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Defend and Transform: Mobilizing Workers for Climate Justice

By Jeremy Anderson - Global Labour Column, September 8, 2021

Mobilizing the global labour movement for climate justice and just transition is one of the defining challenges of our times. However, for workers in many sectors, it is unclear how climate issues will affect them specifically, and how they should respond. To date, much of the debate around just transition has focused on workers in industries that are facing job losses. These struggles are important. But in order to build a transformational vision that can mobilize workers in all sectors from the ground up, we need to understand a wider array of industry perspectives.

In this essay, I will discuss three issues. First, I will make the case for why climate justice and just transition are fundamental issues for the labour movement. Second, I will review debates around just transition, and particularly the contrast between worker focused and structural transformation approaches. I will argue that we need to build a bridge between the two perspectives, particularly in scenarios where it is important to engage workers about the future of their specific industries. Third, I will analyse three different scenarios from the transport sector that illustrate the various challenges that workers face: public transport as an example of industry expansion, aviation as an example of industry contraction, and shipping as an example of industry adaption.

Transit Equity Network Calls on Congress to Pass Legislation that Truly Supports Accessible, Safe and Equitable Transit in Support of H.R.3744

By Judy Asman - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 20, 2021

The network of transit riders, community organizations, environmental groups, and labor unions responsible for organizing Transit Equity Day annually on Rosa Parks’ birthday to declare transit equity as a civil right have issued an Open Letter to Congress in support H.R. 3744, the “Stronger Communities Through Better Transit Act,” drafted by Rep. Henry C. (Hank) Johnson (D: GA-04) and introduced to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in early June. Twenty-five organizations have signed on to the letter including the Amalgamated Transit Union, Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Program, the Sierra Club, the NAACP Niagara Falls Branch, Central Florida Climate Action, Pittsburghers for Public Transit, and the Labor Network for Sustainability.

“We see transit equity as a civil right, workers’ right and climate-justice issue; and are committed to ensuring equitable access to public transit throughout the United States. Expanding public transit can help combat the causes of climate change and also fight economic injustice by providing greater accessibility in marginalized communities and ample training and job growth for transit workers,” the letter says. It adds:

“H.R. 3744, would authorize $20 billion annually from fiscal years 2023 through 2026 in operating assistance to transit agencies to improve frequencies, extend service hours, or add new high-frequency transit service. It also aims to prioritize that service to disadvantaged communities, areas of persistent poverty, and places with inadequate transit services.

“Workers and communities need better access to affordable, reliable public transit to meet essential needs and to help address climate disruption. Our economy will not grow without it. Communities of color will continue to be disproportionately left behind—today, people of color comprise 60 percent of transit ridership. Transit workers will continue to shoulder the pressures that come with infrequent bus service, lack of safety in transition beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, and possible job loss when new technologies are implemented without proper worker training. The Stronger Communities Through Better Transit Act will not single-handedly ensure transit equity; however, it is a critical step in securing a more reliable, safe, and frequent transit future for communities across the country.”

Just transition needed in transit electrification, labor leaders say

By Chris Teale - Utility Dive, April 27, 2021

Dive Brief:

  • As public transit agencies electrify their bus fleets and other vehicles, they must ensure a just transition to protect workers who may be put out of work by the new technologies, transportation labor groups warned Monday.
  • In a joint policy statement, leaders of two unions that represent transportation workers — the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU), alongside the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO (TTD) — said transit agencies should be required to show the workforce impacts of buying electric vehicles (EVs), establish a national workforce training center to train current employees on those systems and guarantee that workers will be represented on task forces and committees around climate change and technology.
  • The groups cautioned that if the federal government fails to mandate worker protections as transit agencies electrify their operations, major job losses could result, while a lack of training programs could leave workers unprepared for the next generation of vehicles.

Read the remainder of the article here.

Freight Automation: Dangers, Threats, and Opportunities for Health and Equity

By staff - RAMP, HIP, and Moving Forward Network, April 20, 2021

The freight transportation system in the United States is a fundamental part of our economy, infrastructure and environment, but many freight system frontline workers labor in arduous conditions yet receive low wages and limited benefits.

Freight Automation: Dangers, Threats, and Opportunities for Health and Equity explores how automation in the freight transportation system affects the health of workers, communities, and the environment—and also how these effects will be inequitably felt by people with low incomes and communities of color. Created PHI’s Regional Asthma Management and Prevention, Moving Forward Network, Human Impact Partners and community partners, the report also provides recommendations for policies and programs that promote health and equity for frontline workers and fence-line communities.

Read the text (PDF).

They killed themselves with greed: How a strike stopped privatization in DC’s Metro

By Ray Valentine - Organizing Work, December 29, 2019

Ray Valentine describes how a scheme to cut labor costs in the DC-area transit system through privatization backfired when workers at the private subcontractor went on strike.

On October 24, 120 bus operators, mechanics, and other workers represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 walked off the job at the Cinder Bed Road MetroBus garage in Lorton, Virginia, launching the first strike to hit the Washington, DC metro area’s mass transit system in more than 40 years. The strike was unplanned and small — small enough that it won’t show up in the federal government’s tally of work stoppages — and after more than two months, workers are still out with no settlement in sight. But even though the issues that provoked the dispute have not been resolved, the fight has led to major changes that have strengthened the position of workers throughout the transit system.

The buses out of Cinder Bed drive routes that are part of the Washington Metro system and the workers wear Metro uniforms, but the garage is operated by Transdev, a French multinational. The garage was outsourced as part of a long-term plan by Metro management to cut costs by contracting out as many services as possible in order to drive down labor costs. The strike began as a fairly straightforward economic conflict over wages and benefits, and the union’s ambitions going into it were modest. But on December 13, the union and Metro reached a deal that would halt further privatization and even bring some services that have already been outsourced back in-house. 

The result is a rare win for labor, but it’s not entirely clear how it happened, even to the people who won it.

Reinvent Transport for Reduced Emissions and More Jobs

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

By Ian Angus - Climate and Capitalism, February 16, 2014 (used by permission)

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions will throw millions of people out of work! That claim has made many working people reluctant to support action to slow climate change. But is it true?

Our Jobs, Our Planet, a report written in 2011 by Jonathan Neale for the European Transport Workers Federation, argues the opposite, that changing the ways that goods and people are moved can reduce emissions from the transport sector by 80% while creating over 12 million new jobs – 7 million in transportation and 5 million in renewable energy.

The author of Stop Global Warming, Change the World writes that such a program will be a big win for workers and for the planet: “there are more than 40 million people out of work in Europe now. The planet needs help. They need work. If we succeed, we can solve both problems at once.”

(Working Paper #12) The Road Lest Travelled: Reclaiming Public Transport for Climate-Ready Mobility

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, May 2019

This working paper examines some of the key questions at the heart of climate-related debates on transport, and around passenger road transport in particular. It also looks at some of the more important issues surrounding public transport specifically, and the failure of neoliberal transport policy to improve and expand public transport in ways that fulfill its full social and environmental potential.

Part One: Mobility Rising: Transport, Energy and Emissions Trends

In Part One of this paper, we survey the current trends in energy, transportation and emissions. Although emissions continue to rise across the global economy, transport-related emissions are growing faster than those of other major sectors. Transport is now responsible for almost one-third of final energy demand and nearly two-thirds of oil demand. It is also responsible for nearly one-quarter of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the use of fuel. This means that controlling and reducing CO2 emissions from cars, trucks, and motorcycles must become a policy priority.

Part Two: Neoliberal Transport and Climate Policy at the Crossroads

In this part, we review the policy landscape, including how transport-related emissions from the transport sector are addressed in the Paris Climate Agreement—which is hardly at all. We show that neoliberal climate policy has failed to make any real progress in addressing transport-related emissions, while at the same time preventing public transport from realizing its potential, mainly due to the insistence on a “public-private partnership” model in a futile effort to “unlock” private investment.

Part Three: The Electric Car—Myths and Realities

We summarize the myths and realities surrounding electric cars, and highlight some of the major issues associated with their possible mass deployment. We show that common assumptions about the role of private EVs in the future of sustainable mobility are not at all consistent with what is actually happening, what is likely to happen in the future, or with what is even possible or desirable from a trade union perspective.

Part Four: Taming the Transport Network Companies (TNCs): From Uberization to Enhanced Public Mobility for All

In Part Four, we look at the rise of TNCs and other recent developments and trends in urban transport. This has triggered a global debate on “new mobility services.” In this part of the paper we argue that TNCs currently undercut public transport systems and contribute to traffic congestion and often increase emissions. But the same “platform technologies” that gave us Uber and similar companies can become integrated into public transport systems in ways that complement traditional public transport modes and reduce dependence on private vehicles.

Part Five: Shifting Gears: A Trade Union Agenda for Low-Carbon Public Mobility

Finally, we summarize some of the climate-related arguments that unions can use in their fight to defend, expand and improve public transport. We believe these arguments are consistent with the values and priorities of many transport unions and progressive trade unionism in general.

The authors hope this paper will encourage unions representing workers in all sectors to deepen their discussions around the future of transport—to join the conversation about what public transport can and should look like in future, and what needs to happen in order to bring that vision to reality.

Read the report (PDF).

Flight attendants know the real job killer isn’t the Green New Deal. It’s climate change

By Sara Nelson - Vox, April 17, 2019

“Pretty much everyone on the plane threw up” is not a sentence most travelers want to hear.

But that’s a direct quote from the pilots’ report after United Express Flight 3833 operated by Air Wisconsin hit extreme turbulence on approach to Washington, DC, in 2018.

Extreme turbulence is on the rise around the world. It isn’t just nauseating or scary — it’s dangerous.

In June 2017, nine passengers and a crew member were hospitalized after extreme turbulence rocked their United Airlines flight from Panama City to Houston.

A few weeks ago, a Delta Connection flight operated by Compass Airlines from Orange County, California, to Seattle hit turbulence so sudden and fierce, the flight attendant serving drinks — and the 300-pound drink cart — was slammed against the ceiling of the plane. The flight attendant’s arm was broken and three passengers were hospitalized.

In my 23 years as a flight attendant and president of our union representing 50,000 others, I know firsthand the threat climate change poses to our safety and our jobs. But flight attendants and airline workers have been told by some pundits that the Green New Deal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey’s environmental proposal, will ground all air travel.

That’s absurd. It’s not the solutions to climate change that kills jobs. Climate change itself is the job killer.

TUC Congress 2017: UK Unions to Vote on Public Ownership of Energy, Climate Crisis

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, August 25, 2017

The annual conference of the 5.7 million member TUC will take place on September 10-13, 2017 in Brighton.  The Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union (BAFWU) has submitted a resolution that calls on the TUC to “work with the Labour Party and others that advocate for an end to the UK’s rigged energy system to bring it back into public ownership and democratic control.”  Amendments to the resolution have been submitted by the Communication Workers Union,  Fire Brigades Union, the train drivers union ASLEF, and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association. 

Resolution 10

Congress notes the irrefutable evidence that dangerous climate change is driving unprecedented changes to our environment such as the devastating flooding witnessed in the UK in 2004.

Congress further notes the risk to meeting the challenge of climate change with the announcement of Donald Trump to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement. Similarly, Brexit negotiations and incoherent UK government policy risk undermining measures to achieve the UK carbon reduction targets.

Congress welcomes the report by the Transnational Institute Reclaiming Public Services: how cities and citizens are turning back privatization, which details the global trend to remunicipalise public services including energy.

Congress believes that to combat climate change effectively and move towards a low-carbon economy we cannot leave this to the markets and therefore need a strong role for the public sector in driving the measures needed to undertake this transition.

Indonesian Uber Drivers Fight Back with Anarcho-Syndicalism

By staff - Black Rose Anarchist Federation, January 30, 2018

As the “uberization” of the US economy continues, along with it is an ever precarious workforce struggling to make ends meet in the dog-eat-dog world of the so-called “sharing economy.” This trend is the same around the world, with Uber claiming to have more than two million drivers in over 80 counties across the globe now.

In Indonesia these conditions are little different. But radical unionists are hoping to change this and are organizing to take back their dignity, better pay and conditions and for great control over their work and lives. Kommunitas Uber Mainstream, abbreviated KUMAN which means ‘bacteria,’was formed by three Uber motorcycle drivers in the Spring of 2017. They have since crafted a list of 14 demands, led four one-day strikes and have grown to a membership of 6,000 drivers. All but two are male in the male dominated field of drivers. KUMAN is structured horizontally with regional sections meeting regularly in parks or other available spaces to discuss strategy and in turn chose delegates to larger general meetings. The union has no dues and supports itself largely by sale of stickers and t-shirts. Drivers can become members by proving they are an active driver and answering three basic questions: 1. What’s your perspective on this group?, 2. Are you a freedom fighter or a loser? and 3. What do you know about what working with Uber is like? KUMAN works together with Persaudaraan Pekerja Anarko-Sindikalis (PPAS), the two-year old anarcho-syndicalist initiative in Indonesia and an affiliate of the International Workers Association (IWA). The majority of the union has decided to adopt the ideas and strategies of anarcho-syndicalism for their struggle, although other political tendencies exist within the union.

KUMAN is continuing to escalate the fight for justice at Uber, with more strikes and actions planned. We hope that this interview will help inspire solidarity with their cause, so that workers around the world will answer KUMAN’s next call for action and join in putting pressure on Uber. We particularly hope that other rideshare and sharing economy workers will learn from the experiences we share here and connect with KUMAN drivers to build international networks of struggle and organization.

We were excited to be able to talk with Enrique, an Uber driver from Jakarta, Indonesia who was one of the initial three founders of KUMAN. We were also joined by Ricardo, originally from Surabaya, Indonesia but now living in Melbourne, Australia. He works in retail grocery and is active with the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation – IWA. The interview was conducted by Jesus, a Los Angeles based healthcare worker with Black Rose/Rosa Negra. The three sat down together in a cramped Hong Kong hostel room to talk about the situation of Uber drivers in Indonesia now and how anarchist ideas are being applied to build workers power among drivers in Indonesia.

Please note that for purposes of translation, clarity, and length this interview has been heavy edited.

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