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Trade Unions for Energy Democracy

Moving the trade unions past fossil fuels

Samantha Mason interviewed by Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, August 9, 2017

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has launched a pamphlet, Just Transition and Energy Democracy: a civil service trade union perspective, urging trade union support for the transition away from fossil fuels and restructuring the energy system under public ownership. In this interview SAMANTHA MASON, PCS policy officer and main author of the pamphlet, published in May, talks about combating the pro-fossil-fuel lobby in the unions and the Labour Party, and how to unite social and environmental movements.

Gabriel Levy (GL). Could you describe the PCS’s long engagement with energy and climate policy, which has culminated in the Just Transition pamphlet?

Samantha Mason (SM). We have been engaged with climate change issues, and increasingly with the whole energy debate, for about ten years. This has in large part been due to motions coming to conference from the grassroots membership, and an assistant general secretary, Chris Baugh, leading on this, which has enabled us to develop our policy and campaigning agenda.We participate in meetings with other industrial and energy unions, mainly through the Trade Unions Sustainable Development Advisory Committee. [Note. This committee was set up as a joint government-union forum after the 1997 Kyoto climate talks, but government participation dried up under the Tories. It is now a meeting place for union policy officers, and latterly, industrial officers.]

Some of the unions there represent workers in the fossil fuel and nuclear sectors, so while we’re supposed to look at sustainable development issues, they have been more concerned with pushing fracking [that is, hydraulic fracturing, a mining technique that has been used to raise natural gas production in the US, and some people think might do so in the UK] as part of the TUC’s so called “balance energy policy” – supporting nuclear, natural gas, Carbon Capture and Storage, and the Heathrow third runway. [Note. See for example the TUC Powering Ahead document.]

We have real problems with this, as PCS is opposed to almost everything in the policy, on the basis of our national conference decisions. We have had a divide opening up between these pro-fracking unions on one side, and the PCS, and other unions who want to develop a policy for both social change and environmental change, on the other. The TUC says their policy is a result of Congress decisions. But they do little or nothing to take the debate forward.

Korean Unions Call for a “Just Energy Transition” to Move Away From Coal and Nuclear

By Steve Early - Counterpunch, August 4, 2017

In a series of landmark statements following the May 2017 election of the pro-reform President Moon Jae-in, Korean energy, transport and public service workers have called for “a just energy transition” allowing the sector to “function as a public asset under public control.”  Unions support the new government’s decision to close the country’s aging coal-fired and nuclear power stations, and its planned reconsideration of two new nuclear facilities, Kori 5 and Kori 6. In a statement issued in late July, the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU) and the Korean Labour and Social Network on Energy (KLSNE), a coalition of unions and civil society organization, said, “We actively support the policy of phasing out coal and nuclear and expanding clean renewable energy.” The statement urged the development of, “A roadmap for energy transition that ensures public accountability and strengthens democratic control of the energy industry.” KPTU and KLSNE also committed  “to work together with the public and civil society to achieve a just transition.”

The Korean Labour and Social Network on Energy (KLSNE) and the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU) Support the Government’s Policy of a Transition towards a Coal-free, Nuclear-free Energy System

The Moon Jae-in government, which was elected on a pledge to phase out coal and nuclear generation and scale up clean renewables, is now moving quickly to enact these promises. Following a temporary shutdown of old coal-fired power plants, the Kori 1 nuclear reactor was permanently closed down on June 19. The government is now reconsidering plans to build new nuclear reactors Kori 5 and 6. The KLSNE and KPTU declare our support for these policies and our intentions to play a leading role in bring about a just energy transition.

The government’s establishment of a commission to assess public opinion on the plans to build Kori reactors 5 and 6 on July 24 sparked immediate outcry from nuclear power business interests and pro-nuclear power scholars. The press has exacerbated this conflict with sensational reporting. It is deeply regrettable that those who oppose the government’s policies are speaking only from their individual self-interest without putting forth viable alternatives.

It is even more regrettable that the voices of workers at the Korean Hyro & Nuclear Power Corporation and other nuclear-power related companies who support a just transition are being stifled in the process. We stress the importance of recognising the difference between nuclear power business interests and the nuclear power workers. These workers are the people most easily exposed to radiation and at the most risk in the case of accidents. Electricity and gas workers, who have been discussing paths for a just transition for many years now, are sure that nuclear power workers will soon join us in this effort.

During the last nine years of conservative rule, South Korea’s energy policy has been focused on restructuring aimed only at meeting the interest of corporations (i.e. privatisation). The result has been the expansion of nuclear power and private coal and LNG generation and massive profits for corporations. Energy policy has been consistently undemocratic and anti-climate.

With South Korea now facing the threat of earthquakes and air contaminated with fine dust it is only natural that we energy workers, who have fought for almost two decades to stop privatisation and protect our public energy system, would take a leading role in the fight for a just energy transition.

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.”

Winning Clean Energy & Climate Justice for All

By Sean Sweeney - The Murphy Institute, June 20, 2017

Sean Sweeney, from Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), speaking at the 2017 People’s Summit, held on June 9-11th, on the three tasks to win energy democracy in front of the labor movement today.

Towards a Progressive Labor Vision for Climate Justice and Energy Transition

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 2, 2017

Discussion document submitted to Labor for Our Revolution (LFOR):

This memorandum proposes an analysis and provisional framework around which to construct an ambitious and effective agenda for progressive labor to respond to the converging environmental crises, and to pursue a rapid, inclusive approach to energy transition and social justice.

Such an agenda could serve to bring a much-needed independent union voice to policy and programmatic debates on climate change and energy within Our Revolution spaces and processes. Labor’s voice in these debates frequently echoes the large energy companies on one side, or the large mainstream environmental NGOs on the other.

Unions that supported Bernie, alongside other union locals and individual leaders and activists who participate in Labor for Our Revolution (LFOR), understand that we cannot afford to regard environmental issues and climate change as peripheral concerns situated outside of labor’s “core agenda.” This is not the place to review the science, but recent assessments from climate scientists, already sobering, have become increasingly grave. The health impacts of rising airborne pollution and warming temperatures already cut short the lives of millions on an annual basis, and will increasingly do so without a major change in direction.

Importantly, a global movement has emerged that today challenges the destructive trajectory of “business as usual.” This is a movement that progressive labor in the US can work with and should support.

Progressive labor can and should articulate a clear alternative to the anti-scientific, “energy superpower” agenda being advanced by Trump—an alternative that can help build and strengthen alliances with the climate and environmental justice movements. Progressive unions are already involved in Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) and / or Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED); both LNS and TUED bring significant experience and capacity, and can serve as platforms for expanded and accelerated collaboration and programmatic work.

Many would agree that progressive labor’s approach must be science-based and internationalist. It must aspire to be socially and economically transformative, and must be able simultaneously to inspire and mobilize union members, and provide a basis for durable, effective alliances with other social movements. This, then, is our starting point.

At the same time, progressive labor’s approach must recognize that incremental efforts to “move the needle” are no longer sufficient. For this reason, such an approach must also be built around clear programmatic commitments that are evidence-based, grounded in a realistic assessment of the urgency, and commensurate to the task.

Paris is Burning

By James P. Hare - Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, June 2017

With Trump’s decision to formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement, he has put an end to months of apparent indecision. This withdrawal does not dissolve the agreement, which still includes nearly every nation on the planet, but it is hard to imagine how an already weak agreement can be expected to slow—not to mention reverse—greenhouse gas emissions without the participation of the United States. Seeing this decision as anything other than a nail in the coffin of the global climate regime is nothing but wishful thinking.

For an administration that has promoted a seemingly unending series of bad policies—from healthcare to immigration to militarism to the unceasing transfer of wealth from working people to the wealthy—this may be its worst. When future generations look back at the harm done by this president, they may remember this as his greatest crime. This is not to minimize the damage of his other policies or of the racism, xenophobia, and misogyny that drove his campaign and brought him into the White House, but climate change is the ultimate issue. It will affect everyone while exacerbating existing inequalities, and we only have one chance to get it right.

This decision is no surprise. Throughout his campaign, Trump promised to pull out of the Paris Agreement as part of his “America First” agenda that pits the promise of domestic jobs against environmental protections and international cooperation. We must reject Trump’s noxious brand of nationalism and climate denialism. It is critical, however, not to sugarcoat the nature of much of what passes as international cooperation. So-called trade agreements have benefitted corporations and the wealthy at the expense of working people both in the United States and abroad.

It is not, as Trump’s nativist critique would have it, that the United States made a bad deal with Mexico when negotiating NAFTA. Rather, elites in the United States, Mexico, and Canada made a good deal for themselves at the expense of the citizens of each country. Still, working people understand what NAFTA did to their workplaces and their communities, and Trump’s attack on trade deals may have helped him to win enough working-class support in critical states to shift the electoral map in his favor, even if the extent of his working-class support has been greatly overstated by centrist commentators.

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.

Energy Democracy and Just Transition Endorsed at Launch of South Africa’s New Trade Union Federation

By John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, May 1, 2017

At a historic launch event held outside Johannesburg on April 21-23, 2017, almost 1,400 voting delegates from two-dozen unions representing 700,000 workers convened to launch the new “South African Federation of Trade Unions” (SAFTU).

In addition to adopting the name, logo and colors — red, black and gold — delegates also endorsed a range of principles adopted at a preparatory “Workers’ Summit” convened by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) in April 2016, adopted a new constitution, and approved a report from the Steering Committee proposing a range of campaigning priorities for the next period.

In a recent article, then SAFTU convener Zwelinzima Vavi said:

We’ve got a mix of workers in the private sector, manufacturing, transport, mining and construction. And we’ve got unions in the public sector – the biggest ones are the South African Policing Union and the National Union of Public Servants and Allied Workers.[SAFTU] is independent but not apolitical. It is truly worker controlled and democratic and not ‘sloganising’ over the issues. SAFTU is truly fighting and militant.”

At a TUED strategy meeting in New York in early April, Karl Cloete, NUMSA’s Deputy General Secretary, told union representatives from 12 countries that while the new federation’s campaigning priorities will focus on the many grave and urgent challenges facing South Africa’s highly exploited workers and exceptionally vulnerable poor, SAFTU would also make energy democracy and just transition part of its core agenda.

Declaration of the Launching Congress of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU)

By staff - Trade Unions For Energy Democracy, April 23, 2017

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has been born. We have passed a milestone in the history of the South African trade union movement at this Launching Congress held in Boksburg from 21-23 April 2017.

700,000 workers represented by 1,384 voting delegates from 24 unions and other non-voting unions have taken the first decisive step to building a new, vibrant, independent, and democratic workers’ federation, leading the struggle against exploitation, mass unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption and taking up the struggle for the total emancipation of the working class from the chains of its capitalist oppressors.

Delegates formally adopted the name, logo and colours of red, black and gold. A constitution was adopted and a Report from the Steering Committee which  spelt out the way forward for the coming period, and endorsed the principles adopted by the Workers Summit on 30 April 2016.

We are building a fundamentally different type of workers’ organisation – independent of political parties and employers but not apolitical, democratic, worker-controlled, militant, socialist-orientated, internationalist, Pan Africanist from a Marxist perspective and inspired by the principles of Marxism-Leninism. 

Our historic mission is to rapidly build a united mass force of workers, which will transform their lives and pave the way for the transformation of society as a whole from one based on the greed of a rapacious capitalist elite to one run for the benefit of the working class and all the people of South Africa and the world.

But time is not on our side. Unless we urgently mobilize our forces to confront the quadruple challenge of unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption and revive the trade union movement, turn the tide and fight back against their appalling conditions of life, we shall slide into a new age of barbarism, and even worse exploitation of the working class and the poor. 

TUED energy and climate retreat, Cutchogue, Long Island, April 3-4, 2017, hosted by Local 3, IBEW

By Staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, February 25, 2017

A Discussion on Union Strategy and Policy in a Time of Resistance

April 3rd & 4th at Local 3 IBEW’s Education and Cultural Center in Cutchogue, Long Island, New York. Dinner and reception to follow (check out morning of April 5th).

See below for information about the purpose of the retreat and discussion topics.

Confirmed international participants:

Daniel Angelim (Trade Union Confederation of the Americas)
David Boys (Public Services International)
Daniel Chavez (Transnational Institute, Netherlands)
Hector de la Cueva (CILAC-Mexico)
Bruno Dobrusin (CTA, Argentina)
Simona Fabiani (CGIL, Italy)
Luz Gonzalez (CUT, Brazil)
Kate Lee (Union Aid Abroad /APHEDA, Australia)
Wol-san Liem (KPTU, Korea)
Maite Llanos (TUED, Geneva)
Sam Mason (PCS, UK)
Josua Mata (Sentro, Philippines)
Lance McCallum (Electrical Trades Union, Australia)
Philip Pearson (TUED, UK)
Allison Roche (UNISON, UK)
Ashim Roy (NTUI, India)
Asbjorn Wahl (NUMGE, Norway)

We are all energy unions now.

The retreat is being convened at a time when President Trump has made clear his enthusiastic support for more fracking of shale gas and shale oil, and his desire to remove regulations on fossil fuels. Executive Orders have indicated President Trump’s support for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. A number of key US unions have endorsed these actions. Meanwhile, The White House has removed all references to climate change from its website, and the President has vowed to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and reign in the EPA.

Jobs and Climate Justice

We share a common atmosphere and all rely on the ecosystems that sustain life. All over the world unions and social movements are being drawn into struggles over the future of energy. Therefore a clear, compelling, and effective strategy for a transformative transition for energy is needed in order to meet the political challenges in the US and elsewhere.

Likely discussion questions:

  • The Trump Agenda: How can progressive labor in the US respond to the “energy superpower” argument?
  • What is the record of “labor-environmental” alliances and coalitions in the US and internationally?
  • Should we defend the Paris climate agreement?
  • Centers of resistance: What role for cities and states?
  • What is happening in key “carbon battlegrounds” countries like Australia, India, South Africa and the UK?
  • How can unions champion public renewable power and build union strength in the renewables sector?

A recent TUED Working Paper, Energy Transition: Are We Winning?, explains what is going on in the global energy system and the need for progressive and forward-looking unions internationally to work together to develop a more coherent and compelling approach to energy transition.

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