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After 18 Months, Striking Warrior Met Miners and Families Hold the Line

By Ericka Wills - Labor Notes, October 7, 2022

A somber bell toll broke the silence outside the West Brookwood Church in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The white-gloved hand of Larry Spencer, International Vice President of Mine Workers (UMWA) District 20, solemnly struck the Miners’ Memorial bell as the names of victims of mine-related deaths were read aloud.

“As we gather this evening for our service, it is appropriate that we remember in the past twelve months over 2021 and 2022 there has been tremendous heartache as the result of mining accidents across this country,” Thomas Wilson, a retired UMWA staff representative, announced from the podium. “Twelve coal miners’ lives have been snuffed out—also, 19 metal and non-metal miners—for a total of 31 fallen miners since we last gathered.”

The annual Miners’ Memorial Service commemorates not only those who left for work in the mines over the past year never to come home again; it also honors the 13 men who died in a series of explosions in Jim Walter Resources Mine No. 5 in Brookwood on September 23, 2001. Standing on the front lawn of the church in the shadows of mine tipples, families reminisced about gathering at the same location on that fateful day in September when they anxiously waited to hear if their loved ones had survived the blasts.

In 2001, the No. 5 mine was owned by Walter Energy. Today it is part of Warrior Met Coal, the company at the center of the UMWA’s 550-day strike, the longest and largest ongoing strike in the United States. As strikers, families, and community members gathered to remember the fallen miners, all were reminded that what is at stake in the Warrior Met strike is, literally, life and death.

DRACONIAN New Rail Industry Policy WORSENS Supply Chain Crisis, CRUSHES Workers

Australia’s Recent Power Market Crisis and the Struggle for Public Ownership

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, July 8, 2022

This past June 15th, Australia’s Electricity Market Operator (AEMO) announced the suspension of wholesale electricity spot markets in all regions covered by the country’s National Electricity Market (NEM). The NEM typically provides 80% of Australia’s electricity, mainly in developed coastal areas around the eastern third of the country.

The market suspension came in response to soaring wholesale electricity prices and serious shortages in supply — a combination of factors that, according to AEMO, made it “impossible to continue operating the spot market while ensuring a secure and reliable supply of electricity for consumers” in line with national regulatory requirements.

Key unions in Australia have recognized for years that the NEM does not serve the interests of unions, working people, or the public in general. According to Michael Wright, acting national secretary of the country’s Electrical Trades Union (ETU):

The ETU has been sounding the alarm about the NEM for years. This vindicates our long-held concerns that the market is broken and beyond repair.

The experiment in synthetic markets, trying to deliver essential public services through profit-motivated, tax-avoiding multinational energy corporations, has failed shockingly.

Similarly, Colin Long, Just Transitions Organizer for Australia’s Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC), points out that such markets only function when they ensure profits for private owners and investors. As Long states in a background document he has written on the current crisis:

The NEM [like other market-based systems] is designed to deliver electricity in a way that is profitable to generators, mostly privately-owned, not in a way that maximises public or social benefit to Australians.

As Long further explains:

Privatisation was supposed to lead to lower prices for consumers. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Reinstating public ownership would eliminate rentier behaviour by transmission and distribution companies and the need to concede to the profit demands of big overseas investors. It would enable us to plan the energy system transformation, with a clear schedule for closure of fossil fuel generators to give certainty to workers, their communities and electricity grid managers. It would enable us to schedule fossil fuel generation replacement by renewables in a way that guaranteed supply, efficiency and reduced cost – and ensures we meet decarbonisation targets. It would enable us to ensure that workers are guaranteed a just transition to new opportunities and new industries.

Readers who would like a copy of Long’s background document can contact him at clong@vthc.org.au.

Both ETU and VTHC are part of the TUED network, and have played key roles in advancing the project.

Book Review: The Future is Degrowth

By Timothée Parrique - Timothée Parrique, July 3, 2022

The best the degrowth literature has to offer served on a silver platter. That’s how I would describe The Future is Degrowth: A Guide to a World beyond Capitalism(June 2022) by Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vetter, and Aaron Vansintjan.[1] Reading it, I felt like Neo in The Matrix learning everything there is to know about Kung Fu all at once – “I know degrowth.” 

This kind of synthesis was long overdue. The degrowth literature has grown rather large and I cannot think of a single text that maps it all. Research on degrowth used to be my favourite guide to degrowth but there is only so much you can do in a 20-page article (plus, the literature has more than doubled since it was published in 2018). Degrowth: A vocabulary for a new era (2014) is a good pot luck of perspectives but lacks coherence and depth due to its multi-author, short-entry format. I tried my best in The political economy of degrowth (2019) but the end result is rather cumbersome. 

In The Future is Degrowth, the authors have achieved a colossal Spring cleaning of the field. Sufficiency, dépense, commoning, pluriverse, unequal exchange, conviviality, self-determination, and many more (I have counted more than sixty concepts throughout the book). With such an exhaustive span, this book is to degrowth what the IPCC is to climate science: the best available literature review on the topic. 

But warning: this book is not for the academically faint hearted. If you’re looking for a wide-audience introduction to degrowth, this is not one of them, and I would rather recommend The Case for Degrowth[G. Kallis, S. Paulson, G. D’Alisa, F. Demaria], a shorter, less demanding way of covering the basics. If you’ve never heard of the topic at all, Less is more[Jason Hickel], Post Growth: Life after capitalism[Tim Jackson], and Degrowth [Giorgos Kallis] are also good places to start. 

The Future is Degrowth is rather long (more than 100,000 words) but neatly organised. The literature is chiselled into six tidy lists: 3 dimensions and 7 critiques of growth, 5 currents and 3 principles of degrowth, 6 clusters of proposals, and 3 strategies for change. The book itself is divided in seven chapters. After a long introduction (12% of the total book length), the first two chapters deal with understanding economic growth and its critics (that’s about half of the book). The remaining chapters follow Erik Olin Wright’s famous triad: Chapter 4 is about the desirability of degrowth (11%), Chapter 5 about its viability (13%), and Chapter 6 about its achievability (11%). This leaves us with a short concluding chapter (5%) titled “The future of degrowth.” 

With such a monumental piece of work, I could not resolve myself to write a short review, which would feel like summarising all seasons of Game of Thrones in a single tweet. This book deserves a proper dissection, and so I will here process chapter by chapter, taking all the space needed to summarise its content and, in the end, analyse its (many) strengths and (very few) weaknesses.

Bankers Are Driving the Wheat Price Explosion, Not the War in Ukraine

By Matteo Tiratelli - Red Green Labour, May 19, 2022

In late March, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that the war in Ukraine risked unleashing a “hurricane of global hunger”. With climate change-induced droughts in east Africa and intense heatwaves in India, they feared that a war in Europe’s most fertile and productive region could compound the situation and lead to food shortages on an unprecedented scale. The UN’s concerns were made terrifyingly concrete earlier this month, when the World Food Programme estimated that “44 million people around the world are marching towards starvation”.

The problem is, this narrative – that war and climate change are leading to mass starvation – is wrong.

The recent news cycle has been driven by the explosion in the price of wheat, which has gone from $7.58 per bushel at the start of the year to nearly $12 a few months later. But the prices of basic commodities are extremely volatile. And these spikes have little to do with the amount of food going around, or how much people are eating. Instead, they are driven by financial speculation.

Challenges and perspectives of a just transition in Europe

Putin’s Carbon Bomb

By Ted Franklin - System Change not Climate Change, March 8, 2022

At a time when the entire world needs to focus on radical climate policy changes, he has thrust us into a war that might be as existentially dire as the climate crisis.

On day three of the Russian invasion of Ukraine a worldwide group of scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) gathered on Zoom to put the final stamp of approval on the UN body’s latest devastating report on the world’s feeble progress on climate.

A dark gloom hung over the proceedings as war threatened to derail global action on climate for years to come. Then Svitlana Krakovska, a Kyiv-based Ukrainian climatologist leading her country’s delegation to the virtual meeting, breached the IPCC’s longstanding commitment to apolitical discourse with a trenchant observation.

“Human-induced climate change and the war on Ukraine have the same roots — fossil fuels and our dependence on them,” she reportedly told her colleagues during a break from the air-raid sirens blaring intermittently in the Ukrainian capital. “The money that is funding this aggression comes from the same [place] as climate change does: fossil fuels. If we didn’t depend on fossil fuels, [Russia] would not have money to make this aggression.”

After Krakovska spoke, scientists and climate diplomats from the 195 IPCC nations listened in amazement as Oleg Anisimov, the head of the Russian delegation, apologized “on behalf of all Russians who were not able to prevent this conflict.”

Nationalizing Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Practical Solution to Rising Inflation

By C.J. Polychroniou and Robert Pollin - Truthout, February 24, 2022

Since mid-2020, inflation has been rising, with the level of average prices going up at a faster rate than it has since the early 1980s. In January 2022, prices had increased by 7.5 percent compared to prices in January 2021, and it now looks like the U.S. may be stuck with higher inflation in 2022 and even beyond.

Why are prices rising so dramatically? Are we heading toward double-digit inflation? Can anything be done to curb inflation? How does inflation impact growth and unemployment? Renowned progressive economist Robert Pollin provides comprehensive responses to these questions in the exclusive interview for Truthout that follows. Pollin is distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

C.J. Polychroniou: Back in the 1970s, inflation was the word that was on everybody’s lips. It was the longest stretch of inflation that the United States had experienced and seems to have been caused by a surge in oil prices. Since then, we’ve had a couple of other brief inflationary episodes, one in the late 1980s and another one in mid-2008, both of which were also caused by skyrocketing gas prices. Inflation returned with a vengeance in 2021, causing a lot of anxiety, and it’s quite possible that we could be stuck with it throughout 2022. What’s causing this inflation surge, and how likely is it that we could see a return to 1970s levels of inflation?

Robert Pollin: For the 12-month period ending this past January, inflation in the U.S economy was at 7.5 percent. This is the highest U.S. rate since 1981, when inflation was at 10.3 percent. Over the 30-year period from 1991 to 2020, U.S. inflation averaged 2.2 percent. The inflation rate for 2020 itself was 1.2 percent. Obviously, some new forces have come into play over the past year as the U.S. economy has been emerging out of the COVID-induced recession.

To understand these new forces, let’s first be clear on what exactly we mean by the term “inflation.” The 7.5 percent increase in inflation is measuring the average rise in prices for a broad basket of goods and services that a typical household will purchase over the course of a year. At least in principle, this includes everything — food, rent, medical expenses, child care, auto purchases and upkeep, gasoline, home heating fuel, phone services, internet connections and Netflix subscriptions.

In fact, prices for the individual items within this overall basket of goods and services have not all been rising at this average 7.5 percent rate. Rather, the 7.5 percent average figure includes big differences in price movements among individual components in the overall basket.

The biggest single factor driving up overall inflation rate is energy prices. Energy prices rose by 27 percent over the past year, and within the overall energy category, gasoline rose by 40 percent and heating oil by 46 percent. This spike in gasoline and heating oil prices, in turn, has fed into the total operating costs faced by nearly all businesses, since these businesses need gasoline and heating oil to function. Businesses therefore try to cover their increased gasoline and heating oil costs by raising their prices.

COP26 Corporate Sponsors: A Barrier To A Just Transition

By Earth Strike UK - Earth Strike, February 18, 2022

In November last year, representatives and leaders of most of the world’s governments met in Glasgow to discuss how to respond to the climate crisis, and hopefully make a deal that would save us from the worst effects of climate change. They failed. While the conference did end with an agreement, it was not sufficient to keep global temperature rises below 1.5°C.

COP26 was supported by a wide variety of major multinational corporations, whose involvement, if not directly responsible for the failure of the conference, at least gives an insight into the deeply flawed approach of those in power that did ultimately result in COP26 (and every other climate conference before it) ending so disastrously.

Twenty three corporations are listed as supporting the conference in some capacity, either as Principal Partners, Partners, or Providers. These corporate sponsors provided financial support as well as services in kind. While it’s difficult to know how much each of these corporations paid, we know that their contributions did not go unrewarded.

In exchange, they received a variety of perks in the form of publicity, networking and marketing opportunities. This is most apparent for the eleven Principal Partners, whose logos feature on the COP26 website, appearing at the bottom of almost every page. This is all in addition to the marketing and promotional material they created for themselves.

The Principal Partners were given exhibition space inside the ‘green zone’, the part of the conference that was accessible to the public, as well as the opportunity to hold events as part of the official green zone program.

The business case for being a COP sponsor is clear, and has little to do with effecting genuine, meaningful change. Sponsorship of COP26 was an opportunity for corporations to present themselves as environmentally conscious (softening their image and maybe gaining an edge with environmentally minded consumers), while also allowing them to guide climate and environmental policy in a way that is profitable to them.

Despite their involvement in COP26, and their apparent desire to address the climate crisis, these corporations continue to produce enormous amounts of carbon dioxide. A recent investigation by the Ferret, an independent non-profit media cooperative in Scotland, found that the eleven Principal Partners alone were responsible for 350 million tonnes of C02 emissions in 2020, more than the total produced within the UK that year — although the companies claim that some of these emissions may have been counted more than once.

The sponsors claim to have bold plans for decarbonisation. They also point towards reductions in CO2 emissions they have already made, however these reductions are not always what they seem.

Take the case of Scottish Power. It proudly claims that all the energy it generates comes from wind power, however it achieved this by selling its fossil fuel investments to Drax, which runs the highly polluting biomass power station in Yorkshire, for £702 million in 2018. In effect, not only did Scottish Power fail to reduce the total amount of carbon emissions being produced, but profited from its continuation.

The fact that environmental destruction can be obscured by the sale of fossil fuel assets from one corporation to another proves that the corporate sponsors cannot be viewed in isolation. They are all part of a self-sustaining and self-reinforcing network of capitalism. Even if we were to accept Scottish Power’s claim of only producing renewable energy, we should remember that it is a subsidiary of the Spanish company Iberdrola, which has built four new gas power plants in Mexico since 2019.

Likewise, Microsoft has committed to go “carbon negative” by 2030, meaning that it would pull more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than it emits. This pledge is significantly undermined by the services it provides to the oil and gas industry. In 2019, Microsoft partnered with the oil giant ExxonMobil to provide software to improve the efficiency of its operations in the Permian Basin oil field. It is estimated that Microsoft services could allow ExxonMobil to extract 50,000 more barrels of oil per day by 2025 than it otherwise would have.

DLA Piper, a multinational legal firm and COP26 provider, likes to boast its support for corporate environmental initiatives, decarbonisation and the renewable energy industry. But it also provides direct practical support for the oil, gas and mining industries through legal representation and consultancy. DLA Piper enables oil and gas exploration, extraction and transportation by supporting licensing bids, financing, asset acquisition, arbitration, and dispute resolution within the industry.

Multinational corporations operate in a complex network of capital, tied together by ownership, commerce and consultancy. Even if at first glance a corporation doesn’t seem to be harmful, it still plays its part in keeping the process going.

Green Union Organizing: Avoiding the "Jobs versus Environment" Trap

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, February 7, 2022

Note to readers: the intended audience for this piece includes environmental justice activists and/or workers sympathetic to them (and it should go without saying that there may be some overlap between the two):

As the climate and ecological crises deepen front line and working class communities are rising up to oppose the continued capitalist extractivism that continues to render their communities, homes, and sacred lands in to sacrifice zones.

Although this is not a new phenomena, it has been happening more and more. Typically, one of the favorite tricks in the capitalist playbook is to mobilize their employees--very often unionized employees, particularly those represented by conservative [2] business unions [1]--to parrot their corporate talking points, (at public hearings or in various forms of media) and usually these frame the issue as one of community and environment versus workers and jobs. Usually such spin is mostly false, but often the conservative business union officials and the rank file members buy into it. To make matters worse, the mainstream press, which inevitably serves capitalist interests, dutifly repeats and spreads the narrative. Such efforts are intended to isolate the community opposition, and either induce agencies, tasked with regulating the corporations in question, to take the corporate side, or--more likely--to provide cover for regulators already tacitly under industry capture to affirm their favorability towards the industry. The bosses know this trick often works, and they have been using it for over a half century. The trick isn't infallible, however, and this text is intended as a beginning guide on neutralizing its effects.

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