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Beating the Climate Clock: Workers, citizens and state action in the UK

By Hillary Wainright - Transnational Institute, February 21, 2024

It’s April 2020. In the UK, the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height. Ventilators were running out. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was calling for ‘Our Great British Companies’ to come to the rescue and manufacture emergency supplies. Apart from existing producers of ventilators, there was little response. But at the Airbus factory in North Wales, the well-organised Unite branch representing over 4,000 workers, took matters into their own hands and, in a matter of weeks, led the conversion of the factory’s research and development facility into an assembly line producing components for up to 15,000 ventilators for the National Health Service (NHS).

‘Without the union’, commented the Unite convenor, Darren Reynolds, ‘it would have been chaos, lots of problems without any procedure to resolve them. We’ve built up a tried and tested organisation and established procedures for solving them’. He cites the all-important role of workers’ elected health and safety representatives in turning the Welsh government-funded Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (part of the Airbus site) into an adapted sterile environment. ‘Our 60 health and safety reps have been able to pre-empt the problems and solve them in advance’, he explains.

In this way, 500 Airbus workers, previously producing aircraft wings, turned their skills to producing ventilator parts, meeting social needs, securing jobs, and strengthening their union organisation in the process.

The organisation of the conversion process, the speed at which it was achieved, and the capacity of the workforce to collaborate to meet the challenge, were impressive. This was largely due to the role of the union branch and its shop stewards who organised the aircraft-turned-ventilator workers and their determination to extend collective bargaining beyond wages and conditions to change the product on which they worked. 

Moreover, in the context of a crisis in the supply of ventilators to meet the needs of COVID patients, and a call from a Conservative Prime Minister for companies to make them, management could hardly resist the union’s public-spirited efforts to find a solution. Finally, and especially significant for today’s climate emergency, this worker-led experience of successful industrial conversion also offers a glimpse of the potential role of workplace trade unions in moving from a high-carbon to low-carbon economy without job losses. At the very least, the experience points to the importance of a well-unionised workplace for the achieving such a transition.

Trillbilly Tom Sexton REACTS to Milton Friedman Saying the QUIET PART OUT LOUD on Immigrants

By Tom Sexton, Union Jake, and Adam Keller - Valley Labor Report, February 19, 2024

Why isn't the Green Energy Transition happening Faster?

Resisting Green Capital

Employment Impacts of New U.S. Clean Energy, Manufacturing, and Infrastructure Laws

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Gregor Semieniuk, and Chirag Lala - Political Economic Research Institute, September 18, 2023

The report Employment Impacts of New U.S. Clean Energy, Manufacturing, and Infrastructure Laws by PERI researchers Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Gregor Semieniuk and Chirag Lala estimates job creation, job quality, and demographic distribution measures for the three major domestic policy initiatives enacted under the Biden Administion—the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation (BIL), and the CHIPS Act. Pollin et al. find that, in combination, total spending for these measures will amount to about $300 billion per year. This will generate an average of 2.9 million new jobs within the U.S. economy as long as spending for these programs continues at this level. The newly created jobs will be spread across all sectors of the U.S. economy, with 45% in a range of services, 16% in construction, and 12% in manufacturing. Critically, the study finds that roughly 70% of the jobs created will be for workers without four-year college degrees, a significantly higher share than for the overall U.S. labor market. As such, these measures expand job opportunities especially for working class people who have been hard hit for decades under the long-dominant neoliberal economic policy framework.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

(Working Paper #16) Beyond Recovery: The Global Green New Deal and Public Ownership of Energy

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, August 31, 2023

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, calls for a GGND and a commitment to GPGs intensified. In July 2020, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared, “The global political and economic system is not delivering on critical global public goods: public health, climate action, sustainable development, peace…we need a New Global Deal to ensure that power, wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly and fairly at the international level.” 

Authored by TUED Coordinator Sean Sweeney, the paper argues that a GGND of the left must distinguish itself from green “recovery economics.” Many North-based progressives are comfortable talking about the need for “more public investment,” and the need for “ambitious climate action” but many continue to be vague or agnostic on questions of public ownership and control. 

The paper argues that an undiscerning approach to public investment weakens the case for a GGND. It shows how the current emphasis on “de-risking” private investment means that public money is used to make profitable what would not otherwise be profitable. Obama’s stimulus package of 2008, to the more recent Green Deal for Europe, and the Biden Administration’s Inflation Recovery Act that commits $369 billion of public spending to secure long-term revenue streams and profits for mostly private investors and developers. The more recent “Just Energy Transition Partnerships” and the emphasis on “blended finance” are an extension of this approach. 

Taking a deep dive into the roots of neoliberal climate policy, Beyond Recovery shows how a “recovery” narrative has helped both conceal and perpetuate the failures of the current investor-focused approach to energy transition and climate protection. For more than three decades, this approach has shown itself to be ineffective in terms of reducing economy-wide emissions. Sweeney describes the policy as a resilient failure, the extent of which is not always fully grasped. 

Energy: The Means of Production

The paper argues that a left GGND must view public investment as a means to extend public ownership, with energy systems and critical supply chains being a priority target. 

Public ownership of energy gives governments the power to pivot away from the highly commodified “energy for profit” regime. More than any single policy option, control over energy will ensure that governments are better positioned to advance an economy-wide energy transition in ways that can control and then reduce emissions while also addressing joblessness, inequality, and other social problems. It can set the stage for the kind of sweeping interventions in the political economy that are needed to address climate change, confront the political power of fossil fuel interests, and intercept the dynamics of “endless growth” capitalism. 

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

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