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Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)

Good jobs and a Just Transition into wind technology

By staff - IndustriALL, June 16, 2022

On 7 June, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), LO Norway and IndustriALL held a second workshop on wind technology as part of the Just Transition and the energy sector initiative. The initiative provides a platform for unions around the world to exchange information on energy transition technologies and the jobs, skills, markets, investments, and emissions related to them.

Workers want good jobs and just transition in the energy sector. This workshop looked at offshore and onshore wind technology, which employers and government see as a potential pathway for oil and gas companies to diversify their assets and bring down emissions. The information is not always easy to get but unions want to see how many jobs there are, when they will come, what kind of jobs they will be, what kinds of skills workers will need for these jobs, and the transition that workers will be faced with.

To get a better view of what the future holds, participants looked at the value chains of oil and gas, and onshore and offshore wind, breaking both value chains down to production, processing, distribution, and end-use (upstream, midstream, downstream).

South Africa's Coal Miners’ Union Calls for a Public Pathway Approach to Energy Transition

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, April 5, 2022

At its recent 17th National Congress, South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) adopted a bold position in favor of keeping the country’s electrical power utility Eskom fully public.

Attended by roughly 750 delegates, the three-day congress — held in Boksburg, South Africa, from March 30th to April 1st, 2022 — adopted a report titled “Just Transition and the Energy Sector.” The report declares:

As a union with a long history of internationalism, NUM is today part of a global trade union-led effort to secure a Just Transition to a low carbon future. Once championed by unions, the term just transition has been hijacked by capital and its original meaning has been distorted. It is now being used to advance a global “green structural adjustment” agenda, one that is using the climate emergency as cover to advance privatisation and to dismantle public companies and assets.

In recent years, NUM has worked alongside the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), TUED, AIDC and the Transnational Institute to repel government-led efforts to break up and privatize the national utility Eskom.

Amid Rolling Blackouts, Energy Workers Fight For Clean Public Power In South Africa

By Casey Williams - In These Times, March 31, 2022

Can South Africa transition from a reliance on coal to clean power while maintaining jobs? The energy workers fighting for a just transition think so.

The lights went out around Johannesburg on a Monday morning in November 2021, not to flicker back on until early that Friday in some areas. It marked the last rolling blackout of a year troubled by more outages than any in recent memory. The fate of Eskom, the beleaguered power utility behind the crisis, is now at the center of South Africa’s struggle for a just energy transition — a break from fossil fuels without leaving behind frontline communities or energy workers.

As a public company, Eskom has a constitutional mandate to guarantee electricity as a basic right. But the utility struggles to meet that mandate with its aging equipment, staggering debt, corruption and rules that require it to break even, which drive exorbitant rate hikes. Moreover, the electricity running through Eskom’s wires comes almost entirely from coal, smothering the country’s eastern coal belt in deadly pollution and adding planet-warming emissions to the atmosphere — and putting the utility at odds with South Africa’s decarbonization commitments and global calls for renewable energy. South Africa, the 26th-largest country by population, ranks 14th in carbon output worldwide and is responsible for 1% of global emissions, because of this reliance on coal.

Few believe Eskom will survive in its current state, and what comes next is the subject of a high-stakes debate — and is about more than the climate. The state-owned company employs 45,000 workers and supports 82,000 coal jobs in a country where more than a third of the population is out of work. Eskom is a union shop, as are South Africa’s biggest coal mines.

The government’s plan, already underway, is to invite private companies into the energy sector on the dubious grounds that clean energy is bound to win in a competitive market. The powerful miners and metalworkers unions oppose privatization, which they worry will hobble their organizations, if not eliminate the jobs they’re entrusted to protect. 

The unions have reason to worry. European multinationals have installed most of South Africa’s wind and solar capacity so far, importing technicians and hardware. The local jobs that come with them are often low-paid and temporary, vanishing once plants get up and running. Workers with permanent jobs, meanwhile, have struggled with for-profit energy companies over the right to strike.

While some union leaders and workers have responded to the threat of privatization by defending coal mines and the union jobs they offer, unions also say they support decarbonization efforts. There are currents within the labor movement organizing for a just transition to turn Eskom into a unionized, public and clean power utility, run by and for the South African people.

This tug-of-war holds lessons for workers everywhere: The South African labor movement has largely succeeded in making the public debate about ownership and power— about who owns energy resources and who decides how they’re used — rather than simply about renewables versus coal. Still, the temptation for labor to double down on coal jobs remains strong as the South African economy flags and unemployment spikes, emblematic of how hard it can be to fight for long-term goals if jobs are under threat.

Beyond Coal: Why South Africa Should Reform and Rebuild Its Public Utility

By Dominic Brown - New Labor Forum, May 2021

Despite 2020’s record fall in carbon dioxide emissions—largely due to extensive and repeated “lockdowns” of cities, plus dramatic decreases in air travel and the use of motor vehicles[1]—the world is far from making the changes necessary to avert climate catastrophe. The fact that the shutdowns over periods of last year had a marginal effect in the fight against climate catastrophe at best illustrates the enormity of the task that lies ahead. According to a 2019 report from the World Meteorological Organization, “time is fast running out,”[2] while Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), observes “The pandemic and its aftermath can suppress emissions, but low economic growth is not a low emissions strategy. Only an acceleration in structural changes to the way the world produces and consumes energy can break the emissions trend for good.”[3]

In addition to ravaging health systems, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated food and housing insecurity, deepened unemployment, and put a spotlight on existing inequalities. In South Africa, growing awareness of these problems has brought renewed hope in the possibility of a response to the pandemic crisis that could aim for a “just transition” to a low-carbon economy. Like other countries, South Africa is in desperate need of an energy transition. The South African economy remains disproportionately energy intensive[4] (although it is becoming less so), per capita emissions remain high,[5] and the country is the fourteenth largest contributor to global carbon emissions.[6] This energy and emissions profile reflects the historical and continuing dominance of the country’s “minerals-energy complex” (“MEC”)[7] which is supported by cheap electricity generated mostly from low-quality coal, while higher quality coal is exported.

Beyond its detrimental ecological impacts, South Africa’s MEC is deeply intertwined with the legacy of cheap Black labor in the mines and the formation of racialized capitalism. This structure of South Africa’s economy underpins the country’s massive inequality, serious health impacts for many thousands of people in mining affected communities, and the country’s disproportionate contribution to global emissions. This is why the shift to renewable energy (RE) in South Africa must include measures to ensure a just transition that leaves no worker or community behind while working to reverse the legacy of mass unemployment and deep socioeconomic inequalities.

The Political Economy of South Africa’s Energy Crisis

Since coming to power in 1994, South Africa’s government has promised “electricity for all” as a critical component in undoing the gross disparities of apartheid. This commitment has produced a dramatic rise in grid connections, such that more than 80 percent of households were connected to the grid by 2015, up from only 30 percent in 1994. Harder to shift have been the persistent levels of poverty and inequality. South Africa’s “Gini coefficient”— a global measure of inequality—today places the country as the world’s second most unequal, after neighboring Lesotho. With current unemployment at over 40 percent, many households cannot afford electricity, even when they are connected to the grid. The introduction of a provision for free basic electricity in 2004 was a step in the right direction, but at just 50 kWh per month for poor households that is insufficient to meet even basic requirements.

Since coming to power in 1994, South Africa’s government has promised “electricity for all” as a critical component in undoing the gross disparities of Apartheid.

Making matters worse, South Africa’s stateowned power utility, Eskom—which generates over 90 percent of energy consumed in the country—is in deep crisis. Eskom’s crisis has multiple dimensions and various causes, both internal and external, including (1) the 1980s era commercialization of Eskom; (2) postapartheid commitments to provide electricity to the majority of the country previously excluded, under the full cost recovery (FCR) model where the excluded majority are unable to afford rising electricity prices; (3) underinvestment in the utility’s infrastructure, particularly in building new capacity to meet increased demand; (4) conversion of the utility in 2002 to a public corporation, forcing it to pay taxes as well as dividends for the first time since its establishment almost a century earlier; (5) Eskom’s rising debt, dominated by foreign currency borrowed against the weak rand (R); (6) expensive coal contracts with windfall profits, signed in the name of promoting Black ownership in the coal industry; and (7) dramatic increases in the price of low-quality coal, upon which Eskom depends to generate electricity.[8]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the text (PDF).

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on

By Marienna Pope-Weidemann - Red Pepper, October 13, 2017

The fatal police shooting of 37 striking workers at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in August 2012 was the worst recorded instance of police violence in post-apartheid South Africa. Five years on, there have been no prosecutions and no real improvements – no compensation for the families living in grief and dire poverty.

There has also been no apology, although staggeringly Lonmin has created a commercial out of the incident. But as always with the Marikana story, the most important characters were left out.

A few weeks after the massacre there was another death in the community. Amidst a brutal crackdown Paulina Masuhlo, a powerful community leader, died after being shot by police. Paulina’s death helped galvanise the birth of Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana.

As well as demanding criminal prosecution for the killings and compensation for the families, Sikhala Sonke also carries forward the demands those workers died for: a living wage and dignified conditions.

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).

Numsa National Executive Committee (NEC) statement

By Karl Cloete - NUMSA, July 23, 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.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) held its ordinary and scheduled National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, from Tuesday 21 July to Thursday 23 July, at Vincent Mabuyakhulu Conference Centre, Newtown, Johannesburg.

The NEC was attended by the National Office Bearers, elected NEC members from our nine Regions, as well as representatives from our sub-structures, namely our Youth Forum; Gender and National Education Committees.

The NEC received a comprehensive analysis of the current political and organisational challenges confronting the union.  We spent considered time hearing different perspectives, openly debating and collectively agreeing on solutions which will best serve our members.

'For a class struggle approach to climate change and energy transition'

By Karl Cloete - Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, February 2012

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.

The following paper was presented on October 10, 2012, at a conference at Cornell University. NUMSA is South Africa’s second-largest union, with almost 290,000 members in the smelting, manufacturing, auto and electricity generation industries.

Our starting point as NUMSA is that to effect an energy transition, we as the global union movement DO need a perspective to guide us as well as strategies to be utilised by the movement. While such a perspective and accompanying strategies will definitely not come fully formed and in one go, we HAVE to keep working on them through discussions, through struggles, through experimentation and through learning from experiences of those in the forefront of energy struggles (within and outside of the labour movement).

Those who were at our February 2012 International Conference on Building a Socially Owned Renewable Energy Sector will know that in our head office in Johannesburg, we have a huge banner with the words: No Revolutionary Theory, No Revolutionary Movement! The slogan on the banner captures how much we, as a union attach to having a perspective that acts as a compass to our daily work. Our message to this roundtable is simple: Without a solid perspective on how to effect an energy transition, there will be no transition.

COSATU Issues Draft Policy Statement Against Fracking and Tar Sands Mining

By COSATU - July 2014

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.

Introduction

The discussions on shale gas extraction in South Africa (SA) have incited lively debates amongst activists, government officials and communities. These are all informed by divergent ideological paradigms and competing interests. The president and minister of finance have provided the South African citizenry with a clear picture of government’s stance on this contentious matter. This perspective was captured in both the state of the nation address and the budget speech of 2014. For example, in the budget speech delivered to parliament in February, Gordhan (2014:21) stated that “we will pursue the exploration of shale gas to provide an additional energy source for our economy”. His sentiments were echoed by the president when he told South Africans that: “Nuclear has the possibility of generating well over 9000 megawatts, while shale gas is recognised as a game changer for our economy. We will pursue the shale gas option within the framework of our good environmental   laws (Zuma 2014).

The above-mentioned quotes indicate that the South African government supports shale gas extraction. This position has produced two contending reactions from the population. The first supports government’s position on the basis that it will improve energy security and decrease dependence on imports (Warren 2013; Zhenbo et al 2014). Proponents also argue that shale gas exploration will create employment, and replace other harmful sources of energy (Considine et al 2010; Turner 2012).

The second perspective argues that shale gas extraction will produce a number of negative environmental and socio-economic effects. Advocates highlight the externalities that are associated with this form of energy source. The emphasis is placed on the carbon footprint; water contamination and usage; negative health effects on both humans and livestock.

This discussion paper will contribute the debate on the shale gas exploration in SA. It will use the existing research and data to determine whether this form of energy generation will produce positive socio-economic outcomes. This analysis will be guided by the COSATU resolutions which will be summarized in the following sections.

1. Brief Background on COSATU Resolutions and Policies

All COSATU policy must be read within the broader context of the federation’s paradigm on the political economy. There is a dialectical relationship between socio-economic, political and environmental phenomena. Thus, the debate on shale gas exploration cannot be confined to the natural sciences. Conservative analysts discuss shale gas exploration within the limited scope of ecological and environmental degradation. We oppose this perspective on the basis that it ignores the intersecting relationship between environmental destruction and socio-economic underdevelopment. In our view, it is unscientific to separate socio-economic issues from environmental trends. These are all interlinked and should be viewed as connected parts of a wider discourse on sustainable development. This logic is captured in COSATU’s Growth Path towards Full Employment which states that:

“Economic growth and development must support sustainable environments.  Industrial and social processes must minimize the disruption of natural processes; limit environmental degradation, adverse changes in bio-diversity, soil erosion and desertification, the emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, and pollution of water streams and ground water.  Patterns of consumption must also be aligned towards products that optimize environmental regeneration (COSATU Growth Path 2010).

The above-mentioned statement captures the tools of analysis that will be used in this paper. These will complimented by the following resolutions on climate change and energy.

Read the entire document as a PDF File.

The Fine Print I:

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