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Leaping Backwards: Why is Energy Poverty Rising in Africa?

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, July 18, 2022

How can the world end energy poverty in the Global South and simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change? In 2021, 860 million people had no access to electricity. [1] Today, a third of all humanity lacks access to reliable power. Roughly 2.6 billion people heat their homes with polluting fuels and technologies, and using traditional stoves fueled by charcoal, coal, crop waste, dung, kerosene, and wood.2 The majority of families in the Global South are today able to turn on an electric light—and therefore have “access to electricity” for at least some hours in the day—but for many that is as far as it goes. For other basic needs, dirty and perhaps life-threatening energy continues to be the norm.

The urgency of providing energy to the great numbers of people in the Global South who lack it runs headlong into the necessity to divert climate disaster by reducing worldwide carbon emissions. It is this challenge that sits at he center of current debates on “sustainable development.” For some years, the standard answer from the climate policy world has been the following: the Global South is well positioned to “leapfrog” the phase of centralized energy and jump feet first into the transition to modern renewables, in the same way as mobile phones have proliferated in the developing world without first having to install traditional land-line infrastructure.3 Whereas large nuclear, coaland gas-fired power stations and hydroelectric dams take years to build, by comparison wind, solar, and battery technologies are small, easy to install, and, the argument goes, increasingly affordable. Rural communities without electricity can set up stand-alone “micro- grids,” so there is no need for traditional transmission and distribution grids which are expensive and inefficient. The Global South—which refers broadly to Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, and the developing countries in Asia—is blessed with so much sun and wind, there is no reason why energy poverty cannot be consigned to history relatively quickly.4

That is the good news. The bad news is that it is not happening, and there are few signs that it will.

Australia’s Recent Power Market Crisis and the Struggle for Public Ownership

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, July 8, 2022

This past June 15th, Australia’s Electricity Market Operator (AEMO) announced the suspension of wholesale electricity spot markets in all regions covered by the country’s National Electricity Market (NEM). The NEM typically provides 80% of Australia’s electricity, mainly in developed coastal areas around the eastern third of the country.

The market suspension came in response to soaring wholesale electricity prices and serious shortages in supply — a combination of factors that, according to AEMO, made it “impossible to continue operating the spot market while ensuring a secure and reliable supply of electricity for consumers” in line with national regulatory requirements.

Key unions in Australia have recognized for years that the NEM does not serve the interests of unions, working people, or the public in general. According to Michael Wright, acting national secretary of the country’s Electrical Trades Union (ETU):

The ETU has been sounding the alarm about the NEM for years. This vindicates our long-held concerns that the market is broken and beyond repair.

The experiment in synthetic markets, trying to deliver essential public services through profit-motivated, tax-avoiding multinational energy corporations, has failed shockingly.

Similarly, Colin Long, Just Transitions Organizer for Australia’s Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC), points out that such markets only function when they ensure profits for private owners and investors. As Long states in a background document he has written on the current crisis:

The NEM [like other market-based systems] is designed to deliver electricity in a way that is profitable to generators, mostly privately-owned, not in a way that maximises public or social benefit to Australians.

As Long further explains:

Privatisation was supposed to lead to lower prices for consumers. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Reinstating public ownership would eliminate rentier behaviour by transmission and distribution companies and the need to concede to the profit demands of big overseas investors. It would enable us to plan the energy system transformation, with a clear schedule for closure of fossil fuel generators to give certainty to workers, their communities and electricity grid managers. It would enable us to schedule fossil fuel generation replacement by renewables in a way that guaranteed supply, efficiency and reduced cost – and ensures we meet decarbonisation targets. It would enable us to ensure that workers are guaranteed a just transition to new opportunities and new industries.

Readers who would like a copy of Long’s background document can contact him at clong@vthc.org.au.

Both ETU and VTHC are part of the TUED network, and have played key roles in advancing the project.

Texas’s Power Woes Are Just the Latest Reminder of the Danger of Privatization

By Donald Cohen - Truthout, February 17, 2022

Texas dodged a bullet earlier this month when its statewide power grid, operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), held up during a drop in temperatures. But that’s not because state leaders, particularly Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, learned anything from last year’s horrific storm.

As Truthout’s Candice Bernd reported last week, not only did 70,000 Texans still experience power and utility services outages during the recent cold snap, but fracked gas production also saw its biggest dip in production since the February 2021 grid failure, revealing the industry’s continued vulnerability to extreme weather.

Last year, Winter Storm Uri blanketed the entire state with freezing temperatures and snow for several days, causing record energy demand. This forced ERCOT to tell energy providers to cut power as they tried to avoid a total collapse of the energy system. Nearly 5 million people lost power and at least 246 died as a result of the storm.

The latest freeze was a more typical Texas cold front. Local power outages were caused mainly by downed power lines due to trees and ice. Still, Abbott is claiming that the system is more reliable and resilient than it’s ever been.

Experts disagree. “The thing about [this month’s freeze] is, we passed the test, but it was also a really easy test, and we didn’t pass it with perfect scores,” Michael Webber, Josey Centennial Professor in Energy Resources at the University of Texas, told Truthout’s Bernd. “There’s a lot of people who had problems with their power, and there was still the gas production drop, so I think we shouldn’t take away too much false confidence that we’re all good now.”

Texas’s energy system is controlled by a complex mix of public and private actors, including the nonprofit ERCOT, oil and gas companies, the Texas Railroad Commission, and others. The details don’t matter as much as what makes the state’s system unique: It’s independent; not connected to the country’s two other national grids, the Western Interconnection and the Eastern Interconnection; and not subject to federal oversight.

This has allowed it to become one of the country’s most marketized systems, according to Johanna Bozuwa, director of the Climate and Community Project. It’s heavily deregulated, designed to allow for intense competition in the retail sale of electricity. As one portfolio manager at a financial firm put it, it’s a “Wild West market design based only on short-run prices.”

Workers Can’t Wait: Just Transition Now – Building Global Labour Power For Climate Justice

Unions and Climate Change: Toward Global Public Goods

Green Unionism against Precarity

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 1, 2022

Editor's Note: all but one or two of the links in this article link to multiple articles, located on the IWW Environmental Union Caucus site, categorized by topic. Therefore, it is to the reader's interest to explore all of the articles brought forth by each link, at their convenience (and that body of information is ever evolving over time).

An edited version of this article appears in New Politics 72.

In a real sense, under capitalism, all workers are "precarious", meaning that they can be downsized, replaced, deskilled, outsourced, etc. It's simply a matter of degrees.

The ultimate peak in precarity is "gig work" (which has actually always existed; the names simply keep changing, but the concept is the same).

Unions represent a check against precarity, though this occurs on a graduated scale. The stronger the union, the less the workers' precarity.

Union strength manifests in various ways: it can result from a well organized, international, militant democratic union (ideal, but rare, with few real world examples, such as ILWU, and the IWW, of course), though more often than not it's a result of concentration of elite craft workers in skilled trades unions, which represents a strong guard against precarity, but only for workers in the union, in which case, solidarity is limited.

Other checks against precarity include high demand for skilled craft workers in rare supply, High demand for hard to replace workers (such as workers that required skilled credentials, such as teachers or transport workers), or tight labor markets (which exist in our semi-post COVID-19 world, due to a combination of factors spelled out in the Vox article).

This is nothing more than class struggle 101, as expertly phrased by Karl Marx, et. al.

There are new forms of precarity emerging due to climate catastrophe (brought on by capitalism). Workers find themselves facing new health and safety hazards and/or threats to their working environment.

12 Guilty Fogeys: Big Oil’s $86 billion offshore tax bonanza

By staff - Friends of the Earth, Bailout Watch, and Oxfam, September 2021

Few letter-soup acronyms in Washington bureaucratese are so aptly pronounced as GILTI and FOGEI, two esoteric provisions in the tax code worth tens of billions of dollars to Big Oil’s multinational majors.

Under the Trump Administration’s radical 2017 tax law, companies that extract oil and gas overseas enjoy special exemptions within the Global Intangible Low-Tax (GILTI) regime covering Foreign Oil and Gas Extraction Income (FOGEI).

It is a fitting accident of nomenclature: FOGEI’s GILTI carveout helps prop up the fossil firms most culpable for the climate crisis — to the tune of $84 billion. An additional international tax loophole enjoyed by Big Oil is worth at least another $1.4 billion, for a grand total of over $86 billion in offshore tax giveaways.

Read the text (PDF).

Scotland's Rail Unions at COP 26

Rail Unions call for action on climate change

By staff - Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, November 10, 2021

TSSA, ASLEF, RMT, and Unite unions today united with Jeremy Corbyn and the STUC at COP26 to call on the Scottish Government to invest in Scotland’s Railways in order to fight climate change.

The unions held an event in Websters Theatre to promote their report “A Vision for Scotland’s Railways” which calls for better investment in railway infrastructure and staffing in order to encourage passengers back onto the railway. The report argues that staffed stations are safer at night and more accessible for passengers with disabilities.

Jeremy Corbyn said, “The land taken up by railways compared to roads is utterly minimal… For environmental considerations railways are the right way forward and this document indicates all of that.”

TSSA Organiser Gary Kelly said, “It’s not just the climate which is code red, it’s the railway itself. We're in the middle of a climate catastrophe when rainfall puts the railway at risk and the government's answer is to cut Network Rail staff. We're facing a real Code Red here. The question is what are we going to do about it?

ASLEF Organiser Kevin Lindsey said, “We want to see our vision become the template…. It’s crucial that passengers have an input, whether that’s people representing women, people representing young people or people representing disabled passengers, or just general passengers we want all voices to be heard. It’s so crucial to have a railway for all of Scotland.”

RMT Organiser Mick Hadley said “If we are serious about addressing the concerns about Scotland by giving the most vulnerable people access to trains, we need to give them access to staff - we need station staff to ensure it's safe to use Scotland's trains”

The unions criticised privatisation for failing both ScotRail and the people of Scotland.

Unite the Union Organiser Pat McIlvogue said, “All Abellio are concerned about is the profit, not concerned about the service, not concerned about the people, not concerned about the country. We've got a chance for a change now.”

Chairing the event, STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer said, “The current rail model fails services users and employees. We have a real opportunity when Scottish Government takes over ScotRail in April… There's an absolute need for us to mobilise people to demand that it stays a public service”

The tragic events at Stonehaven show climate change is real - it's here we're living with the effects. We need change. The rail unions are committed to working together to make that change happen.

Better public transport is the only way to cut carbon emissions, unions and campaigners urge

By Niall Christie - Morning Star, November 10, 2021

Cop26 summit ignores rail, buses, ferries and bicycles and puts its focus on cars and planes instead.

CREATING universal and comprehensive public transport is the only way to effectively cut carbon emissions from travel at home and abroad, unions and campaigners have said during Cop26.

Campaigners and politicians condemned the lack of consideration of rail, bus, ferry and cycle transport during proceedings at the summit today, where the focus was put on cars and planes instead.

Officials and delegates at the gathering in Glasgow made a number of announcements on transport, including on zero-emissions vehicles, so-called green shipping corridors, and on decarbonising air travel.

Tory Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that travel, including aviation, should be “guilt-free.” He also said that the government did not see flying as “the ultimate evil,” after officials, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, were condemned for using planes for short journeys during Cop26.

But unions and campaign groups highlighted the need for stronger rail and bus services throughout Britain, and backed public ownership to ensure that services work for all.

Before talks began at the conference hall on the River Clyde, a large demonstration took place in George Square with demands for equal access to transport systems in the summit’s host city.

Delegates at the summit have been given a travel pass which grants free travel on buses, trains and the subway system.

But no integrated travel system exists in Scotland, and the cost of the largely privatised sector has been on the rise in recent years.

Friends of the Earth Scotland transport campaigner Gavin Thomson told the Morning Star that only a radical overhaul of the transport system can deliver a just transition to a greener planet.

“We need to start thinking about transport like we do about health and education: as so important to public life that it’s paid for out of general taxation and free at the point of use,” he said.

“Not just because we drastically need to reduce emissions from transport, but because it is so important to things like education, employment and reducing social isolation.”

Trade union leaders joined the call for focus on public transport, with STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham asserting that the free market has no place in the sector.

The alternative is to run our own bus and rail networks, he said, adding that now is the time to act.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said the government “is taking forward a comprehensive suite of measures to promote more sustainable, affordable public transport journeys and deprioritise car use.”

At an event organised by the Peace and Justice Project, rail unions set out their vision for the railways.

Kevin Lindsay, Aslef’s organiser in Scotland, said that rail in Scotland will largely remain privatised even after Scotrail returns to public hands next year.

In a move towards providing a railway for all, he said that everybody under the age of 24 should be given free transport on rail services.

RMT organiser Mick Hogg said he was increasingly concerned about suggested cuts to services, and called for passengers, vulnerable communities and railway infrastructure to be put first.

We Own It director Cat Hobbs said that Britain must bring buses and trains back into public ownership and control.

“We can’t tackle the climate crisis unless we give people a real alternative to cars and planes, instead of just trying to make them greener,” she said.

“We need a decent, affordable, high-quality public transport network that we can all rely on, to make the best use of shared resources.

“The privatisation money-grab of the last 30 years hasn’t served passengers or the planet.”

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said there must be an increase in rail capacity from north to south, and called for urgent action to protect the future of the railways in Scotland and beyond.

The transfer of Scotrail to public hands must be the beginning of full public ownership of public transport in Britain, he said, adding: “Get the leeches off the railway, get the staff into the trains, and get the public back onto the railway.”

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