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Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act

Want to Know How We Can Win a Just Transition? States Hold a Key

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, November 16, 2021

The climate justice movement has undoubtedly picked up steam in the last three years as talk of a Green New Deal has made its way into the mainstream. But even after uphill and innovative organizing, our federal government has not adequately responded to the serious and existential threat of climate change: The Build Back Better bill, touted by the Biden administration as our generation’s great hope for action on climate change, has been almost completely gutted in Congress, where it still awaits passage. And after the ultra-wealthy took private jets to and from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, it does not appear that the urgent action we need will come any time soon. As temperatures increase and storms become worse, the environmental situation is even more dire: Humans can expect ​“untold suffering,” scientists warn, including mass extinction and death, if we don’t act fast.

Amid our elected leaders’ monumental failures, the climate justice movement has smartly moved its focus away from pet projects, like small-scale lawsuits, and towards organizing to build a movement with enough popular support to change our political system. To get the numbers we need — of workers in the many millions — it is necessary to ensure that climate solutions, whether it’s stopping coal extraction or halting fossil fuel digging, don’t abandon workers in those industries. This is the idea behind a ​“just transition,” which aims to move to an environmentally sustainable economy while making sure all workers have safe and dignified work. 

State by state, organizers are working hard to make a just transition a reality and, fortunately, there are a few wins to point to. Unions and environmental groups won a joint victory this June, when the Climate and Community Investment Act, SB 999, passed in Connecticut. The legislation will do three important things: require prevailing wages for construction workers on renewable energy projects, ensure renewable energy projects create good, union jobs for Connecticut residents from disadvantaged communities, and negotiate community benefits agreements, which are agreements that describe a developer’s obligations to the broader community.

This state-level legislation is a step toward an urgent — and existential — need. Kimberly Glassman is the director of the Foundation for Fair Contracting of Connecticut, a non-profit organization that represents both building trades unions and union contractors to monitor public works’ projects for compliance with wage and other labor laws. She told In These Times, ​“As we transition away from fossil fuel dependent energy into green energy, [we have to make sure] that the workforce that has built their livelihoods in the fossil fuel industry has a way to transition and has access to good paying jobs in the green energy sector.” 

Combatting Climate Change, Reversing Inequality: A Climate Jobs Program for Texas

By Lara R. Skinner, J. Mijin Cha, Hunter Moskowitz, and Matt Phillips - ILR Worker Institute, Cornell, July 26, 2021

Texas is currently confronted by three major, intersecting crises: the COVID-19 public health pandemic and ensuing economic crisis; a growing crisis of inequality of income, wealth, race and power; and the worsening climate crisis, which continues to take its toll on Texans through hurricanes, major flood events, wildfires, debilitating heat waves and the significant economic cost of these extreme weather events. These crises both expose and deepen existing inequalities, disproportionately impacting working families, women, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities, immigrants, and the most vulnerable in our society.

A well-designed recovery from the COVID-19 global health pandemic, however, can simultaneously tackle these intersecting crises. We can put people to work in high-quality, family- and community-sustaining careers, and we can build the 21st century infrastructure we need to tackle the climate crisis and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Indeed, in order to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, it is essential that our economic recovery focus on developing a climate-friendly economy. Moreover, there are significant jobs and economic development opportunities related to building a clean energy economy. One study shows that 25 million jobs will be created in the U.S. over the next three decades by electrifying our building and transportation sectors, manufacturing electric vehicles and other low-carbon products, installing solar, wind and other renewables, making our homes and buildings highly-efficient, massively expanding and improving public transit, and much more.

Conversely, a clean, low-carbon economy built with low-wage, low-quality jobs will only exacerbate our current crisis of inequality. The new clean energy economy can support good jobs with good benefits and a pipeline for historically disadvantaged communities to high-quality, paid on-the-job training programs that lead to career advancement. Currently, the vast majority of energy efficiency, solar and wind work is non-union, and the work can be low-wage and low-quality, even as the safety requirements of solar electrical systems, for example, necesitate well-trained, highly-skilled workers.

Read the text (PDF).

What Might an Ecosocialist Society Look Like?

By David Klein - System Change not Climate Change, June 27, 2021

Why can’t the problems that ecosocialism would solve also be remedied within the current global capitalist system?

Before describing possible features of a future ecosocialism, it is worthwhile to consider why such a system is even needed. Why can’t the problems that ecosocialism would solve also be remedied within the current global capitalist system? Part I of this essay addresses that question by summarizing recent scientific reports on the state of the climate and extent of the ecological crisis; reviewing available methods and technologies that could be used to address the climate and ecological crises; and briefly describing capitalism’s structural inability to provide solutions at the scale of the crises. Part II then takes up the subject of the title, ecosocialism, along with strategies to move in that direction. 

Part I: Context and Background

The threat to life on Earth posed by the climate and ecological crises can hardly be overstated. A 2019 Nature article warned that up to a million species of plants and animals are on the verge of extinction, and a United Nations study the same year identified global warming as a major driver of wildlife decline. Much of the devastation to date was catalogued in the 2020 WWF Living Planet report, which recorded a 68 percent decline in the population of vertebrates around the world, in just the past five decades. More succinctly, scientists report that Earth is experiencing a sixth mass extinction. (The previous mass extinction, 66 million years ago, ended the dinosaurs).

The scale of the environmental crisis is unprecedented in human history. At stake are human civilization and billions of lives. An article last year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicted that for every additional 1̊C rise beyond the 2019 global average, a billion people will be forced to abandon their locations or endure insufferable heat. The paper warns that under a scenario of increasing emissions, areas now home to a third of the world’s population could experience the same temperatures as the hottest parts of the Sahara within 50 years. 

Summing up the findings of some 150 scientific studies, a 2021 paper authored by 17 scientists warned that the “scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its life forms –- including humanity –- is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp even for well-informed experts.” Adding further urgency, 101 Nobel laureates released an open letter in April 2021 in which they wrote, “We are seized by the great moral issue of our time: the climate crisis and commensurate destruction of nature.” The laureates called for a worldwide fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty

Global heating is driven by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and yet emissions continue at high levels despite the chorus of promises by “climate leaders” in governments. In 2020 global emissions decreased by a meager 5.8 percent due to Covid-19 lockdowns, but they were already on the rebound by the end of the year. For the current year, 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts the second largest annual increase in history of greenhouse gas emissions, as global economies recover from the Covid-19 recession. In May 2021 a record-breaking monthly average concentration of 419 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 was measured in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, breaking the previous May 2020 record of 417 ppm. 

The drivers of ecocide, more generally, include not only climate change, but also habitat destruction, toxic dumping, plastic pollution in the oceans, radiation poisoning, and other customary byproducts of the global capitalist economy. All of this destruction continues unabated despite the flood of warnings from scientists, lobbying by environmental activists, and even warnings from institutions deeply rooted in the capitalist economy. 

Consider, for example, that in May 2021 the IEA released an unprecedented call to the world to rapidly reach zero emissions in its report, Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. Widespread news coverage and expressions of optimism followed. Yet from February to the end of April 2021, the Biden administration approved nearly 1200 drilling permits on federal lands, along with more than 200 offshore permits, and defended in court the ConocoPhillips Willow project in Alaska, which is expected to emit 260 million metric tons of CO2 during the next 30 years, the equivalent of 66 coal-fired plants. And Biden is far from alone among world leaders in his support of fossil fuel expansions.

Climate Movement Applauds Coal Miners' Demand for Just Transition, Green Jobs

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, April 19, 2021

The largest union of coal miners in the U.S. announced Monday that it would accept a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy as long as the federal government takes care of coal workers through the provision of green jobs and income support for those who become unemployed.

"There needs to be a tremendous investment here," said Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International. "We always end up dealing with climate change, closing down coal mines. We never get to the second piece of it."

Ahead of a press conference outlining the UMWA's approach to addressing the climate emergency in a way that improves rather than diminishes the well-being of workers in the dirty energy sector, Roberts said in a statement that "energy transition and labor policies must be based on more than just promises down the road. We want to discuss how miners, their families, and their communities can come out of this transition period and be certain that they will be in as good or better shape than they are today."

"Much of the coal-producing areas of Appalachia and elsewhere are already in bad economic shape," said Roberts. "Washington has taken little action to address it over the past decade. That must change."

"As we confront a next wave of energy transition," he added, "we must take steps now to ensure that things do not get worse for coal miners, their families, and communities, but in fact get better."

Sunrise Responds to Decision by United Mine Workers Association, Commits to Fighting Alongside Them and Demands Manchin Supports 'Tremendous Investment'

By Ellen Sciales - Common Dreams, April 19, 2021

Today, in response to the news that the United Mine Workers Association, the main and essential union for coal miners, and Senator Joe Manchin are supporting the transition to renewable energy, Evan Weber, Political Director of Sunrise Movement, released the following statement:

“For generations, coal communities have sacrificed to keep the lights on for all of us, while they’ve been abandoned by executives and politicians in DC. Sunrise Movement stands with and celebrates the United Mine Workers Association announcement today as they lean in to the transition towards a renewable energy economy, and we renew our commitment to fight alongside them to ensure the government leads in ensuring coal communities are whole and not left behind. We fully support their calls for job training, investments and prioritization of coal communities to receive economic development, and guaranteeing wages and benefits for workers impacted by the urgent and necessary transition towards a carbon-free economy.

“The radical truth is that at the end of the day, most of us want the same thing — a good, reliable job with a stable wage and a sense of comfort and security. And the brutal reality of the climate crisis is that it has threatened our jobs, our homes and the lifestyles that some of us have known for centuries. We agree wholeheartedly with Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America’s warning that there must be ‘tremendous investment’ as this transformation takes place. From the climate crisis, to technological shifts, to global pandemics, the 21st century promises more disruption — but our government can and must take care of its people along the way. In addition to what the mineworkers have outlined, we support a federal job guarantee to ensure every American has the right to a good job as our society faces more disruption, and see a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps employing millions of Americans in jobs tackling the crisis and revitalizing our communities as a step in that direction.

“Whether or not America has noticed, there has been a movement in West Virginia and across the United States growing around these basic ideas — and towards our vision for a Green New Deal. And today, the labor movement and young activists have proven they can be more powerful than the executives who have delayed action for years. While we may not agree on all of the specifics of how we get there, we are more aligned on the destination than those who seek to divide us would like you to think.

“At Sunrise, we say we have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, and when we see stances that reflect our values, we’ll celebrate those. With Senator Manchin’s support on the PRO Act and for a just transition for coal workers, it is our hope that today marks a turning point for Senator Manchin. If he is truly committed to protecting this community and West Virginians, he will support the ‘tremendous investment’ the Mineworkers call for, starting with $10 trillion over the next decade, or $1 trillion per year, in order to ensure we can truly transition in a way that leaves no one behind. He’ll also stop pretending that this is an agenda that the Republican Party, which has long abandoned its desire to productively deliver for the American people, will come along with, and urge passage of this important agenda for Mineworkers and West Virginians through a simple majority by abolishing the filibuster.” 

Building the Civilian Climate Corps

By Trevor Dolan, Becca Ellsion, Bracken Hendricks, and Sam Ricketts - Evergreen Collaborative, April 2021

As part of their COVID-19 recovery efforts, many governments continue to fund unsustainable infrastructure, even though this ignores the urgency of addressing climate change and will not secure longterm stability for workers.

Our analysis of studies from around the world finds that green investments generally create more jobs per US$1 million than unsustainable investments. We compare near-term job effects from clean energy versus fossil fuels, public transportation versus roads, electric vehicles versus internal combustion engine vehicles, and nature-based solutions versus fossil fuels.

Green investments can create quality jobs, but this is not guaranteed. In developing countries, green jobs can provide avenues out of poverty, but too many are informal and temporary, limiting access to work security, safety, or social protections. In developed countries, new green jobs may have wages and benefits that aren’t as high as those in traditional sectors where, in many cases, workers have been able to fight for job quality through decades of collective action.

Government investment should come with conditions that ensure fair wages and benefits, work security, safe working conditions, opportunities for training and advancement, the right to organize, and accessibility to all.

Read the text (PDF).

Our Time To Thrive: A Town Hall

Why major unions are wary of the move to wind and solar jobs

By Ella Nilsen - Vox, March 19, 2021

President Joe Biden wants to quickly move the United States toward clean energy jobs in wind and solar. But unions — some of Biden’s strongest allies — are skeptical about the transition to green energy.

Biden and congressional Democrats are poised to introduce a large infrastructure plan that is supposed to deliver on two promises: putting job creation into overdrive, and decarbonizing the economy, with an aggressive goal of powering 100 percent of America’s electricity sector with clean energy by 2035.

To achieve both goals, the administration is betting on a massive push toward wind and solar. Renewables already produced 20 percent of US electricity in 2020, and expanding them further to decarbonize the economy necessarily means phasing out fossil fuels. But even as wind and solar production has increased, wages and the rate of unionized jobs in renewables haven’t kept up with the industries they’d be replacing. In order to make more profits, many companies want to keep their costs low — which includes keeping wages low.

“The fossil fuel industries were unionized in long struggles that were classic labor stories,” said University of Rhode Island labor historian Erik Loomis. “Now, they’re in decline and you have these new industries. But a green capitalist is still a capitalist, and they don’t want a union.”

About 4 percent of solar industry workers and 6 percent of wind workers are unionized, according to the 2020 US Energy and Employment Report. The percentage of unionized workers in natural gas, nuclear, and coal power plants is about double that, around 10 to 12 percent unionized (although still not a huge amount). In transportation, distribution, and storage jobs — which exist largely in the fossil fuel sector — about 17 percent of the jobs are unionized. Still, the solar and wind unionization rates are in line with the low national rate of unionized workers in the private sector, which is about 6.3 percent.

This is one of the big reasons there’s a real hesitancy on the part of many unions and workers to transition from fossil fuel to renewable jobs: They are worried the jobs waiting for them in wind and solar won’t pay as well or have union protections. This has long been a tension point between environmental groups and labor, often exploited by the right wing. Even though alliances between the two are forming, those underlying tensions won’t vanish easily.

“Just” Transitions Are Possible, But They Require State Investment

By Leanna First-Arai - Truthout, March 17, 2021

In spite of overt efforts by some energy executives to convince consumers otherwise, the global economy is already in the throes of a transition away from the drilling, refining and burning of fossil fuels. For certain communities — such as the estimated one-quarter of counties in the U.S. with the greatest potential for wind and solar that are existing fossil fuel employment hubs — a reasonably smooth economic transition to a fossil-free economy may be well within reach.

But for many workers, the idea that an “energy transition” is upon us still sounds the alarm. The “zero emissions” of climate policy proposals bring with it the electrification of everything: ditching combustion engines for electric ones in cars, trucks and busses; and equipping houses with heat pumps to replace natural gas furnaces, for instance. And while an aggressive commitment to electrifying all aspects of the economy could create an estimated 25 million jobs in the U.S. by some estimates, it’s a process often understood as “automation,” the repercussions of which those working in industry are no stranger. In the past, automation in workplaces from oil rigs to rubber plants has meant layoffs, school and municipal budget deficits, and in many cases, the devastation of entire towns.

A new report released today by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) details how working people in the United States have been abandoned by their employers and their elected officials during countless prior economic transitions, and suggests that failing to learn from past catastrophes in the shift away from fossil fuels could lead to significant further social unrest.

“We have rarely done a good job of supporting workers and their communities through these transitions,” Michael Leon Guerrero, executive director of LNS, said in a statement. “If we are to move forward on the climate policies we need — we have to assure to the greatest extent possible that workers and their communities will not get left hanging.”

The report, called the Just Transition Listening Project, draws on qualitative data from 100 “listening sessions” with union and non-union manufacturing and industrial workers, including those in the fossil fuel industry, but also public sector workers, educators and other community members living in areas that have already experienced or anticipate some form of economic transition, like a factory sent overseas or the decommissioning of a power plant.

The research is the most comprehensive to date to gauge U.S. labor and community sentiment around the current energy transition, and offers labor, activist and broader community perspectives on how hyper-local challenges and community-envisioned solutions might be balanced with and supported by federal funds and a big picture policy blueprint.

In addition to labor groups, participants include members of environmental justice and other community organizations and span the U.S. geographically, though the West Coast is slightly overrepresented and the South underrepresented. Across each of these groups, 63 percent of participants identified as white, 19 percent as Latinx, 10 percent as Black and 5 percent as Indigenous. The co-authors identify the underrepresentation of Black participants as a “major weakness” in their data and encourage more research centering the experiences of Black workers and communities.

At its core, the report recognizes that current conversations about our energy transition are still rife with misconceptions. “The idea of the working class that we conjure up is the big burly white guy with a hard hat on who’s whistling at you when you’re 25,” one participant told the researchers. But the identities and commitments of those impacted by the transition from fossil fuels to renewables are much more complex. “To have a just transition in this country, to have it after we come out of the pandemic, to have it when we get off of fossil fuels, people who do all that work, caring for children, teaching children, caring for sick people, delivering food” — many who are women of color, the same participant noted — “those people need to be paid a living wage.”

To bring about a truly “just transition,” the report suggests, policy makers must consider innovating in ways that reach far beyond offering a 60-year-old refinery worker a spot in a coding bootcamp when his most pressing concern might be doing whatever it takes to stay on the job so he can keep his health insurance, for instance.

On the contrary, our responses must consider immediate and long-term needs, be holistic, ambitious and participatory.

Workers and Communities in Transition: Report of the Just Transition Listening Project

By J. Mijin Cha, Vivian Price, Dimitris Stevis, and Todd E. Vachon, et. al. - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 17, 2021

The idea of “just transition” has recently become more mainstream in climate discourse. More environmental and climate justice advocates are recognizing the need to protect fossil-fuel workers and communities as we transition away from fossil-fuel use. Yet, as detailed in our report, transition is hardly new or limited to the energy industry. Throughout the decades, workers and communities have experienced near constant economic transitions as industries have risen and declined. And, more often than not, transition has meant loss of jobs, identities, and communities with little to no support.

While transition has been constant, the scale of the transition away from fossil fuels will be on a level not yet experienced. Fossil fuels are deeply embedded in our economy and society. Transition will not only affect the energy sector, but transportation (including passenger and freight), agriculture and others. Adding to the challenges of the energy transition, we are also transitioning to a post-COVID-19-pandemic world. As such, we cannot afford, economically or societally, to repeat the mistakes of the past that left so many workers and communities behind.

To better understand how transition impacts people, what lessons can be learned, and what practices and policies must be in place for a just transition, in the Spring of 2020 we launched the Just Transition Listening Project (JTLP). The JTLP has captured the voices of workers and community members who have experienced, are currently experiencing, or anticipate experiencing some form of economic transition.

Those who have suffered from transitions are rarely the ones whose voices are heard. Yet, no one is more able to fully understand what workers and communities need than those who have lived that experience. The JTLP is the first major effort to center these voices. In turn, the recommendations provided can make communities and workers whole. In many ways, these recommendations are common sense and fundamental to creating a just society, regardless of transition. Yet, the failure of elected officials to deliver just transition policies points to the need for wide scale movement building and organizing.

This report summarizes lessons learned and policy recommendations in three overall concepts for decision-makers: Go Big, Go Wide, and Go Far.

Read the text (PDF).

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