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Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)

'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.


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.


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