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The Global Ocean Grab

By Carsten Pedersen, et. al. - World Fishers, September 2014

The term ‘ocean grabbing’ aims to cast new light on important processes and dynamics that are negatively affecting the people and communities whose way of life, cultural identity and livelihoods depend on their involvement in small-scale fishing and closely related activities. Small-scale fishers and fishing communities in both the Global South and the Global North are increasingly threatened and confronted by powerful forces that are dramatically reshaping existing access rights regimes and production models in fisheries. This process is leading not only to the dwindling of control by small-scale fishers over these resources, but also in many cases to their ecological destruction and very disappearance.

Today we are witnessing a major process of enclosure of the world’s oceans and fisheries resources, including marine, coastal and inland fisheries. Ocean grabbing is occurring mainly through policies, laws, and practices that are (re)defining and (re)allocating access, use and control of fisheries resources away from small-scale fishers and their communities, and often with little concern for the adverse environmental consequences. Existing customary and communal fisheries’ tenure rights systems and use and management practices are being ignored and ultimately lost in the process. Ocean grabbing thus means the capturing of control by powerful economic actors of crucial decision-making around fisheries, including the power to decide how and for what purposes marine resources are used, conserved and managed now and in the future. As a result, these powerful actors, whose main concern is making profit, are steadily gaining control of both the fisheries’ resources and the benefits of their use.

Read the report (English PDF).

(Working Paper #2) Climate Change and the Great Inaction: New Trade Union Perspectives

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions For Energy Democracy, September 2014

This paper has been written for unions and unionists who are perhaps in the early stages of their engagement with climate change and who feel they might benefit from knowing “the story so far” in terms of trade union involvement.

But it is also being written with an eye to the future, to generate discussion that may help unions develop the kind of compelling ideas and proposals that can lead to an increase in membership engagement and climate activism. A global movement demanding immediate and effective action on climate change is urgently needed, and unions can play an important and potentially decisive role. However, part of the process of building such a movement will require taking stock, in broad terms, of what has been learned with regard to past efforts both practically and at the level of ideas and core theoretical assumptions.

This paper focuses mainly on the UN level, where the level of union activity has been very significant and worthy of examination. It will be clear from what follows that the climate politics of the international trade union movement has reached an impasse–the same is also true of other movements who have fought for a global climate agreement and have seen their hopes shattered. But this is more than a problem of barking up the wrong tree, or of the wrong set of persons sitting in the seats of power at the wrong time. The “green economy” framework that has informed trade union policy on climate change and sustainability has also reached a political dead end. This is obvious at the UN level and increasingly obvious at the level of the nation state, one or two exceptions notwithstanding. Once regarded as inevitable, the green economic transition as imagined by the more far—sighted wing of the political and corporate establishment now borders on the impossible.

In following how unions have engaged the UN’s climate process, it is also possible to observe and reflect on how the trade union discussion has shifted from the days of the “triumph of the market” neoliberal globalist moment in the early 1990s to the present time, when the impacts of the Great Recession (and the need for jobs) are still all too evident in many parts of the world. In the early 1990s neoliberal capitalism was wiping the floor with unions. Unions of course remain under attack and very much on the defensive. But, in common with other social movements, unions have in recent years begun to engage in a deeper questioning of the political economy of capitalism from both a climate and environmental standpoint and from a socioeconomic perspective. Can politics significantly alter the systemic and profoundly unsustainable features of capitalism, particularly unlimited growth, accumulation, and consumption? In the light of the world leaders’ “great inaction” on climate change, this has to be the key question that lies at the heart of the trade union debate in the period ahead.

Download (PDF).

Ash in Lungs: How Breathing Coal Ash is Hazardous to Your Health

By Alan H Lockwood, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Lisa Evans, Earth Justice - Report, August 2014

Take a deep breath. But if you live near a coal-burning power plant that dumps coal ash into a nearby landfill or lagoon, don’t inhale too deeply because you’re probably breathing fugitive dust made up of airborne coal ash filled with dangerous and toxic pollutants. Whether blown from an uncovered dump site or from the back of an open truck, toxic dust contaminates hundreds of fence line communities across the country. Acrid dust stings residents’ eyes and throats, and asthmatics, young and old, are forced to reach for inhalers. Breathing this toxic dust can be deadly, and yet no federal standards exist to protect affected communities.

This report describes the health impacts of the pollution found in coal ash dust. It also points to the imminent need for federal controls to limit exposure and protect the health of millions of Americans who live near coal ash dumps. Coal combustion waste (or coal ash), particularly fly ash, a major component of coal ash waste, poses significant health threats because of the toxic metals present in the ash, such as arsenic, mercury, chromium (including the highly toxic and carcinogenic chromium VI), lead, uranium, selenium, molybdenum, antimony, nickel, boron, cadmium, thallium, cobalt, copper, manganese, strontium, thorium, vanadium and others. Ironically, as coal plant pollution controls like electrostatic precipitators and baghouse filters become more effective at trapping fly ash and decreasing coal plant air pollution, the waste being dumped into coal ash waste streams is becoming more toxic.

Read the report (PDF).

It's Time to Take Over the Big Energy Firms

By staff - Fire Brigades Union, August 2014

How can we solve the problems of climate change, eliminate fuel poverty and improve energy security? Most politicians look to the market for solutions – but these plainly do not work.

The climate crisis has been caused largely by around 100 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawn of the industrial age.

Fifty of those fi rms are privately-owned – mostly oil companies such as Chevron, Exxon, BP and Royal Dutch Shell and coal producers such as British Coal Corp, Peabody Energy and BHP Billiton. Some 31 of the companies are state-owned companies such as Saudi Aramco, Gazprom and Statoil. Nine were government-run industries, producing mainly coal in countries such as China, the former Soviet Union, North Korea and Poland.

Everyone knows that heating and lighting our homes are basic necessities – yet the price of doing so continues to spiral upwards across the globe. It’s a disgrace that 25,000 people die of the cold every winter in the UK. Yet the government’s own projections say that gas prices are likely to go up over the next decade. Poorer families spend more than high earning households as a proportion of their spending on energy bills. This fuel poverty is a blight on the lives of millions – and a damning indictment of the welfare system in this day and age.

The UK has some of the least energy efficient households in Europe. Refurbishing, modernising and rebuilding the housing stock would make sense for improving living standards, reducing carbon emissions and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. However the rule of the market does not and will not provide the investment needed.

Read the report (PDF).

Interview - The Politics of Going Green

Chris Williams and Robert Pollin interviewed by Jessica Desvarieux - The Real News Network, July 30, 2014

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.

Biography

Chris Williams is a long-time environmental activist and author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis. He is chair of the science department at Packer Collegiate Institute and adjunct professor at Pace University, in the Department of Chemistry and Physical Science. His writings have appeared in numerous publications, including TruthOut, Z Magazine, Green Left Weekly, Alternet, CommonDreams, ClimateAndCapitalism, ClimateStoryTellers, The Indypendent, Dissident Voice, International Socialist Review, Socialist Worker, and ZNet. He reported from Fukushima in 2011 and was a Lannan writer-in-residence in Marfa, Texas over the summer of 2012, where he began work on his second book. He was awarded the Lannan 2013-4 Cultural Freedom Fellowship to continue this work. He has just returned from four months in Vietnam, Morocco and Bolivia, examining the impact of economic development and climate change in relation to energy, food and water issues.

Robert Pollin is professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is the founding co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI). His research centers on macroeconomics, conditions for low-wage workers in the US and globally, the analysis of financial markets, and the economics of building a clean-energy economy in the US. His latest book is Back to Full Employment. Other books include A Measure of Fairness: The Economics of Living Wages and Minimum Wages in the United States and Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity.

Capitalism and Climate Change (Alyssa Rohricht)

By Alyssa Rohricht - 2014

Capitalism dominates the globe. It has become so enmeshed into the cultural narrative that it seems almost axiomatic. Private owners (of capital) control the means of production. The goal: build profits. The best part about it is that if everyone pursues self-interest, the market will grow and society will benefit. The invisible hand helps the market to self-regulate, creating socially desirable results.

Simple?

No. When it comes to dealing with issues such as poverty, the income gap, unemployment, economic crises, human rights, war, imperialism, and the externalization of costs on society and the environment, the invisible hand that Adam Smith once imagined is not invisible, it is nonexistent.

We are currently experiencing, without a doubt, the greatest crisis to face human kind. Indications of climate change are being seen around the globe: accelerated melting of the Arctic sea ice, rapidly receding glaciers, rising sea levels, warming oceans and ocean acidification, more frequent and longer-lasting droughts, stronger and more frequent storms, higher temperatures than ever recorded, and a rapid extinction of species are direct result of a warming climate.

There is a scientific consensus that the climate is rapidly changing and that these rapid changes are due to anthropogenic causes. The science is clear: the human-caused emissions of great amounts of greenhouse gases – primarily carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – are causing global environmental damage.

Many argue that market and techo-based approaches are the way to combat climate change. They push for carbon taxing and trading, geo-engineering, and renewable energy without considering the fact that the system itself is incompatible with sustainability. By its very nature, capitalism seeks only to grow and accumulate – an idea that is diametrically opposed to a sustainable existence.

In this series, I will examine how the capitalist system has brought us to climate disaster, and why it cannot get us out of it.

Troubled Waters: Misleading industry PR and the case for public water

By Emanuele Lobina - Corporate Accountability International, June 2014

When it comes to the nation’s most essential public service, mayors and municipal officials face a momentous challenge.

Local governments are investing in public water systems at all-time highs, but in the absence of adequate federal support, many systems still face serious infrastructure reinvestment gaps. Over the next 20 years, U.S. water systems will likely require a staggering $2.8 to $4.8 trillion investment. In response, private water corporations are waging a national campaign to present privatization, in its many forms, as a cure-all that will reduce costs and increase efficiency.

Even where public water systems are thriving, the private water industry is pressuring public officials to pursue private water contracts repackaged in terms deemed less offensive to a skeptical public. But are public-private partnerships (PPPs), and other euphemisms used to describe water privatization, a way forward?

The key findings of this report indicate no. All too often, promised cost savings fail to materialize or come at the expense of deferred infrastructure maintenance, skyrocketing water rates, and risks to public health.

The current trend toward remunicipalization (return of previously privatized systems to local, public control) of water systems is a primary indicator that privatization and PPPs are not the answer. Since 2003, 33 U.S. municipalities have remunicipalized their water systems. Five have done so in 2014 alone. And an additional 10 have set the wheels in motion to do so this year through legal and/or administrative action. This closely mirrors the accelerating global remunicipalization trend. Paris, where the two largest global private water corporations (Veolia and Suez) originated and are headquartered, has notably led the charge to remunicipalize, saving tens of millions of dollars since returning its water system to public control.

As this report finds, private water contracts can pose substantial economic, legal, and political risk to local officials and the communities they serve. The findings come through review and analysis of lobbying reports, Congressional records, city case studies, and empirical evidence drawn from research by the Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU). They show the private water industry depends on political interference, misleading marketing, and lack of public oversight to secure its contracts. This report exposes the private water industry’s tactics and makes the case for democratically governed and sustainably managed public water systems, providing public officials with a set of examples and recommendations to bolster public water.

Read the report (PDF).

Trade Deals that Threaten Democracy

By staff - International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations, June 2014

At its 2002 World Congress, the IUF adopted a wide-ranging resolution on trade and investment committing our organization to vigorously oppose the expanded WTO “Doha Round” agenda and to combat the growing number of bilateral trade and investment agreements as instruments for entrenching and expanding corporate power at the expense of democratic rights and the rights of workers and their trade unions.

The resolution highlighted the function of the expanding web of regional and bilateral agreements in building on the WTO rules to construct, layer upon layer, “investment regimes which enforce the right of corporations to pursue maximum profit while removing and undermining restrictions which seek to regulate corporate activities in the interest of public health, worker and consumer health and safety, public services and the environment.”

The Resolution recalled the IUF’s historical and statutory commitment to promote and defend a broad spectrum of basic rights: the right to adequate, nutritious and safe food; the right to food security and food sovereignty; the right to a safe working and living environment; and the right to livelihood protection. Congress further called on the IUF and its affiliates to “actively support and campaign for governments at every level (local, national, regional) to review all existing trade and investment rules and treaties using these fundamental rights as a benchmark and to reject all trade and investment agreements which conflict with those rights.”

Organized opposition killed the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), an attempt to establish far- reaching powers for transnational investors only partially realized in the WTO’s TRIMS agreement. Popular resistance also halted the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, an attempt to extend the reach of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to all of Central and South America and the Caribbean. Since 2002, growing popular resistance has blocked the advance of the WTO Doha Round. This has arrested the insertion of more far-reaching investment rules into the WTO, but has also frozen into place a global food system whose destructive features were dramatically highlighted in the 2008 and subsequent food crises which are essentially permanent. And while attention has largely focused on these ambitious mega-treaties, an intricate web of bilateral and regional investment agreements, some of them deliberately and misleadingly packaged as free trade agreements, have conferred on transnational capital new powers to directly challenge the democratic right of governments to regulate and to legislate in the public interest.

The latest proposed treaty instruments to embody these investor ambitions are the EU-US trade deal now known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the twelve-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Both these treaties are being negotiated under conditions of the strictest secrecy. Corporations draft and share the negotiating texts, but citizens are denied access in the name of national security. On the basis of the leaked texts we know that they would build on existing trade and investment rules by incorporating the most toxic elements of the already-existing thousands of treaties and granting expanded powers to transnational capital to challenge public interest policies and practices, eliminating or putting at risk rights for which workers and unions have struggled over many decades.

This publication builds on the past work of the IUF and the efforts of many activists in explaining the nature of these threats and why the labour movement must commit to defeating these treaties as an urgent political priority. We would also hope to stimulate discussion on how we might move beyond these defensive struggles to begin putting in place a system of global rules to effectively enforce respect for human rights over the private claims of investors.

Read the report (PDF).

(Working Paper #1) Global Shale Gas and the Anti-Fracking Movement

By Sean Sweeney and Lara Skinner - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 2014

This paper has been prepared to assist unions and their close allies who wish to better understand the impacts of shale gas drilling, or “fracking,” and want to develop a position or approach to fracking that protects workers, communities, and the environment. It begins with a summary of the shale gas industry’s global expansion, and then looks at the opposition to fracking that has emerged in a number of key countries. A preliminary profile of the anti-fracking movement highlights the goals and characteristics of this movement as well as the issues that lie at the heart of the resistance.

The paper concludes by attempting to bring together the available information on unions’ perspectives and positions on this increasingly important issue. It also raises for discussion the prospect of unions giving support to a global moratorium on fracking based either on the precautionary principle (the health and environmental effects are not fully understood or have still to be adequately addressed) or on the more definitive assessment that fracking can never be sufficiently safe in terms of its impact on health and the environment and should therefore be stopped altogether.

Read the report (PDF).

The Green Shock Doctrine

By staff - Global Justice Ecology Project, May 13, 2014

There is much being said and written today about how to effectively address the oncoming catastrophe of climate change, which is already, for many, tragically real. There is a crucial and obvious need for a powerful global movement to tackle the climate crisis. But this movement will not be based on reform.

Capitalism and the markets have led us to the brink of the abyss. They will not provide our parachute. The system cannot be reformed. It must be transformed. The more we understand how the roots of the many issues we are fighting are intertwined, the better we can cooperate to change the system driving them. In diversity is strength, as any ecologist understands, and our movements for change are no exception.

Global Justice Ecology Project is publishing The Green Shock Doctrine as a means to help expose and examine the deeper issues behind the climate crisis and their links to many of the other crises we are facing. In doing so, we hope to help advance the effort to transform the global system driving climate catastrophe.

Read the report (PDF).

Pages

The Fine Print I:

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