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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.”

Union Struggles Against Climate Change

(TUED Working Paper #14) Beyond Disruption: How Reclaimed Utilities Can Help Cities Meet Their Climate Goals

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, November 3, 2021

In TUED Working Paper 14, Beyond Disruption: How Reclaimed Utilities Can Help Cities Meet Their Climate Goals, Sean Sweeney and John Treat showcase how the energy transition that was promised has yet to come to fruition. They argue specifically the arguments around cities leading the transition have not been fully accurate and provide a sober analysis of where we stand.

As Sweeney and Treat argue, “the incumbent energy companies will not be dis­rupted out of existence; rather, they will remain dominant as market players and, under the current neoliberal framework, they will help perpetuate an energy for profit regime. If this is not changed, then cities will not be able to reach their energy and decarbonization targets. There is a need, therefore, to develop an alternative approach, one that goes beyond disruption (in a politi­cal sense).”

Through the piece they outline an “alternative approach that is offered shifts attention away from disruption of the incumbent companies toward the need to focus efforts on reclaiming these companies to public ownership.”

This Working Paper, released during COP 26 in Glasgow provides a clear-eyed analysis of the challenges ahead but also highlights an alternative public-goods approach to overcoming the worst of the crisis. Download the PDF here.

Read the text (PDF).

Getting to Net Zero in UK Public Services: The Road to Decarbonisation

By Dr. Vera Weghmann, et. al. - Unison, November 2021

Public services as a whole (excluding transport) represent about 8% of the UK’s direct greenhouse gas emissions. The NHS alone represents about 4% of the UK’s emissions. When procurement, construction, and social housing are taken into account, public services’ impacts are much greater.

Different sectors within the overall framework of public services have declared their decarbonisation plans. Some are ahead of the national targets. The NHS has declared that it will reach net zero by 2040, with an ambition to reach an 80% reduction by 2028 to 2032. More than one-third of local authorities (single- and upper-tier) committed themselves to decarbonise their local area by or before 2030.

The government aims to reduce direct emissions from public sector buildings by 75% against a 2017 baseline by the end of the Sixth Carbon Budget.

This report identified 21 different measures that should be taken across buildings, transport, electricity generation, waste, procurement and land use along with costed measures for each of nine different public services.

In our analysis, the UK’s public services need a capital investment injection of over £140 billion to 2035 to meet their Net Zero obligations. This will set the public sector on track to meet their climate targets and contribute to the UK’s overall carbon reduction aims. The analysis also identified measures that required annual operational expenditures of £1 billion to hit net zero targets. UNISON fully advocates that quality public services are best delivered by public ownership of public services and utilities rather than privatisation, outsourcing or PFI contracting of public services.

As well as improving the quality of life for service users, workers and the wider community, a number of the measures will also result in significant savings to public services’ budgets, through lower energy bills, cheaper to run fleets, and procurement savings. UNISON fully advocates that quality public services are best delivered by public ownership of public services and utilities rather than privatisation, outsourcing or PFI contracting of public services.

Read the text (PDF).

COP26: Trade Unions Must Fight for a Socialist Transition to Renewables

By Chris Baugh - The Bullet, October 26, 2021

The UK government is hosting the 26th United Nations Climate Change “Conference of the Parties” (COP26) in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed in 1988. Its latest report to the UN in August of this year contains even starker warnings for the Earth’s climate than previously, unless decisive action is taken to cut greenhouse emissions. Without this, there is little prospect of keeping an average global temperature increase below the 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius target in the 2015 COP21 Paris Agreement.

This was the first time an agreement had been reached on target reductions but it excluded major polluting industries like aviation and shipping and was devoid of any mechanism for implementing the targets. This reflects the global capitalist consensus that it is market mechanisms that will make the adjustment from fossil fuels to a zero carbon economy. This is despite the warning of Lord Stern who famously described climate change as “the biggest market failure in human history.”

Articles in the pages of The Socialist and Socialism Today have pointed out that it is capitalism’s insatiable pursuit of profit that has led us to this situation. Capitalism has shown itself unwilling and an actual impediment to the action on the timescale and scope required. An article published by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) gives recent evidence of how renewable energy companies are “party to a race to the bottom, capitalist dynamic.”

It cites the use of forced Uyghur labour in China-based solar companies and the ‘off-shoring’ of manufacturing for the Scottish wind industry. The large wind and solar companies prop up a market architecture that is sucking in huge amounts of public money to guarantee profit margins. The report is quoted as saying “these companies have not just gone over to the political dark side, they helped design it.”

While richer governments of US and Europe talk up their climate commitments, the solutions proposed will not fix the climate crisis. UK plans to transition to renewable energy are reliant upon an unprecedented wave of resource extraction from ‘Global South’ countries. Intensifying the mining of so-called transition metals and minerals used to produce green technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicle batteries, is devastating communities from Chile to China.

Puerto Rican Electrical Workers Union Fights Privatization of Island’s Grid

By Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo - Labor Notes, October 26, 2021

The people and workers of Puerto Rico are suffering the consequences of the privatization of our electricity system, which has been handed over to a new company, LUMA Energy, a subsidiary of Houston-based Quanta Services and Canadian firm ATCO.

Our union, UTIER—the Puerto Rico Electric and Irrigation Industry Workers Union—has been fighting for months against the disastrous contract that the Puerto Rican government signed with LUMA to operate our electricity grid for the next 15 years.

Privatization has dismembered the electrical system’s workforce in a transparent attempt to break up our union. LUMA was not required to hire employees of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA)—the public company whose assets were privatized. Nor did LUMA comply with the existing collective agreements between PREPA and its unions. Instead, LUMA offered reduced benefits and job protections.

LUMA began its contract on June 1 with only half the number of employees PREPA previously had, many of them are untrained and unfamiliar with our electrical system. The result has been ongoing outages and customer service debacles. If a major hurricane had hit Puerto Rico this summer, the outcome would have been much worse.

Plagued by Daily Blackouts, Puerto Ricans Are Calling for an Energy Revolution. Will the Biden Administration Listen?

By Kristoffer Tigue - Inside Climate Newses, October 25, 2021

Many residents say a record amount of incoming federal aid provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transition the island to clean energy. So far, the funds are mostly going to natural gas.

Eddie Ramirez has never understood why his government doesn’t more aggressively pursue renewable energy.

When Hurricane Maria swept across Puerto Rico in September 2017, shredding the energy grid and knocking out power for nearly all the island’s 3.4 million residents for months on end, Casa Sol—Ramirez’s five-bedroom bed and breakfast—was one of the only buildings in San Juan with working electricity, with 30 solar panels bolted to its roof.

When a large fire this June at an electrical substation in San Juan plunged more than 800,000 Puerto Rican homes into darkness and knocked out power to another 330,000 the following week, Casa Sol’s lights stayed on, even as its neighbors lost power.

And when a series of equipment failures and poor maintenance led to cascading power outages across the island in August, September and October, leaving hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans without electricity for days at a time and prompting calls for Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi to resign, Ramirez and his solar-powered hotel carried on, business as usual.

“We don’t even know when it happens,” Ramirez said of the blackouts, which have become a daily part of life for many Puerto Ricans since June, when the private company LUMA Energy took over the island’s electricity transmission system.

With Puerto Rico’s grid still in shambles four years after Maria’s landfall, and $12.4 billion in federal aid earmarked to help repair the territory’s electrical systems and jumpstart its economy, many Puerto Ricans, like Ramirez, see a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine the island’s tattered power system as a modern grid powered by clean energy and far better at withstanding the worsening threats of the climate crisis.

But many Puerto Ricans worry their political leaders are squandering that opportunity by planning to rebuild the electricity grid with natural gas power plants that continue to emit greenhouse gases and feed lengthy transmission lines that are vulnerable to natural disasters.

Energy transition or energy expansion?

By Sean Sweeney, John Treat, and Daniel Chavez - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy and Trans National Institute, October 22, 2021

From politicians to corporate executives, media commentators to environmental campaigners, narratives evoking the “unstoppable” progress of a global transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy have grown increasingly commonplace.

However, in reality, the global shifts in energy production, energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions we urgently need are not happening:

  • In 2019, over 80% of global primary energy demand came from fossil fuels, with global greenhouse gas emissions at record levels.
  • In 2020, wind and solar accounted for just 10% of global electricity generated.
  • Despite stories of its decline, coal-fired power generation continues to rise globally. In 2020, global efforts to decommission coal power plants were offset by the new coal plants commissioned in China alone, resulting in an overall increase in the global coal fleet of 12.5 GW.

Recently, some have argued that the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent contraction in economic activity signal a turning point. Indeed, global energy demand fell by nearly 4% in 2020, while global energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 5.8% — the sharpest annual decline since the second world war.

Despite these short-term shifts, the pandemic has failed to result in any significant long-term changes for the energy sector or associated emissions:

  • Global energy-related CO2 emissions are projected to grow by 4.8% in 2021, the second highest annual rise on record.
  • Demand for all fossil fuels is set to rise in 2021.6 A 4.6% increase in global energy demand is forecast for 2021, leaving demand 0.5% higher than 2019 levels.
  • By the end of 2020 electricity demand had already returned to a level higher than in December 2019, with global emissions from electricity higher than in 2015.
  • By the end of 2020, global coal demand was 3.5% higher than in the same period in 2019. A 4.5% rise in coal demand is forecast for 2021, with coal demand increasing 60% more than all renewables growth combined and undoing 80% of the 2020 decline.
  • Oil demand is forecast to rebound by 6% in 2021, the steepest rise since 1976. By 2026, global oil consumption is projected to reach 104.1 million barrels per day (mb/d), an increase of 4.4 mb/d from 2019 levels.

As such, an energy transition with the depth and speed necessary for meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement shows no sign of materializing. Indeed, most of the world’s major economies are not on track to reach their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) on emissions reductions.

These facts point to a clear conclusion: the dominant, neoliberal climate policy paradigm, which deploys a “sticks and carrots” approach that attempts to disincentivize fossil fuels through carbon pricing, while promoting low-carbon investment through subsidies and preferential contractual arrangements has been completely ineffective. This policy paradigm positions governments as guardians and guarantors of the profitability of private actors, thus preventing them from addressing social or environmental challenges head-on.

Read the text (PDF).

A Vision for Scotland’s Railways

By staff - Unity Consulting, ASLEF, RMT, TSSA, and Unite the Union, October 29, 2021

Scotland cannot meet its environmental obligations without a world-class rail service that shifts people and goods from cars and lorries onto trains.

This requires a service that is fully staffed, with affordable fares, stations that are accessible and trains that are clean, green and attractive.

What is needed is an ambition for Scotland’s railways that is expansive, that encourages people to make rail their first travel choice and increases freight capacity.

Our long-term vision for Scotland's railways:

  • It should be a publicly operated and governed system run as public service and not for private profit
  • A system that helps Scotland meet its wider environmental and public policy ambitions
  • A railway that is supported by public subsidy
  • Is fully staffed
  • That reinvests in rail infrastructure, to help grow the economy.
  • Takes ScotRail (and the Serco operated Caledonian Sleeper) back under public ownership permanently
  • A railway that is part of a wider integrated public transport system with through ticketing
  • Is part of an industrial strategy that recognises rail services are a vital part of Scotland’s economy helping create jobs and growth
  • Has a democratic regulatory and governance structure
  • Has a cross representation of Scottish society and rail interests at the heart of decision making
  • Has representation from all four trade unions on the board of the new operator
  • Has local political representatives on the board
  • Has passenger representatives on the board

Read the text (PDF).

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