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Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED)

Remaking Our Energy Future: Towards a Just Energy Transition (JET) in South Africa

By Richard Halsey, Neil Overy, Tina Schubert, Ebenaezer Appies, Liziwe McDaid and Kim Kruyshaar - Project 90 by 2030, September 19, 2019

A just transition (JT) is a highly complex topic, where the overall goal is to shift to systems that are better for people and the planet, and to do so in a fair and managed way that “leaves no one behind”. A JT is about justice in the context of fundamental changes within the economy and the society.

Both of these areas are extremely contested, consensus is hard to achieve, and people are generally resistant to change. A JT confronts “business as usual” and threatens powerful vested interests in certain economic sectors. In recent years, a vast amount of literature on the subject has been published, and in South Africa the conversation has picked up pace. The urgency of acting now is indisputable.

While a JT can apply to many sectors and industries, this publication focuses on energy. In addition to being a major contributor to climate change, environmental damage and impacts on human health, the energy sector (particularly Eskom), is facing significant challenges in South Africa. We fully acknowledge that energy is linked to other sectors such as transport, agriculture, water and land use, and that a just energy transition (JET) is a part of a wider JT. While the focus of this report is on one sector, we do so recognising that it is linked to other parts of a larger system in many ways.

Our approach was to look at what we can learn from international experience, to combine that with what has already been done in South Africa, and to make recommendations about how to move forward. This publication focuses on the shift from coal to renewable energy (RE), mainly for electricity generation. We are well aware that a movement away from fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) is far more than just moving from coal to RE, but as discussed in Chapter 3, this particular transition is the obvious starting point in South Africa. The lessons and recommendations presented here can also be adapted to other fossil fuel sectors. While the focus of this study is on coal, a big picture perspective of the energy system is crucial. South Africa must adopt an integrated planning approach, for energy and other sectors.

Read the text (PDF).

Nurses’ Unions, Climate Change and Health: A Global Agenda for Action

By Sean Sweeney, Irene Shen and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, July 2019

The planet is warming and the climate is changing. With increasing regularity, headlines report record- breaking heat waves, catastrophic storms, floods and fires, and rising numbers of people displaced due to famines, droughts and violence. The world seems to be rapidly becoming a more dangerous and more frightening place.

These changes have profound significance for human health. Indeed, the health impacts of global warming and climate change are already being felt by vast numbers of people around the world. At the same Ame, although certain health risks may actually diminish with increased warming for some people—for instance, risk from exposure to cold in some regions—health risks overall are set to increase significantly. In the medium term, this is especially true for risks related to exposure to floods, droughts and extreme heat; food security issues; and infectious diseases. Longer-term, health risks associated with displacement and conflict are likely to become much more serious.

This paper aims to provide information to nurses and their unions regarding climate-related health risks. It summarizes what is happening now, and what health-related climate science suggests could happen if current trends continue.

Nurses and their unions have been at the forefront of many key struggles to minimize the negative health impacts of current and rising fossil fuel use, and for strong policy responses to the unfolding climate crisis. But it is today clear that addressing climate change will require a radical change at the level of politics and policy. The current policies—which are directed towards ensuring investment opportuniAes for big business—have been a massive failure. Emissions conAnue to rise, and health outcomes and indicators conAnue to worsen.

Read the report (PDF).

Just Transition at the Intersection of Labour and Climate Justice Movements: Lessons from the Portuguese Climate Jobs Campaign

By Chrislain Eric Kenfack - University of Alberta, 2019

In the current context of climate change and its accompanying adverse effects on natural, human and social systems, the imperative of transitioning to low- and preferably post-carbon societies has become a non-negotiable reality if we want to avoid reaching the point of no return in terms of environmental and climate catastrophe. Such a transition requires that the interests and needs of workers and their communities be taken into consideration to make sure they do not bear the heaviest part of the burden in terms of loss of jobs and means of survival, and that they are prepared to face the new, post-carbon labour environment.

The concept of Just Transition was coined to describe both the socio-political project put forward by trade unions in response to climate change, and the recognition by climate activists that the livelihoods and security of workers and their communities must be ensured during the transition to a post-carbon society. However, just transition movements are divided between two quite different orientations, which are labelled “affirmative” and “transformative.” On the one hand, affirmative just transition advocates envisage a transition within the current political-economic system. Transformative just transition activists, on the other hand, envisage a post-capitalist transition.

This article, drawing upon an extensive case study of the Portuguese climate jobs campaign, goes beyond showing how these orientations shape the positions taken by union and climate activists. The article also analyses how the conflicts and cooperation between these key actors can shed light on the possibilities and/or limitations of just transition as a framework for the collective action needed to achieve rapid, deep decarbonisation of economies in the Global North context.

Read the report (PDF).

Calling All Union Members

By Jonathan Guy - The Trouble, May 20, 2019

Teachers, construction workers, nurses, miners, frycooks—you have an indispensable role to play in the passage of the Green New Deal. Here are five concrete steps to take.

It’s no secret that the American labor establishment is ambivalent about the rising prospects for climate policy change. After battling environmental activists throughout the 2010s over a series of tar sands pipeline projects, unions from carbon-loving industries are balking at the prospect of a Green New Deal, even as the resolution bends over backwards to address their concerns. The AFL-CIO’s energy committee decried the flexible resolution as “unrealistic” and threatening “immediate harm to millions of our members and their families.”  Construction union LiUNA had even harsher words, calling the GND “the sails of fantasy” and its backers’ approach to inclusive coalition-building “exactly how not to enact a progressive agenda to address our nation’s dangerous income inequality”.  In the fossil fuel sector, unions like Mine Workers of America cheer the demise of even modest climate regulations such as the Clean Power Plan, insisting beyond all evidence that carbon capture and storage technology is a viable alternative to renewable energy. Given these union leaders’ stunning obstinacy, even as the climate left dangles gigantic carrots in front of their faces—full severance pay, a job guarantee, project labor agreements, unionization mandates—it would be easy to write them off as inevitable foes.

Such a dismissal, of course, would be gravely mistaken. While the electoral and lobbying influence of unions has waned, they still play a key veto role inside the Democratic Party, and have enjoyed a revival over the past two years as public sector workers found their voice against the devastating Supreme Court decision Janus and endless austerity enacted at the state level in places such as West Virginia and Oklahoma. More to the point, labor unions represent our best hope for organizing the emerging majority-minority working class who must play the central role in a political realignment around a new, low-carbon social compact which emphasizes social equality and economic fairness. Any movement which does not address the concerns of labor—particularly the building trades—is surely doomed.

This article, however, is not yet another paean to the importance of centering a just transition. That genre is well-established. Lord knows that staffers and strategists at 350.org and Sunrise and Ed Markey’s offices have internalized the previous paragraph, and are already tearing their hair out day and night over how to get labor on board. Outside groups like these can surely have some positive impact; see for example, the successful efforts towards a consensus recently won in Maine. But after years of neoliberal environmentalists betraying unions, a lot of distrust has built up which frankly will not be worked out within the short timeframe we have left to avert a two-degree plus warming scenario. In order to really move the needle, pressure on locals and internationals alike will have to be applied from within.

New Calls For A General Strike In The Face Of Coming Climate Catastrophe!

By Joe Maniscalco - Labor Press, May 13, 2019

New York,, NY – Shut. It. Down. Amalgamated Transit Union VP Bruce Hamilton, this weekend, urged U.S. trade unionists to “learn from our past” and start building towards a general strike in a last ditch effort to avert climate disaster. 

“What we need to understand is that climate struggle is class struggle,” Hamilton told the NY Labor History Association’s Annual Spring Conference at NYU on Saturday. “Workers really do want to engage in radical action with a clear chance of making their lives better.”

Convinced that the market-driven energy sector will never voluntarily make the changes climate scientists insist are necessary to save the planet from overheating — panelists participating in a pair of labor and climate change discussions held over the last few days, instead, called for public ownership and democratic control of the energy sector.

Hamilton called the Military Industrial Complex [MIC] the biggest polluter out there, and said that dates should actually be set when “production is going to stop” and then proceed with “a series of escalating strikes” from there. 

“A tool that working people have used in the past that has been, at least temporarily successful, is a general strike,” Hamilton told LaborPress. “It’s something we should never take off the table.”

A general strike, however, requires a level of unity around the question of climate change and the Green New Deal that presently does not exist inside organized labor.

U.S. trade unionists and their leadership remain split on Green New Deal legislation from Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  [D-14th District] and Senator Ed Markey [D-MA]  — despite language in the proposed resolution that clearly calls for “high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages” and “protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment.” 

As Todd Vachon, a sociologist with the Labor Network for Sustainability told the Metro NY Labor Communications Council’s Annual Convention on Friday, when talk of a “just transition” to 100-percent renewable energy arises — many union workers “just want to punch you in the face.”

Chris Erikson, head of IBEW Local 3, meanwhile, joked that he’s been branded the “communist” of the Building Trades for advocating a “balanced transition from carbon-based fuels.”

Labor unions and green transitions in the USA

Reviewed by Valerie Lannon - Climate and Capitalism, May 10, 2019

Dimitris Stevis
LABOR UNIONS AND GREEN TRANSITIONS IN THE USA
Contestations and Explanations

ACW: Adapting Canadian Work, 2019

reviewed by Valerie Lannon

“Long term solutions require broader and public just transition policies and those can only be the result of strong political coalitions…. Such coalitions must and should include workers across the board – as well as other societal forces … nor can others speak for the workers affected.” —Dimitris Stevis

With interest growing in Green New Deals in various countries, and even talk, by Yanos Varoufakis and others, of an International Green New Deal, it is imperative that we consider the views of workers whose active, mass support is essential if any GND is to succeed.

In that context, this report, published by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change program at York University in Toronto, is very timely. Dimitris Stevis of Colorado State University investigates how US unions have addressed climate change — and why and how their positions vary.

(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).

Labor Unions and Green Transitions in the USA

By Dimitris Stevis - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, February 27, 2019

“In broad terms there are now two camps amongst US labour unions with respect to climate change and renewables (the two not always related). On one side, are those unions that believe that something needs to be done about climate change and that renewables are a good strategy. On the other side are those that are opposed to meaningful climate policy –even as they claim that climate change is a problem.”

This report outlines the deep cleavages with respect to climate policy but also argues that the views of unions are more complex and contradictory than the opposition-support dichotomy. Additionally, it seeks to understand what explains the variability in union responses to climate change and policy. What can account for the contradictions evident amongst and within unions?

Read the report (PDF).

The Green New Deal and Labour

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 27, 2019

The Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S.  published a new Discussion Paper written by Jeremy Brecher in late February.   18  Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make the Climate Mobilization Work  states that initial discussion of the Green New Deal resolution was rightly focussed on values and goals, but this Discussion paper moves on to the “how”- in 18 specific proposals which are itemized individually, but are intended to work together. The paper explains and consolidates many of the goals and strategies which have been proposed before by  LNS, including: protect low-income energy consumers and empower communities; mobilize labour and leave no worker behind; ensure worker rights and good union jobs, and yes, provide a “job guarantee.”  The 18 Strategies Discussion paper is summarized as “The Green New Deal can work: Here’s How”, which appeared in Commons Dreams on February 25  and was re-posted in  Resilience on Feb. 26.  In the article, Jermey Brecher states: “A GND will not pit workers against workers and discourage the growth of climate-protecting industries and jobs abroad. It will oppose both escalating trade wars and the free trade utopia of neoliberalism.”

The Labor Network for Sustainability has worked to build solidarity behind the Green New Deal, and on February 26,  published a Special  Issue of their newsletter, which profiles the GND endorsements and initiatives of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council in California, SEIU Locals 32BJ in New York, SIEU Local  1021 in San Francisco, and the Business Manager of IBEW Local 103 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, along with other examples and resources.  The LNS  website also hosts a new blog by Todd Vachon,  Green New Deal is a Good Deal for New Jersey workers , in which he argues for the GND and cites some of his research  which shows that union members are more likely than the general population to support environmental action.

International Trade Union Confederation unveils a Just Transition Centre at COP22

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 16, 2016

The 22nd meeting of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Marrakesh Morrocco concluded on November 18, having made dogged progress despite the looming spectre of President Donald Trump . (see “7 things you missed at COP22 while Trump hogged the headlines“). 150 trade union members from 50 countries comprised a delegation led by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). On November 18, the ITUC released their assessment of COP22: “ Marrakech Climate Conference: Real Progress on economic diversification, transformation and just transition, but more ambition and more finance needed”.

The three “top line” ITUC demands going in to the meetings can be summed up as: greater ambition and urgency for action; commitments on climate finance, especially for vulnerable countries, and commitment to just transition for workers and communities. The summary of demands is reproduced at the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy website and described in detail in the ITUC Frontlines Briefing: Climate Justice COP 22 Special Edition. (Note that one of the case studies in the Special Edition highlights the president of Unifor Local 707A in Fort McMurray, Alberta, who describes the union’s efforts to lobby government, to bargain for just transition provisions, and to sponsor job fairs for displaced workers.) The union demands are consistent with the issues raised in Setting the Path Toward 1.5 C – A Civil Society Equity Review of Pre-2020 Ambition. The ITUC is a signatory to the Setting the Path document – along with dozens of other civil society groups, including Canada Action Network, David Suzuki Foundation, and Friends of the Earth Canada.

The ITUC Special Edition statement announced “…the ITUC and its partners are establishing a Just Transition Centre . The Centre will facilitate government, business, trade unions, communities, investors and civil society groups to collaborate in the national, industrial, workplace and community planning, agreements, technologies, investments and the necessary public policies.” The “partners” mentioned include the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the B Team , an international network of business executives who believe that “the purpose of business is to become a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit” and We Mean Business, a coalition of business, NGO and government policy organizations promoting the transition to a low-carbon economy.

As an aside: The CEO of We Mean Business wrote A Just Transition to defeat the populist politicians (Nov. 5), summing up the business point of view about Just Transition. See excerpts here.

The European Trade Union Congress, a member of ITUC, promoted five demands in its own Position Statement , adopted by the Executive Committee on the 26-27 October. The ETUC demands largely mirror those of ITUC but also call for concrete action to move the issue of Just Transition from the Preamble of the Paris Agreement, ( where it landed by compromise ) . “The COP 22 must now urge Parties to integrate just transition elements into their national contributions, notably by mandating the Subsidiary Bodies Implementation (SBI) and for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), for they define the terms of this integration.” The ETUC urges that the ILO Principles for a just transition to environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all provide an internationally recognized reference for governments and social partners concerning just transition.

The Canadian Labour Congress, Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux and Centrale des Syndicats Democratiques in Canada, and the American Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) are ITUC affiliates. Details, pictures, videos are posted on Twitter at #unions4climate.

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