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labor and environment

Just Transition, System Change, and Revolutionary Green Transformation

By Steve Ongerth - Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 21, 2016

The term “Just Transition” is becoming increasingly prevalent in discussions involving workers, climate change, and post carbon energy economics.

Wikipedia describes Just Transition as, “a framework that has been developed by the trade union movement to encompass a range of social interventions needed to secure workers’ jobs and livelihoods when economies are shifting to sustainable production, including avoiding climate change, protecting biodiversity, among other challenges.”

This is particularly timely given the fact that humanity faces a deepening crises due to global warming, brought on by capitalist economic activity centered on a fossil-fuel based economy. In order to prevent the absolute worst case scenarios of what will almost undoubtedly a warming world, at least 80% of the known fossil fuel reserves will need to remain unextracted, and humanity will need to transition to a renewable energy based post-carbon economy. Such a shift will inevitably require a massive transformation of the means of production, likely affecting much of the working class.

Already we’re witnessing the beginnings of major upheaval simply due to the innate characteristics of chaotic capitalist market activity, as 100,000s of workers jobs are imperiled by collapsing coal, oil, and commodities markets worldwide, combined with just the beginnings of a major shift as disruptive technologies such as wind and solar achieve greater and greater share of the mix of energy sources now available.

Furthermore, climate justice and/or environmental activists know—at least intuitively—that the fossil fuel based economy, including all parts of its supply chain must be shut down as rapidly as possible and replaced by ecologically sustainable alternatives, and all attempts at expansion of the fossil fuel based activity must be opposed, by any means necessary, including (but limited to) direct action. 

In this context, the issue of jobs and just transition has become a major topic. Obviously, shutting down any project cold (even if possible) would result in the loss of jobs performed by the workers, who’re not responsible for the activities of their employers (and quite likely do not entirely agree with their employers’ motives). Even limiting such projects can potentially negatively affect the workers’ livelihoods. Given such a threat, it’s understandable that these workers would oppose efforts by climate justice and environmental activists to disrupt fossil fuel supply chains.

It’s not a new concept...

(Read the entire document here in PDF Form)

Unions and the Climate Justice Movement

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, October 7, 2015

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.

Where does the union movement stand on the issue of climate justice? The answer to that question is not entirely simple. First of all, it's important to understand the differences between revolutionary unions (most of which are syndicalist--such as the CNT, FAI, SAC--or Marxist--such as NUMSA--in their orientation, or some hybrid inclusive of both and more--such as the IWW) and mainstream reformist unions, such as the AFL-CIO.  For most revolutionary unions, climate justice is an inherent part of the struggle to overthrow capitalism, abolish wage slavery, and create a new society within the shell of the old. For example, the IWW has organized an environmental unionism caucus that dedicates itself to climate justice and other ecological issues. The South African union, NUMSA, is a supporter of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED)1 and has issued a statement calling for the end to the "Mineral Industrial Complex" (even though they represent mine workers) in favor of renewable energy.

Where the reformist unions (sometimes called "business unions" or "class collaborationist" unions by their detractors) stand varies widely, and to be accurate, some of these "reformist" unions have more (or less) "revolutionary" orientation within the spectrum of the mainstream labor movement. While many still believe that capitalism can be reformed, the evolving realities of capitalism--which is becoming extremely repressive as it imposes increasingly crushing austerity upon the working class--the ever heightening urgency of addressing capitalist induced global warming, and the increasingly impossible-to-ignore realities of police violence, movements like Black Lives Matter, and other social issues are driving many unions to question their adherence to it, beyond the mere rank and file militants within each of them.

One would expect the Building Trades and most heavy industry based unions in the United States, many of which are still largely dominated by white male workers, to be least supportive of climate justice (or even likely to swallow the rhetoric of climate denialism) and conversely expect the service unions, many of which are predominantly composed of women and People of Color to be most supportive of it, and in some cases that's true, but not always! The actual "geography" of where unions stand on climate justice is actually quite complex2, inconsistent, and in some instances contradictory.  Sorting it out completely is well beyond the scope of this article, but it is illustrative to cover some general ground and cite a few interesting examples.

Why Union Workers and Environmentalists Need to Work Together with Smart Protests

By Les Leopold - Alternet, June 21, 2017

As Trump slashes and burns his way through environmental regulations, including the Paris Accord, he continues to bet that political polarization will work in his favor. Not only are his anti-scientific, anti-environmentalist positions firing up some within his base, but those positions are driving a deep wedge within organized labor.  And unbeknownst to many environmental activists, they are being counted on to help drive that wedge even deeper.

Trump already has in his pocket most of the construction trades union leaders whose members are likely to benefit from infrastructure projects – whether fossil fuel pipelines or new airports or ...... paving over the Atlantic. His ballyhooed support of coal extraction  has considerable support from miners and many utility workers as well.

But the real coup will come if Trump can tear apart alliances between the more progressive unions and the environmental community. Trump hopes to neutralize the larger Democratic-leaning unions, including those representing oil refinery workers and other industrial workers.  That includes the United Steelworkers, a union that has supported environmental policies like the federal Clean Air Act and California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, and has a long history of fighting with the oil industry – not just over wages and benefits but also over health, safety and the environment.  

To get from here to there, Trump is hoping that environmental activists will play their part -- that they will become so frustrated by his Neanderthal policies, that activists will stage more and more protests at fossil fuel-related facilities, demanding that they be shut down in order to halt global climate crisis.  

Oil refineries present a target-rich arena for protest. On the West Coast they are near progressive enclaves and big media markets in California and Washington.  Yet many who live in fence line communities would like the refineries gone, fearing for their own health and safety. Most importantly, they are gigantic symbols of the oil plutocracy that has profiteered at the expense of people all over the world.

But from Trump's point of view, nothing could be finer than for thousands of environmentalists to clash at the plant gates with highly paid refinery workers. Such demonstrations, even if peaceful and respectful, set a dangerous trap for environmental progress. Here's why: 

Creating a Just Transition Webinar

By Jeremy Brecher, Labor Network for Sustainability - July 14, 2017

How can we organize to avoid letting our opponents pit "jobs," workers and unions against climate, water and community protection? How can we build "just transition" that includes a better future for workers who produce and use fossil fuels, construction workers who build fossil fuel infrastructure and communities that depend on them?

Climate Solidarity: Workers Vs. Warming

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 25, 2017

Download CLIMATE SOLIDARITY: WORKERS VS. WARMING free!

Workers have no greater interest than to prevent the destruction of the earth’s climate on behalf of themselves and their posterity. But workers often act as an organized force to oppose climate protection measures in the name of their interests as workers. How is such a paradoxical state of affairs possible? How did we get in such a state? How can we change it? How can the working class reorganize itself to fight for climate protection? Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming proposes answers to these questions.

Climate Solidarity presents a vision for the labor climate movement. It offers a comprehensive and at times provocative view of the past, present, and future of organized labor and climate change. It provides a substantive analysis for leaders and activists in the labor climate movement. It presents a well thought out, historically informed analysis both of climate change and of organized labor. Climate Solidarity will be read and discussed by those who will shape labor’s response to the climate crisis.

Jeremy Brecher is the author of more than a dozen books on labor and social movements, including the labor history classic Strike!, recently published in an expanded fortieth anniversary edition by PM Press. Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming is part of Brecher’s Climate Insurgency Trilogy, along with Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival and Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual.

The Climate Insurgency Trilogy

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 25, 2017

The Labor Network for Sustainability is pleased to announce the publication of Jeremy Brecher’s Climate Insurgency Trilogy:

Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival (2nd edition)

Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming

Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual

Together these three books present a comprehensive look at the challenges and possibilities of protecting the earth’s climate through a global nonviolent climate insurgency.

Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival (2nd edition) presents the first history of climate protection movements “from above” and “from below”; explains why climate protection efforts have so far failed; and proposes a worldwide constitutional insurgency to overcome that failure.

Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming presents a vision for the labor climate movement that provides a comprehensive and at times provocative view of the past, present, and future of how workers and the labor movement relate to climate change.

Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual tells how to put the climate insurgency strategy into action. It provides a handbook for climate insurgents.

Jeremy Brecher is the author of more than a dozen books on labor and social movements, including the labor history classic Strike!, recently published in an expanded fortieth anniversary edition by PM Press. He is a co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability.

Fighting for Green Solutions to Pittsburgh’s “Sewage in the Rivers Problem”

By Thomas Hoffman - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 4, 2018

Almost 7 years ago, six Pittsburgh based organizations realized that our region was going to spend $2-4 billion dollars of area residents’ money to stop 9+ billion gallons of untreated sewage from flowing into our iconic three rivers. The overflows occur when stormwater runs off roads roofs and parking lots into the storm sewers which are the same as the waste sewers.

Pittsburgh is not unusual – many older industrial cities have the same problem. If you combine all the money that will be spent by these cities fixing this problem it totals to roughly half a trillion dollars.

The groups formed the Clean Rivers Campaign to win a “maximum green first followed by right sized gray” solution to cleaning our rivers. They felt that in addition to cleaning our rivers such a solution would bring maximum community benefits back to area residents. These benefits include long term local family sustaining Union jobs, cleaner air and water, and revitalized communities.

The six organizations are Pittsburgh United, a PWF affiliate composed of labor, faith and community groups, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, a faith based organization, three enviro groups -Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and Nine Mile Run Watershed Association and Action United, a low income neighborhood organizing group. The Unions in Pittsburgh United (SEIU, UFCW and USWA) have been very supportive of the campaign because the neighborhoods where much of the green investments would happen are where their members live.

The alternative solution being promoted by our regional sewer authority, ALCOSAN, is the construction of miles of massive tunnels to collect all the stormwater runoff and sewage overflow. The sewage would then be pumped out of the tunnels using pumps powered by fossil fuels and then treated  before being released into the river again. While this would solve the sewage in the rivers problems it would have none of the community benefits listed above. It would also do nothing to reduce the flooding that may low income and minority communities are experiencing.

Unions from 12 Countries Call for a Global Moratorium on Fracking

By Bruno Dobrusin and Sean Sweeney - Unions Against Fracking, November 9, 2015

Thirty trade union bodies representing tens of millions of workers have issued a statement calling for a “global moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas, coal seam gas, and shale oil.”  Among the thirty first-signers are national trade union centers from Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Nepal, Peru and the Philippines; two Global Union Federations representing education and public service workers, and key unions in health care, energy and water utilities.

Unions are also among more than 1,000 organizations that have signed the Global Frackdown for Paris.

“In Argentina we have witnessed the heroic resistance to fracking being led by the Mapuche people in Neuquén province,” said Adolfo “Fito” Aguirre of Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina. “The YPF-Chevron agreement to frack for shale gas and oil has led to heavy police repression of activists, and homes of Mapuche residents have been burned to the ground. The prospect of high-volume fracking in Argentina will lead to even more resistance–we need a global response.”

  • If you or your union would like more information about this initiative, please contact UAF here.
  • Local, national and international level unions are all invited to sign on.
  • Resources for unions on fracking here.

The Statement:

We Call for a Global Moratorium on Fracking

We are national trade union centers, global union federations, and individual unions representing millions of workers in the global North and South.

We call for a global moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas, coal seam gas, and shale oil.

Fracking is happening or is being proposed in a growing number of countries. In Argentina and Canada indigenous people have led the resistance, and in Bulgaria and Romania farmers have engaged in direct action against the gas companies.

Fracking has led to attacks on land rights, and the large amounts of water used in fracking also threatens to increase water scarcity in areas where water supply and access pose real problems for people, particularly those in poor rural communities.

In almost every country or region where fracking is either proposed or already happening it has met determined opposition from a wide array of people and organizations.

The experience of fracking in the United States since 2002 has shown that the process threatens the health and quality of life of communities situated near drilling sites.

There are tens of thousands of shale gas wells in the U.S. alone – and water contamination is a known result of drilling. The high-volume use of carcinogenic chemicals such as silica also poses a threat to health, particularly to workers on drilling sites and who handle the wastewater from fracking. In the U.S. companies are not even required by law to disclose the chemicals used in the process.

We are also concerned about the impact of fugitive methane from drilling sites on global warming. Recent drill-site and atmospheric studies show high levels of methane leakage — suggesting that shale gas is worse than coal in terms of its impact on the atmosphere.

In calling for global a moratorium on fracking, our unions stand in solidarity with all communities, municipalities, regions and nations who have already introduced moratoriums or are attempting to do so.

Sean Sweeney of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy presentation to NZ ECO conference 2016

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (YouTube), August 20, 2016

Sean Sweeney's introduces the work of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy to ECO conference 2016:

A national coalition demands transit justice

By Kacie Harlan - Socialist Worker, February 14, 2018

JUST OVER 62 years ago, Rosa Parks defied Jim Crow segregation that consigned Black passengers to sit in the back of the bus. Her act of resistance spurred the African American community to organize the 381-day-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the most important events of the civil rights movement.

Half a century later, Park's civil disobedience has inspired a national coalition of labor, civil rights and environmental groups to organize Transit Equity Day.

According to the Labor Network for Sustainability, Transit Equity Day "is a collaborative effort of several organizations and unions to promote public transit as a civil right and a strategy to combat climate change." The coalition chose Parks' birthday of February 4 for the day of action, but observed it on February 5 this year since it was a weekday.

While the coalition is small and the day of action made few headlines, Transit Equity Day is a good first step toward a badly needed public transit movement in the U.S.

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