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Puerto Rican workers: No peace if energy is privatized

By various - Workers World, June 7, 2021

On June 1, the Financial Oversight and Management Board overseeing Puerto Rico’s economy privatized the island’s public power utilities by signing a $1.3 billion contract with private consortium LUMA Energy. The contract, in effect for the next 15 years, could increase electric rates by 10 cents/kwh or more.

LUMA customers are already encountering new fees and significantly higher bills than formerly paid to the public Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority. Thousands of PREPA workers have lost their jobs. The privatization has fueled demonstrations including encampments and picket lines at plant gates. Further actions could lead to mass protests similar to those in summer 2019 that forced former Governor Pedro Rosselló to resign.

The following is a statement from unions representing thousands of Puerto Rican workers, ranging from teachers to truck drivers, in support of PREPA workers and demanding the LUMA contract be repealed.

Puerto Rico unions close ranks against LUMA Energy

By Wilmarilis Sánchez-Romeu and Edwin Ocasio Feliciano - Struggle La Lucha, June 4, 2021

Union organizations today warned Gov. Pedro Pierluisi and the Financial Oversight and Management Board that they will paralyze the country if the LUMA Energy contract that increases rates, allows the consortium to leave Puerto Rico if a hurricane strikes, and displaces thousands of workers, is not canceled.

“We are warning the attorney for the Financial Oversight and Management Board, Pedro Pierluisi, that there will be no peace in Puerto Rico if the contract is not repealed and they listen to the people who demand, not only a public and more efficient Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), but also one free of fossil fuels. 

“Right now there is a favorable atmosphere for paralyzing the country and if the governor continues to ignore the people, we will do so. We have already held several meetings to coordinate logistics and dates, and this week we will meet again to finalize details. Make no mistake, this summer will be one very similar to that of 2019,” said Carlos Rodríguez, coordinator of the Frente Amplio de Camioneros (Broad Front of Truckers).

“Today, we tell LUMA not to bother settling in our country since we will not leave them alone until they leave Puerto Rico. And the workers who they intend to bring in from abroad should know that if they cross the picket line, they will face a people willing to defend their energy sovereignty and their access to water. There is no life without water and electricity! 

Beyond Coal: Why South Africa Should Reform and Rebuild Its Public Utility

By Dominic Brown - New Labor Forum, May 2021

Despite 2020’s record fall in carbon dioxide emissions—largely due to extensive and repeated “lockdowns” of cities, plus dramatic decreases in air travel and the use of motor vehicles[1]—the world is far from making the changes necessary to avert climate catastrophe. The fact that the shutdowns over periods of last year had a marginal effect in the fight against climate catastrophe at best illustrates the enormity of the task that lies ahead. According to a 2019 report from the World Meteorological Organization, “time is fast running out,”[2] while Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), observes “The pandemic and its aftermath can suppress emissions, but low economic growth is not a low emissions strategy. Only an acceleration in structural changes to the way the world produces and consumes energy can break the emissions trend for good.”[3]

In addition to ravaging health systems, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated food and housing insecurity, deepened unemployment, and put a spotlight on existing inequalities. In South Africa, growing awareness of these problems has brought renewed hope in the possibility of a response to the pandemic crisis that could aim for a “just transition” to a low-carbon economy. Like other countries, South Africa is in desperate need of an energy transition. The South African economy remains disproportionately energy intensive[4] (although it is becoming less so), per capita emissions remain high,[5] and the country is the fourteenth largest contributor to global carbon emissions.[6] This energy and emissions profile reflects the historical and continuing dominance of the country’s “minerals-energy complex” (“MEC”)[7] which is supported by cheap electricity generated mostly from low-quality coal, while higher quality coal is exported.

Beyond its detrimental ecological impacts, South Africa’s MEC is deeply intertwined with the legacy of cheap Black labor in the mines and the formation of racialized capitalism. This structure of South Africa’s economy underpins the country’s massive inequality, serious health impacts for many thousands of people in mining affected communities, and the country’s disproportionate contribution to global emissions. This is why the shift to renewable energy (RE) in South Africa must include measures to ensure a just transition that leaves no worker or community behind while working to reverse the legacy of mass unemployment and deep socioeconomic inequalities.

The Political Economy of South Africa’s Energy Crisis

Since coming to power in 1994, South Africa’s government has promised “electricity for all” as a critical component in undoing the gross disparities of apartheid. This commitment has produced a dramatic rise in grid connections, such that more than 80 percent of households were connected to the grid by 2015, up from only 30 percent in 1994. Harder to shift have been the persistent levels of poverty and inequality. South Africa’s “Gini coefficient”— a global measure of inequality—today places the country as the world’s second most unequal, after neighboring Lesotho. With current unemployment at over 40 percent, many households cannot afford electricity, even when they are connected to the grid. The introduction of a provision for free basic electricity in 2004 was a step in the right direction, but at just 50 kWh per month for poor households that is insufficient to meet even basic requirements.

Since coming to power in 1994, South Africa’s government has promised “electricity for all” as a critical component in undoing the gross disparities of Apartheid.

Making matters worse, South Africa’s stateowned power utility, Eskom—which generates over 90 percent of energy consumed in the country—is in deep crisis. Eskom’s crisis has multiple dimensions and various causes, both internal and external, including (1) the 1980s era commercialization of Eskom; (2) postapartheid commitments to provide electricity to the majority of the country previously excluded, under the full cost recovery (FCR) model where the excluded majority are unable to afford rising electricity prices; (3) underinvestment in the utility’s infrastructure, particularly in building new capacity to meet increased demand; (4) conversion of the utility in 2002 to a public corporation, forcing it to pay taxes as well as dividends for the first time since its establishment almost a century earlier; (5) Eskom’s rising debt, dominated by foreign currency borrowed against the weak rand (R); (6) expensive coal contracts with windfall profits, signed in the name of promoting Black ownership in the coal industry; and (7) dramatic increases in the price of low-quality coal, upon which Eskom depends to generate electricity.[8]

Ireland’s Energy System: The Historical Case for Hope in Climate Action

By Sinéad Mercier - New Labor Forum, May 17, 2021

For thirty years, governments have been promising climate action. They seem incapable of undertaking the necessary major shifts in their energy systems required by the 2015 Paris Agreement. They also seem incapable of delivering on climate targets in a manner that both “leaves no one behind” and “reaches the furthest behind first,” as required by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also agreed in 2015. In Ireland, we fall continually to the bottom of the rankings in climate action, with the current Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Green Party coalition government failing to achieve a mere 16 percent target of renewable energy by 2020.[1]

There are lessons to be learned from the past. One hundred years ago, the two civil war parties—Fine Gael (then Cumann na nGaedheal) and Fianna Fáil—were united in their commitment to a state-owned energy system with an objective of universal access, public good, and public value. Irish state electricity generation started out in 1929 as being from almost 100 percent renewable sources.[2] The historical development of Ireland’s own energy system can be a model for a successful, fast paced national delivery program for a just transition and energy democracy. Ireland has previously made sweeping changes to the energy system, in a time of far greater difficulty, fewer resources, and almost intractable political fragility. The example is the establishment of the country’s—and the world’s—first state-owned national energy company, the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), and its roll-out of universal access to affordable electricity through the Rural Electrification Scheme (RES).

Administering Dreams

The Ireland of the 1920s presented unlikely circumstances for ambitious national projects of any kind. After three years of guerrilla warfare against the British Crown forces, a form of independence had been achieved by 1922. The young Irish Free State government of freedom fighters and idealists was to set out on its own with little source of economic development beyond the sale of cattle to Britain and with much of its populace in extreme poverty. In 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, giving independence to twenty six counties and leaving the six counties in the north east of Ireland under British rule. The signing of the Treaty caused a split in the founding Sinn Féin party between those opposing and supporting the Treaty. This sparked a bitter civil war from June 1922 to May 1923 that has marked Irish politics for a century. The pro-Treaty element formed Cumann na nGaedheal, today the centerright (Christian Democrat) party Fine Gael. A group of republicans led by Éamon de Valera broke away from Sinn Féin in 1926 and formed Fianna Fáil,[3] in protest at the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown, which all members of Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament) were obliged to take. The Cumann na nGaedheal party was in office from 1922 to 1932. Laissez-faire economic and commercial orthodoxies of the 1920s, inherited from the British administration, and a reinstated civil service were largely the global order of the day.

One hundred years ago, the two civil war parties . . . were united in their commitment to a state-owned energy system with an objective of universal access, public good, and public value.

However, the young state took on a number of major interventions in the economy. Most notable were the Land Commission and the creation of Ireland’s state energy company, the ESB, and its primary power source, the Ardnacrusha Hydroelectric Power Station on the Shannon River—also known as the “Shannon Scheme.”[4] To deliver Ardnacrusha’s energy to the public, in 1927 the government established its first Irish state company, the ESB, through the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1927. This was to be the first national electricity service in the world, with full responsibility for the generation, transmission, distribution, and marketing o electricity.[5] From its beginnings, the aim of the ESB was not-for-profit, universal, and affordable access to electricity; “strong on technical expertise, with set targets and with the muscle, dynamism and freedom to achieve these targets.”[6] Attempts had been made to attract foreign investors, particularly from the United States, but “most of the big corporations objected to the government’s stipulation that unprofitable rural lines might have to be built without any guaranteed government subsidy.”[7] The Irish electricity industry had been in existence for forty years, yet the vast majority of the population had been left in darkness and drudgery. As a result of these failings, the fledgling Department of Industry and Commerce concluded that confining the ESB to mere distribution of the energy from the Shannon Scheme was likely to place the whole enterprise in “immediate jeopardy.”[8] The government therefore nationalized what was a piecemeal mess of three hundred expensive, “badly run,” inefficient private and local authority undertakings.[9]

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy: Global Forum on Mexico

By staff - Trade Unions For Energy Democracy, March 25, 2021

Speakers:

  • Heberto Barrios Castillo, Undersecretary, Mexican Energy Ministry- SENER
  • Martín Esparza, General Secretary, Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas- SME
  • Silvia Ramos Luna, Secretary General, Unión Nacional de Técnicos y Profesionistas Petroleros - UNTyPP
  • Fernando Lopes, trade union consultant in Brazil and former Assistant Secretary General of IndustriALL
  • Ozzi Warwick, Chief Education and Research Officer, Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU), Trinidad and Tobago

Care Work Is Essential Work. It's Also Climate Work

Protesta Y Propuesta: Lessons from Just Transformation, Ecological Justice, and the Fight for Self-Determination in Puerto Rico

By Brooke Anderson and Jovanna García Soto - Grassroots International and Movement Generation, February 2020

“De la Protesta a la Propuesta” (“From protest to proposal”). That’s the slogan that watershed protectors used when they successfully stopped open pit mining in the heart of Puerto Rico’s mountains then brought those same lands under community control. For those of us looking to build just transformation in place, we have much to learn from Puerto Rico’s social movements which are at once both visionary and oppositional, centering sovereignty and self-governance.

Just transformation, or just transition, is the work “to transition whole communities toward thriving economies that provide dignified, productive, and ecologically sustainable livelihoods that are governed directly by workers and communities.”

In the U.S., the term just transition was originally used by the labor movement to demand that with the phaseout of polluting industries, workers would be retrained and adequately compensated rather than bear yet another cost from working in that industry. Environmental justice communities on the fenceline of these polluting industries then built common cause with workers for a just transition that would not put the environmental or economic burden on workers or communities. In the U.S., the term has since further evolved to capture systemic transformation of the whole economy. While U.S. frontline groups often use the term just transition, some Puerto Rican social movements use the term just transformation—especially as a way to capture the necessity of achieving decolonization and sovereignty as part of any transition. As such, we’ll be using just transformation in this report, as well as other concepts such as self-determination and ecological justice.

Read the report (Link).

They killed themselves with greed: How a strike stopped privatization in DC’s Metro

By Ray Valentine - Organizing Work, December 29, 2019

Ray Valentine describes how a scheme to cut labor costs in the DC-area transit system through privatization backfired when workers at the private subcontractor went on strike.

On October 24, 120 bus operators, mechanics, and other workers represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 walked off the job at the Cinder Bed Road MetroBus garage in Lorton, Virginia, launching the first strike to hit the Washington, DC metro area’s mass transit system in more than 40 years. The strike was unplanned and small — small enough that it won’t show up in the federal government’s tally of work stoppages — and after more than two months, workers are still out with no settlement in sight. But even though the issues that provoked the dispute have not been resolved, the fight has led to major changes that have strengthened the position of workers throughout the transit system.

The buses out of Cinder Bed drive routes that are part of the Washington Metro system and the workers wear Metro uniforms, but the garage is operated by Transdev, a French multinational. The garage was outsourced as part of a long-term plan by Metro management to cut costs by contracting out as many services as possible in order to drive down labor costs. The strike began as a fairly straightforward economic conflict over wages and benefits, and the union’s ambitions going into it were modest. But on December 13, the union and Metro reached a deal that would halt further privatization and even bring some services that have already been outsourced back in-house. 

The result is a rare win for labor, but it’s not entirely clear how it happened, even to the people who won it.

Extractivism and Resistance in North Africa

By Hamza Hamouchene - Transnational Institute, October 2019

Extractivism as a mode of accumulation and appropriation in North Africa was structured through colonialism in the 19th century to respond to the demands of the metropolitan centres. This accumulation and appropriation pattern is based on commodification of nature and privatisation of natural resources, which resulted in serious environmental depredation. Accumulation by dispossession has reaffirmed the role of Northern African countries as exporters of nature and suppliers of natural resources – such as oil and gas- and primary commodities heavily dependent on water and land, such as agricultural commodities. This role entrenches North Africa’s subordinate insertion into the global capitalist economy, maintaining relations of imperialist domination and neo-colonial hierarchies.

The neo-colonial character of North African extractivism reflects the international division of labour and the international division of nature. It is revealed in largescale oil and gas extraction in Algeria and Tunisia; phosphate mining in Tunisia and Morocco; precious ore mining - silver, gold, and manganese - in Morocco; and water-intensive agribusiness farming paired with tourism in Morocco and Tunisia. This plays an important role in the ecological crisis in North Africa, which finds its clear expression in acute environmental degradation, land exhaustion and loss of soil fertility, water poverty, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution and disease, as well as effects of global warming such as desertification, recurrent heat waves, droughts and rising sea levels.

Concurrent with this dynamic of dispossession of land and resources, new forms of dependency and domination are created. The (re)-primarisation of the economy (the deepened reliance on the export of primary commodities) is often accompanied by a loss of food sovereignty as a rentier system reinforces food dependency by relying on food imports, as in the case of Algeria; and/or as land, water and other resources are increasingly mobilised in the service of export-led cash crop agribusiness, as in Tunisia and Morocco. Extractivism finds itself mired in serious tensions, which generates protests and resistance. This paper documents some of these tensions and struggles by analysing activist grassroots work, including the participation in alternative regional conferences and ‘International Solidarity Caravans’ where representative of grassroots organisations, social movements and peasant communities met and travelled together to sites of socio-environmental injustices, providing a space to strategise together and offer effective solidarity to their respective struggles.

The rural working poor and the unemployed in Northern Africa are the most impacted by the multidimensional crisis. Comprising small-scale farmers, near-landless rural workers, fisherfolks and the unemployed, the movements emerging in the five case studies presented here are resisting the looting of their subsoil resources, the despoliation of their lands, pervasive environmental destruction and the loss of livelihoods. The paper asks the following questions: should we see these protests, uprisings and movements as mainly environmental, or are these fundamentally anti-systemic – anti-capitalist, antiimperialist, decolonial and counter-hegemonic protests? Are these circumstantial episodes of resistance, or do they rather represent the latest development in the historical trajectory of class struggle against the latest capitalist offensive in North Africa? The paper presents an assessment of the nature of these movements which grapple with tensions and contradictions that face them.

Read the report (PDF).

(Working Paper #12) The Road Lest Travelled: Reclaiming Public Transport for Climate-Ready Mobility

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, May 2019

This working paper examines some of the key questions at the heart of climate-related debates on transport, and around passenger road transport in particular. It also looks at some of the more important issues surrounding public transport specifically, and the failure of neoliberal transport policy to improve and expand public transport in ways that fulfill its full social and environmental potential.

Part One: Mobility Rising: Transport, Energy and Emissions Trends

In Part One of this paper, we survey the current trends in energy, transportation and emissions. Although emissions continue to rise across the global economy, transport-related emissions are growing faster than those of other major sectors. Transport is now responsible for almost one-third of final energy demand and nearly two-thirds of oil demand. It is also responsible for nearly one-quarter of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the use of fuel. This means that controlling and reducing CO2 emissions from cars, trucks, and motorcycles must become a policy priority.

Part Two: Neoliberal Transport and Climate Policy at the Crossroads

In this part, we review the policy landscape, including how transport-related emissions from the transport sector are addressed in the Paris Climate Agreement—which is hardly at all. We show that neoliberal climate policy has failed to make any real progress in addressing transport-related emissions, while at the same time preventing public transport from realizing its potential, mainly due to the insistence on a “public-private partnership” model in a futile effort to “unlock” private investment.

Part Three: The Electric Car—Myths and Realities

We summarize the myths and realities surrounding electric cars, and highlight some of the major issues associated with their possible mass deployment. We show that common assumptions about the role of private EVs in the future of sustainable mobility are not at all consistent with what is actually happening, what is likely to happen in the future, or with what is even possible or desirable from a trade union perspective.

Part Four: Taming the Transport Network Companies (TNCs): From Uberization to Enhanced Public Mobility for All

In Part Four, we look at the rise of TNCs and other recent developments and trends in urban transport. This has triggered a global debate on “new mobility services.” In this part of the paper we argue that TNCs currently undercut public transport systems and contribute to traffic congestion and often increase emissions. But the same “platform technologies” that gave us Uber and similar companies can become integrated into public transport systems in ways that complement traditional public transport modes and reduce dependence on private vehicles.

Part Five: Shifting Gears: A Trade Union Agenda for Low-Carbon Public Mobility

Finally, we summarize some of the climate-related arguments that unions can use in their fight to defend, expand and improve public transport. We believe these arguments are consistent with the values and priorities of many transport unions and progressive trade unionism in general.

The authors hope this paper will encourage unions representing workers in all sectors to deepen their discussions around the future of transport—to join the conversation about what public transport can and should look like in future, and what needs to happen in order to bring that vision to reality.

Read the report (PDF).

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