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What does ​‘just transition’ really mean?

By Alison F. Takemura - Canary Media, September 15, 2022

What is a just transition?

To address the climate crisis, the world must rapidly shift from fossil fuels to clean energy. For this transition to be a just one, we need to repair the harms of the fossil-fuel economy and equitably distribute the benefits of the clean energy economy, so that no one is left behind. 

The Promise and Perils of Biden’s Climate Policy

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, September 15, 2022

The recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is properly recognised as the largest climate policy in US history. In this short essay I will first summarise and comment on its provisions, then outline the reactions to it, with a focus on labour unions, and will close by providing my own thoughts.

The IRA allocates around $370 billion over a period of ten years. About 75% of that is in the form of incentives (rather than direct investments or regulatory mandates) to advance the transition to ‘clean energy’ that includes renewables but also nuclear power, biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration. These incentives focus primarily on advancing the production of clean energy but also on stimulating its consumption. Smaller energy investments focus on tackling pollution in poorer communities and on conservation and rural development.

The IRA also authorises as much as $350 billion of loans to be disbursed by the Department of Energy. While such loans have been around since the Bush Administration, the amounts and the likelihood that they will be used during the Biden Administration are much higher. Finally, its main regulatory provision is the designation of carbon, methane and other heat-trapping emissions from power plants, automobiles, and oil and gas wells as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, one of the bedrocks of US environmental legislation, which the Environmental Protection Agency implements. Overall, it is estimated that by 2030 the IRA will help reduce emissions by around 40% of 2005 levels, compared to the about 25% reduction projected without it. 

However, the policy mandates that renewable energy siting permits cannot be approved during any year unless accompanied by the opening up of 2 million acres of land or 60 million acres of ocean to oil and gas leasing bids, respectively, during the prior year (for more details see 50265 of Act). In either case, the amount of actual leasing and drilling is subject to market dynamics rather than regulatory limits, while the Act also streamlines the permitting process for pipelines. The growing transition to electric vehicles will lessen the market for oil but the strategic repositioning of natural gas in energy production (as well as plastics) suggests that it (along with nuclear power) will be a long-term source of energy, including in the production of hydrogen. Nevertheless, overall, it is the prevailing view that the IRA will decisively transition the US into renewable energy as part of a broader energy mix.

“Total, BP or Shell will not voluntarily give up their profits. We have to become stronger than them...”

By Andreas Malm - International Viewpoint, September 12, 2022

Andreas Malm is a Swedish ecosocialist activist and author of several books on fossil capital, global warming and the need to change the course of events initiated by the burning of fossil fuels over the last two centuries of capitalist development. The Jeunes Anticapitalistes (the youth branch of the Gauche Anticapitaliste, the Belgian section of the Fourth International) met him at the 37th Revolutionary Youth Camp organized in solidarity with the Fourth International in France this summer, where he was invited as a speaker.

As left-wing activists in the climate movement, we sometimes feel stuck by what can be seen as a lack of strategic perspectives within the movement. How can we radicalize the climate movement and why does the movement need a strategic debate in your opinion?

I share the feeling, but of course it depends on the local circumstances – this Belgian “Code Red” action, this sort of Ende Gelände or any similar kind of thing, sounds promising to me, but you obviously know much more about it than I do. In any case, the efforts to radicalize the climate movement and let it grow can look different in different circumstances.

One way is to try to organize this kind of big mass actions of the Ende Gelände type, and I think that’s perhaps the most useful thing we can do. But of course, there are also sometimes opportunities for working within movements like Fridays for Future or Extinction Rebellion for that matter and try to pull them in a progressive direction as well as to make them avoid making tactical mistakes and having an apolitical discourse. In some places, I think that this strategy can be successful. Of course, one can also consider forming new more radical climate groups that might initially be pretty small, but that can be more radical in terms of tactics and analysis, and sort of pull others along, or have a “radical flank” effect. So, I don’t have one model for how to do this – it really depends on the state of the movement in the community where you live and obviously the movement has ups and downs (it went quite a lot down recently after the outbreak of the pandemic, but hopefully we’ll see it move back up).

Finally, it’s obviously extremely important to have our own political organizations that kind of act as vessels for continuity and for accumulating experiences, sharing them and exchanging ideas. Our own organizations can also be used as platforms for taking initiatives within movements or together with movements.

A Friendly Critique of Bookchin’s Politics

By Usufruct Collective - Usufruct Collective, September 8, 2022

Bookchin is our favorite political philosopher. Which does not mean we think he is right about everything. Despite us agreeing with most of Bookchin’s political philosophy, we also think it is important to critique it. And yet, most every critique of Bookchin’s political philosophy, even when true, leads to an overall politics less coherent and liberatory than his own. Critiques of Bookchin–from those more close and distant to his views– usually straw man him or fail to properly sublate him. Most critiques of Bookchin do not simultaneously take the most liberatory parts from his philosophy, while subtracting the worst parts of his philosophy, while adding other philosophical and political dimensions in such a way that closer approximates coherence, rationality, and ethics. Our goal is to sublate Bookchin; not to straw man him, not to discard liberatory dimensions of his political philosophy and praxis, and not to treat him like he is beyond critique. 

Some people will say that the big problems with Bookchin’s philosophy emerge later in his life. And there is both some truth and falseness to such an evaluation. Older/Later Bookchin simultaneously includes 1. Places where Bookchin made some of his most crucial errors but also where he made 2. Some of his greatest elaborations of philosophy, ethics, and political form, and content. From the 1960’s until 2004 there are continuous features to his overall politics– continuous features that do not amount to a mere skeletal lower common denominator but arguably the most essential features of his worldview in general. Such continuous features include: social ecology, direct democracy, means and ends of communal and inter-communal self-management, the development of oppositional and reconstructive politics as part of a revolutionary process, non-hierarchy, direct action, mutual aid, and libertarian communism specifically. These features are consistent in his work from “Post Scarcity Anarchism” until “The Communalist Project” (Bookchin 2007, Bookchin 2018). And we are in agreement with the above features of Bookchin’s politics. That being said, there are also ways he did change his mind overtime for better and for worse. By discarding features of Bookchin’s politics that we think are errors while adding features to his political project that are not present or sufficiently present in his recorded philosophy and worldview, we would still be agreeing with the most important features of his philosophy and worldview– or at least what we consider to be as such. In this sense, our attempt at a ruthless critique will be relatively friendly. 

Three Examples of Eco-Socialism

Catastrophe and Ecosocialist Strategy

By John Molyneux - Global Ecosocialist Network, September 4, 2022

Recent events – the terrible floods in Pakistan, the drought and floods in China, the drought and floods in many parts of Africa, the heatwave and fires in France, Spain and Portugal, the fires in the American West and floods in Kentucky and more disasters by the day– make it clear that the catastrophe of climate chaos is upon us. To this must be added the chilling knowledge that this is only the starting point of a process that can only get worse.

The simple fact is that decades of warnings of impending disaster by scientists and the environmental movement have been studiously ignored by our rulers in clouds of greenwashing and ‘blah! blah! blah!’ The fact that COP 27 is being held in Sharm el-Sheik under the hideous Al-Sisi dictatorship, where no real protest is possible and that COP 28 will be held in the United Arab Emirates, is further confirmation that global capitalism is not going to change its spots.

This raises a serious strategic problem: what should the movement, and in particular ecosocialists, do next?

Up to now the climate movement as a whole has focused on raising the alarm: a) in the hope that our rulers will take effective action; b) in the hope of making the international public sufficiently aware to change its own behaviour and to pressure governments to change theirs. Within this framework, ecosocialists have focused on making the general intellectual case for the ecocidal nature of capitalism and the necessity of ecosocialist transformation. Doubtless these efforts will continue and doubtless we should continue to support them. But what if they are not enough and what if the hopes on which they are based are false or at least questionable?

The Inflation Reduction Act and the Labor-Climate Movement

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 2022

Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act reveals the power that can arise when the movements for worker protection, climate protection, and justice protection join forces.

The fossil fuel industry, the Republican Party, conservative fossil-fuel Democrats, and right-wing ideologues combined to block the climate, labor, and social justice programs of the Green New Deal and Build Back Better. They almost succeeded. But at the last minute, the combined power of climate protectors, worker advocates, and justice fighters was enough to force passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history.[1]

That power was enough to include important positive elements in the Inflation Reduction Act. It will provide the largest climate protection investment ever made. It will create an estimated 1 to 1.5 million jobs annually for a ten-year period.[2] It includes modest but significant funding to address pollution in frontline communities.[3]

But the power of the fossil fuel industry and its allies was still enough to gut important parts of a program for climate, jobs, and justice – and to add provisions that promote injustice and climate change. The legislation includes only one-quarter of the investment necessary to meet the Paris climate goals and prevent the worst consequences of global warming. It allows much of its funding to be squandered on unproven technologies that claim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but whose primary effect may simply be to permit the continued burning of fossil fuels – and enrich their promoters. It allows increased extraction of fossil fuels, especially on federal lands. It allows massive drilling and pipeline construction that will turn areas like the Gulf Coast and Appalachia into de facto “sacrifice zones” where expanded fossil fuel infrastructure will devastate the environment – and the people. It does not guarantee that the jobs it creates will be good jobs. It makes few “just transition” provisions for workers and communities whose livelihoods may be threatened by the changes it will fund.

What It Will Take to Build a Broad-Based Movement for a Just Transition: Environmental and labor organizers reflect on hard-won lessons

Images and words by David Bacon - Sierra, August 31, 2022

In 2020, Washington State passed the Climate Commitment Act, and when it went into effect on January 1, 2022, Rosalinda Guillen was appointed to its Environmental Justice Council. The appointment recognized her role as one of Washington's leading advocates for farmworkers and rural communities.

Guillen directs Community2Community Development, a women-led group encouraging farmworker cooperatives and defending labor rights. She has a long history as a farm labor organizer and in 2013 helped form a new independent union for farmworkers, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Guillen agreed to serve on the council but with reservations. She feared that the law's implementation would be dominated by some of the state's most powerful industries: fossil fuels and agriculture. 

"Its market-based approach focuses too much on offsets,” she says. “Allowing polluting corporations to pay to continue to pollute is a backward step in achieving equity for rural people living in poverty for generations." Just as important to her, however, is that while the law provides funding for projects in pollution-impacted communities, it doesn't look at the needs of workers displaced by the changes that will occur as the production and use of fossil fuels is reduced.

The impact of that reduction won't affect just workers in oil refineries but farmworkers as well. "The ag industry is part of the problem, not just the fossil fuel industry," Guillen says. "They're tied together. Ag's monocrop system impacts the ecological balance through the use of pesticides, the pollution of rivers and clearing forests. As farmworkers, this law has everything to do with our miserable wages, our insecure jobs, and even how long we'll live. The average farmworker only lives to 49 years old, and displacement will make peoples' lives even shorter." 

The key to building working-class support for reducing carbon emissions, she believes, is a commitment from political leaders and the environmental and labor movements that working-class communities will not be made to pay for the transition to a carbon-free economy with job losses and increased poverty. But the difficulties in building that alliance and gaining such a commitment were evident in the defeat of an earlier Washington State initiative, and the fact that the Climate Commitment Act lacked the protections that initiative sought to put in place. 

In Washington State fields, at California oil refineries, and amid local campaigns around the country, this is the big strategic question in coalition building between the labor and environmental movements: Who will pay the cost of transitioning to a green economy? 

Some workers and unions see the danger of climate change as a remote problem, compared with the immediate loss of jobs and wages. Others believe that climate change is an urgent crisis and that government policy should protect jobs and wages as a transition to a fossil-fuel-free economy takes place. Many environmental justice groups also believe that working-class communities, especially communities of color, should not have to shoulder the cost of a crisis they did not create. And in the background, always, are efforts by industry to minimize the danger of climate change and avoid paying the cost of stopping it. 

The Fight to Stop the Inflation Reduction Act’s Fossil Fuel Giveaway

By Yessenia Funes - Atmos, August 10, 2022

Depending on whom you ask, the United States is on the verge of passing one of its most beneficial climate bills—or one of its most harmful. The Inflation Reduction Act is historic, hands down, but it’s also imperfect in the way it continues to prop up the fossil fuel industry at a time when we need to urgently invest in new energy sources. 

The Senate voted to pass the bill Sunday (which all Republicans opposed), and it’s now in the hands of the House of Representatives, which is slated to vote on it later this week. For the first time in my lifetime at least, the U.S. government is on course to pass a climate policy that can actually reduce emissions on a national scale—but at what cost?

Welcome to The Frontline, where we’re still awaiting climate justice. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate director of Atmos. President Joe Biden promised us sweeping climate action, and he finally delivered. However, the Inflation Reduction Act is not built on the foundations of climate and environmental justice. It continues the traumatic legacy of sacrificing Black and Brown communities—of handing over their lives to the fossil fuel sector. Leaders on the frontlines are preparing to fight back.

A shorter workweek may increase worker productivity: but that’s not why we need one

By Robert Raymond - Sharable, May 19, 2022

Studies show that a shorter workweek is healthier for people and the planet — but much of the conversation is focused on its impact on worker productivity or efficiency. This is a big mistake.

With the average worker in the United States clocking 47 hours a week, Americans are among the most overworked populations in the world — in fact, they work more hours per year than workers in almost any other industrialized country. 

Advocates of a shorter work week had a brief moment of excitement in California last month when state Democrats proposed a bill that would have required private-sector employers with more than 500 employees to pay hourly workers overtime after logging more than 32 hours a week

Unfortunately, the proposal didn’t make it very far through the legislative bill-making machine before it stalled out in committee. For the foreseeable future, the bill will remain in legislative purgatory. 

However, despite a disappointing outcome, the mere existence of the proposed bill in the state legislature is an important step toward shortening the Californian workweek — something that would be a boon to workers.

There are many benefits of working shorter hours. One that has been particularly compelling to employers is the fact that shorter hours have been linked to increased worker efficiency and productivity. For example, a 2021 study from Japan empirically determined that “when long working hours are reduced, individual productivity increases, and fewer mistakes are made at work.” 

Studies have also shown that working fewer hours actually increases worker happiness — leaving employees feeling more energized and giving them more free time to pursue their interests outside of work. 

I’d hazard a guess that the majority of us would drool over the prospect of fewer hours of wage labor and more hours in our day for rest, leisure, or — as the 19th-century slogan of the 8-hour day movement advocated — more hours to do with “what we will.

In fact, re-framing this discussion around the needs of labor rather than the needs of employers is critical for getting us on a path towards a healthier, more sustainable world where workers thrive.

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