You are here

green syndicalism

NUMSA and allies call for dismantling the ‘mineral energy complex’

By NUMSA - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 19, 2015

Electricity Crisis Conference Declaration

  1. Introduction:

We, as representatives of trade unions that organise in the energy sector and delegates from communities that are struggling around outages, loadshedding, high electricity prices and poor quality of energy services, met for four days (from 02 to 05 June 2015) in the midst of what we consider as a far-reaching electricity crisis in our country. As we met, on the table of the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) is an application by South Africa’s electricity utility – Eskom – for a 25.3% increase in the price of electricity for the year 2015/16 to 2017/18. As we met, Nersa had agreed to grant municipalities an above-inflation increase of 12.2% from 01 July 2015 and that nine municipalities were applying for average increases above the Nersa increase guideline of 12.2%. We also gathered when delegates at this conference from two municipalities were unsure whether they will reach their homes at the end of our deliberations still with some power, as Eskom threatened to plunge into darkness their defaulting municipalities today.

The electricity crises that face us worsen with each day that passes. The crisis is multipronged. It is a supply crisis and chronic load-shedding. What we see is a financial meltdown of Eskom; massive cost and time overruns in the build programme of new power plants such Medupi and Kusile; and a worsening governance practices within Eskom as executives come and go, leaving with millions of rands as golden handshakes. We have also seen the downgrading of Eskom within capital markets and a ballooning debt for the utility as municipalities fail to pay their bills to Eskom.

As delegates to this Electricity Crisis Conference, we are enthused that our people are refusing to shoulder the implications and consequences of the crises. Throughout the four days, we heard of gallant battles against unaffordable electricity increases and imposition of prepaid meters that are being waged in different communities who refuse to have the burden of the electricity crises shifted onto them. At the forefront of these battles are women who unfortunately still bear the brunt of reproductive activities in our society. Our people realise that the electricity crises directly affects their children’s ability to learn and to be taught as schools are cut off. Our people realise that as most of their staple diets are electricity intensive, tariff hikes increase food hunger in South Africa. They know that an increase in the price of electricity will lead to retrenchments and short-time for workers.

Where unions and cooperatives meet: the example of Earthworker, Australia

Mark Tyler and Anna Boddenberg - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, April 7, 2015

We are currently facing two interrelated crises; catastrophic climate change, and massive economic collapse. Those in power are not responding appropriately to this reality. Earthworker, a worker-controlled cooperative movement based in Australia, is one creative response to this situation. In the face of climate change, Earthworker is building sustainable industry. In the face of economic collapse, Earthworker is building secure, dignified jobs in worker-owned cooperatives. In the face of inaction (or unhelpful action) from government and business, Earthworker is building a strategy that can be controlled and enacted from below, by workers and local communities. While the vision is expansive, it is starting the only way it can: from where we are currently standing, and with one step at a time.

At the end of 2014, Earthworker saw the mutualisation of Eureka’s Future in Dandenong, Victoria, Australia. This means a private business was transformed into a worker-owned cooperative factory, manufacturing high-quality hot water tanks. The transition from a traditional, privately-owned enterprise was facilitated by Earthworker, and has taken many years of leg-work. This is the first of a network of worker-owned cooperatives in sustainable industries across Australia that Earthworker will support and build.

Earthworker does not emerge out of a vacuum. The project is a result of years of struggle and draws from the lessons of both the labour and environmental movements. These histories inform and guide Earthworker. Three principles that are key to the project are; 1) a direct action approach of “show me don’t tell me”; 2) an insistence that workers have control over how our labour is used; and 3) a memory that struggles for the emancipation of labour and struggles for environmental justice are sister movements.

Pope’s encyclical sets the tone for June 29th Trade Union Climate Summit in New York

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 17, 2015

Just 11 days after Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment, New York will host a major gathering of 40 unions from 14 countries. With resistance to ‘extreme extraction,’ austerity and inequality all rising, unions see opportunities to begin to build a united global movement for fundamental change.  The Pope’s radical critique of the existing system is sure to resonate with the 100-person gathering.

More than 40 unions from 14 countries will participate in a one-day Trade Union Climate Summit in New York City on June 29th, 2015.  Hosted by 32BJ SEIU, approximately 25 unions from the US will be present, representing workers in energy, nursing and health care, public transport, food and retail, building services, as well as new organizing efforts among precarious workers in the New York City area. Roughly 30 allied organizations will also participate, including the Climate Justice Alliance, 350.org, and the Emerald Cities Collaborative. A full list of registered participants is here.

Why a summit?

The summit is being organized nine months after the massive People’s Climate March on September 21, 2014, and just 5 months before the ‘last chance’ UN climate negotiations (COP 21) in Paris in early December 2015. Unions and close allies will come together in New York determined to find ways to help better connect the rising climate movement with the growing global struggle against austerity and inequality.  Unions have been playing an important role in both movements, but in most instances fighting for climate protection (read: people protection) and building opposition to austerity, low pay and precarious work remain separate struggles. But the potential for building a new and tranformational ‘climate and class movement’ appears to be growing.

This potential seems particularly visible in Southern Europe where the left has won impressive electoral victories in recent months. Importantly, this is a left for which atmospheric and ecological degradation is not an afterthought, but a central question that reveals a basic truth: we live in a political economy that takes but does not give back. Both nature and labor are inseparable, and both are treated as a ‘resource’ from which value is extracted as needed and then dumped.

The June 29 summit in New York will hear from unions from Greece (Thessaloniki water workers) and Spain (Comisiones Obreras) as well as from Italy (CGIL) where the traditional political parties are also losing support. With an eye on the Paris climate talks, the summit will hear from two representatives from the main French trade union federation (CGT) regarding the preparations for the events around COP21.  The UN climate meetings have been the scene of large mobilizations in recent years, particularly Copenhagen in late 2009 and Durban in late 2011.

Energy Democracy and Just Transition Endorsed at Launch of South Africa’s New Trade Union Federation

By John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, May 1, 2017

At a historic launch event held outside Johannesburg on April 21-23, 2017, almost 1,400 voting delegates from two-dozen unions representing 700,000 workers convened to launch the new “South African Federation of Trade Unions” (SAFTU).

In addition to adopting the name, logo and colors — red, black and gold — delegates also endorsed a range of principles adopted at a preparatory “Workers’ Summit” convened by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) in April 2016, adopted a new constitution, and approved a report from the Steering Committee proposing a range of campaigning priorities for the next period.

In a recent article, then SAFTU convener Zwelinzima Vavi said:

We’ve got a mix of workers in the private sector, manufacturing, transport, mining and construction. And we’ve got unions in the public sector – the biggest ones are the South African Policing Union and the National Union of Public Servants and Allied Workers.[SAFTU] is independent but not apolitical. It is truly worker controlled and democratic and not ‘sloganising’ over the issues. SAFTU is truly fighting and militant.”

At a TUED strategy meeting in New York in early April, Karl Cloete, NUMSA’s Deputy General Secretary, told union representatives from 12 countries that while the new federation’s campaigning priorities will focus on the many grave and urgent challenges facing South Africa’s highly exploited workers and exceptionally vulnerable poor, SAFTU would also make energy democracy and just transition part of its core agenda.

Jobs vs the Environment: How to Counter This Divisive Big Lie

Jeremy Brecher - The Nation, April 22, 2014

In an era in which our political system is dominated by plutocracy, grassroots social movements are essential for progressive change. But too often our movements find themselves at loggerheads over the seemingly conflicting need to preserve our environment and the need for jobs and economic development. How can we find common ground?

The problem is illustrated by the current proposal of the Dominion corporation to build a Liquefied Natural Gas export facility at Cove Point, Maryland, right on the Chesapeake Bay. Seven hundred people demonstrated against the proposal and many were arrested in three civil disobedience actions.  But an open letter on Dominion letterhead endorsing the project—maintaining it will “create more than 3,000 construction jobs” most of which will go “to local union members”—was signed not only by business leaders, but by twenty local and national trade union leaders.

In the struggle over the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been described as the “Birmingham of the climate movement,” pipeline proponents have been quick to seize on the “jobs issue” and tout support from building trades unions and eventually the AFL-CIO. In a press releasetitled “U.S. Chamber Calls Politically-Charged Decision to Deny Keystone a Job Killer,” the Chamber of Commerce said President Obama’s denial of the KXL permit was “sacrificing tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs in the short term, and many more than that in the long term.” The media repeat the jobs vs. environment frame again and again: NPR’s headline on KXL was typical of many: “Pipeline Decision Pits Jobs Against Environment.” A similar dynamic has marked the “beyond coal” campaign, the fracking battle and EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act. Those who want to overcome this division must tell a different story.

Earth Day, Labor, and Me

By Joe Uehlein - Znet, April 19, 2010

The approach of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 provides us an opportunity to reflect on the “long, strange trip” shared by the environmental movement and the labor movement over four decades here on Spaceship Earth. 

A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world.  But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!”

Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO.  Walter Ruther, President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2000 to help kick the effort off – to be followed by much more.  Hayes recalls:

"The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial.  It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars.  Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence.  And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut."

Some people may be surprised to learn that a labor union played such a significant role in the emergence of the modern environmental movement.  When they think of organized labor, they think of things like support for coal and nuclear power plants and opposition to auto emissions standards.

Reversing Climate Change: What Will It Take?

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 26, 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.

On the weekend of September 21, 2014, people in 162 countries joined 2,646 events to demand global reductions in the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are generating climate catastrophe. An estimated forty thousand marched in London; thirty thousand in Melbourne; and twenty-five thousand in Paris. Some four hundred thousand joined the People's Climate March through the center of New York City. The climate protection movement had come a long way since 2006, when a march of one thousand through Burlington, Vermont proved to be the largest climate protest in American history. Yet, despite its exponential growth, whether and how the climate protection movement could realize its goals remained an open question.

The Failures of Climate Protection

Climate change poses an existential threat to our species, to every individual, and to all that any of us hold dear. Protecting the earth's climate is in the long-term interest of all humanity. Yet, efforts to cut carbon and other GHGs to a climate-safe level have been defeated for a quarter-century in arenas ranging from the United Nations to the US Congress.

Those failures are not what most climate protection advocates expected. From the scientific confirmation of global warming in the 1980s, they had laboriously built institutions like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and had painstakingly constructed a consensus among scientists,government leaders, and UN officials around the policies defined as necessary by the IPCC. The UN "framework agreement" was followed by the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Road Map for the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit. The world seemed to be proceeding on a rational, if tardy, course to address climate change.

With the collapse of the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, it became evident that the entire process had been little more than a charade in which world leaders, governments, and businesses pretended to address climate change while pursuing policies that pour ever more GHGs into the atmosphere. Copenhagen revealed a collection of greedy, advantage- seeking institutions whose leaders were unable to cooperate even for their own survival. The charade goes on: last November's extravagantly hailed US–China climate agreement, in the unlikely event that it is actually adhered to, will result in an estimated temperature rise of 3.8 degrees Celsius—nearly twice the 2-degree increase scientists say is the maximum compatible with human civilization as we know it. It is a suicide pact by the world's two leading polluters with the rest of the world as collateral damage.

In response to the failures of the official climate protection process, an independent climate protection movement has emerged. It is not controlled by any national or special interest. Instead, it has been organized globally and has demonstrated the capacity to act globally, exemplified by the actions in 162 countries for last year's People's Climate March. This movement has broken out of the constraints of lobbying and demonstrating within a legal framework set by governments by instead adopting civil disobedience as an important and legitimate part of its strategy. It has challenged the governments that permit climate destruction, the fossil fuel producing and using industries that conduct it, and the corporations and other institutions around the world that collude with it. In spite of its growth and commitment, the movement's ability to sharply reduce GHG emissions and establish climate-safe levels of carbon in the atmosphere has so far proven minuscule.

Confronting the Carbon Capitalists

By Seattle IWW - It's Going Down, November 14, 2018

Last summer brought another record wildfire season to the Pacific Northwest. Smoky air from fires in the region caused hellish air quality around the entire Northern Hemisphere. The causes of the forest fires and the destruction of our forest ecosystem generally are incontrovertible. Over one hundred years of fossil-fueled capitalist development and hundreds of years of violent colonial oppression–of people and the biological world–have driven the Earth to the brink.

Northwest forests, once some of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, have been clear-cut and laden with biocides. Complex interrelationships have been smashed with saws and machinery to make way for monoculture “working forests” devoid of biodiversity. Decades of fire suppression by the Forest Service on behalf of timber companies have left trees to grow on each other like matchsticks waiting to be lit.

In the face of all of this, liberals, true to form, have resorted to self-flagellation and hand-wringing. The New York Times Magazine’s recent piece, “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” by Nathaniel Rich, places the blame of climate change and ecocide squarely at the foot of an undefined human nature. The author mostly chronicles failed climate negotiations between nation-states at the United Nations.

In his telling, we were so close to breakthroughs, but then greedy human nature stopped everything. Our collective desire for more stuff led to the failure of negotiations being made in good faith between nations. There is no other possible direction for history to have unfolded. Or so the story goes.

International diplomacy’s climate failures are a failure of all humans in the eyes of the liberal elite like Rich. That a nation-state would act counter to the will of its subjects is unthinkable to the privileged classes.

The victims of colonialism and capitalism have always known otherwise. At the same time “human nature” was failing to protect the earth in UN meeting halls, working-class people were mobilizing against extractive industry in Northern California and being targeted for assassination. Indigenous peoples around the world were suffering from state violence for fighting against the very oil drilling that state officials said they were trying to curb. Everywhere the triplet monsters–capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy–tread, organized resistance by the oppressed fought back. Contrary to the pearl-clutching lament that “human nature led to this,” water protectors, land defenders, and workers have laid their bodies in front of the machinery of extractive capitalism countless times. And this is nothing new.

Extinction Rebellion and the Environmental Unionism Caucus

By staff - Bristol IWW, November 15, 2018

Bristol IWW has voted to give it’s full support to Rising Up! and it’s Extinction Rebellion campaign and establish an Environmental Unionism Caucus. Please join us in London this Saturday to demand action on the impending climate catastrophe.

The inaction and indifference of the mainstream unions on this matter is unacceptable. In the face of a global environmental crisis that will affect the most vulnerable first, Unite and GMB have voiced their support for expanding Stansted airport as well as building a third runway at Heathrow. It is vital that organisations like the IWW take the lead on this issue and push the workers movement into urgent action.
For more info please see: ecology.iww.org.uk/node/2849 or this article on Left Foot Forward by one of our members, Alex.

Pages