You are here

Just Transition

Jobs for Climate and Justice: A Worker Alternative to the Trump Agenda

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 24, 2017

We are in a critical political moment. The impacts of climatechange are increasingly severe, taking a toll on our health, environment and our economies. In the midst of this growing crisis, the United States now has a President and Congressional leadership that simultaneously attack climateclimate science and aim to comprehensively roll back climate protection measures and the rights of workers to organize.

Jobs for Climate and Justice exposes and challenges the Trump agenda and proposes the kind of economic program we must fight for. It also offers examples of the great organizing efforts around the country – led by working people – that provide the foundation for the a transition to a just and climate-safe economy. It is organized based on 4 elements:

  1. Create good jobs fixing the climate
  2. Protect threatened workers and communities
  3. Remedy inequality and injustice
  4. Lay the basis for a New Economy

The full working paper can be found [Here]

Review – “Trade Unions in the Green Economy”

By x384117 - Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 25, 2017

Trade Unions in the Green Economy: Working for the Environment (2013) is a compilation of essays on the intersection of labor organizing and environmentalism, with contributions from workers, union staffers, activists, and researchers from around the world.  The usefulness of each chapter varies; some focus on the policies of various technocratic bodies, while others look at the actual social and political dynamics within pro-ecology unions, and a few advance anti-capitalist analysis.  Overall, it is a very useful introductory survey on the modern state of eco-unionism, and contains useful information for revolutionary unionists and environmental syndicalists.

The first three chapters look at the way international bodies of unions and labor organizations, such as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), have incorporated environmental concerns into their programs and advocacy efforts.  This is of limited interest to revolutionary unionists, since we primarily concern ourselves with the dynamics of the rank-and-file and on-the-ground organizing, rather than what far-off committees and technocrats are pushing around on paper.  But these chapters are still of some use, insofar as they push back against the idea that unions are generally in opposition to environmental protections and ecological concerns. International and transnational bodies of labor groups have been including environmental provisions since the 1970s, and this itself has connected more recently with the inclusion of environmental concerns in local workplace bargaining strategies since the mid-2000s in the US, UK, Canada, and Spain (among other countries).  It is also useful to know what resources these international bodies could offer to more radical local efforts; for example, the ILO has a research wing dedicated to the labor market in clean energy sectors, which could potentially be leveraged by revolutionary unionists in efforts to build up workers cooperatives. 

Subsequent chapters were much more interesting, as they looked more at campaigns and ideas more rooted in local realities, and thus more dependent on grassroots initiative and militancy.  A chapter on eco-unionism in Spain discussed efforts to redefine the subject of the worker beyond being merely an appendage of the workplace, and as somebody who is also part of the larger environment that is degraded by the externalities of capitalism; this redefinition lays the groundwork for pushing unions to advocate for revolutionizing society away from carbon-based energy systems and privatized modes of transportation, and toward an economy of green energy, public transportation, and closed-loop production cycles.  Similar types of analysis are discussed in chapters on trade unions in Australia, many of whom have adopted the Just Transition framework as a way to reconcile the contradictions of extractive industries such as mining.

Some of the most compelling chapters were on struggles where worker self-interest and ecological protection wasn’t just a matter of theoretical convergence, but of obvious and immediate importance.  One chapter discussed the Rural Workers Trade Union (STTR), an organization of workers in rural northern Brazil, in the Amazon Rainforest.  The region’s economy is a site of deep contradiction, where dependence on the land for food and water clashes with the need to extract resources to sell to regional and global markets for additional income.  The STTR helped coordinate communities in the area on options for developing sustainable industries (as opposed to the common and destructive industry of logging), and also served as the organ of local, democratic, and sustainable governance of the natural resources.  Another chapter discussed how occupational health standards became increasingly important to unions in the US who worked with dangerous and toxic materials, in industries involving energy and chemical production.  Decreasing pollution and exposure to toxins was of immediate concern to workers, as critical issues of workplace safety and working conditions.  Addressing issues of occupational health and workplace safety was pushed hard by unions like the Oil, Atomic, and Chemical Workers (OACW) of the ‘70s and ‘80s, who eventually merged into the United Steelworkers (USW). 

Demands for a safe and healthy workplace can sound relatively moderate, but in some industries they could have an explosive and revolutionary impact.  This is the argument made in an excellent chapter on the status of food workers across the world, a segment of the working class which is often marginalized in both union and environmental discourse.  The global industrial agriculture system is a massive source of greenhouse gas emissions, and this is deeply connected with the low status and power of farmworkers, who are routinely exposed to toxic chemicals and brutally long working hours.  If farmworkers—who number roughly 1 billion worldwide—organized and demanded proper wages, reasonable hours, and safe and healthy working conditions, this would lead to revolutionizing agriculture, and an inevitable move away from petrochemical-intensive techniques toward sustainable alternatives like agro-ecology.  This point about organizing is important; in a brief critique of the Just Transition framework, the author argues that the use of the framework relies too much on the assumption that socio-economic restructuring and technological change comes about from rational discourse and good-faith debate, instead of recognizing that rights are fought for, not granted.  Thus a Just Transition requires workers to organize and actively fight and implement the framework, instead of simply asking the wealthy and powerful to do so for them. 

Worker power is the topic of another compelling chapter, written by a Swedish autoworker, on the subject of transforming the auto industry for the green economy of the future.  The author argues that workers need to seize the initiative and not only advocate for a complete reconfiguration of the industry toward products like public transit and green energy systems, but to also build up systems of worker self-management and actively participate in the planning and development of new production systems that can leverage their own skills and knowledge.  The example of the Lucas Plan, an attempt by aerospace workers in the UK to reconfigure a weapons plant in the 1970s, is given as a key model for how workers today can think about a worker-driven initiative toward seizing and restructuring their own workplaces, and the wider economy.

Indeed, if there is one takeaway from Trade Unions in the Green Economy, it is that worker self-organization and power are the central pillar of effective environmental unionism.  Transforming production via environmental reforms on capitalist lines will always result in a combination of 1) the displacement and destruction of working-class communities (and a concurrent shift toward reactionary politics in the absence of left-wing alternatives, as we are currently seeing in the Western world), and 2) the offshoring of dirty production to the Global South, which means that at the global level, we’re not necessarily reducing the net rates of pollution.  Furthermore, we must also recognize the limits of traditional liberal strategies for social change, which revolve around lobbying elites through the alleged power of ideas and rational discourse, and a focus on an abstract space of “public opinion”.  What we need instead is a strategy that brings politics into everyday life, where our neighborhoods and workplaces are sites of struggle for livable wages and healthy environments.    

The only way forward is to tie together unionism and environmentalism in a substantive manner, and build a strategy where we are the primary actors in transforming the economy—not politicians, technocrats, or capitalists. 

Capitalism’s renewable energy roadblock

By James Plested - Red Flag, April 7, 2017

Who can forget the image? George W. Bush’s stupid, blank face staring out across the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln under a giant banner emblazoned with the words “mission accomplished”.

The date was 1 May 2003 – a little over a month after the US launched its invasion of Iraq – and Bush was there to declare an end to major combat operations. As it turned out, this was somewhat premature.

Today, the environment movement seems to be having a “mission accomplished” moment of its own. With the price of renewables such as solar in free fall and new battery technology coming on line, many environmentalists are sounding the death knell of fossil fuels.

A recent article by Australia Institute strategist Dan Cass in Meanjin, “The sun rises: the democratisation of solar energy might change everything” – makes the case. The cost of solar power has decreased to the point where it’s now as cheap as, or cheaper than, coal or gas. “As late as 2007”, he writes, “Australia had only about 8,000 solar systems in total. As of 1 June 2016, there were more than 1,548,345”.

Globally, it’s a similar story. According to a Frankfurt School of Finance and Management report, in 2015, for the first time, renewables made up the majority of newly built electricity generation capacity. Investment in renewable energy, at US$265.8 billion, was more than double the US$130 billion invested in fossil fuel power generation.

Cass declares that “renewables have won the energy wars”. Crucially, he argues, this isn’t happening because of government intervention, but is in line with “capitalism as usual”:

“Consumers are rushing to a new technology that saves them money. Capital is flowing to the next big thing. Conservative critics of clean energy can’t quite admit it yet, but the rise of solar and the collapse of the old-energy utilities is ‘creative destruction’. It is the Kodak moment for big energy.”

According to this logic, we needn’t worry too much about continuing with environmental campaigning. Naomi Klein was wrong. It’s not, as she had it, “capitalism vs. the climate”, but rather capitalism for the climate. Put simply, technological developments mean that, while it may not yet be apparent, fossil fuels are dead in the ground.

All this is very comforting for those of us who have been alarmed by the headlong rush of global capitalism toward climate catastrophe. But just as with George W. Bush’s arrogant imperial overreach, this kind of triumphalism is unlikely to end well.

Kicking Them While They’re Down: What Trump is Doing to Appalachia

By Kenneth Surin - CounterPunch, April 11, 2017; Photo by Don O’Brien | CC BY 2.0

Appalachia voted overwhelmingly for Trump, who won it by a resounding 63%-33%.  Appalachia as a region is defined by federal law, and consists of 490 counties in 13 states.  Hillary Clinton won only 21 of these counties.  According to the right-wing Washington Examiner, “She did not win a single county in Appalachia that is mostly white, non-college-educated and has a population of under 100,000 people”.

Political analysts have used a fine-tooth comb to go over the issue of Trump’s popularity with less-educated whites, so there is no need to repeat their findings here.

More interesting, and not so much discussed thus far, is the potential impact on Appalachia of the budgetary policies announced recently by the Trump administration.  In a nutshell:  what’s been announced may “make America great again”, but it almost certainly won’t do this for Appalachia (not that the rest of the country, except for the plutocracy, is likely to benefit either).

Appalachia is one of the poorest regions in the US.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has been earmarked for elimination by Trump, as has the Economic Development Administration (EDA)– more about this later.  The ARC compiles statistics on Appalachian poverty, income, and employment.

According to the ARC 2010-2014 Poverty Rate report, the poverty rate across the US was 15.6% compared to 19.7% in the Appalachian region of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

There are significant variations between different Appalachian states where poverty rates are concerned.  For example, the Virginian statewide rate is 11.5% as opposed to an 18.8% rate for the Appalachian region overall.

(This statistic is however somewhat misleading when used in this way because Virginia’s overall poverty rate is greatly reduced by the economic contribution of affluent northern Virginia (NoVa) with its abundance of well-paid government and tech jobs.  There are “two Virginias” where income disparities are concerned, and the poverty rate in Appalachian Virginia, as opposed to NoVa, is a more accurate 18.8%.)

The state with the worst regional poverty rate is Kentucky with a 25.4% rate in its Appalachian portion as opposed to the 18.9% rate for the rest of the state.

The cause of this poverty is not so much unemployment (though that is a contributing factor), but desperately low income levels.

State Weighs in For Caps on Bay Area Refinery Toxic and Climate Pollution

By Andrés Soto and Greg Karras, Communities for a Better Environment; Ratha Lai, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and Luis Amuezca, Sierra Club Bay Chapter - April 16, 2017 [Press Release]

Reversing regional of ficials who sided with refiners to claim pollution trading policies force them to allow increasing refinery pollution, the State Air Resources Board supports pollution limits to “cap” increasing particulate and greenhouse gas air pollution from five Bay Ar ea refineries in a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District sent late yesterday.

Oil companies seek to process lower quality grades of oil that could increase refinery emission intensity and refinery mass emissions.  Caps on emission intensi ty and mass work together to protect against those health and climate threats.  The State’s letter supports both protections, finding they work together with its state climate program. That finding contradicts the refiners’ argument that Air District Rule 12 - 16, which sets mass caps, conflicts with the State’s cap - and - trade pollution trading scheme.  Air District staff joined the refiners to make this claim against its own proposal in workshops last week.

How the Democrats Lost West Virginia and the Coal Miners To Trump

By Les Leopold - Common Dreams, April 7, 2017

“C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says? You’re going back to work.” ― Donald Trump on signing an executive order to reverse the Obama Administration’s rules on coal, March 28, 2017.

Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964 buried Barry Goldwater in West Virginia, 67.9 percent to 32.1 percent. By 2016, Trump completely reversed that landslide by defeating Hillary Clinton 67.9 percent to 26.2 percent. What happened to turn such a deep blue state into flaming red?

The Democratic Party establishment has a simple explanation: West Virginians are so hung up on cultural issues like guns, gays, abortion and their mythical self-image as “coal country” that they vote against their own material interests. They seem impervious to the fact that they are major beneficiaries of Obamacare and Medicaid. They don’t seem to notice that health care jobs far exceed coal-related jobs which have been decimated by new technologies, and market competition from natural gas and renewables.

As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently writes, “So West Virginia voted overwhelmingly against its own interests. ....Coal country residents.... were voting on behalf of a story their region tells about itself, a story that hasn’t been true for a generation or more.”

Building Trades Activists Stand Up to Trump

By Dan DiMaggio - Labor Notes, April 05, 2017

When they heard President Donald Trump would address the Building Trades national legislative conference, activists from Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 569 knew they had to do something.

“We couldn’t let him come and speak to us and just sit there,” said William Stedham, a “workaday Joe” and executive board member of the San Diego-based local. “If we hadn’t, everyone would think that the Building Trades was on board with him 100 percent, and we’re not.”

So a few minutes into his speech, six of them stood up with signs that said “Resist” and turned their backs on the billionaire-in-chief. The gesture flew in the face of a directive from Building Trades leadership that attendees should “be on their best behavior.”

Demonstrators included the political director and business manager of Local 569 as well as the president and political director of the San Diego Building Trades.

San Diego activists are hot about Trump’s decision to appoint a top lobbyist from the anti-union Association of Building Contractors to a key role on his incoming Department of Labor team.

They’re also furious that former Heritage Foundation staffer James Sherk is now the White House Domestic Policy Council’s labor and employment adviser. Sherk has written a seemingly infinite number of articles attacking union workers. A sample: frequent pieces attacking minimum wage increases, an argument in favor of requiring unions to be re-certified every two to four years a la Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, and a report titled “Right to Work Increases Jobs and Choices.”

“The things we’ve been fighting hard for—more project labor agreements, more local-hire agreements, and better training and workplace safety—none of them are being supported by the Trump administration,” says Gretchen Newsom, political director of Local 569.

Beyond Petroculture: strategies for a Left energy transition

By Imre Szeman and Jeff Diamanti - Canadian Dimension, February 17, 2017

Five years ago, a group of us at the University of Alberta in Edmonton formed the Petrocultures Research Group to develop a sharper understanding of the ways we use (and abuse) energy. Our immediate intention was to examine the social, cultural and political implications of Canada’s turn-of-the-twentieth-century leap into the ranks of the world’s oil superpowers. Our interest in energy arose in part as a result of working at the research university closest to the Athabasca tar sands. In Edmonton, it’s hard not to see oil everywhere, and not only in the physical infrastructure of refineries, but also in its social costs and consequences: labour dislocation, inflated housing prices, alcohol and drug abuse, and rates of sexual violence and family dysfunction.

Very quickly, however, Petrocultures scholars also began to grapple with other, larger questions. What is energy for in our society? How does the availability of relatively cheap energy effect how we socialize and relate to one another? What are the inequalities that come with fossil fuels, and what is stopping renewables from carrying those same inequalities forward? Petrocultures began investigating how energy in the 20th century made a number of other, seemingly unrelated things, possible. We moderns tend to image energy as a largely neutral aspect of social life, as little more than a dead input into the motors of a society whose form and rationale originates at a distance from coal mines and oil fields. But in fact, the forms of energy we use, and how we use them, shape society through and through, and not just how we work (in factories instead of fields) or how we move around (using horsepower instead of horses).

This is what we mean by “petroculture,” the term that gives our group its name. Petroculture is the global culture we find ourselves in today. It is the name for a society that has been organized around the energies and products of fossil fuels, the capacities it engenders and enables, and the situations and contexts it creates. It’s not just that our physical infrastructures depend on oil and gas, or that our social and economic practices have been organized around easy and cheap access to fossil fuels. The relationship to our dominant energy form is deeper, pervasive, and constitutive: to say we inhabit a “petroculture” is to say we are fossil-fuel creatures all the way down. Our expectations, our sensibilities, our habits, our ways of being in and moving across the world, how we imagine ourselves in relation to nature, as well as in relation to one another—these have all been sculpted by, and in relation to, the massively expanded energies of the fossil-fuel era. To give but one example: in the potential shift from gas to electric-powered cars now promised us, what is never questioned is necessity of the automobile itself. As inhabitants of a global petroculture, we have all come to expect the mobility, freedom and autonomy of mechanized movement by land, sea and air. Those parts of the world that don’t yet have a car in every garage see it as an index of economic and social progress — a sign of having joined the modern community because, at long last, they are able to use energy at the same level of those in the global North.

Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs

By Jill Richardson - CounterPunch, March 30, 2017

When Barack Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, Scientific American used his own words to criticize it for not going far enough.

“There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change,” Obama said. “The science tells us we have to do more.”

Scientific American analyzed the Clean Power Plan and agreed, concluding that Obama’s plan didn’t go far enough, and would fail to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Now, Trump is dismantling even that. Obama’s insufficient effort to address climate change is gone with a stroke of Trump’s pen.

The plan was to go into effect in 2022, reducing pollution in three ways. First, by improving the efficiency of coal-fired power plants. Second, by swapping coal for cleaner natural gas. And third, by replacing fossil fuel energy with clean, renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

Trump claims the plan puts coal miners out of work. But it hadn’t even been implemented yet. In reality, cheap natural gas and the use of machines instead of people to mine coal are responsible for putting far more miners out of work.

In other words, Trump is using sympathetic out-of-work miners as a cover for what is really just a handout to dirty industry.

Meanwhile, Trump is cutting job training programs for coal country. Given that, it’s hard to believe he cares at all about jobs for coal miners.

And, with a surge in cases of fatal black lung disease among miners in Appalachia, anyone who truly cared about miners would preserve the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which helps coal miners get black lung benefits.

In short, Trump’s killing of the Clean Power Plan is a handout to dirty industry with no regard for the well-being of coal miners. And it’s putting us even further behind in our efforts to leave the next generation a habitable planet.

A better leader would find a way to promote clean forms of energy while simultaneously creating good jobs for Americans. Of course, that’s exactly what Obama’s one-time “green jobs” czar Van Jones called for, and the Republicans hated him.

But the fact of the matter is that climate-smart policies create jobs. They create jobs retrofitting buildings, manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines, innovating to create more efficient batteries, and discovering the best way to upgrade our power grid.

It seems that, if we installed a wind turbine near the White House, Trump could single handedly provide the nation with clean energy from all of the bluster coming out of his mouth.

In the meantime, catastrophic climate change is as much of a crisis as ever, and the clock is ticking.

Green Jobs and Intergenerational Justice: Trump’s Climate Order Undermines Both

By Dana Drugmand - Common Dreams, March 30, 2017

With the stroke of a pen, President Trump has written off both the biggest economic development opportunity of the twenty-first century, and the security of today’s young people, future generations and the other species inhabiting this planet. Or so it seems.

The White House’s “Energy Independence Executive Order” is clearly a blow to the progress made under the Obama Administration to fight climate change and transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy. The new Order aims to rescind the Clean Power Plan, lift a moratorium on coal mining on federal land and roll back regulations on methane emissions from oil and gas fields. It comes on the heels of Trump’s official approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. These actions are supposedly meant to boost jobs, but the only thing they actually boost is the already enormous share of fossil fuel profits.

A review of the numbers indicates that this is indeed not about jobs. Keystone XL, for example, would result in only 35 long-term jobs post-construction, according to State Department analysis. By contrast, the wind power industry employed 88,000 Americans at the start of 2016, and wind power technician is now the fastest growing profession in the nation. In electric power generation, solar provides more jobs than coal, oil and natural gas combined. According to an Environmental Defense Fund report, both solar and wind jobs are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. In almost every state, there are now more jobs in the clean energy sector than in fossil fuels. For a president that claims to be so intent on creating jobs, ignoring renewables and energy efficiency in favor of fossil fuel exploitation is simply irrational.

It is also completely irresponsible and immoral. Intergenerational equity tends to be overlooked in the climate change conversation, yet it is an important dimension of the issue. Decision-makers have spent decades expanding the fossil fuel economy and running up a huge carbon debt – and their children and grandchildren will be forced to foot the bill. According to a 2016 report by Demos and NextGen Climate, failing to make steep cuts in emissions will cost the Millennial generation nearly $8.8 trillion in lost lifetime income. Beyond this financial implication, exacerbating climate change threatens the very survival of future generations and most other life on Earth. According to famed climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, the climate crisis implies “young people and future generations inheriting a situation in which grave consequences are assured,” and it “requires urgent change to our energy and carbon pathway to avoid dangerous consequences for young people and other life on Earth.” But instead of changing course, the Trump Administration’s fossil fuel frenzy in effect mortgages the future of my generation and those to follow.

Of course this all-out assault on clean air, clean water, and a stable climate will not go unchallenged. Citizens and activists are already gearing up to fight back in the streets and in the courts. One lawsuit in particular pits the federal government and fossil fuel industry against a group of youth plaintiffs, with a trial expected later this year that observers are billing as “the trial of the century.” And following in the spirit and scope of the Women’s March, tens of thousands of people will gather in Washington DC and other cities on April 29th to take part in the People’s Climate March.

State and local governments are also taking action to move forward on addressing the climate crisis. Maryland lawmakers just passed a bill to ban fracking, which the state’s Republican governor is slated to sign. A handful of states in the northeast and on the West Coast currently have pending legislation to implement a fee on carbon pollution. Hawaii has a mandate for 100 percent clean energy electricity by 2045. Municipalities all across the country are taking steps to slash carbon and transition quickly to entirely renewable energy. These and other initiatives become ever more important in this alarming age of science skepticism and “alternative facts.”

What this all comes down to is a power struggle between the ruling elite class of billionaires and the greater populace. Ultimately the authority to govern is derived from the people. We can and must use our collective people power to counter the greed of the fossil fuel industry and the big money polluting our politics. Most importantly, we must continue to fight and refuse to give up.

Pages