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Should Unions Strike for a Just Transition?

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 10, 2017

After more than a decade of tenacious union lobbying of government negotiators, the words “a just transition of the workforce” was written into the preamble of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

But now what? Encouraged by Paris, unions around the world have committed fresh energy towards giving Just Transition some practical significance, otherwise it will remain little more than a moral appeal for fairness in a corporate-dominated world economy where both morality and fairness are increasingly scarce.

This Bulletin features an article by TUED coordinator Sean Sweeney on the recent commitment made by unions in South Africa to strike for a “just transition.” However, the goal of the threatened strike is to halt the plan of the national utility (Eskom) to close 5 coal-fired power stations, a move that threatens 40,000 jobs.  Titled “When Stopping Coal Plant Closures Makes Environmental Sense” the article, which first appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of New Labor Forum, urges environmentalists not to support the closures, but to join with unions in opposing Eskom’s proposed actions.  Supporting the closures, argues Sweeney is “a poisoned chalice,”  that “will separate the environmental movement from the unions with whom it should be allied. And whatever environmental gains the 5 closures might produce at the margins in terms of avoided emissions and pollution levels will be more than offset by the impact of ‘jobs versus environment’ political fragmentation. This is why the Eskom closures should be opposed, but opposed in a way that might lay the political foundations for a more fundamental energy transition.”

Since the article was written, Eskom’s war with the private renewable energy companies has continued, with the utility pushing back against high-cost of power purchase agreements for wind and solar power. TUED union NUMSA and also the new South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) have called for a socially owned renewables sector in order to allow for a just energy transition from the present coal-dominated power system to one that can take advantage of South Africa’s abundant supplies of wind and sunshine.

Puerto Rico Braces for Wave of School Privatization

By Jeff Bryant - Common Dreams, February 8, 2018

The warnings came right after the storm: Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico would be used as an opportunity to transfer management of the island’s schools to private operators of charter schools, and introduce voucher programs that would redirect public education funds to private schools.

Sure enough, with nearly a third of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 schools still without power and hundreds more plagued with crumbling walls, leaky rooves, and spotty Internet, Governor Ricardo Rosselló recently announced he will propose to create charter schools and voucher programs as a recovery strategy for the island’s education system.

That announcement followed shortly after a new fiscal plan from Rosselló that included closing over 300 of schools.

Don't privatize Puerto Rico's electric power

By MST - Socialist Worker, January 30, 2018

In late January, Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced plans to privatize the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (PREPA, by its initials in English; AEE by its Spanish initials). It is a terrible, but not unexpected, stage in a still-disastrous situation, where as many as one-third of residents remain without power four months after Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

Rosselló, whose promise to have 95 percent of power restored by Christmas went by the board, said his government "will sell shares in AEE to firms that will transform the power generation system." His televised address was filled with the well-worn buzzwords used to justify previous schemes for privatizing other public services, like health care, telecommunications and the island's main airport. The new system, Rosselló said, will be "modernized and less costly" and "consumer-centered...where you will have choices."

At a press conference after Rosselló's January 23 address, Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of the electrical workers union (UTIER, in its Spanish initials), brushed off the governor's claims, saying "We will never fall for the government' game of using the people's suffering [to push through its agenda]."

In the face of these developments, the socialist newspaper Bandera Roja, published by the Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras (MST, or Socialist Workers Movement), published the following statement denouncing the long history of corruption and mismanagement of the power authority under the island's two main parties, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) and Rosselló's New Progressive Party (PNP). The statement also notes how the years of austerity under PREPA's restructuring officer, the corporate "turnaround" specialist Lisa Donahue, weakened the power grid further.

Puerto Rico’s Power Union Denounces Governor’s Decision to “Sell the Assets” of the Public Power Utility (PREPA)

By Angel Figueroa Jaramillo - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, January 23, 2018

UTIER DENOUNCES GOVERNOR’S ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE PRIVATIZATION OF THE PUBLIC POWER UTILITY (AEE, OR PREPA)*

San Juan, Puerto Rico, January 23rd, 2018

The Union of Workers of the Electric and Irrigation Industry (UTIER) denounces Governor Ricardo Rossellá’s announcement to privatize the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). The announcement demonstrates the insensitivity of this government and leaves clear that the welfare of the people is not among the interests of the current Governor.

UTIER has been consistent in denouncing the privatization plans of various government administrations and also the recent intentional slowness in the process of restoring the electrical system.

The Governor is taking advantage of the pain of thousands of people who are currently without electric power. Given the insensitivity of Governor Ricardo Rosellá of announcing the privatization of PREPA in the midst of the suffering of almost half a million Puerto Ricans who still do not have electricity, UTIER once again raises its voice in favor of the people. We have tried through our brigades to restore electric power as soon as possible, despite all the obstacles that the government, the Engineers brigade, the Board of Fiscal Control, and the upper management of PREPA have erected to try to prevent us achieving that goal.

For decades we have warned how various administrations have undermined workers and intentionally damaged the infrastructure of PREPA. This was intended to provoke the people’s discontent with the service in order to privatize our first industry, “the jewel in the crown”, to strip us—the people—of what is ours. “Because PREPA is a public good that belongs to the people and not to the politicians,” said the president of the UTIER, Angel Figueroa Jaramillo.

Figueroa Jaramillo explained how, since the 1970s, governments of the two main parties have tried to privatize PREPA. In each of these attempts, UTIER has reacted immediately, warning the people what this would mean for the country.

“We asked, how come it was possible that, facing so much devastation left by the hurricanes, that we would prioritize hiring a company such as Whitefish, which did not have the staff or experience to handle an emergency like the one we had gone through? Then we met the endless irregularities in the awarding of the contract that was signed with Whitefish and the powerful political links it has with the current US administration. Everything we said was proven to be correct and has been so in every complaint we have made over decades”, said Figueroa Jaramillo.

The President of UTIER insisted, “The position of UTIER is that electricity is a human right and not a commodity. That is what our people have realized after the ravages of hurricanes Irma and Maria, after having run out of electricity and suffering so many hardships and the loss of family members, either because they have died or had to leave the country. That is why we strongly oppose privatization in any of its expressions, whether through the transfer of assets or the transfer of management to private companies. We ask the people the following question so that they think clearly about it: If PREPA was not profitable and able to generate profits, would there be a company that wanted to acquire it?”

The president of the UTIER urged people to also remember the declarations of the Board of Fiscal Control (JCF) a year ago in which it presented the privatization of PREPA as one of its goals. “We cannot leave the heritage that belongs to us–-the people—in private hands. And one of them is PREPA. Because if at some point we face another atmospheric phenomenon such as the ones to which we are exposed every year during hurricane season, we already know how the private generators AES and Ecoelectrica will react: turning off their machinery in order not to lose their investment. That’s what they did on this occasion. They are not worried about the suffering of the people. That situation cannot be repeated and if PREPA is privatized, that is what’s in store for us. Furthermore, we must not be deceived: privatization increases the electric bill and makes us more vulnerable as the people. Let’s not allow the main industry for the development of our country to be stolen from us. Let’s not wait for it to happen”, added Figueroa Jaramillo.

Puerto Rico’s Decision to Privatize Power Coupled with Trump’s Alarming Infrastructure Plan Spells Out Devastation for Vulnerable Communities

By Wenonah Hauter - Common Dreams, January 23, 2018

“In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people are still reeling from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. In a time of such dire need, the Trump administration has failed to provide the support needed to restore water to 7 percent of Puerto Rican residents and power to the nearly one in three residents going without, paving the way for today’s catastrophic announcement. The decision to privatize Puerto Rico’s state-owned power company follows the same dangerous path mapped out in the Trump administration’s draft infrastructure plan.

“Whether it’s water or energy, privatization helps Wall Street at the expense of the wellbeing and health of communities, particularly low-income families and people of color. The leaked infrastructure plan from the Trump administration similarly provides a blueprint for handing over our public land and public water to Wall Street. It seeks to privatize our local water systems and other critical public services, prioritizing limited federal dollars to Wall Street and corporate investors. This scheme would also sell off federal assets and create a new infrastructure fund by opening up federal lands and waters to mineral and energy development benefiting the oil and gas industry.

“A just and equitable infrastructure plan would dedicate funding for water systems, have a progressive revenue stream, and prioritize vulnerable communities with the greatest affordability and public health needs like Puerto Rico. This plan does none of this.

“Federal funding for water infrastructure is at its lowest point in decades. Instead of reversing the decline, Trump’s plan provides zero dollars to the highly successful State Revolving Fund programs, which are the main source of federal support for our local water and sewer systems. Meanwhile, it seeks to open up the clean water fund to private entities. This amounts to taking away existing federal money from our local governments to give to big water corporations.

“From Flint to Puerto Rico, our communities deserve better from our leaders. Our public water systems need dedicated, annual federal support to make sure that every person in our country has safe and affordable water.”

NUMSA condemns NERSA for granting Eskom a tariff increase

By Irvin Jim - NUMSA, December 18, 2017

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa condemns the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) for granting Eskom a 5.2% tariff increase. Last month NUMSA and the United Front participated in public consultations on Eskom’s request for a 19.9% price increase in the 2018/2019 financial year, where we rejected the request. Below are five reasons why NUMSA rejects any increase in the cost of electricity:

  1. NUMSA is dismayed by NERSA’s decision to grant Eskom an above inflation 5.2% price increase. By doing so the energy regulator is demonstrating it does not act in the interests of the working class majority and the public in general. Most companies big and small simply cannot afford it. The tariff hike is likely to result in plant closures which will lead to more job losses and stifle growth in the economy.
  2. For the working class, access to electricity, like water, is a human right and therefore we demand free electricity for the working class and the poor, and affordable electricity for industry. The working class majority and the poor cannot afford to pay and the state should not commodify this basic human necessity.
  3. Eskom is poorly led and its senior management team is drowning in scandals. The management team has shown that it cannot be trusted to clean up the power utility. The outcome of the disciplinary hearing of Matshela Koko, the suspended acting CEO shows proves this. Koko was disciplined for failing to declare a conflict of interest regarding his step-daughters ownership of shares in a company which was awarded more than a billion rand in contracts by an Eskom division which he led. He was cleared of all charges and the chairperson has reinstated him. This is despite the fact that the hearings have been discredited because of allegations of board interference, and threats of intimidation.
  4. Furthermore in a period of just two years Eskom has had three CEO’s. It’s CFO has been suspended under a cloud of corruption and mismanagement.  Clearly the participation of private companies such as KPMG, Mackenzie and Trillian in the looting of Eskom resources, and the undue influence of the Gupta family in allegations of state capture, is a clear indication that paying more for electricity means endorsing this blatant theft of our country’s resources.
  5. NERSA has demonstrated that it is completely oblivious to the suffering of the working class majority. StatsSA has confirmed that more than half the population lives in abject poverty; more than 36% of the working population is unemployed and the gap between the rich and poor is ever widening. To make matters worse the economy is in junk status and growth prospects are very low. The majority of the working class cannot afford to pay for electricity. Therefore an above inflation increase of 5.2% will compound all these problems and increase the chances of a violent explosion in the country.

NUMSA together with the United Front will be holding regular demonstrations and pickets across the country next year to highlight these issues. What we need is free, safe and accessible energy for the working class and the poor. We reject any price increase because it will put electricity out of economic reach of the majority of people in the country.

NUMSA and United Front Joint Memorandum on the Eskom tariff increase

By Irvin Jim, Trevor Ngwane, and Lindiwe Malindi - NUMSA, December 1, 2017

The National Union of Metal Workers (NUMSA) and the UNITED FRONT (UF) are extremely dismayed by the opportunistic call made by the Eskom board and its management to increase the electricity tariff by 19.9%. We view this demand by Eskom as nothing more than a gross abuse of power, and an attempt by the State Owned Entity (SOE) to hold the entire country and the economy hostage. This is being done by an entity which has been moving from one scandal to another with absolutely no leadership. In fact, it is extremely shocking that in a period of just two years, Eskom has changed CEO’s three times, and its CFO, Anoj Singh, has been suspended under a cloud of corruption and mismanagement allegations. But the same company and its board have the audacity to make an outrageous demand for a 19.9% tariff increase. They have no regard for the catastrophic implications which will trigger a national crisis of plant closures of small, medium and large companies; as well as causing retrenchments in all big companies. It will in fact destroy all opportunities to stimulate real economic growth and jobs.

Socio-Economic Situation

NUMSA and the UF are of the view that the economy has been in a technical recession for several months which means the working class of this country are facing a job-loss blood bath across all sectors. Currently more than 36% of the working population is unemployed, and the numbers are increasing. More than 30.4 million of the population lives in abject poverty; the average worker supports at least 5 dependents on his/her meagre income, and at least 26 million South Africans go to bed hungry. Any change in the price of electricity will compound all these problems and increase the chances of a violent explosion in the country.

It is against this backdrop that NUMSA and the United Front reject Eskom’s outrageous demand for a 19.9% tariff increase. The Eskom board are clearly completely deaf and blind to the suffering of the working class because they decided to make this proposal in spite of the fact that there is glaring evidence that the working class majority simply cannot afford an increase in the electricity rate. The United Front and NUMSA have decided to hold this demonstration to express our anger with Eskom for wanting to increase the suffering of the working class, by requesting a tariff increase.

NUMSA’s Submission to NERSA on Eskom’s Application for a tariff increase

By Irvin Jim - NUMSA, November 15, 2017

NUMSA is a manufacturing union and since 2009, the union has witnessed the deep global crisis of capitalism in the manufacturing sector. NUMSA has witnessed hemorrhaging of jobs, plant closures retrenchments the downward variation of conditions and benefits of workers and the casualization of labour. At the centre of this crisis, especially in small, medium-sized companies has been the uncompetitive Eskom electricity tariffs.

The history of job losses can be traced to wrong the ANC government neo-liberal policies such as liberalization of trade, removal of exchange controls, continuous and the maintenance of high interest rates by the Reserve Bank. This situation was worsened the day government made the decision to move Eskom away from its core mandate which was to supply cheap electricity to the economy in order to grow the economy, to electrify communities and to create jobs. This mandate was replaced by a backward government and NERSA with the decision to prioritize their balance sheet, which was nothing more than to chase profits.

NUMSA has consistently called for the nationalization of all commanding heights of the economy and all our minerals. In the case of Eskom, we have consistently made a call that government must nationalize the strategic coal mines that must supply the national grid with cheap quality coal, so that we can escape the continuous exorbitant prices of primary coal, and deliver a competitive electricity tariff. If one were to look at the exorbitant primary coal tariff increases from 2007 to 2016, they are indeed shocking and appear to be a money-making scheme which is not in line with the original mandate of Eskom.

Should Unions Strike for a Just Transition?

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 10, 2017

After more than a decade of tenacious union lobbying of government negotiators, the words “a just transition of the workforce” was written into the preamble of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

But now what? Encouraged by Paris, unions around the world have committed fresh energy towards giving Just Transition some practical significance, otherwise it will remain little more than a moral appeal for fairness in a corporate-dominated world economy where both morality and fairness are increasingly scarce.

This Bulletin features an article by TUED coordinator Sean Sweeney on the recent commitment made by unions in South Africa to strike for a “just transition.” However, the goal of the threatened strike is to halt the plan of the national utility (Eskom) to close 5 coal-fired power stations, a move that threatens 40,000 jobs.  Titled “When Stopping Coal Plant Closures Makes Environmental Sense” the article, which first appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of New Labor Forum, urges environmentalists not to support the closures, but to join with unions in opposing Eskom’s proposed actions.  Supporting the closures, argues Sweeney is “a poisoned chalice,”  that “will separate the environmental movement from the unions with whom it should be allied. And whatever environmental gains the 5 closures might produce at the margins in terms of avoided emissions and pollution levels will be more than offset by the impact of ‘jobs versus environment’ political fragmentation. This is why the Eskom closures should be opposed, but opposed in a way that might lay the political foundations for a more fundamental energy transition.”

Since the article was written, Eskom’s war with the private renewable energy companies has continued, with the utility pushing back against high-cost of power purchase agreements for wind and solar power. TUED union NUMSA and also the new South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) have called for a socially owned renewables sector in order to allow for a just energy transition from the present coal-dominated power system to one that can take advantage of South Africa’s abundant supplies of wind and sunshine.

Will Public Banking Bring More Clean Energy Programs to California?

By Nithin Coca - Sharable, September 28, 2017

At a recent forum at Oakland City Hall, experts from the public banking and community energy sectors explored how the creation of a public bank could help communities transition to clean energy while creating economic opportunities.

"We need to build a more sustainable world, we need to be using energy that is positive for the environment and community, and we need to do it a way that support local jobs," said Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan who is leading the public bank creation efforts.

The forum took place in Oakland, California, just days after the approval of a resolution to fund a feasibility study by the City Council, with support from neighboring cities. The first and only public bank in the U.S. is the Bank of North Dakota.

"A public bank can really create community wealth in ways other institutions are not capable off," said Gregory Rosen, the founder of High Noon Advisors, a local consulting firm with experience in clean energy investing. "It can help people of different backgrounds and income levels come together, for the good of the community."

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