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Jim Stanford lauds Canadian unions for their climate activism

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 6, 2021

Well-known Canadian unionist Jim Stanford gave a shout-out to Canadian labour unions in Canada’s Secret Weapon in Fighting Climate Change: Great Trade Unions” , posted in the Progressive Economics Forum on May 3. Stanford is well-placed to make the observations and analysis, after a long career and wealth of experience at Unifor – for example, he correctly recalls the genesis of “Just Transition” here : “For example, it is significant that one of the first uses of the phrase ‘just transition’ was by a Canadian union activist, Brian Kohler: a member of the former CEP who coined the phrase in 1998 to refer to the needed combination of planned energy transition, alternative job-creation, and income supports and transition assistance.”

In this brief Great Trade Unions article, he specifically cites the work of Unifor, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the Alberta Federation of Labour, and supports his assessment of “greatness” partly by citing the work of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change research project – specifically, the Green Agreements database. He states:

“….Many other unions in Canada have used their voices, their bargaining clout, and their political influence to advance progressive climate and jobs policies in their workplaces and industries. This database, compiled by the York University-based ACW research project, catalogues many innovative contract provisions negotiated by Canadian unions to improve environmental practices at workplaces, educate union members and employers about climate policy, and implement concrete provisions and supports (like job security and notice, retraining, and adjustment assistance) as energy transitions occur. It confirms that Canadian unions are very much ahead of the curve on these issues: playing a vital role in both winning the broader political debate over climate change, but then demanding and winning concrete measures (not token statements) to ensure that the energy transition is fair and inclusive.”

Stanford concludes with high praise for Canada’s unions

“Of course, the approach of Canadian unions to climate issues has not been perfect or uniform: there have been tensions and debates, and at times some unions have supported further fossil fuel developments on the faint hope that the insecurity facing their members could be solved by approval of just one more mega-project. But in general the Canadian union movement has been a consistent and progressive force in climate debates. The idea of a Canadian union endorsing a pro-jobs climate plan (like Biden’s) wouldn’t be news at all here. And that has undoubtedly helped us move the policy needle forward in Canada.

I have worked with unions in several countries around climate, employment and transition planning issues. In my experience, Canada’s trade union movement sets a very high standard with its positive and pro-active approach to these issues. Our campaigns for both sustainability and workers’ rights are stronger, thanks to our union movement’s activism, vision, and courage.”

Stanford now focuses on both the Canadian and Australian scenes, and posts his thoughts at the Centre for Future Work, where he is Director.

Class Power can Remake Society: Remembering Australia’s "Green Ban” Movement

By Ben Purtill - Organizing Work, March 24, 2021

Ben Purtill recounts when building laborers in Australia stopped work, first over wages and working conditions, and then to protect the environment, among other “social” causes. Image: Jack Mundey, Building Labourers’ Federation members and local residents at a Green Ban demonstration, 1973.

Jack Mundey, who died aged 90 in May 2020, first made his name as the union leader associated with one of the most inspiring moments of class struggle of the last 50 years: Australia’s green ban movement. As a secretary of the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) from 1968, Mundey — a member, then president, of the Australian Communist Party (CPA) – was widely credited with coining the term “green ban” to describe a form of strike action undertaken in defense of environmental causes. Members of the NSW BLF also downed tools in defense of the gay community, indigenous Australians, and feminists, at a time when these causes were far from the mainstream of Australian society.

Reviled and vilified at the time, Mundey received a State Memorial Service in March 2021. Attended by the great and the good of Sydney, Mundey was hailed as a savior of the city — a renegade who broke with the base concerns of economistic trade unionism to focus on more refined issues than wages or workplace conditions, while prefiguring a social liberalism the nation would only begin to embrace decades later, and a green politics that it has yet to.

While the perceived content of Mundey’s unionism now sits quite comfortably with liberal — even conservative — values and principles, the form of unionism pursued by the NSW BLF at their peak in the early 1970s would undoubtedly be condemned were it revived today. Militant, democratic and regarded as quasi-syndicalist by critics and supporters alike, the story of the Mundey and the NSW BLF is one of both the power of the rank and file and the limits of leadership, no matter how left-wing.

Black Bans, Green Bans and everything in between

Most historical accounts suggest the green ban movement for which Mundey is best remembered began in 1971 at Kelly’s Bush, an area of parkland in Sydney’s affluent Hunter’s Hill suburb. A group of local women contacted the BLF having exhausted all conventional means of halting the development of the area by construction firm AV Jennings. With luxury houses set to be built on what was the last remaining patch of native bush in the suburb, the BLF called a community meeting attended by over 600 local residents and announced a ban, meaning no work would take place on the site. Unions had been using the term “black ban” to designate disputes aimed at an economic end, for example a wage increase, but since this action was being taken to defend the environment, “green ban” was decided to be more appropriate.

Over forty green bans followed until 1974, when the NSW BLF was deregistered as a union, resulting in billions of dollars worth of development being prevented in Sydney; the tactic was also deployed in other towns and cities across Australia, most notably Melbourne. All green bans were declared in a similar manner as a point of principle: the union did not decide to initiate a ban, local residents did so through a public meeting. If it was decided that a site would not be developed, BLF members would not work on it. In following this tactic, large areas of the historic centre of Sydney were saved from development, and the union joined alliances with an unlikely range of characters: early environmentalists, heritage campaigners, and middle-class homeowners.

The NSW BLF also applied the tactic to other causes and concerns, for example the expulsion of a gay student from Macquarie University, the demolition of houses occupied by indigenous Australians in the Redfern suburb of inner-city Sydney, and the right of two women academics to teach a women’s studies course. In each case, the campaigns were won. More broadly still, the BLF campaigned against apartheid South Africa and the war in Vietnam. As union secretary of the NSW branch during this period, Mundey is now typically remembered as the brainchild of this movement, even earning him a speaking slot at the United Nations Conference on the Built Environment, but it reflected much wider changes occurring both within the Australian left and among rank and file union members.

Australian unions advocating for Just Transition, economic recovery, and decent jobs in renewables

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 8, 2021

As Australia endures more record-breaking heat in its current summer season, the Climate Council released a report in January: Hitting Home: the Compounding Costs of Climate Inaction, which catalogues the natural disasters and their toll on the country. New Climate Change legislation was introduced in November 2020 which would legislate a net zero emissions target by 2050 and establish a system of emissions budgeting. A Parliamentary House committee has just concluded public hearings on the legislation, to which the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) submitted a brief: No-one left behind: Australia’s transition to zero emissions . The ACTU chiefly calls for improved supports for workers in an energy transition, and the establishment of a national Just Transition or Energy Transition Authority . (The ACTU passed a more detailed climate and energy transition policy statement in 2018 )

In November 2020, the ACTU also published Sharing the benefits with workers: A decent jobs agenda for the renewable energy industry, which provides an overview of the renewable energy sector in Australia, and features both best and worst workplace practices. The report proposes an agenda to improve the quality of jobs, with special attention to the small-scale solar industry. “Particular attention is paid to the current practice of outsourcing construction of renewable energy projects to labour hire contractors, which is where many of the poor employment practices occur, and to ensuring project developers are maximising local job creation through procurement, hiring and local content planning.”

In August, the Victoria Trades Hall Council, released Transition from Crisis: Victoria Trades Hall Council’s Just Transition & Economic Recovery Strategy which links climate change and Covid-19 in words that could apply in any country:

“….The scale of the fiscal response to COVID-19 shows that, when a government takes a problem seriously and commits to dealing with it, the finances to get the problem fixed can be found and the spending is supported by the general population. The implications for action on climate change are obvious. …..The trauma, disruption and dislocation caused by COVID-19 are unprecedented outside of war time. The response, with its restrictions of civil liberties and suppression of economic activity, has been necessary, proportionate to the threat, and largely accepted by the population. The deep irony is that acting proportionately to deal with climate change would require none of those infringements of liberties and would produce an economic transformation that would leave Victorians better off. Hence this strategy is not simply for a just transition but for an economic recovery and the reconstruction of Victoria. In the period of recovery, after COVID-19 has been brought under control, we must learn the lessons from the virus response, continue to mobilise the resources we need, build on the incredible growth in community spirit and mutual aid, and get to work to deal with climate change with a determination that is based on hope and necessary action for a better world. “

The Transition from Crisis report has many purposes, but ultimately it is a comprehensive discussion of policy ideas to help the transition to a socially just and sustainable society, with workers at the centre. The strategy is built on eleven principles, which include inclusion of First Nations, gender equality, social equity, and new energy ownership models, among others. The report discusses the many ways in which unions can advocate for climate change action and protect their members: through participation in tri-partite industrial planning, training and retraining, occupational health and safety protection, collective bargaining, and union networking and cooperation. Regarding union cooperation for example, the VTHC pledges “to participate in, or establish if needed, national and state level just transitions committees to formulate policies around just transition, provide support to individual unions, engage with state climate and environment organisations, and provide a conduit into national-level decision making.”

A Just and fair transition from fossil fuels in Australia

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 13, 2021

In a new report published in December by the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, author Jim Stanford argues that Australia’s labour market could transition away from fossil fuel jobs without involuntary layoffs or severe disruption to communities—if governments plan a fair transition which includes: a clear, long-term timeline, measures to facilitate inter-industry mobility and voluntary severance as fossil fuels are phased-out, and generous retraining and diversification policies. Fossil fuel jobs, though only 1% of jobs in Australia, have higher than average compensation, so in order to be attractive, alternative jobs must have decent compensation, stable hours and tenure, and collective representation.  Employment aspects of the transition from fossil fuels in Australia echoes a recent New York Times article about the career disappointment of young oil and gas workers, with this: 

“Far from being ‘supportive’ of fossil fuel workers by attempting to disrupt and delay appropriate climate transitions, in fact is does them a great disservice to pretend that these industries have a long-term viable future. It seems a cruel hoax to encourage young workers to begin their careers in industries with an inevitably short time horizon. It would be more compassionate and honest to give fossil fuel workers (both current and prospective) fair notice of the changes coming, and support them in building careers in occupations and industries that are ultimately more promising.”

 Author Jim Stanford, formerly with Canada’s Unifor union, now splits his time between Canada and Sydney, where he is director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work. He and the Centre are profiled in “The People’s Economist” in the Australian magazine In the Black. This research was commissioned by Australian health care industry super fund HESTA.

Working Class History: E47: The Green Bans, Part 1

By staff - Working Class History, January 2021

Double podcast episode about green bans by building workers in Australia from 1970 to 1975 which held up billions of dollars of development which would have been harmful to the environment, or working class and Aboriginal communities.

Our podcast is brought to you by our patreon supporters. Our supporters fund our work, and in return get exclusive early access to podcast episodes, bonus episodes, free and discounted merchandise and other content. Join us or find out more at patreon.com/workingclasshistory

In these episodes we speak with Dave Kerin, a former builders labourer and member of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) and current member of the Earthworker Collective, and Dr Meredith Burgmann, who was an active supporter of the green bans, co-authored Green Bans, Red Union: the Saving of a City with her sister Verity Burgmann, and was later a Labor member of parliament.

We have produced merch commemorating the BLF and the green bans here to help fund our work: shop.workingclasshistory.com/collection…green-bans

Listen to both parts of this podcast now, as well as an exclusive bonus episode, by supporting us on patreon: patreon.com/workingclasshistory

More information and full show notes here on our website: workingclasshistory.com/2020/10/30/e4…8-green-bans/

Working Class History: E48: The Green Bans, Part 2

By staff - Working Class History, January 2021

Concluding part of our double podcast episode about green bans by building workers in Australia from 1970 to 1975 which held up billions of dollars of development which would have been harmful to the environment, or working class and Aboriginal communities.

Our podcast is brought to you by our patreon supporters. Our supporters fund our work, and in return get exclusive early access to podcast episodes, bonus episodes, free and discounted merchandise and other content. Join us or find out more at patreon.com/workingclasshistory

In these episodes we speak with Dave Kerin, a former builders labourer and member of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) and current member of the Earthworker Collective, and Dr Meredith Burgmann, who was an active supporter of the green bans, co-authored Green Bans, Red Union: the Saving of a City with her sister Verity Burgmann, and was later a Labor member of parliament.

We have produced merch commemorating the BLF and the green bans here to help fund our work: shop.workingclasshistory.com/collection…green-bans

Listen to both parts of this podcast now, as well as an exclusive bonus episode, by supporting us on patreon: patreon.com/workingclasshistory

More information, transcripts and full show notes here on our website: workingclasshistory.com/2020/10/30/e4…8-green-bans/

Employment Aspects of the Transition from Fossil Fuels in Australia

By Jim Stanford - Centre for Future Work, December 16, 2020

Climate change poses a fundamental threat to the well-being and security of people everywhere. And Australia is on the front lines of the challenge. We have already experienced some of the fastest and most intense consequences of climate change, in many forms: extreme heat, droughts, floods, extreme weather and catastrophic bushfires (as in 2019-20). Climate change is no longer an abstract or hypothetical worry. It is a clear and present danger, and we are already paying for it: with more frequent disasters, soaring insurance premiums, and measurable health costs.

The problem of climate change is global; emissions and pollution do not respect national borders. But to address the global threat, every country must play its part. And Australia has a special responsibility to act, and quickly, for several reasons:

  • We are suffering huge costs because of climate change.
    We are a rich country, that can afford to invest in stabilising the climate.
  • We are one of the worst greenhouse gas (GHG) polluters in the world.
  • In fact, as shown in Figure 1, Australia has the highest GHG emissions per capita of any of the 36 industrial countries in the

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Our emissions – around 22 tonnes of CO2 equivalent for every Australian – are almost twice as high as the OECD average. We emit 4 times per person more than the average Swede.

Worse yet, Australia has been very slow in addressing climate change with effective and consistent policies. Climate policy has become a political wedge issue, subject to reversals and changes in direction depending on the fleeting political imperatives of the day. After a temporary decline (largely sparked by a short-lived national carbon tax, which was then abolished in 2014), Australia’s total emissions have increased again in recent years (see Figure 2). Under existing policies, emissions are projected to stay at or above current levels over the coming decade.

Read the text (PDF).

Closure of Australia’s Hazelwood coal-fired station: a case study 3 years after

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 9, 2020

After the Hazelwood coal fired power station closure: Latrobe Valley regional transition policies and outcomes 2017-2020  is a Working Paper published in November by the Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, in Australia . Although the paper is a detailed case study, the findings are summarized by the authors thus: “Prior to its sudden closure in March 2017, Hazelwood was the most carbon-intensive electricity generator in Australia. The debate over the future of Hazelwood became an icon in the nation’s ongoing political struggle over climate and energy policy. Employment and economic outcomes in the three years since closure indicate promising initial progress in creating the foundations required to facilitate an equitable transition to a more prosperous and sustainable regional economy. The Hazelwood case study provides support for a number of propositions about successful regional energy transition including that well managed, just transitions to a prosperous zero-carbon economy are likely to be strengthened by proactive, well integrated industry policy and regional renewal strategies; respectful and inclusive engagement with workers and communities; and adequately funded, well-coordinated public investment in economic and community strategies, tailored to regional strengths and informed by local experience.”

Corresponding author John Wiseman, along with co-author Frank Jotzo, previously wrote Coal transition in Australia: an overview of issues ( 2018). Jotzo was also a co-author on Closures of coal-fired power stations in Australia: local unemployment effects (2018). Their latest 2020 Working paper offers a thorough list of references to Australia’s Just Transition literature.

No-one Left Behind: Australia’s Transition to Zero Emissions

By staff - Australian Council of Trade Unions, November 25, 2020

The ACTU and Australian unions have been engaged in Australia’s climate and energy policy development for nearly three decades. Our consistent position has been that Australia needs ambitious and coherent climate and energy policy to limit the impacts of global warming, and that we also need industry planning, support and resources to ensure that no workers or communities are left behind as we make the shift to net zero emissions.

In March 2020, the ACTU Executive, meeting in bushfire-affected southern NSW, reiterated:

“The international community, through the Paris Agreement, has committed to limiting the rise in temperatures to below 2°C above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees.

The best scientific evidence is that the world needs to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 to meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, to which Australia is and should remain a signatory.
The ACTU supports a national target of net zero emissions by 2050, and shorter term targets consistent with that trajectory, to ensure Australia meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Government and corporations must ensure secure jobs and industry policy are placed at the heart of successful planning and implementation. As a nation we must ensure we deliver justice & employment opportunities for impacted workers, their families and the communities in which they live.”

Australia has lacked coherent and over-arching national climate and energy policy since the Clean Energy Act 2011 and its associated programs was repealed by the Coalition government. Since then emissions reductions have flat-lined and it is unclear how Australia will meet even its unambitious Paris Agreement 2030 commitment. Meanwhile fossil fuel power stations have been closing over the past decade with very little notice for workers and communities and no coordinated national transition plan to address the impacts of closures. Workers across the nation are increasingly experiencing climate impacts and extreme weather events in their workplaces with Work Health and Safety legislation and programs failing to catch up.

Given this lack of coherent climate and energy policy, the ACTU welcomes the Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020, which shares the union movement’s goal of limiting global warming consistent with the Paris Agreement and achieving net zero emissions across the Australian economy by 2050.

Read the text (PDF).

Sharing the Benefits With Workers: A Decent Jobs Agenda for the Renewable Energy Industry

By staff - Australian Council of Trade Unions, November 2020

Driven by the imperative of climate change, rapid technological development and ageing fossil fuel generation, global energy markets are changing rapidly.

Australia is not immune to these changes. Our electricity and gas markets and networks are undergoing a dramatic and at times chaotic transformation with no enduring overarching national planning, policy or coordination. Despite this the renewable energy industry has experienced rapid growth over the past decade, to the point where the ABS estimates it employed nearly 27,000 Australians in 2018/19. This growth in renewable energy jobs is being replicated globally and is predicted to accelerate over coming years due to declining renewable energy technology costs, converging global efforts to slow global warming and the retirement of ageing fossil fuel plant. The future competitiveness of energy-intensive industries such as mining, metals smelting, recycling and manufacturing is also increasingly dependent upon having access to low emissions, low cost electricity.

Section 2 of this ACTU report briefly summarises the extent and types of employment in Australia’s renewable energy sector, and the characteristics of those jobs. It explores the industry’s growth prospects and the current status of deployment of large- and small-scale renewable energy technologies. The changing drivers for new investment in renewable energy projects are discussed including the growing influence of voluntary purchasers of, and investors in, renewable energy who will be looking to ensure renewable energy projects deliver maximum community benefits and good quality jobs.

Section 3 outlines why unions have had concerns about the quality of renewable energy jobs and why the industry needs to pay more attention to this aspect of its social licence. In large part the union movement’s experience has been that many new renewable energy jobs have been short-term, insecure and poorly paid, compared with the permanent, secure, well-paid and unionised jobs in coal, oil and gas that often underpin regional economies. It explores some of the structural and operational challenges that need to be overcome to make the renewable energy industry an industry of choice for workers. Particular attention is paid to the current practice of outsourcing construction of renewable energy projects to labour hire contractors, which is where many of the poor employment practices occur, and to ensuring project developers are maximising local job creation through procurement, hiring and local content planning.

Section 4 provides some examples of both best and worst cases of labour standards in the industry and highlights some issues particular to the small scale solar industry.

The report concludes in section 5 with an agenda developed by Australian unions to improve the quality and security of jobs in the renewable energy sector so that a low carbon future delivers secure and sought-after jobs for the current and future generations of Australian workers. This best practice agenda, if adopted, will establish Australia’s renewable energy industry on solid foundations to support the growth and competitiveness of the industry and will ensure the benefits of renewable energy projects are more fully shared with workers, their families and communities through guaranteed local jobs and stronger employment conditions.

Australian unions are ready and willing to work in partnership with Australia’s renewable energy industry, governments and the energy sector to ensure a successful energy transition that creates good quality jobs across the country and a bright future for the industry. We look forward to working with the renewables industry, renewable energy purchasers and investors and governments to achieve this vision.

Read the text (PDF).

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