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Renewable Energy companies seen as barriers to a successful public energy transition

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 8, 2021

Recent issues of New Labor Forum include articles promoting the concept of energy democracy, and bringing an international perspective. In “Sustaining the Unsustainable: Why Renewable Energy Companies Are Not Climate Warriors” (New Labor Forum, August), author Sean Sweeney argues that renewable energy companies “are party to a “race to the bottom” capitalist dynamic that exploits workers – citing the example of alleged forced Uyghur labour in China-based solar companies, and the offshoring of manufacturing for the Scottish wind industry. He also argues that “large wind and solar interests’ “me first” behavior is propping up a policy architecture that is sucking in large amounts of public money to make their private operations profitable. They are sustaining a model of energy transition that has already shown itself to be incapable of meeting climate targets. In so doing, these companies have not just gone over to the political dark side, they helped design it.”

The theme of the Spring New Labor Forum was A Public Energy Response to the Climate Emergency , and includes these three articles: “Beyond Coal: Why South Africa Should Reform and Rebuild Its Public Utility”; “Ireland’s Energy System: The Historical Case for Hope in Climate Action”; and Mexico’s Wall of Resistance: Why AMLO’s Fight for Energy Sovereignty Needs Our Support .

The author of Sustaining the Unsustainable is Sean Sweeney, who is Director of the International Program on Labor, Climate & Environment at the School of Labor and Urban Studies, City University of New York, and is also the coordinator of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED). In August, TUED convened a Global Forum, “COP26: What Do Unions Want?” – with participation from 69 unions, including the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), the UK’s Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and Public Services International (PSI). Presentations are summarized in TUED Bulletin 111, (Aug. 18), and are available on YouTube here .

Defend and Transform: Mobilizing Workers for Climate Justice

By Jeremy Anderson - Global Labour Column, September 8, 2021

Mobilizing the global labour movement for climate justice and just transition is one of the defining challenges of our times. However, for workers in many sectors, it is unclear how climate issues will affect them specifically, and how they should respond. To date, much of the debate around just transition has focused on workers in industries that are facing job losses. These struggles are important. But in order to build a transformational vision that can mobilize workers in all sectors from the ground up, we need to understand a wider array of industry perspectives.

In this essay, I will discuss three issues. First, I will make the case for why climate justice and just transition are fundamental issues for the labour movement. Second, I will review debates around just transition, and particularly the contrast between worker focused and structural transformation approaches. I will argue that we need to build a bridge between the two perspectives, particularly in scenarios where it is important to engage workers about the future of their specific industries. Third, I will analyse three different scenarios from the transport sector that illustrate the various challenges that workers face: public transport as an example of industry expansion, aviation as an example of industry contraction, and shipping as an example of industry adaption.

COP26: What Do Unions Want?

At TUED Global Forum, Scottish TUC Calls for Public Energy in preparation for COP26 in Glasgow: STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer delivers call for “A People’s Transition to Net Zero”

By Staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, August 16, 2021

On August 11, TUED convened its latest Global Forum, to take up the question: "COP26: What Do Unions Want?"

The Forum saw contributions from COP26 host national center, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), the UK’s Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and Public Services International (PSI).

Nearly 150 participants joined the call, from 69 unions in 40 countries around the world.

The forum opened with remarks from Roz Foyer, General Secretary of the STUC. As the national trade union center for Scotland, with 40 affiliated unions as of 2020, the STUC represents over 540,000 trade unionists. Based in Glasgow, STUC will play host to trade unionists from around the world at COP26, in partnership with the UK’s TUC. (The recording of Foyer’s full contribution is available here.)

Foyer began by highlighting the STUC’s domestic campaigning priorities in Scotland in preparation for COP26, noting that these “chime in very closely with the TUED approach”:

We are first and foremost striving at the moment to build a genuine people’s recovery from the pandemic, and that people’s recovery that we are calling for is about calling for systematic changes to how our economy is organized, and really shifting the narrative around “private = good, public = bad.” And we’re also wanting to see our economy being rebuilt on a just transition. Everyone talks about a ‘just transition’ for workers, but we don’t believe that that just transition is being carried out by governments at this time. So we want to see a people’s recovery from the pandemic and a people’s transition to net zero.

The Covid crisis and the climate crisis have both brought into sharp focus the fact that the private sector and big business have proven themselves as being totally unable to meet the economic and social challenges that economies across the world now face. I think the writing was already on the wall when ordinary people through their governments were forced to bail out the banks during the financial crisis of 2010. And the latest incarnation of this are the various government rescue plans that we’ve seen across the world during covid, which, however necessary to save jobs in the short term, have really been largely focused on bailing out the bosses and the private sector.

So as we look forward to the vital need to decarbonize and achieve net zero through a Just Transition, it’s quite unthinkable that this could be achieved without massive government intervention, and without the efficiency and accountability that can only be delivered by direct, public sector delivery.

Turning to preparations for COP26, Foyer emphasized that the STUC’s approach is to use COP26 as a campaigning and leveraging opportunity, and as a means to build awareness and working class power, and make demands to government which are rooted in the real material needs of working people in Scotland. Towards that end, STUC has identified three campaign priorities which they will focus on in the months leading up to COP26.

A Great Victory Has Been Won over Fossil Capital

By Ulf Jarnefjord - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 28, 2020

On Monday, September 28, 2020, Sweden’s largest oil refinery, Preem, decided to withdraw its application for an expansion of its refinery in Lysekil on the Swedish west coast.

After massive protests from the climate and environmental movement for several years, Preem announced that they had withdrawn their application to expand the oil refinery in Lysekil. This is a great benefit for the climate, for democracy, for the environmental movement, and for everyone’s future. The message is that activism pays off.

It would have been completely irresponsible to further expand fossil fuels when we are in a climate emergency, and time is running out quickly for the small carbon budget that remains. We have just 7 years to limit emissions in line with the 1.5-degree target.

In the days before the announcement, Greenpeace had blocked the port of Lysekil with its ship Rainbow Warrior, to prevent an oil tanker from entering the port and unloading its cargo. Climate activists from Greenpeace also climbed and chained themselves to the cranes at the crude oil terminal.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg has Tweeted that Preem’s decision to suspend the expansion of the oil refinery in Lysekil is a “huge victory for the climate and the environmental movement,” since otherwise it would have been impossible to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The youth organization Fridays For Future emphasizes that it is not time to pay tribute to the oil giant: “This decision is not because Preem has suddenly acquired a moral compass. Preem is still an oil company and we should not allow them to use this decision as a way to paint themselves green and appear responsible. We will ensure that this becomes a turning point for the fossil fuel industry in Sweden and serves as an example when Preem starts planning new environmental crimes.”

If we are to succeed in reducing emissions and meet our commitments in accordance with the Paris Agreement as quickly as necessary, there is also no choice between “better” and “worse” fossil fuels. We must invest all our resources in completely dismantling the entire fossil fuel economy, quickly. It is not possible to consider heavy oil as a useful residual product when we know that the oil must remain in the ground.

The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership

By John Treat, Sean Sweeney, and Irene HongPing Shen - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 15, 2019

On September 28, 2019, more than 150 trade union representatives, activists and policy allies from more than a dozen countries came together in New York City for a one-day international conference on “The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership.”

The conference took place against the backdrop of the massive “Global Climate Strike” actions led by young people in numerous countries around the world, coinciding with the UN “Climate Week” of talks in New York City. In the weeks before those actions, TUED organized a “Global Web Forum” on the #Strike4Climate, and subsequently compiled a list of union statements and actions in support of the strikes.

Framing and Meeting Highlights

The conference program was framed around a number of issues and concerns that have emerged out of recent union-led struggles to both defend and extend public ownership of energy in key countries and regions. Over the course of the day’s proceedings, a number of key themes and broadly shared conclusions emerged, including:

  • Investor-focused climate policy is not delivering the energy transition
  • Privatization of state-owned electricity utilities has failed—but alternatives exist
  • Defending public ownership of energy requires a reform agenda that can drive “de- marketization”
  • Confidence is rising to reverse electricity privatization where it has happened
  • Defending and reclaiming public energy requires building union power
  • The transition must take into account the real development needs of the global South, while contesting carbon- intensive “development as usual”
  • There is an urgent need for technical, programmatic work to make achieving the ambitious goals of the Green New Deal possible

Read the report (PDF).

(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).

The Chevron Way: Big Oil’s Vacation From East Bay Politics Won’t Last Long

By Steve Early - CounterPunch, November 22, 2016

In the two election cycles prior to 2016, the global energy giant Chevron spent more than $4 million on city council or mayoral races in Richmond, CA. Big Oil’s independent expenditures were so large two years ago that they drew widespread condemnation as a particularly egregious example of the unrestricted corporate spending unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision.

In our Chevron refinery town of 110,000, rent control was on the ballot this year. That’s not an issue that Chevron cares anything about. So, as company spokesman Leah Casey explained to the Richmond Confidential last month, her employer “decided not to participate in the 2016 local Richmond election,” preferring to remain “focused on keeping the refinery running safely and partnering with the city and the community on our modernization project.” (As a nearby neighbor, I found Chevron’s new “focus” particularly reassuring.)

This fall, the California Apartment Association replaced the oil company as our biggest local spender. According to Kathleen Pender in the SF Chronicle, the CAA and its allies raised $2.5 million to defeat rent control in multiple Bay Area communities on Nov. 8. In Richmond, the CAA pumped nearly $200,000 into its losing effort here (three times more than rent control advocates raised). By a 65 to 35 percent margin, Richmond voters approved a new system of rent regulation, a rent rollback to July, 2015 levels, and the legal requirement that landlords have “just cause” for evicting tenants.

Once again, Richmond progressives were celebrating a singular local triumph over “big money in politics” on election night. The strongest pro-rent control candidates in the 2016 council race, both RPA members, finished first and second in a field of nine. In similar fashion two years ago, three members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance running for re-election to the city council won an upset victory–despite Chevron’s record-breaking spending against them.

Among that year’s winners was a persistent nemesis of Big Oil, former mayor Gayle McLaughlin, the California Green who sought to increase Chevron’s local taxes and county property tax bill to raise more revenue for cash-starved city services.

The Role of Labour in the Fight Against Climate Change

By Asbjørn Wahl - International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), (hosted by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy) November 2016

The climate crisis is steadily coming closer. At the same time, we face a deepening economic crisis, as well as social and political crises. This creates an increasingly serious situation for the future of humanity.

However, given that the various crises have many of the same root causes, going to the core of our economic system, this can contribute to strengthening the mobilisation of social forces needed to break the current trend-–in favour of a democratic and planned development of society.

Action to combat dramatic climate change will require major societal transformation. In other words, we have an all-out battle on our hands over how to organise society. Solutions to the climate crisis do exist. We have most of what is required in terms of technology, knowledge, and competence to avert a climate disaster. It is the power to translate words into action that will pose the greatest challenge.

Since economic growth and ruthless exploitation of natural resources are embedded parts of a capitalist economy–indeed, any capitalism without growth is a capitalism in crisis-–a narrow focus on individual issues of environmental policy will not suffice. Nor will we be able to combat the climate crisis by making individual choices. A system critical approach is needed. We need democratic control of the economy. This means that we are not only faced with a threat, but also an opportunity-–an opportunity, not just to prevent a climate catastrophe, but also to fight the economic and social crises which are currently eroding and threatening the living conditions of millions upon millions of people. In particular, this also provides us with a foundation upon which to build extensive social alliances in search of a different kind of society.

Read the report (PDF).

The Chevron Way: Polluting California and Degrading California

By various - International Transport Federation, et. al., November 2016

In the recent election, Chevron-backed campaigns lost bigtime, despite the $61 million the company has spent to influence California elections since 2009. That’s far more than any other oil company spend in state elections. The report, by the International Transport Workers Federation, was released Nov. 17 at the Chevron gates by a coalition including the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), and more.

Members of the coalition said the report, The Chevron Way: Polluting California and Degrading Democracy, will educate the public about the corrupting influence of corporate money and alert politicians that they will be judged on whether they act in the public interest or in Chevron’s interest.

In this election, in State Assembly and State Senate races, candidates heavily backed by Chevron lost. In Monterey County, Chevron spent $1.5 to oppose a ballot measure to ban fracking and expanded oil drilling. Despite being outspent 33 to 1, the measure passed.

In Richmond, Chevron sat out this election, having spent $3 million in the last election, when its candidates lost anyway. This year, two additional progressive candidates won seats on the city council and a longstanding Chevron candidate was voted out.

Chevron makes billions in profits from its huge retail and refining business in California, but has aggressively cut tax payments to federal, state and local governments. In 2015, the company paid no net income tax in the US, but instead banked nearly $1.7 billion in tax credits.

In 2015, Chevron had over $45 billion stashed in offshore accounts, including the company’s 211 active Bermuda subsidiaries, and the company’s global effective tax rate fell to below 3%.

Read the report (PDF).

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