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Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED)

Greening the Union Label: Zero Carbon Future Could Be a Jobs Bonanza

By Steven Wishnia - The Indypendent, September 12, 2014

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.

From teachers to transit workers, civil servants to electricians, the People’s Climate March will have more organized-labor participation than any environmentalist effort in U.S. history.

More than 50 unions, including some of the city’s biggest, are among the organizations sponsoring the march. The Service Employees International Union, the nation’s second largest, has endorsed it, and its two main New York locals, the health care workers of Local 1199 and the building service workers of Local 32BJ, are heavily involved. Also on board are District Council 37, the city’s largest public employee union; Transport Workers Union Local 100; Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; the Communications Workers of America, who represent city employees as well as telephone and cable-TV workers; and the city, state and Connecticut affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers.

The sponsors also include labor-based groups such as the Left Labor Project and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and “worker centers” that seek to organize low-wage and undocumented workers. Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is bringing union leaders from more than 10 countries, including the United Kingdom, Brazil, India, Korea, Canada and South Africa.

“Labor is marching because climate change affects all of us,” says Local 32BJ President Hector Figueroa. “We live in the communities that get destroyed by storms like Sandy. We work in the buildings that get flooded. We get hit by health epidemics like asthma that are rampant in our communities, and we care about the world that we will leave for our children and grandchildren.” 

“Labor has come to the conclusion that it is a workers’ issue, some of us faster than others,” says Estela Vazquez, a Local 1199 vice president.

At Least Some Unions Step Up for Big Climate March!

By Abby Scher - Truthout, September 14, 2014

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.

New York City and key national unions like the Service Employees International Union and Communication Workers of America are stepping up to support the People's Climate March in NYC September 21, in a broad coalition. But some green radicals from labor groups say unions need to create their own climate protection strategy that democratizes the energy sector.

There is a grinding nature to labor solidarity. Having never been active in a union before, I never experienced it until becoming the National Writers Union rep to organizing meetings for the Sept 21 Climate March happening in New York City right before a UN summit. Now I'm feeling it. It's not enough to get your union on board; has your president signed a statement? It's not enough to get your local; how about your international? And of course, words are cheap, so how many members are you mobilizing, and how are you doing it? Everyone in the room knows that grunt work feeds whatever power labor has. Astonishing for people who haven't been watching the labor movement in the last few years, New York's unions are digging deep to support the march that calls on world leaders to take action to avert catastrophic climate change.  

The march takes place just two days before President Obama and world leaders gather for an emergency Climate Summit at the United Nations called by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Moon wants to ensure they sign a new international climate treaty when they gather again in Paris in December 2015.

The unions are among 1,000 endorsers of the People's Climate March challenging the big corporations and governments that have stymied any real agreement. It's been 26 years since the UN launched the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and then the treaty process two years later, but we're stuck - even as scientists educate us on the urgency to act.

Will unions be part of the problem or part of the solution? The International Trade Union Federation endorsed the march, as has the Canadian Labour Congress and the Connecticut and Vermont labor federations. But in New York, local and state unions are the ones stepping up - including some of the building trades, which, on a national level, help block the AFL-CIO from showing any climate leadership.

(Working Paper #2) Climate Change and the Great Inaction: New Trade Union Perspectives

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions For Energy Democracy, September 2014

This paper has been written for unions and unionists who are perhaps in the early stages of their engagement with climate change and who feel they might benefit from knowing “the story so far” in terms of trade union involvement.

But it is also being written with an eye to the future, to generate discussion that may help unions develop the kind of compelling ideas and proposals that can lead to an increase in membership engagement and climate activism. A global movement demanding immediate and effective action on climate change is urgently needed, and unions can play an important and potentially decisive role. However, part of the process of building such a movement will require taking stock, in broad terms, of what has been learned with regard to past efforts both practically and at the level of ideas and core theoretical assumptions.

This paper focuses mainly on the UN level, where the level of union activity has been very significant and worthy of examination. It will be clear from what follows that the climate politics of the international trade union movement has reached an impasse–the same is also true of other movements who have fought for a global climate agreement and have seen their hopes shattered. But this is more than a problem of barking up the wrong tree, or of the wrong set of persons sitting in the seats of power at the wrong time. The “green economy” framework that has informed trade union policy on climate change and sustainability has also reached a political dead end. This is obvious at the UN level and increasingly obvious at the level of the nation state, one or two exceptions notwithstanding. Once regarded as inevitable, the green economic transition as imagined by the more far—sighted wing of the political and corporate establishment now borders on the impossible.

In following how unions have engaged the UN’s climate process, it is also possible to observe and reflect on how the trade union discussion has shifted from the days of the “triumph of the market” neoliberal globalist moment in the early 1990s to the present time, when the impacts of the Great Recession (and the need for jobs) are still all too evident in many parts of the world. In the early 1990s neoliberal capitalism was wiping the floor with unions. Unions of course remain under attack and very much on the defensive. But, in common with other social movements, unions have in recent years begun to engage in a deeper questioning of the political economy of capitalism from both a climate and environmental standpoint and from a socioeconomic perspective. Can politics significantly alter the systemic and profoundly unsustainable features of capitalism, particularly unlimited growth, accumulation, and consumption? In the light of the world leaders’ “great inaction” on climate change, this has to be the key question that lies at the heart of the trade union debate in the period ahead.

Download (PDF).

Unions in the Americas call for “Energy Sovereignty and Democratization”

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 3, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA)  has released a major policy instrument, the Development Platform for the Americas (English version here) or Plataforma de Desarrollo de las Americas (PLADA).  Spanish original is here. The report was released in Santiago, Chile, at a meeting with Chilean president Michelle Bachelet on May 6 in the presence of more than 5,000 trade unionists and friends.

The year-long process of discussion and debate leading to the launch of PLADA reflects growing support among unions and social movements for democratic control of energy and other strategic sectors as well as the need for governments to halt the for-profit exploitation of the commons.

TUCA is the largest regional workers´ organization in the Americas.  It represents more than 50 million workers belonging to 53 national trade union organizations based in 23 countries. TUCA is the regional structure of the International Trade Union Confederation. A number of TUCA affiliates participate in TUED, from Argentina, Canada and the United States.

PLADA calls on the region’s various social and political forces to “work together to build alternatives in the battle for a new hegemony.” The document is structured around four pillars or dimensions – political, economic, social and environmental – which will be geared towards achieving sustainable development.

(Working Paper #1) Global Shale Gas and the Anti-Fracking Movement

By Sean Sweeney and Lara Skinner - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 2014

This paper has been prepared to assist unions and their close allies who wish to better understand the impacts of shale gas drilling, or “fracking,” and want to develop a position or approach to fracking that protects workers, communities, and the environment. It begins with a summary of the shale gas industry’s global expansion, and then looks at the opposition to fracking that has emerged in a number of key countries. A preliminary profile of the anti-fracking movement highlights the goals and characteristics of this movement as well as the issues that lie at the heart of the resistance.

The paper concludes by attempting to bring together the available information on unions’ perspectives and positions on this increasingly important issue. It also raises for discussion the prospect of unions giving support to a global moratorium on fracking based either on the precautionary principle (the health and environmental effects are not fully understood or have still to be adequately addressed) or on the more definitive assessment that fracking can never be sufficiently safe in terms of its impact on health and the environment and should therefore be stopped altogether.

Read the report (PDF).

Coal Miners and the Green Agenda

By Robert Pollin - New Labor Forum, Winter 2014

From 2014...

In June 2012, President Obama announced his “Climate Action Plan.” This is his administration’s major second-term initiative to re-energize its agenda around fighting climate change and supporting major new investments in clean energy.

The primary focus of the Action Plan is the administration’s program to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from the country’s electricity utility plants. These emissions result primarily from burning coal, but also natural gas, to produce electricity. Carbon emissions from electricity generation represent about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions produced by all sources within the U.S. economy today. It is evident that these emissions need to be cut dramatically if we are going to stop playing Russian roulette with the environment.

New Regulations and Technologies Are Not Enough

The administration’s strategy for achieving these emissions cuts is to begin strictly enforc-ing the existing air pollution regulations estab-lished as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act.

The administration is taking this approach because it allows them to avoid asking Congress to either spend more money or pass new regulations.The administration expects that the utility companies can achieve the needed emissions reductions through a technological fix: the introduction of carbon capture and sequestra-tion (CCS) processes, through which, they believe, coal and natural gas could burn cleanly. This is how the phrase “clean coal” has begun to emerge on billboards and TV commercials. CCS encompasses several specific technolo-gies that aim to capture carbon emissions from power plants and other industrial facilities. The captured carbon is then transported, usually through pipelines, to locations where it is then stored permanently—that is, for all time—in subsurface geological formations.

Opponents of the administration’s Action Plan claim that CCS remains unproven and, even if it becomes technically feasible, would impose heavy new costs on utilities.

In this instance, the administration’s critics have the weight of evidence on their side. As such, the Action Plan faces two fundamental problems. First, as there is no proven technol-ogy for delivering clean coal—or, for that mat- ter, clean oil or natural gas—the only viable path for dramatically reducing carbon emis-sions is to sharply reduce fossil fuel consump-tion. This, in turn, means that workers and communities dependent on the fossil fuel indus-tries will face job losses and retrenchment. It is therefore no surprise that even Democratic pol-iticians representing the affected communities are actively opposing Obama’s initiative.

Read the report (PDF).

Trade unions and climate change: the need for a programmatic shift

By Asbjørn Wahl - Global Labour Column, November 2019

Climate change is a trade union issue. That is what we increasingly, and rightly, have been told by international trade unions leaders over the last ten to fifteen years. While the inter-governmental negotiations on climate change can be dated back to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the first so-called Conference of the Parties (COP) in Berlin, 1995, it was only about 15 years ago that trade union representation at the COP conferences reached around 100 delegates. Since that, representation has been increasing, and we have seen a growing trade union activity on climate change issues.

This activity has focussed particularly on the social dimension of climate change and climate change policies. Thus, the focus has been more on the effects on workers of climate change prevention and mitigation than on policies to really cut fossil fuel emissions. However, trade unions, as well as governmental bodies, cannot be assessed only on the basis of their activities, but first and foremost on what has been achieved in terms of climate change prevention and mitigation – and the social consequences. In this regard, we must admit that the trade union movement has not been able to take a lead in the climate change struggle.

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