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Australia

Why we must fight for a safe climate

By Zebedee Parkes - Green Left Weekly, February 17, 2017

My generation has never experienced a below average temperature. The last time the global temperature was below average was in February 1985.

The recent heatwaves across Australia ushered in a new record-breaking summer: every year for the past decade has been hotter than the last.

Meanwhile our political leaders — privileged white men in suits — brought coal into parliament and made jokes while they and their corporate mates continue to burn our collective future.

We are already getting a taste of what our future holds if we do not take urgent action.

Extreme bushfires have burnt down entire towns across Australia in the past couple of years. Pacific islands are already becoming uninhabitable due to rising sea levels. Climate change-induced droughts in Syria destroyed its agriculture and helped create the conditions that led to the civil war. Floods in Pakistan in 2011 affected 5.4 million people, destroying crops and leaving millions displaced, forced to live in makeshift shelters without access to safe drinking water. The Himalayan glaciers are already melting, potentially leaving 2 billion people across Asia without sufficient drinking water.

The consequences of climate change will only get worse if we do not make serious changes rapidly. Already the Artic Sea ice is melting, which could mean sea level rises of 3–5 metres, making many coastal cities uninhabitable.

This ecological crisis is the result of human activity. Because of a constant drive for profits, corporations are felling the Amazon rainforest at an alarming rate to create cattle pastures for beef production. The Amazon forest is one of the most crucial in the world in terms of soaking up carbon dioxide.

When we desperately need to reduce emissions, corporations, often backed and funded by governments, continue to build major fossil fuel projects, such as the Adani coalmine, poison our water and destroy farmland with gas fracking projects and pursue unsustainable projects that are destroying crucial ecosystems, such as the Beeliar Wetlands and the Great Barrier Reef.

No matter how urgent the need for action on climate change, corporations and their governments refuse to change. 

Solar power is now cheaper in some parts of the world than fossil fuels. In Australia, scientific studies show we have the capacity to have 100% renewables in 10 years. Yet the government continues to give billions a year in subsidies to fossil fuel corporations — money that could be going to renewable energy.

Since the international climate talks in Paris in December 2015, when the world cried out for serious climate action, Australia’s big four banks have poured $5.6 billion into fossil fuels. Governments and the fossil fuel industry are not going to change their destructive practices unless we force them to.

To do this and give ourselves a chance of a future we need to change our economic system. Right now eight men own more wealth — and all the privileges and power that go with it — than the poorest 50% of the Earth’s population.

For serious climate action to be a reality we need a society where the majority of people — workers, farmers, students, the poor, First Nations people and refugees, the victims of climate change — are making decisions in the interests of our collective future.  

To achieve this will take a gigantic struggle. But it also presents an opportunity to change the world. As Naomi Klein, author of Capitalism vs the Climate said: “I think climate change can be the catalyst we need … In a world where profit is consistently put before both people and the planet, climate economics has everything to do with ethics and morality.”

If we address climate change, we can begin to construct the kind of world we want to live in.

No plan for the Valley; No plan for the workers; No plan for the climate

By IWW Melbourne - Australia IWW, March 15, 2017

As the closure of the Hazelwood power plant looms closer, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government has no transition plan for the LaTrobe Valley. It's imperative that the workers in the valley develop a program of their own to transition away from coal.

The behemoth is shutting down. Completed in 1971, Hazelwood - the Soviet-era beast of a power plant that produces up to a quarter of the state's energy - is scheduled to shut in the next few weeks.

Following the privatisation of the energy industry and years of official neglect, this is just "Another kick in the guts for the Latrobe Valley," as the CFMEU's mining and energy president puts it. The Andrews State Government has, at the last minute, shown some interest in the almost 1000 workers set to lose employment, offering grants and funding amounting to $226 million. The federal government is still scrambling to respond. 

The remaining three plants in the valley remain in a precarious position. Brown coal is plentiful in the valley, but so dirty and so low in value that there's virtually no export market for the product. It's burnt there or it's not burnt at all. But the plants haven't been updated for years, and even basic maintenance is lax, allegedly contributing to the horrific fires that burnt through the Valley two years ago. In the face of climate change, coal - and brown coal especially - is rapidly becoming a "stranded investment" that can't turn a profit and which no one will buy.

This is a good thing for the planet's climate and - in the long run - for our communities. It's also been predicted for years. So why isn't there a transition plan for the LaTrobe Valley?

Successive governments have been in denial about the realities of a shifting energy market, pinning hopes on pipedreams like clean coal and carbon sequestration.

Investment that could have been directed at rebuilding grid infrastructure to better suit renewables has instead been sunk into the pockets of multinational companies without ties to the local communities, and who answer to no one but their shareholders. Even the comparitively progressive Andrews government has, until very recently, shown no interest in the Valley - but their response has been a piecemeal kneejerk reaction to pressure bought to bear by workers. There remains no plan for the Valley.

There is no escaping the realities of climate change. Coal is going out of business - and not before time! Nevertheless, unless a thoughtfully planned and executed transition to a coal-free economy is rapidly developed, the region which has underpinned Victoria's economic development throughout the 20th and 21st centuries will once again be burnt. This plan could take many forms, but the decision must be made by those wo work and live in the Valley. Groups like voices of the valley and the earthworker cooperative are the only hope for a democratic, truly just transition out of coal for the LaTrobe Valley. Workers can't rely on the government - state or federal - to do the job for them.

A new concept of unionism: the New South Wales Builders Labourers' Federation 1970-1974 (Meredith Burgmann)

Originally posted by Aunty Jack - Libcom.Org, March 10, 2017

Meredith Burgmann's pioneering work on the history of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Builders Labourers' Federation. During the 1960s and 1970s the NSWBLF introduced limited tenure of office for union officials, tied officials' pay to the minimum industry wage, introduced highly democratic forms of decision-making, and pursued militant industrial tactics. The union was also notable for its aggressive support of other social groups, most notably through the placing of "Green Bans" where members prevented work from taking place on environmentally or socially destructive projects.

Chapters 1-12 deal primarily with the period 1970-1974 when the NSWBLF was at the height of its industrial power and radicalism. The appendixes cover the period from 1950-1970 when rank and file workers struggled to democratise the union and wrest control from the corrupt right-wing forces that then held power.

Socialist tendency formed in Australian Green Party

By Paul Gregoire - Sydney Criminal Lawyers, February 16, 2017

Web Admin's Note: the IWW does not endorse or make alliances with political parties, even green or socialist parties, however, we are posting this article for information purposes due to the program of the caucus mentioned in the following article:

Left Renewal is a group of left-leaning rank and file members of the NSW Greens party that caused a stir amongst the broader Australian Greens, when they announced their presence in December last year and declared their anti-capitalist agenda

The arrival of this socialist group has posed a challenge to the mainstream Greens as a whole, as they’ve always stated that there are no factions within the party ranks. The party line has always been that they’re self-governing and their policies are based on a consensus model.

However, Left Renewal tend to differ on these points. They believe the Greens have strayed from their more radical roots. And that today, the party doesn’t formulate all of their policies democratically and some of the party leaders aren’t elected.

Calling themselves a tendency, as the term faction has negative connotations, Left Renewal base their ideology on the four pillars that the Australian Greens were founded upon. These are ecological sustainability, grassroots democracy, social justice, and peace and non-violence.

Sharing the challenges and opportunities of a clean energy economy: Policy discussion paper A Just Transition for coal-fired electricity sector workers and communities

By staff - Australian Council of Trade Unions - November 2016

The ACTU is primarily concerned with workers, their rights, their welfare and their future. A just and civil society is one where everyone shares in the wealth of the nation but it is also one where economic costs are equally shared.

Transitioning an industry is a massive economic and social disruption. History shows that this has often been done poorly in Australia, with workers and communities bearing the brunt of such transitions - suffering hardship, unemployment and generations of economic and social depression.

Research in the textiles, clothing and footwear (TCF) and car manufacturing industries shows, for example, that only one third of workers find equivalent full time work following their retrenchment, while one third move into lower quality jobs (lower wage, lower job status or into part-time and casual work) and one third are locked out of the labour force altogether.

International experience however shows that a transition can be done equitably, achieve positive outcomes for workers, save communities and forge new areas of industrial growth and prosperity.

Australia is currently facing one such transition in the coal-fired electricity sector. If Australia manages this transition well, the nation would have a structured and equitable approach that could apply to any industry undergoing similar change in the future.

At last year’s Paris climate conference, Australia alongside 194 countries, committed to limit global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. As part of this historic agreement, unions successfully achieved recognition of the need for a ‘Just Transition’ that supports the most affected workers obtain new decent and secure jobs in a clean energy economy.

While Australia’s international obligations will require a range of complementary policies that focus on emission reduction across a number of sectors of the economy, as the largest contributor to Australia’s emissions, effective reform of the electricity sector has been identified as a key step in tackling climate change.

Download (PDF).

Unions, environmentalists unite against South Australian nuclear dumps

By Renfrey Clarke - Green Left Weekly, October 7, 2016

Efforts to halt plans for nuclear waste dumping in South Australia have made important advances in recent weeks, with environmental, trade union, indigenous and other bodies pushing for a joint opposition campaign.

At a September 16 meeting called by the peak labour movement body, SA Unions, and the Maritime Union of Australia, members of at least 14 organisations resolved to work toward forming a coordinating committee “around the common objective of preventing nuclear waste dumps being established in South Australia”.

The meeting endorsed preparations by activists for a major anti-dumps rally to be held on October 15 — the anniversary of the first British nuclear bomb test on the Australian mainland, was conducted at Emu Field in South Australia’s north-west in 1953.

SA is being targeted as the site of three large-scale repositories for radioactive materials. The federal government wants a dump for Australian-sourced low and intermediate-level waste at Barndioota, near the Flinders Ranges town of Hawker. The site is culturally important to local Aboriginal people, and the project has been met with bitter opposition from Traditional Owners.

Meanwhile, the Labor state government of Premier Jay Weatherill plans a complex of dumps and re-encapsulating facilities, as part of a massive scheme that will involve importing and storing, for payment, as much as a third of the world’s current stock of high-level spent reactor fuel. A related part of the project will be the world’s largest dump for imported intermediate-level radioactive waste.

Before heading off on September 13 to inspect nuclear waste storage facilities under construction in Finland, Weatherill gave his strongest hint yet that after a period of “consultation”, the state government by year’s end will shift its dumps scheme into a phase of active preparation.

Abandoning the project, Weatherall told the Adelaide Advertiser, looked unlikely. “There’s a red light, there’s a green light and there’s a sort of amber light of ‘proceed with caution’.”

Life After Coal: Pathways to a Just and Sustainable Transition for the Latrobe Valley

By Anne Martinelli, et. al. - Environment Victoria - September 2016

The Latrobe Valley has a proud history of supplying the electricity that powers Victoria. But coal-burning power stations are ageing and –responding to climate change – the world is moving rapidly to cleaner energy sources. In this shifting context, the Latrobe Valley faces inevitable change. The question is: how will that change be managed?

With recent news that Hazelwood power station may close as early as in April 2017, there is a narrow window of opportunity to ensure that the Latrobe Valley prospers during the transition to a cleaner economy, rather than suffers as it did during previous economic changes.

A ‘just transition’ is a framework for managing the shift towards such new economies, with a focus on inclusive participation for those affected and a fair distribution of the costs and benefits of change.

This report explores what a just, and well-managed, transition process for the Latrobe Valley might look like. As experience from around the world has shown, when industrial change does arrive it can come very quickly, and being unprepared is costly.

In South Wales, UK, where there was little transition planning prior to the 1980s coal-mine closures, the damaging economic and social consequences have been profound and long-lasting. By contrast, Rochester, New York, which started planning its transition two decades before the city’s main employer – Kodak – collapsed, the situation has been more positive.

The first closure of one of the four large coal-burning power stations in the Latrobe Valley could be as early as 2017, and the rest could quickly follow. Tangible action and funding to develop an alternative economic future is required now.

For the Latrobe Valley to successfully achieve a just transition, two equally important processes must occur: (1) an orderly and planned transition away from coal; and (2) a collaborative and inclusive transition towards a sustainable local economy.

Read the Report (Link).

White Australia has a Black History

By Patricia Olive Corowa - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 9, 2016

Lyrics to the tune of 'I will survive' by Gloria Gaynor:

At first I was afraid; I was petrified.
Thinking all the racists out there would eat me alive.
But I've spent so many nights
Thinking how we've been done wrong
And now I'm ready
And now I'm feeling strong
And yes we're black
Give us some space
We're standing up and speaking out
for our black and deadly race.
We will use all our strength and might
And we will win the final fight
We won't give up
Until the wrongs are all made right.

Go on now, talk
Heard it before
You can't silence us and keep us down anymore
Our people have anger and pain that makes us cry
But we won't crumble
We won't just lay down and die!

No, not us, we will survive
Long as we have pride in us I know we'll stay alive
We've got happier times to live
And much wisdom to give
We will survive
We we survive, hey hey.

Sometimes it takes strength just not to fall apart
So many still trying to live with their broken hearts
But from strength to strength we go
We will no longer be told no
We wont surrender, we will only grow.
Forget about the hate, don't even make a fuss
Let's only give our time to those people loving us.

Go on now, look, the other way
Turn your cheek and a deaf ear
To the truths we say.
Just know that in time, you will be judged for all your lies
Because we won't crumble
We hold our heads up high!

But from strength to strength we go.. Ever Onwards!

There's No Jobs On A Dead Planet

By Joseph Scales - New Matilda, September 27, 2015

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.

"We have a rendezvous with humanity." With that statement, the International Trade Union Confederation Climate Summit, ‘No Jobs on a Dead Planet!’ was opened in Paris, France last week. 

The Summit was the most significant trade union climate change meeting in history, held as a precursor to the COP21 Paris talks scheduled for December.

Climate Change is recognised and established. Even climate deniers like our former Prime Minister Tony Abbott are forced to at least publicly accept the legitimacy of the science.

The interconnected market pressures of a changing economy – particularly in a once manufacturing-intensive nation like Australia – means industrial change is coming, whether we like it or not.

What workers, unions and communities must decide is: are we part of that change or not? Business and capital will certainly be keeping their eye out for the best deal on their bottom line.

Greens support pension cuts but keep benefits for the rich

By Andrea Bunting - Green Left Weekly, June 20, 2015

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.

The federal government is keen to cut the age pension. Its latest proposal to double the taper rate on the assets test has been supported by the Greens on the basis that this measure will reduce government support to those with significant wealth.

The Greens also hoped that by supporting these pension cuts, the government would rein in tax concessions on superannuation. However, the government has since publicly ruled out any superannuation changes.

So the deal does not reduce benefits given to the rich. It reduces benefits to those in the middle, while providing a small benefit — about $15 per week — to pensioners with modest assets. The poorest pensioners receive nothing extra.

National Seniors Australia has expressed concern that these changes will reduce pensions, while not addressing superannuation tax concessions.

The government provides support for people’s retirement through the age pension and through tax concessions on superannuation. The Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) and Mercer have modelled the total lifetime government support for retirement incomes received by those on different levels of income.

Their modelling found that the bottom 10% of earners average about $400,000 in government retirement support over their lifetime. Meanwhile, the top 10% of earners average about $489,000. This group doesn’t even get the age pension.

But the greatest government largesse is reserved for those in the top 1% income range. The modelling showed that the richest 1% receive on average around $630,000 of lifetime government support. Under the new law, lifetime support for some middle income earners has now been slashed to $214,000.

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