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Trade Unions for Energy Democracy

Radical Realism for Climate Justice

By Lili Fuhr and Linda Schneider - P2P Foundation, October 4, 2018

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial is feasible, and it is our best hope of achieving environmental and social justice, of containing the impacts of a global crisis that was born out of historical injustice and highly unequal responsibility.

To do so will require a radical shift away from resource-intensive and wasteful production and consumption patterns and a deep transformation towards ecological sustainability and social justice. Demanding this transformation is not ‘naïve’ or ‘politically unfeasible’, it is radically realistic.

This publication is a civil society response to the challenge of limiting global warming to 1.5°C while also paving the way for climate justice. It brings together the knowledge and experience of a range of international groups, networks and organisations the Heinrich Böll Foundation has worked with over the past years, who in their political work, research and practice have developed the radical, social and environmental justice-based agendas political change we need across various sectors.

Download a complete PDF of this collection of documents.

Green Capitalism Won’t Work

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, June 1, 2015

For the last twenty years, unions in the United States and internationally have generally accepted the dominant discourse on climate policy, one that is grounded in assumptions that private markets will lead the “green transition,” reduce emissions, and stabilize the climate over the longer term. Indeed, unions began attending the climate negotiations convened by the United Nations in the early 1990s, a time when the “triumph of the market” went unchallenged and the climate debate was awash with neoliberal ideas. Unions, therefore, focused on articulating the need for “Just Transition” policies to deal with the negative impacts on employment brought about by climate policies and to highlight the need for income protection, re-employment opportunities, education and re-training, and job creation.1

In keeping with the policy discourse of the time, unions talked and acted as if the transition to a low carbon economy was inevitable—the science was, after all, definitive and a broad consensus was emerging among business, governments, and civil society that emissions reductions were urgently needed and made good economic sense. Few unions openly expressed the view that capitalism might be incapable of addressing climate change and that radical restructuring of political economy is necessary in order to stay within planetary boundaries.

Not Just Transition, But Transformation: the Paris Climate Agreement

By Sean Sweeney - The Murphy Institute, November 7, 2016

The Paris Climate Agreement came into effect November 4th, 2016. More than 90 countries have ratified the deal, which is enough to turn it into international law.

Unions all over the world are trying to anticipate the agreement’s likely impacts and navigate its provisions to advance the interests of working people. Towards that end, a cross section of international labor will be in Marrakech from November 7th-19th calling for a “just transition strategy,” and to press for more ambitious targets and adequate climate financing for the global South.

Puerto Rico’s Power Union Denounces Governor’s Decision to “Sell the Assets” of the Public Power Utility (PREPA)

By Angel Figueroa Jaramillo - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, January 23, 2018

UTIER DENOUNCES GOVERNOR’S ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE PRIVATIZATION OF THE PUBLIC POWER UTILITY (AEE, OR PREPA)*

San Juan, Puerto Rico, January 23rd, 2018

The Union of Workers of the Electric and Irrigation Industry (UTIER) denounces Governor Ricardo Rossellá’s announcement to privatize the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). The announcement demonstrates the insensitivity of this government and leaves clear that the welfare of the people is not among the interests of the current Governor.

UTIER has been consistent in denouncing the privatization plans of various government administrations and also the recent intentional slowness in the process of restoring the electrical system.

The Governor is taking advantage of the pain of thousands of people who are currently without electric power. Given the insensitivity of Governor Ricardo Rosellá of announcing the privatization of PREPA in the midst of the suffering of almost half a million Puerto Ricans who still do not have electricity, UTIER once again raises its voice in favor of the people. We have tried through our brigades to restore electric power as soon as possible, despite all the obstacles that the government, the Engineers brigade, the Board of Fiscal Control, and the upper management of PREPA have erected to try to prevent us achieving that goal.

For decades we have warned how various administrations have undermined workers and intentionally damaged the infrastructure of PREPA. This was intended to provoke the people’s discontent with the service in order to privatize our first industry, “the jewel in the crown”, to strip us—the people—of what is ours. “Because PREPA is a public good that belongs to the people and not to the politicians,” said the president of the UTIER, Angel Figueroa Jaramillo.

Figueroa Jaramillo explained how, since the 1970s, governments of the two main parties have tried to privatize PREPA. In each of these attempts, UTIER has reacted immediately, warning the people what this would mean for the country.

“We asked, how come it was possible that, facing so much devastation left by the hurricanes, that we would prioritize hiring a company such as Whitefish, which did not have the staff or experience to handle an emergency like the one we had gone through? Then we met the endless irregularities in the awarding of the contract that was signed with Whitefish and the powerful political links it has with the current US administration. Everything we said was proven to be correct and has been so in every complaint we have made over decades”, said Figueroa Jaramillo.

The President of UTIER insisted, “The position of UTIER is that electricity is a human right and not a commodity. That is what our people have realized after the ravages of hurricanes Irma and Maria, after having run out of electricity and suffering so many hardships and the loss of family members, either because they have died or had to leave the country. That is why we strongly oppose privatization in any of its expressions, whether through the transfer of assets or the transfer of management to private companies. We ask the people the following question so that they think clearly about it: If PREPA was not profitable and able to generate profits, would there be a company that wanted to acquire it?”

The president of the UTIER urged people to also remember the declarations of the Board of Fiscal Control (JCF) a year ago in which it presented the privatization of PREPA as one of its goals. “We cannot leave the heritage that belongs to us–-the people—in private hands. And one of them is PREPA. Because if at some point we face another atmospheric phenomenon such as the ones to which we are exposed every year during hurricane season, we already know how the private generators AES and Ecoelectrica will react: turning off their machinery in order not to lose their investment. That’s what they did on this occasion. They are not worried about the suffering of the people. That situation cannot be repeated and if PREPA is privatized, that is what’s in store for us. Furthermore, we must not be deceived: privatization increases the electric bill and makes us more vulnerable as the people. Let’s not allow the main industry for the development of our country to be stolen from us. Let’s not wait for it to happen”, added Figueroa Jaramillo.

Standing Rock Solid with the Frackers: Are the Trades Putting Labor’s Head in the Gas Oven?

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 14, 2016

This article first appeared in New Labor Forum. It has been updated to reflect the rising level of union opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

If anyone were looking for further evidence that the AFL-CIO remains unprepared to accept the science of climate change, and unwilling to join with the effort being made by all of the major labor federations of the world to address the crisis, the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) provides only the most recent case in point. Taking direction from the newly minted North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and the American Petroleum Institute (API), the federation stood against the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribal nations.

In a recent video interview, NABTU president Sean McGarvey dismissed those who oppose the expansion of fossil fuels infrastructure. “There is no way to satisfy them…no way for them to recognize that if we don’t want to lose our place in the world as the economic superpower, then we have to have this infrastructure and the ability to responsibly reap the benefits of what God has given this country in its natural resources.”[i] Although the leaders of NABTU no longer identify with the AFL-CIO and the letterhead does not mention the Federation, the Trades continue to determine the shape the AFL-CIO’s approach to energy and climate. This is despite the fact that a growing number of unions have opposed the DAPL, among them the Amalgamated Transit Union, Communication Workers of America, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Nurses United, New York State Nurses Association, Service Employees International Union (SEIU); SEIU 1199, and the United Electrical Workers. Union locals (branches or chapters) have also opposed the DAPL, among them, GEU UAW Local 6950 and Steelworkers Local 8751.

These unions have been joined by the Labor Coalition for Community Action, which represents well established AFL-CIO constituency groups like LCLAA, APALA, Pride at Work, CBTU, CLUW and the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

Reacting to the progressive unions’ solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux, NABTU’s president Sean McGarvey wrote a scathing letter to AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, copies of which were sent to the principal officers of all of the Federation’s affiliated unions. In a fashion reminiscent of the Keystone XL fight, McGarvey disparaged the unions that opposed DAPL. A day later, on September 15th, the AFL-CIO issued its own already infamous statement supporting DAPL. “Trying to make climate policy by attacking individual construction projects is neither effective nor fair to the workers involved” said the statement. “The AFL-CIO calls on the Obama Administration to allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue.”[ii]

UK: is the ‘dash for gas’ frackturing the labor movement?

By Francesca Sullivan and Karen Viquerat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 24, 2015

Unfolding story:  Proposal to frack in North West England leads to a minor earthquake

Just days after the UK’s leading union in the gas industry signed on to a charter with the gas industry to develop fracking, other unions are stepping up efforts to make sure the drilling never starts. The GMB’s Central Executive Committee issued its statement on fracking on June 8. The UK’s largest union, UNITE issued a press release in support of an anti-fracking demonstration organized by ‘Frack Free Lancashire‘ and Chris Baugh, Asst. General Secretary of Public and Commercial Services union, responded to the GMB’s argument.  See below for more details.

Unite Press Release

For immediate use: Monday 22 June 2015

Unite urges councillors to keep Lancashire ‘frack free’

Britain’s largest union, Unite will be joining campaigners and local groups tomorrow (Tuesday 23 June) in a demonstration to support a ‘frack free Lancashire’ and halt Cuadrilla’s fracking plans.

The ‘don’t frack Lancs’ demonstration outside Lancashire county council hall in Preston coincides with a council meeting where county councillors will decide whether to accept or reject Cuadrilla’s fracking applications.

Chair of Unite’s executive council, Tony Woodhouse is among the speakers at the demonstration being organised by Friends of Earth. The county hall demonstration runs from 17:00 to 19:00.

Last week council planning officers recommended that fracking should go ahead at Preston New Road, but permission should be refused at Roseacre Wood due to a severe impact on road safety due to heavy lorries.

Councillors tomorrow will decide on whether to accept or reject planning officers’ recommendations.

Unite North West regional secretary Mick Whitley said: “Fracking is a huge issue for communities across our region and a cause for deep concern.

“A moratorium on fracking is in place in Scotland and the Welsh assembly government is following suit such is the depth of concern in other parts of the UK.

“Here in Lancashire, county councillors need to listen to tens of thousands of people from across the county who have objected and reject all applications for fracking.”

Unite is committed to supporting and lobbying for a moratorium on all fracking activities across the United Kingdom.

5.7-Million-Member TUC Supports Labour Party’s Manifesto Commitments on Public Ownership of Energy and Climate Change

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

The annual congress of the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) has passed a historic composite resolution (also below) on climate change that supports the energy sector being returned to public ownership and democratic control.

The resolution—carried unanimously by hundreds of delegates—calls upon the national center to work with the Labour Party to achieve this goal, as well as to: implement a mass program for energy conservation and efficiency; lobby for the establishment of a “just transition” strategy for affected workers; and, investigate the long-term risks to pension funds from investments in fossil fuels.

The Labour Party’s 2017 election manifesto, For the Many, Not the Few,pointed to the failures of electricity privatization, energy poverty, the need the honor the UK’s climate commitments, and to put the UK on course for 60% of its energy to be met by zero carbon or renewable sources by 2030.

The Manifesto also committed to “take energy back into public ownership to deliver renewable energy, affordability for consumers, and democratic control.” It calls for the creation of “publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and co-operatives to rival existing private energy suppliers.”

Moved by Sarah Woolley, Organising Regional Secretary for the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), the resolution refers to the “irrefutable evidence that dangerous climate change is driving unprecedented changes to our environment,” as well as the risks to meeting the climate challenge posed by Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and by the chaotic approach to both Brexit and broader policy by the current Conservative government.

The resolution affirmed that combating climate change and moving towards a low-carbon economy cannot be left to markets, but requires a strong role for the public sector in driving the transition. In supporting the resolution, several speakers referred to the devastation unleashed across the Caribbean over the previous several days by Hurricane Irma—the most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm in recorded history—and across southern Texas only days before that by Hurricane Harvey.

Eyewitness Dakota: Standing with a Native Led Movement Against Extreme Energy

By Irene Shen - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 14, 2016

I just returned from Standing Rock, North Dakota where I stayed at the camp with thousands of others gathered to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). I decided to go because, despite the lack of major media coverage, this has been the most visible Native-led movement against America’s system of exploitation in our country, and one that deeply impacts all of us, from issues of clean drinking water to climate change. I also went because I believe that we can’t allow the fossil fuel industry or our government to perpetuate a history of genocide for profit by jeopardizing the water source of thousands of Native Americans while ignoring their treaty rights and sacred lands – an example of capitalism at work. I knew that the water protectors at Standing Rock wanted people to come out there, so I went to contribute whatever I could to win the battle.

Standing Rock is an opportunity to organize and raise people’s consciousness that the climate crisis is the result of a system that exploits land and working people and then displaces them, so that natural resources can be extracted for profit. Without a systemic change, more pipelines will be constructed for profit and more communities will be destroyed, especially poor communities of color, regardless of a defeated DAPL or better energy policies.

Many people who were at Standing Rock were there because they decided to fight against a system that can seem unbeatable. Instead of letting discouragement or fear keep them away, they chose to fight the fossil fuel industry and our government that supports the destruction of their water supply and land. I wanted to connect with people in that context, to talk about the need for systemic change and to bring that energy of hope and a fighting spirit home to local battles against displacement, environmental racism and exploitation.

Where unions and cooperatives meet: the example of Earthworker, Australia

Mark Tyler and Anna Boddenberg - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, April 7, 2015

We are currently facing two interrelated crises; catastrophic climate change, and massive economic collapse. Those in power are not responding appropriately to this reality. Earthworker, a worker-controlled cooperative movement based in Australia, is one creative response to this situation. In the face of climate change, Earthworker is building sustainable industry. In the face of economic collapse, Earthworker is building secure, dignified jobs in worker-owned cooperatives. In the face of inaction (or unhelpful action) from government and business, Earthworker is building a strategy that can be controlled and enacted from below, by workers and local communities. While the vision is expansive, it is starting the only way it can: from where we are currently standing, and with one step at a time.

At the end of 2014, Earthworker saw the mutualisation of Eureka’s Future in Dandenong, Victoria, Australia. This means a private business was transformed into a worker-owned cooperative factory, manufacturing high-quality hot water tanks. The transition from a traditional, privately-owned enterprise was facilitated by Earthworker, and has taken many years of leg-work. This is the first of a network of worker-owned cooperatives in sustainable industries across Australia that Earthworker will support and build.

Earthworker does not emerge out of a vacuum. The project is a result of years of struggle and draws from the lessons of both the labour and environmental movements. These histories inform and guide Earthworker. Three principles that are key to the project are; 1) a direct action approach of “show me don’t tell me”; 2) an insistence that workers have control over how our labour is used; and 3) a memory that struggles for the emancipation of labour and struggles for environmental justice are sister movements.

Berta Cáceres assassinated. Allies fight for the release of Gustavo Castro

By Michael O’Neil - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, March 11, 2016

A week after the assassination of Berta Cáceres, coordinator and co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH), devastated colleagues and allies in the global movements for indigenous people’s rights and energy democracy are demanding justice.

That justice begins with Honduran officials immediately releasing Gustavo Castro Soto, founder and director of Otros Mundos/Amigos de la Tierra México and the only witness to Berta’s murder. Gustavo was shot twice in the attack and his life is in danger.

The Center for International Environmental Law is circulating a letter to the Honduran, Mexican and embassy authorities to demand that the perpetrators – AND architects – of Berta’s murder are brought to justice.

The Trade Union Confederation of the Americas, the AFL-CIO and other unions and allies have signed an open letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry calling for pressure to produce an international, independent investigation into Berta’s murder along with meaningful safety measures for others who are still in danger. Trade unions and other organizations that would like to join as co-signers can email Angelika Albaladejo at the Latin America Working GroupThe letter is also calling on the US to “suspend all assistance and training to Honduran security forces, with the exception of investigatory and forensic assistance to the police, so long as the murders of Berta Cáceres and scores of other Honduran activists remain in impunity.”

The government has issued an alert barring Gustavo from returning to his home in Mexico for 30 days, to keep him as a “protected witness”. Meanwhile, Gustavo himself has published an open letter asserting that the scene of Berta’s murder was altered. The government has shown Gustavo photos and video in a supposed attempt to identify the assailants, but all materials are from marches organized by Berta’s own organization.

Prior to her murder, Berta faced systematic harassment and death threats from government officials, security services and others who would benefit from the Agua Zarca Dam poject, which Berta and the Lenca people have opposed. Now it appears that her horrific assassination is being used as a pretext to further target members of that struggle.

Already, the government has detained Aureliano “Lito” Molina, the number two figure in COPINH, as a “suspect” in what they preposterously claim was a crime of passion, while also maintaining it was a robbery gone violent.

TUED asks that we stand together for Berta and all those facing violence and repression in the fight for basic rights and a safe and healthy environment.

Berta Cáceres, Presente!

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