You are here

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy

Corbyn calls for “public, democratic control and ownership” of energy in order to transition to renewables

Jeremy Corbyn speech to Alternative Models of Ownership Conference - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, February 11, 2018

Disclaimer: The IWW does not organizationally participate in electoral campaigns, but while we remain skeptical of the efficacy of Corbyn's call for nationalization absent a militant, rank-and-file, independent workers' movement, the proposal he lays out hereis something that could inspire such a movement to organize around.

It is a pleasure to close today’s conference which has shown once again that it is our Party that is coming up with big ideas.

And we’re not talking about ideas and policies dreamed up by corporate lobbyists and think tanks or the wonks of Westminster, but plans and policies rooted in the experience and understanding of our members and our movement; drawing on the ingenuity of each individual working together as part of a collective endeavour with a common goal.

Each of you here today is helping to develop the ideas and the policies that will define not just the next Labour Government but a whole new political era of real change.  An era that will be as John said earlier  radically fairer  more equal  and more democratic.

The questions of ownership and control that we’ve been discussing today go right to the heart of what is needed to create that different kind of society.

Because it cannot be right, economically effective, or socially just that profits extracted from vital public services are used to line the pockets of shareholders when they could and should be reinvested in those services or used to reduce consumer bills.

We know that those services will be better run when they are directly accountable to the public in the hands of the workforce responsible for their front line delivery and of the people who use and rely on them.  It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts.

That’s why, at last year’s general election, under the stewardship of Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald  and Environment Secretary, Sue Hayman, Labour pledged to bring energy, rail, water, and mail into public ownership and to put democratic management at the heart of how those industries are run.

This is not a return to the 20th century model of nationalisation but a catapult into 21st century public ownership.

The failure of privatisation and outsourcing of public services could not be clearer.

Unions from 12 Countries Call for a Global Moratorium on Fracking

By Bruno Dobrusin and Sean Sweeney - Unions Against Fracking, November 9, 2015

Thirty trade union bodies representing tens of millions of workers have issued a statement calling for a “global moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas, coal seam gas, and shale oil.”  Among the thirty first-signers are national trade union centers from Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Nepal, Peru and the Philippines; two Global Union Federations representing education and public service workers, and key unions in health care, energy and water utilities.

Unions are also among more than 1,000 organizations that have signed the Global Frackdown for Paris.

“In Argentina we have witnessed the heroic resistance to fracking being led by the Mapuche people in Neuquén province,” said Adolfo “Fito” Aguirre of Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina. “The YPF-Chevron agreement to frack for shale gas and oil has led to heavy police repression of activists, and homes of Mapuche residents have been burned to the ground. The prospect of high-volume fracking in Argentina will lead to even more resistance–we need a global response.”

  • If you or your union would like more information about this initiative, please contact UAF here.
  • Local, national and international level unions are all invited to sign on.
  • Resources for unions on fracking here.

The Statement:

We Call for a Global Moratorium on Fracking

We are national trade union centers, global union federations, and individual unions representing millions of workers in the global North and South.

We call for a global moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas, coal seam gas, and shale oil.

Fracking is happening or is being proposed in a growing number of countries. In Argentina and Canada indigenous people have led the resistance, and in Bulgaria and Romania farmers have engaged in direct action against the gas companies.

Fracking has led to attacks on land rights, and the large amounts of water used in fracking also threatens to increase water scarcity in areas where water supply and access pose real problems for people, particularly those in poor rural communities.

In almost every country or region where fracking is either proposed or already happening it has met determined opposition from a wide array of people and organizations.

The experience of fracking in the United States since 2002 has shown that the process threatens the health and quality of life of communities situated near drilling sites.

There are tens of thousands of shale gas wells in the U.S. alone – and water contamination is a known result of drilling. The high-volume use of carcinogenic chemicals such as silica also poses a threat to health, particularly to workers on drilling sites and who handle the wastewater from fracking. In the U.S. companies are not even required by law to disclose the chemicals used in the process.

We are also concerned about the impact of fugitive methane from drilling sites on global warming. Recent drill-site and atmospheric studies show high levels of methane leakage — suggesting that shale gas is worse than coal in terms of its impact on the atmosphere.

In calling for global a moratorium on fracking, our unions stand in solidarity with all communities, municipalities, regions and nations who have already introduced moratoriums or are attempting to do so.

(TUED Bulletin #68) The Invisible Crisis of Wind and Solar Energy–and the Urgent Need for a Public Approach

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, December 5, 2017

Why, in a world awash with “idle capital” and in desperate need for a just energy transition to renewables-based energy systems, are global investment levels in renewable energy so obviously out of sync with climate targets?

According to a 2016 report released by the International Energy Agency, “Market-based, unsubsidised low-carbon investments have been negligable.” Without public money, the levels of modern renewable energy would be abysmally low. The tenth TUED Working Paper, Preparing a Public Pathway: Confronting the Investment Crisis in Renewable Energy describes how public money is papering over the fundamental failures of so-called “competitive” electricity markets. Public financing is increasingly being used to provide “certainties” for private companies and investors in the form of “power purchase agreements” or PPAs. PPAs make renewable energy expensive and vulnerable to the kind of political backlash we’ve seen across Europe and elsewhere. As a result, the entire energy sector becomes starved of investment and saturated in “political risk.”

“Preparing a Public Pathway” is available for download now (PDF)

From the Working Paper:

The dominant policy institutions have concluded that the market model that emerged from privatization and liberalization has proven to be an impediment to the kind of energy transition that is required. These same institutions instruct governments to increase their role as enablers of investment, by absorbing risk, providing support, and guaranteeing revenues and returns through P3s and PPAs.

The introduction of “capacity payments” speaks to the extent to which the “competitive market” is not only no longer competitive, it can no longer be usefully described as a market. Rather, we see governments, trying to ensure the energy-demand needs of the entire system are met, paying for unused electrical power—from both incumbent utilities and renewables companies—in order to ensure that all providers walk away with “returns on investment” that they (and the investors behind them) consider “satisfactory.”

One of the main goals of Preparing a Public Pathway is to provoke discussion among unions and their allies about the need to further cultivate a pro-public trade union counter-narrative that is clear, bold and persuasive, and—given the formidable nature of the challenge—offers some hope of decisively interceding in the global energy system’s worrying trajectories. Such a narrative must be able to assert, confidently and from an informed perspective, that only a planned, coordinated, publicly driven approach to investment has a credible chance of delivering the dramatically scaled up deployment of renewable power that we urgently need.

TUC Resolution on Public Ownership of Energy and Climate Change

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, September 11, 2017

Composite Resolution 4, on climate change and public ownership of energy, adopted unanimously by TUC, September 12th, 2017, Brighton, UK.

At right: Sarah Woolley, moving the resolution on behalf of the Bakers, Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAWU).

President Obama: Keystone XL Pipeline “Would Not Serve National Interest”

By Staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 6, 2015

National Nurses United rally against Keystone X-L, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, 2013

President Obama has announced his support for US Secretary of State John Kerry’s rejection of the long-proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project, which would have brought Canadian tar sands oil to the Texas south coast for shipping overseas. Supporters of real action to address climate change and energy democracy are celebrating the announcement.

US Trade Union Opposition to Keystone XL:

Research has shown the pipeline posed serious threats to the environment, safety and economies of communities along its route, while promises that the project would be a major creator of jobs were unfounded. For more on these issues, please see:

Climate message to transport unions: mobilize in Paris, build alliances back home

By Asbjørn Wahl - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, May 7, 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.

Climate change is going on. Extreme weather conditions, storms, floodings, landslides, droughts and ice melting are reported ever more regularly from many parts of the world. Millions of people are losing their livelihood, their homes, their jobs – and many also their lives. The successive reports of the United Nation Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have increasingly called for urgent action in order to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. However, after having negotiated for 20 years, our political leaders have failed to take necessary action. The result is that emissions are increasing rather than decreasing (61 percent increase from 1990 to 2013). Temperature increase is on course for 4-6oC rather than maximum 1,5-2.0oC, something which will mean climate catastrophe.

In Peru last December, a climate summit (COP20) once more ended without showing any ability to do what is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. COP20 in Lima therefore became FAILURE20. However, COP20 was not expected by anybody to bring a breakthrough. It was seen as an intermezzo, while we have been told that it is at the next summit, COP21 in Paris at the end of this year, that we will have an ambitious and binding global agreement. Given the track record of more than 20 years of government negotiations, we should not so easily count on that. Time is therefore ripe for a massive mobilisation of social forces from below to put pressure on our political leaders. Trade unions will have to play a decisive role in such a mobilization. It is a question on what kind of society we want to develop. It is a question of having a just transition to a society based on clean and renewable energy.

Mobilise up to and in Paris

This mobilisation is now being prepared, and important parts of the trade union movement are already strongly involved. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has taken a leading role in this. General Secretary Sharan Burrow is urging trade unions to get involved at all levels – local, national and international. In France, a broad coalition of almost 100 organisations, including trade unions, have collectively founded the platform Coalition Climat 21 to mobilise and organise for COP21. Since the Mexico Congress of 2010, the ITF has followed up its strong climate change programme, organised seminars, taken part in global summits and mobilisations and developed educational tools, which can be found on our web site.

The ITF has also joined the global Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) network, which coordinates policy development, advocacy work and mobilisations – based on the understanding that in order to be able to carry out the necessary transitions, the energy sector, as well as other strategic sectors in our societies, have to be brought under democratic control. A number of national and international trade union organisations have already joined this network, and others, which support such policies, should do so as well. An important document, “RESIST, RECLAIM, RESTRUCTURE: Unions and the Struggle for Energy Democracy” has been developed, in addition to some interesting working papers and a short video.

TUC Congress 2017: UK Unions to Vote on Public Ownership of Energy, Climate Crisis

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, August 25, 2017

The annual conference of the 5.7 million member TUC will take place on September 10-13, 2017 in Brighton.  The Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union (BAFWU) has submitted a resolution that calls on the TUC to “work with the Labour Party and others that advocate for an end to the UK’s rigged energy system to bring it back into public ownership and democratic control.”  Amendments to the resolution have been submitted by the Communication Workers Union,  Fire Brigades Union, the train drivers union ASLEF, and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association. 

Resolution 10

Congress notes the irrefutable evidence that dangerous climate change is driving unprecedented changes to our environment such as the devastating flooding witnessed in the UK in 2004.

Congress further notes the risk to meeting the challenge of climate change with the announcement of Donald Trump to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement. Similarly, Brexit negotiations and incoherent UK government policy risk undermining measures to achieve the UK carbon reduction targets.

Congress welcomes the report by the Transnational Institute Reclaiming Public Services: how cities and citizens are turning back privatization, which details the global trend to remunicipalise public services including energy.

Congress believes that to combat climate change effectively and move towards a low-carbon economy we cannot leave this to the markets and therefore need a strong role for the public sector in driving the measures needed to undertake this transition.

Why U.S. Unions Marched for the Climate

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, May 5, 2017

On Saturday, April 29th, unions from around the country and from a wide range of sectors joined tens of thousands of others for the “People’s Climate March” in downtown Washington, D.C., braving the 33-degree Celsius heat to take to the streets in a massive demonstration of resistance to the Trump administration’s “energy superpower” agenda, its attacks on environmental regulations, and its reckless promotion of climate change denial.

According to climate activist group 350.org, more than 200,000 people marched in the U.S. capital, with coordinated marches and demonstrations across the country and beyond. The record  temperatures in Washington — which equaled the previous record for April 29th, from 1974 — only underscored the importance of the action and the significance of the large turnout, which exceeded predictions.

The labor contingent for the march convened in front of the U.S. Department of Labor for a preliminary rally. Leaders from several unions and networks addressed the gathering crowd before lining up to join the main column for the march up Pennsylvania Avenue to surround the White House for the feature rally.

Why Energy and Transport Unions Are Joining TUED

By staff - Trade Unions Energy Democracy, July 28, 2017

In recent months a number of key unions representing workers in energy and transportation have joined TUED.

At its 5th Congress on May 22nd in Barcelona, the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) Executive Committee voted to join TUED. According to ETF’s General Secretary, Eduardo Chagas,

“TUED takes the same approach to energy as did the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) at its World Congress in 2010.  I was on the climate change committee that helped develop the ‘Reduce, Shift, Improve’ approach to fighting transport-related emissions and pollution. But without controlling the energy sector, it will be impossible to make transport truly low-carbon, healthy, and sustainable. ETF’s joining TUED affirms the ITF’s ‘economy wide approach’ to climate-related concerns.”

The ETF represents more than 3.5 million transport workers from more than 230 transport unions and 41 European countries, in the following sectors: railways, road transport and logistics, maritime transport, inland waterways, civil aviation, ports & docks, tourism and fisheries.

In the US energy sector, Local 11 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) joined TUED in late May 2017.  The Los Angeles based local represents 12,000 workers in the Electrical Construction Industry.

Local 11 sees itself as part of a broader movement  for “social justice, safe jobsites, training, green jobs and opportunity for all.” The IBEW represents more than 700,000 workers, and seeks to organize all workers in the entire electrical industry in the United States and Canada, including all those in public utilities and electrical manufacturing, into local unions. Local 11’s Business Manager Marvin Kropke said the local union’s decision to join TUED came after the 2-day leadership retreat organized by TUED at Local 3 IBEW’s Education and Cultural Center in Long Island. “Local 11 is progressive on energy issues, and the local has been pushing solar by way of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) in the Los Angeles area,” said Kropke. We are doing what we can, but we wanted to connect with others in progressive labor in the US and internationally.”

From Norway, the 37,000 member Electricians and IT workers union EL og IT Forbundet  also joined TUED and sent two national officers to TUED’s first Europe-wide meeting in Geneva in June (report to follow).

The union represents electricians, workers in telecommunications, electrical engineering, hydroelectric power and IT.  According to the union’s president, Jan Olav Andersen:

“Norway’s power system is mainly generated by large hydroelectric dams. Norway both exports and imports power, and there is increasing interdependence between European countries in regards to power exchange. Norway’s export capacity of green hydro-electric power is increasing and can be important in the transition to a less fossil-based energy dependence in Europe. But we follow closely the export of Norwegian hydroelectric power and the increasing centralization following the Commission’s energy packages. The latter can challenge the national sovereignty over the hydro-electric power. This sovereignty has played a crucial role in Norway’s use of national resources in building a green industry for over a century. Another important issue for our union is the Arctic exploration for oil, which can undermine the work for a greener world. We joined TUED in order to be better connected to the Europe-wide and international debates on the future of energy and a just transition to clean energy.”

(Working Paper #5) The Hard Facts About Coal: Why Trade Unions Should Re-evaluate their Support for Carbon Capture and Storage

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 6, 2015

The Hard Facts About Coal – Unions and CCS - Coal use has grown dramatically in the past 25 years and is today responsible for 44% of the world’s annual CO2 emissions.  It also has a dramatic impact on health and life expectancy.

Much hope has been placed in carbon capture and storage (CCS) to help address the CO2 generated by burning coal. Its proponents have included trade unionists, climate scientists, environmentalists, and governments looking for a way to greatly reduce emissions. And indeed, this evolving technology promises to capture up to 90% of the CO2 produced by coal-fired power plants and to permanently bury it in stable geological formations deep underground.

However, the promise of CCS has so far gone unfulfilled. In fact, the potential of deploying CCS—and the support it receives from unions and others—has been used as political cover for the development of new coal infrastructure. It seems increasingly unlikely that CCS will ever be deployed at an adequate level, leaving us with a locked-in carbon infrastructure without the promised mitigation.

Even if CCS is deployed at the levels needed to significantly reduce emissions, the environmental damage done by extracting, transporting, and burning coal will continue. Indeed, the “energy penalty” associated with CCS means that coal’s impact on human health and the environment may even be increased. In this context, trade union support for CCS risks alienating frontline communities and other allies who are taking the lead in building a movement for climate and environmental justice.

In this TUED Working Paper, Sean Sweeney, the director of the International Program for Labor, Climate and the Environment at CUNY’s Murphy Institute, looks at CCS in the context of coal-fired electricity generation. He argues that rather than supporting CCS within a market-dominated policy debate, the trade union movement should be exploring a “third scenario,” one that challenges the neoliberal policy framework and the “growth without end” assumptions that dominates policy discussions on energy use. CCS may have a place in the transition to a post-carbon world, but this place must be determined democratically, and by public need.

Pages