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Restoring the Heartland and Rustbelt through Clean Energy Democracy: an Organizing Proposal

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 29, 2017

The world faces a crises of enormous proportions. Global warming, caused by the continued burning of fossil fuels, threatens life on Earth as we know it, and yet, those most responsible for causing the crisis, the fossil fuel wing of the capitalist class, seems hell bent on doubling down on business as usual. In the United States of America, whose corporate overlords are among the worst offenders, they are led by the recently elected Donald Trump, whose cabinet is bursting at the seams with climate change denialists and fossil fuel capitalist industry representatives. Instead of transitioning to a clean energy economy and decarbonizing society as quickly as possible, as climate scientists overwhelmingly recommend, Trump and his inner circle would seemingly rather not just maintain the status quo; they’ve signaled that they intend to make the worst choices imaginable, putting all of the US’s energy eggs into the oil, natural gas, and coal basket.

Worse still, Trump claims to enjoy a good deal of support for such moves from the Voters who elected him, which includes a good portion of the "White working class" who have traditionally supported the Democratic Party, whose policies are just barely more favorable to addressing the problems of global warming (which is to say, still woefully inadequate). Meanwhile, the leadership of the AFL-CIO, pushed principally by the Building Trades unions, have doubled down on their efforts to continue to serve as capital’s junior partners, even as the latter continues to liquidate them in their ongoing campaign of systemic union busting.  Just recently, science teachers across the country began to find packets in their school mailboxes, containing a booklet entitled "Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming", a DVD, and a cover letter urging them to "read this remarkable book and view the video, and then use them in your classroom," courtesy of the climate change denialist Heartland Institute.

One might think, given all of these situations, that…well, to put it mildly…we’re doomed. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in spite of the bleakness of these circumstances, a deeper look behind them reveals that fossil fuel capitalism is in terminal decline, that their hold over our lives hangs by a thread, so much that we the people, the workers and peasants of the world, have the ability to transform the human existence to one based not on plundering the Earth and exploiting the masses for the profit of a few, but one based on true grassroots democracy, free of suffering and want, and one that exists in harmony with the Earth. The key to making this transformation lies with clean energy, and the people who can make this transformation are the very people who helped elect Donald Trump themselves. One may justifiably ask, how is this even remotely possible?

This new organizing proposal, Restoring the Heartland and Rustbelt through Clean Energy Democracy, offers a potential solution and practical steps to achieve it which can not only break the reactionary tide, perhaps once and for all, but also can greatly accelerate the very necessary process of abolishing capitalism and building a new, ecological sustainable world in the shell of the ecocidal old by building an intersectional movement championing "Clean Energy Democracy". Such a movement has the potential to unite workers, rural and rustbelt communities, climate justice activists, environmentalists, indigenous peoples, and farmers of all backgrounds and revitalize a vibrant and grassroots democratic anti-capitalist left, and it offers goals that help address the intertwining crises of global warming, decadent capitalism, failing economies, and demoralized communities plagued by economic depression, racism, and reactionary nationalism.

While the burgeoning "resistance", loosely led by a coalition of groups and movements with a smorgasbord of goals and demands, many of which are reformist and defensive (though not undesirable if seen as steps along the way to more revolutionary and transformative demands) has so far successfully held back much of the worst intentions of Trump and the forces he represents, making the latter fight tooth and nail for every single inch (as well they should), such resistance still lacks the positive vision needed to truly meet the needs of most people, including especially the most oppressed and downtrodden. By contrast, Restoring the Heartland and Rustbelt through Clean Energy Democracy offers one piece of a revolutionary and transformative vision that can truly help build a new world within the shell of the old, thus putting an end to capitalist economic oppression as well as the ongoing systematic destruction of the Earth's ability to sustain life.

Download the Proposal (PDF File).

Why Union Workers and Environmentalists Need to Work Together with Smart Protests

By Les Leopold - Alternet, June 21, 2017

As Trump slashes and burns his way through environmental regulations, including the Paris Accord, he continues to bet that political polarization will work in his favor. Not only are his anti-scientific, anti-environmentalist positions firing up some within his base, but those positions are driving a deep wedge within organized labor.  And unbeknownst to many environmental activists, they are being counted on to help drive that wedge even deeper.

Trump already has in his pocket most of the construction trades union leaders whose members are likely to benefit from infrastructure projects – whether fossil fuel pipelines or new airports or ...... paving over the Atlantic. His ballyhooed support of coal extraction  has considerable support from miners and many utility workers as well.

But the real coup will come if Trump can tear apart alliances between the more progressive unions and the environmental community. Trump hopes to neutralize the larger Democratic-leaning unions, including those representing oil refinery workers and other industrial workers.  That includes the United Steelworkers, a union that has supported environmental policies like the federal Clean Air Act and California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, and has a long history of fighting with the oil industry – not just over wages and benefits but also over health, safety and the environment.  

To get from here to there, Trump is hoping that environmental activists will play their part -- that they will become so frustrated by his Neanderthal policies, that activists will stage more and more protests at fossil fuel-related facilities, demanding that they be shut down in order to halt global climate crisis.  

Oil refineries present a target-rich arena for protest. On the West Coast they are near progressive enclaves and big media markets in California and Washington.  Yet many who live in fence line communities would like the refineries gone, fearing for their own health and safety. Most importantly, they are gigantic symbols of the oil plutocracy that has profiteered at the expense of people all over the world.

But from Trump's point of view, nothing could be finer than for thousands of environmentalists to clash at the plant gates with highly paid refinery workers. Such demonstrations, even if peaceful and respectful, set a dangerous trap for environmental progress. Here's why: 

Full Report from an “International Meeting on the Energy Mix and the Commons” – Buenos Aires, Argentina (English)

By admin - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, September 27, 2017; English translation provided by Daniel Chavez of this original report.

The Energy Mix and the Commons

On 4-5 September 2017, an International Meeting on the Energy Mix and the Commons was held at the ATE National trade union’s main office, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The meeting was framed within a broader process of exchange of knowledge and experiences on climate and energy policies in Argentina, Latin America and the world. The Argentinian State Workers’ Association (Spanish acronym ATE; acronyms will be for Spanish names where applicable) and the Autonomous Argentinean Workers’ Congress (CTA-A) are engaged in international processes towards the construction of regional and global alternatives, in particular the Development Platform of the Americas (PLADA) and the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) initiative. The PLADA platform was conceived within the framework of the Trade Unions Confederation of the Americas (TUCA; CSA in Spanish) as a strategic political proposal centred around four dimensions—political, economic, social and environmental—aiming to contribute to the design and implementation of a regional model for sustainable development. PLADA proposes a gradual reduction in the use of fossil fuels, the universalisation of access to energy services, and the rationalization of those sectors of the economy that pollute the most. TUED, a global network composed of workers’ confederations and trade unions, focuses on democratizing generation, distribution and consumption of energy around the world.

The meeting was organised by ATE and CTA-A, with the support of the Transnational Institute (TNI, a worldwide network of scholar-activists based in the Netherlands) and the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of State Workers (CLATE).

(TUED Bulletin #68) The Invisible Crisis of Wind and Solar Energy–and the Urgent Need for a Public Approach

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, December 5, 2017

Why, in a world awash with “idle capital” and in desperate need for a just energy transition to renewables-based energy systems, are global investment levels in renewable energy so obviously out of sync with climate targets?

According to a 2016 report released by the International Energy Agency, “Market-based, unsubsidised low-carbon investments have been negligable.” Without public money, the levels of modern renewable energy would be abysmally low. The tenth TUED Working Paper, Preparing a Public Pathway: Confronting the Investment Crisis in Renewable Energy describes how public money is papering over the fundamental failures of so-called “competitive” electricity markets. Public financing is increasingly being used to provide “certainties” for private companies and investors in the form of “power purchase agreements” or PPAs. PPAs make renewable energy expensive and vulnerable to the kind of political backlash we’ve seen across Europe and elsewhere. As a result, the entire energy sector becomes starved of investment and saturated in “political risk.”

“Preparing a Public Pathway” is available for download now (PDF)

From the Working Paper:

The dominant policy institutions have concluded that the market model that emerged from privatization and liberalization has proven to be an impediment to the kind of energy transition that is required. These same institutions instruct governments to increase their role as enablers of investment, by absorbing risk, providing support, and guaranteeing revenues and returns through P3s and PPAs.

The introduction of “capacity payments” speaks to the extent to which the “competitive market” is not only no longer competitive, it can no longer be usefully described as a market. Rather, we see governments, trying to ensure the energy-demand needs of the entire system are met, paying for unused electrical power—from both incumbent utilities and renewables companies—in order to ensure that all providers walk away with “returns on investment” that they (and the investors behind them) consider “satisfactory.”

One of the main goals of Preparing a Public Pathway is to provoke discussion among unions and their allies about the need to further cultivate a pro-public trade union counter-narrative that is clear, bold and persuasive, and—given the formidable nature of the challenge—offers some hope of decisively interceding in the global energy system’s worrying trajectories. Such a narrative must be able to assert, confidently and from an informed perspective, that only a planned, coordinated, publicly driven approach to investment has a credible chance of delivering the dramatically scaled up deployment of renewable power that we urgently need.

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.”

Third Memorandum or Grexit: What are the implications for the Future of Greece’s Energy System?

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, July 18, 2015

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.

Presentation, July 18, 2015, Democracy Rising conference, Athens, Greece

Third-Memorandum-or-Grexit-word document (full presentation)

It is understandable that this conference, Democracy Rising, should be deeply engaged in the intense political debates going on in Athens and all over the world about the decision by the Syriza government to sign the Third Memorandum and not walk down the Grexit road.

So the future of Greece’s energy system is not exactly the stuff of intense coffee-shop conversations going on right now. But energy will be at the heart of the struggles in Greece in the years ahead, Memorandum or Grexit. Energy poverty has grown with austerity and recession, and Syriza has taken measures to protect the poorest and most vulnerable from, for example, electricity disconnections.

But it is clear that the structure of Greece’s energy system also needs to change. The “Institutions”, through the Memorandum, have a clear sense of what restructuring energy means for them—full-on privatization. However, a left restructuring would seek to address two major challenges: firstly, Greece’s dependence on fossil fuel imports and, secondly, how to take advantage of its potential to generate large amounts of renewable energy. I will return to this later.

(Working Paper #4) Power to the People: Toward Democratic Control of Electricity Generation

Press Release - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 24, 2015

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.

This is What Energy Democracy Looks Like

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, February 25, 2015

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.

With climate change looming, we are facing an energy emergency. How can unions fight for change?

California’s progressive policies yield better job growth and wage growth than Republican comparators

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 15, 2018

A November 2017 report from the Labor Center at University of California Berkeley  examined the “California Policy Model” –  defined as a collection of 51 pieces of legislation and policy implementations enacted in California between 2011 and 2016 – and found that with progressive policies such as minimum wage increases, increased access to health insurance, reduction of carbon emissions and higher taxes on the wealthy, the state showed  superior economic  performance  in comparison to Republican-controlled states and to a simulated version of California without such policies.  According to  “California is Working: The Effects of California’s Public Policy on Jobs and the Economy since 2011,  the suite of progressive policies resulted in superior total employment growth , superior private sector employment growth, and higher wage growth for low-wage workers from 2014 to 2016. All the while, keeping the state on track to meet its 2020 GHG emissions targets.  The  environmental policies included in the analysis were: starting in 2006, AB 32, which committed the state to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020;  regulations under AB 32 in 2012 and 2013, which introduced the state cap and trade program;  SB 350 in 2015 and 2016,  committing the state to greater use of renewable energy and further improvements in energy efficiency ; and SB 32, which raised the emissions reduction goal to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.  The report warns that  enforcement of labour standards and a lack of affordable housing remain as challenges facing the state, and also admits to possible weakness  regarding the second of its two methods of analysis, the synthetic control statistical method.

The GOP Tax Bill Assaults the Planet as Well as the Poor

By Basav Sen - Common Dreams, December 5, 2017

If you are an average American, your government has just declared war against you. Unless you happen to be an oligarch. I’m talking, of course, about the monstrosity of a tax bill that Congress looks set to pass.

With good reason, only about one-third of Americans support the bill, since its primary purpose is to cut taxes for corporations and fabulously wealthy people at all costs.

The costs are high indeed, since the bill systematically raises taxes on struggling lower to middle income people. It gets rid of taxpayers’ ability to deduct state and local taxes paid from their taxable income, which is a form of double taxation. While this increases everyone’s taxes, struggling working people will feel the pain of this double taxation more than oligarchs. Make the Poor (and the Middle Class) Pay Again. And Again.

It also ends the deductibility of large medical expenses, effectively a large tax increase for the seriously ill, especially the uninsured or underinsured among them. Make the Sick Bankrupt Again.

In an all-out assault on higher education, it turns tuition reductions or waivers for graduate student teaching and research assistants into taxable income, a move that would make graduate school unaffordable for most people. Make America Uneducated Again.

The bill also gets rid of tax-exempt bonds for affordable housing construction, which are used to finance more than half of affordable rental units built each year. Make Housing Unaffordable Again.

In fact, it raises taxes on most people in so many ways that it is disingenuous to even call it a tax cut. This bill is a massive tax increase on most of us.

Lost in the debate around the tax bill, however, are provisions that will make more wind-reliant Iowans and Texans jobless, leave more hurricane-struck Puerto Ricans without access to basic necessities, poison more African-Americans with toxic fumes, and submerge more Native Alaskan villages, just to enrich a particular subset of oligarchs.

The tax bill kills the modest tax credits for solar and wind power, effectively raising taxes retroactively on renewable energy developers. It also kills the tax credit for electric cars, but does not touch the much larger subsidies for fossil fuels. Make Fossil Fuel Barons Rich Again, by subsidizing them while raising their competitor’s taxes.

These changes in energy tax credits will hurt many more people than just the owners of solar and wind companies. Solar and wind energy create many, many more jobs — hundreds of thousands more — than coal, even though they account for much smaller share of our overall energy mix than fossil fuels. If the intent of the tax bill truly were to create jobs, it would reinstate the solar and wind tax credits and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, not the other way round. Make Americans Jobless Again.

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