business investment will not, by itself, be the engine of recovery. Strong public investment can lift incomes and economic activity that will, in turn, stimulate business investment.
  • Focuses on being gendered, inclusive and committed to reducing inequality. The pandemic and economic shutdown have worsened insecurity and inequality, which will further slow the recovery if left unchecked. It is time to address the precarity, poor working conditions and wage discrimination in sectors dominated by women, including care work, retail and health services. This work is essential to the health and well-being of our communities and economy.

Canada’s unions reject the failed thinking and economics of austerity. Canadians remember how the Conservative Party of Canada cut spending to balance budgets in 2010, just months after the worst depths of the Great Recession. The government prioritized financial support for banks and corporations, instead of investing in people and communities. Those decisions led to years of sluggish economic growth, persistently high unemployment, growing precarity and insecurity, and rising inequality.

Read the report (PDF).

Rebuilding our Economy for All: BC Federation of Labour Submission to the Economic Recovery Taskforce

By staff International BC Labor Federation, May 2020

The economic shutdown resulting from this pandemic is historically unprecedented. Never before have we collectively decided to close entire sectors of our economy, and dramatically curtail others in service of a greater good – our collective health. BC has weathered both this pandemic and the ensuing lockdown in large part because of the sacrifices and courage of working people. They have continued to do the important work of treating the sick, providing vital public services, and ensuring we can continue to have the necessities of life. COVID-19 has revealed that essential portions of BC’s economy depend on frontline workers.

But as public respect for the value of their work has grown, so has our recognition of the many gaps this pandemic has exposed. For example, we better understand the paramount importance of workplace safety and standards, the need for robust public services and social supports, and our collective responsibility to address the continued marginalization of vulnerable populations.

We have the chance as our economy emerges from hibernation to address those gaps, and to do much more. The choices we make in the coming weeks and months can help us build an economy – and a province – equipped to address climate change while prospering along the way. Our choices must acknowledge and genuinely embrace reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and communities. Our choices must secure opportunities and equity in every community of this province.

There will always be voices who suggest we move in the opposite direction: that the public sector should retreat from the economy and the community; that working people who were this province’s lifeline revert back to less protections, poorer working conditions and lower wages; that vulnerable populations remain vulnerable; that we should abandon years of progress toward reconciliation. They will argue that all of this will make business more competitive and generate jobs.

But even in an unprecedented situation, we can learn from history. And history tells us again and again – from the Great Depression through countless recessions and downturns – that ’austerity‘ only serves to freeze out working people and the most vulnerable, enriching a handful of already-wealthy people while hollowing our communities and leaving most of us to fend for ourselves. Austerity, in fact, is why we have many of the gaps this pandemic has so glaringly exposed in the first place. We also know that this pandemic will not impact people or communities equally, and thus our response must work to decrease these inequities, rather than exacerbate them. We can’t cut and slash our way back to where we were before – let alone to a better, fairer, more sustainable and more prosperous future.

Read the text (PDF).

Take the Plant Save the Planet (pamphlet)

By Green Jobs Oshawa - Socialist Project, March 22, 2020

On November 26, 2018, General Motors announced a number of plant closures in North America, the largest of which was in Oshawa, Ontario. The Oshawa facility, once the largest auto complex on the continent, was to end all its assembly operations by the end of 2019.

The issue is not simply a matter of bringing the environmental movement and the labour movement together; each must be transformed if the sum is to be more than the currently limited parts. The environmental movement must raise itself to a new level by concretely engaging the working class and the labour movement must escape what for it has become an existential crisis. The threats and opportunities of the environmental crisis offer a chance for labour revival, but only if this incorporates a renewed approach to organizing, struggle, radical politics, and the maximization of informed membership participation.

Read the report (PDF).

Alberta’s Coal Phase-out: A Just Transition?

By Ian Hussey and Emma Jacksonn - Parkland Institute, November 2019

This report explains that Alberta will have little coal-fired electricity left by the end of 2023, six years ahead of the federally mandated coal phaseout deadline of December 31, 2029. This relatively rapid transition away from coal power is the result of numerous decisions made since 2007 by various provincial and federal governments, a few arms-length agencies of the Alberta government, and several large publicly traded corporations that produce electricity for the Alberta market. Our report aims to evaluate Alberta’s electricity transition to date against principles and lessons gleaned from the just transition literature.

Following the introduction, the report proceeds as follows. In Section 2, we provide an overview of Alberta’s coal power industry, communities, and workforce. In Section 3, we delineate key principles and lessons from the just transition literature. In Section 4, we present case studies on the three companies affected by the Notley government’s accelerated coal phase-out (TransAlta, ATCO, and Capital Power). We examine the Notley government’s transition programs for coal workers in Section 5 and for coal communities in Section 6. Section 6 also includes a case study of Parkland County, which is the municipal district in Alberta perhaps most affected by the phase-out of coal-fired electricity. In Section 7, we provide an analytic discussion of our research results by evaluating the government’s transition programs against the key principles and lessons drawn from the just transition literature. In Section 8, we outline our conclusions based on the research results.

Read the report (Link).

Take the Plant, Save the Planet (article)

By Russ Christianson - The Bullet, September 22, 2019.

It is a tragic irony that General Motors (GM) chose its hundredth anniversary in Oshawa to announce the December 2019 closure of its Oshawa assembly plant. This means the loss of over 15,000 jobs in Ontario: 2,200 GM assembly jobs, 300 salaried positions, 500 temporary contract positions, 1,000 inside and 1,000 outside supplier jobs, and a related 10,400 multiplier jobs. The closure of Oshawa’s assembly plant is estimated to decrease Ontario’s GDP by $4-billion per year until 2030, also reducing federal and provincial revenues by about $1-billion a year.1

Over the months following the November 26, 2018 plant closure announcement, GM and Unifor (formerly the Canadian Auto Workers’ union) negotiated the Oshawa Transformation Agreement (May 2019)2 that promises:

  • 300 stamping and parts assembly jobs and a $170-million investment.
  • Donating the 87-acre Mclaughlin Bay Reserve to the City of Oshawa.
  • A 55-acre test track for autonomous vehicles.

It has yet to be seen, whether GM will keep its promise. But even if they do, it will still mean losing over 13,000 jobs and a major hit to the economy.

This preliminary feasibility study offers an alternative. The Government of Canada can provide the leadership to acquire the GM Oshawa assembly plant and repurpose the production to building battery electric vehicles (BEVs). There is a strong business case for this alternative, based on a triple bottom line analysis that considers the economic, social and environmental benefits:

  • A public investment estimated at $1.4 to $1.9-billion to acquire and retool the Oshawa assembly plant for BEV production, and potentially manufacturing other products.
  • Manufacturing and selling an estimated 150,000 BEVs in the first five years of production, for total sales of $5.8-billion.
  • Estimated government procurement of one quarter of the BEVs produced in the first four years, representing about 23,000 vehicles with an estimated value of $900-million.
  • Reaching a breakeven point in year 4, and making a modest profit in year 5.
  • Creating over 13,000 jobs: up to 2,900 manufacturing-related (including 600 parts supplier jobs) and over 10,000 multiplier jobs.
  • Decreasing CO2 emissions by 400,000 metric tonnes by year 5.

Who is Included in a Just Transition?: Considering social equity in Canada’s shift to a zero-carbon economy

By Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and Zaee Deshpande - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, August 2019

As the international community moves to act on the climate crisis, governments are increasingly being forced to reckon with the social and economic costs of climate policies. The production and consumption of fossil fuels is the primary driver of global heating, so shifting to cleaner alternatives is necessary for long-term environmental and economic sustainability. However, the global economy is highly dependent on fossil fuels, so declines in the production and consumption of coal, oil and natural gas have the potential to negatively impact large numbers of workers and their communities in the short to medium term. In Canada alone, the fossil fuel industry accounts for hundreds of thousands of jobs and more than $100 billion dollars worth of economic output.

Efforts to reduce emissions from the fossil fuel sector have provoked calls for governments to ensure the transition to a cleaner economy is a just transition for affected workers and communities. The concept of a “just transition” for fossil fuel workers has long existed within the North American labour movement, but only in the past few years has it gained mainstream international attention. The 2015 Paris Agreement acknowledged the “imperatives of a just transition of the workforce.” And in 2018, more than 50 countries signed the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, which highlights the essential role of a just transition in the broader fight against climate change.

In Canada, the phrase “just transition” only began appearing in official policy documents around the time of the Paris Agreement, but it is now a formal priority for several governments across the country. Canada’s recent adoption of just transition principles has emerged almost exclusively in the context of the government-mandated phaseout of coal-fired electricity generation. Under a patchwork of provincial and federal policies, nearly all coal power plants and their associated coal mines will be shuttered by 2030.3 To mitigate the costs of the phaseout to coal workers and coal towns, the provincial government of Alberta — home to the largest share of the coal industry — together with the federal government have implemented or announced a variety of just transition policies since 2016. Targeted programs include income support and skills retraining for coal workers as well as infrastructure investments in affected communities. These governments continue to explore initiatives to provide support to coal communities as they undergo the transition to a cleaner economy.

Read the report (PDF).

Jobs vs the Environment?: Mainstream and Alternative Media Coverage of Pipeline Controversies

By Robert A Hackett and Philippa R Adams - Corporate Mapping Project, September 2018

Much of the argument advanced in support of expanding Canada’s fossil fuel production centres on job creation and economic benefits. Politicians, pundits and corporate spokespeople who support fossil fuel infrastructure projects—such as new oil and gas pipelines—often evoke this rhetoric when they appear in the media.

This study examines how the press—including corporate and alternative outlets—treats the relationship between jobs and the environment. Focusing on pipeline projects that connect Alberta’s oil sands to export markets, it also asks which voices are treated as authoritative and used as sources, whose views are sidelined, which arguments for and against pipelines are highlighted, and what similarities and differences exist between mainstream and alternative media coverage of pipeline controversies.

Read the report (PDF).

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.