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Trade unions in the UK engagement with climate change

By Catherine Hookes - Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, August 15, 2017

Despite being faced with many immediate battles to fight, it is to the credit of many trade unions that they are also addressing the long term wellbeing of their members, and of future generations, by introducing policies to tackle climate change. A new report providing the first ever overview of the climate change policies of 17 major UK trade unions could help raise wider awareness of this important work.

The author, Catherine Hookes, is studying for a masters degree at Lund University, Sweden, and her research drew on a comprehensive web review of policies in these unions, going into more depth for many of the unions, interviewing key figures and activists. The research was facilitated by the Campaign against Climate Change.

For anyone within the trade union movement concerned about climate change (or for campaigners wishing to engage with trade unions on these issues) this report is of practical use in understanding the context, the diversity of different trade unions' approaches, and the progress that has been made in the campaign for a just transition to a low carbon economy.

While every attempt was made to ensure the report is comprehensive, and accurately reflects union positions, there are clearly controversies and different viewpoints over issues such as fracking and aviation. Trade unions with members in carbon intensive industries will always have a challenging task in addressing climate change, but their engagement in this issue is vital. And, of course, this is a rapidly changing field. It is very encouraging that since the report was written, Unison has voted to campaign for pension fund divestment. This is an important step in making local authority pension funds secure from the risk (both financial and moral) of fossil fuel investment.

Anyone attending TUC congress this September is welcome to join us at our fringe meeting, 'Another world is possible: jobs and a safe climate', to take part in the ongoing discussion on the role of trade unions in tackling climate change.

Read the text (PDF).

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).

A new concept of unionism: the New South Wales Builders Labourers' Federation 1970-1974 (Meredith Burgmann)

Originally posted by Aunty Jack - Libcom.Org, March 10, 2017

Meredith Burgmann's pioneering work on the history of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Builders Labourers' Federation. During the 1960s and 1970s the NSWBLF introduced limited tenure of office for union officials, tied officials' pay to the minimum industry wage, introduced highly democratic forms of decision-making, and pursued militant industrial tactics. The union was also notable for its aggressive support of other social groups, most notably through the placing of "Green Bans" where members prevented work from taking place on environmentally or socially destructive projects.

Chapters 1-12 deal primarily with the period 1970-1974 when the NSWBLF was at the height of its industrial power and radicalism. The appendixes cover the period from 1950-1970 when rank and file workers struggled to democratise the union and wrest control from the corrupt right-wing forces that then held power.

Climate Solidarity: Workers Vs. Warming (Jeremy Brecher)

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 8, 2017

Workers have no greater interest than to prevent the destruction of the earth’s climate on behalf of themselves and their posterity. But workers often act as an organized force to oppose climate protection measures in the name of their interests as workers. How is such a paradoxical state of affairs possible? How did we get in such a state? How can we change it? How can the working class reorganize itself to fight for climate protection? Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming proposes answers to these questions.

Climate Solidarity presents a vision for the labor climate movement. It offers a comprehensive and at times provocative view of the past, present, and future of organized labor and climate change. It provides a substantive analysis for leaders and activists in the labor climate movement. It presents a well thought out, historically informed analysis both of climate change and of organized labor. Climate Solidarity will be read and discussed by those who will shape labor’s response to the climate crisis.

Jeremy Brecher is the author of more than a dozen books on labor and social movements, including the labor history classic Strike!, recently published in an expanded fortieth anniversary edition by PM Press. Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming is part of Brecher’s Climate Insurgency Trilogy, along with Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival and Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual.

Who Bombed Judi Bari? Feature Documentary

By Darryl Cherney - YouTube, Feb 9, 2017

Premiering on youtube and winner of 6 awards, this feature documentary filled with music, humor, and inspiration is a blueprint for activism in these more than urgent times. The Martin Luther King of the Redwoods, Judi Bari was an Earth First!er, AFL-CIO and IWW labor organizer, radical feminist, world class orator, author of Timber Wars, fiddler and songwriter, fundraiser, mother of two girls and a force of nature. See why she was car bombed and arrested by the FBI and Oakland Police for the deed done against her. Then learn how to save the forests, forge alliances and beat the feds. Foreign subtitles coming soon. Produced by her organizing partner and fellow car-bomb victim and litigant, Darryl Cherney. Directed and edited by Mary Liz Thomson. You can learn more and purchase DVD's, t-shirts and bumper stickers here: http://whobombedjudibari.com/ You can "like" us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Who-Bombed-J...

(Working Paper #9) Are We Moving Away From Fossil Fuels? Separating Facts from Fantasies

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, January 31, 2017

Is the World Really Moving Away from Fossil Fuels? Examining the Evidence.

PDF available for download now.

During 2015 and 2016, a number of significant public and political figures have made statements suggesting that the world is “moving away from fossil fuels,” and that the battle against greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and climate change is therefore being won. Such statements are frequently accompanied by assurances that the transition to renewable energy and a low-carbon economy is both “inevitable” and already well underway, and that economic growth will soon be “decoupled” from dangerously high annual emissions levels. This optimism has also been accepted by a section of the environmental movement, and even by some unions.

Renewables and Reality 

If the “green growth” optimists are correct, the political implications for trade unions and social movements are profound. For unions, it would mean focusing aggressively on the need to protect the livelihoods of the tens of millions of workers around the world who currently work in fossil fuels and rallying around the principle of “just transition” encoded in the preface to the Paris Agreement. But it would also mean that the need to wage a determined and protracted political struggle against fossil fuel expansion and “extractivism” would immediately become less urgent. In this scenario, trade union efforts would rightly focus on working to shape the next energy system as it rises from the ashes of the old.

But what if proclamations of fossil fuels’ demise are wrong? What if the “momentum” has not shifted, and the transition to renewables-based power is neither inevitable nor well underway? In that case, the struggle against the current model of ownership that drives the growth of fossil fuels and extractivism—that is, the struggle for democratic control and social ownership of energy—remains vital. This would demand redoubled effort and commitment across all sections of our movement. It would mean the level of urgency in the struggle for energy democracy must be increased, activism stepped up, and fresh approaches embraced, encouraged, and endorsed.

Their Optimism, and Ours

In this ninth TUED working paper, authors Sean Sweeney and John Treat document the recent claims of the optimistic, “green growth” narrative; examine the evidence frequently used to legitimize and sustain it; and then consider this evidence in context of the broader trends in the global energy system, drawing on a range of major recent data sources.

What the paper’s analysis shows is that, unfortunately, the world is not “moving away from fossil fuels”; far from it. The recent “we are winning” optimism is misplaced, misleading, and disarming. It must therefore be rejected, and replaced with a more sober perspective that draws hope and confidence not from a selective and self-deceiving interpretation of the data, but from the rising global movement for climate justice and energy democracy, armed with clear programmatic goals and a firm commitment to achieve them.

Unions are urged to circulate the paper and use its contents to stimulate debates on energy policy and political action. Please send comments, additional data, and requests for more information to Irene Shen (ireneTUED@gmail.com).

Download the full paper here.

From Banks and Tanks: A Strategic Framework for a Just Transition

By MG Collective - Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project, January 2017

Just Transition is a framework for a fair shift to an economy that is eco-logically sustainable, equitable and just for all its members. After centuries of global plunder, the profit-driven, growth-dependent, industrial economy is severely under-mining the life support systems of the planet. An economy based on extracting from a finite system faster than the capacity of the system to regenerate will eventually come to an end—either through collapse or through our intentional re-organization. Transition is inevitable. Justice is not.

Just Transition strategies were first forged by labor unions and environmental justice groups who saw the need to phase out the industries that were harming workers, community health and the planet, while also providing just pathways for workers into new livelihoods. This original concept of Just Transition was rooted in building alliances between workers in polluting industries and fence-line and frontline communities. Building on that history, Just Transition to us represents a set of aligned strategies to transition whole communities toward thriving economies that provide dignified, productive and ecologically sustainable livelihoods that are governed directly by workers and communities.

A Just Transition requires us to build a visionary economy for life in a way that is very different than the economy we are in now. Constructing a visionary economy for life calls for strategies that

democratize, decentralize and diversify economic activity while we damper down consumption, and (re)distribute resources and power. Just Transition initiatives shift the economy from dirty energy to energy democracy, from funding highways to expanding public transit, from incinerators and landfills to zero waste, from industrial food systems to food sovereignty, from gentrification to community land rights, and from rampant destructive development to ecosystem restoration. Core to a Just Transition is deep democracy in which workers and communities have control over the decisions that affect their daily lives.

Read the report (English PDF) | (Spanish PDF).

An A-Z of Green Capitalism

By staff - Corporate Watch, September 2016

Capitalism thrives on crisis, and the multiple global environmental crises, including climate change and habitat and biodiversity loss, are creating new markets from which to generate profit. Those promoting green capitalism argue that if nature was valued correctly it will not only be protected, but even enhanced, along with the health of the economy and well-being in society.

However, it is a contradiction in terms. Capitalism is fundamentally exploitative of people and the natural world, it is not and cannot be ‘green’. Green capitalism involves various institutions, including governments, corporations, think tanks, charities and NGOs, implementing policies, practices and processes to incorporate nature into capitalist market systems. It takes the same capitalist ideas and values that create environmental crises – i.e. continual economic growth, private property, profit and ‘free’ markets – and applies them to the natural world as a way to solve those crises. It serves to maintain capitalism’s dominance, both through finding new ways to generate profit, and as a way of protecting it from criticism of being environmentally destructive.

This guide is intended as an introduction to the ideas surrounding green capitalism as well as the alternatives to it. We hope it will support attempts to resist the threat of green capitalism and create space for real ecological alternatives.

Download the complete report (PDF) here.

(Working Paper #7) An Illness to One is the Concern of All: The Health Impacts of Rising Fossil Fuel Use

By Svati Shah and Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, September 2016

This paper has been written to help unions representing workers in all sectors get a clear sense of what is presently happening in terms of the health impact of fossil fuel use and what could also happen if present patterns in energy use continue into the future. The data are presented in a way that unions can use to more effectively advocate both for their members and the broader public.

Unions in health care can play—indeed are playing—an important role in addressing both the climate-related and the pollution-related dimensions of the unfolding health crisis, as can health and safety personnel working with or for unions in different sectors. But the health-related impacts of rising pollution levels and climate change are expected to affect the lives of workers across a range of occupations. Unions representing workers in emergency services, workers in transport systems, or workers who must work outdoors in agriculture or construction also have a particularly important role to play. The situation requires as unified a response as possible.

One of the striking features of fossil fuel use today is how much it reflects and reinforces class inequalities. It is well known that rich countries consume far more energy per per-son than poorer ones, but within both rich and poor countries there is often a huge gulf between the energy consumed by the rich and the energy consumed by the poor and working class. The same is true of emissions. A December 2015 study released by Oxfam calculated that the poorest half of the global population are responsible for only around 10% of global emissions yet live overwhelmingly in the countries most vulnerable to climate change while the richest 10% of people in the world are responsible for around 50% of global emissions.

Trade unions with the capacity to play more of an active role in resisting the expansion of fossil fuel use can be confident of the fact that they will be intersecting with a rising global movement that is confronting fossil fuel extraction, including “unconventional fuels” like shale gas and shale oil. The concerns that drive this movement are numerous. Along with climate and air quality concerns, struggles have been built around questions of water scarcity and contamination and the fight to defend land and livelihoods from “extractivist” energy companies.

Read the report (PDF).

More Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 26, 2016

Author's note: this article is an update to an earlier piece, titled Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland.

Update: The City of Oakland voted 7-0, with one member absent, to ban coal handling, storage, and exports in the Port of Oakland on Monday, June 27, 2016. Over 50 union members supporting the ban on coal were present, and many spoke in favor of the ban.

As the No Coal in Oakland campaign comes to its climax, a vote by the Oakland City Council on whether or not to ban the storage and handling of coal exports (originating from coal mined in Utah) through the Port of Oakland, the developers who had hoped to sneak this plan through unnoticed by all, are pulling out all of the stops to try and salvage their failing schemes that have, thus far, blown up in their faces.

(Rather than recap all of the numerous details of this campaign here, readers are encouraged to visit the official No Coal in Oakland site as well as the No Coal in Oakland archives, maintained by members of the Sunflower Alliance, one of the No Coal in Oakland coalition members.)

One of the persistent lies, regurgitated again and again by the developers, is the claim that those of us who oppose coal exports are anti-jobs, anti-worker, and anti-union. This is complete nonsense.

For the record, many of the principal organizers with No Coal in Oakland are current or retired union members themselves. Additionally, a total of twenty-one Bay Area unions have gone on record opposing coal exports through this proposed facility (but these same unions are not opposed to an export terminal itself, or the exports of non-fossil fuel commodities, of which there are several tens of thousand potential options, all of which would create just as many jobs, if not more so, than coal exports).

These 21 unions include two unions to which this author belongs (the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW and the San Francisco Region of the Inland Boatman's Union (IBU), an affiliate of the ILWU).

They also include unions representing workers in the port of Oakland, including the aforementioned IBU as well as ILWU Locals 6, 10, and 34, and SEIU 1021. (For a complete list of those that have pledged their opposition to coal exports, see this page, but note that some of the unions are listed in categories other than "Labor Unions"), and many more.

Furthermore, in September of 2015, the Alameda County Central Labor Council passed a resolution opposing coal exports.

Various union members and officials--in coalition with residents, environmentalists, public health providers, faith leaders, community leaders, small business owners, educators, and students--have spoken out against coal at City Council meeting after City Council meeting. They've lead canvassing efforts to raise awareness about the environmental and public health dangers of coal among Oakland's neighborhoods. They've organized several events to drum up support for the No Coal campaign, including a very successful and well attended picnic and community forum at a neighborhood park on May 21, 2016.

The coalition has demonstrated its dedication to intersectionality by supporting Black Lives Matter, the Anti-displacement coalition, and the Fight For $15 campaigns. The No Coal in Oakland campaign is composed predominantly of working people and working class retirees (though there are some small business people involved in the campaign as well). The coalition members share a commitment to a clean, livable, affordable, multi-ethnic and inclusive Oakland with good paying union jobs.

In fact, the No Coal in Oakland campaign has been nothing short of exemplary in the matter of green unionism.

It is the height of hypocrisy and cynicism for the project developers to claim that the No Coal in Oakland campaign is anti-jobs.

Meanwhile, the supposed "union" and "worker" support for coal exports, in classic yellow unionism fashion, is nothing more than an astroturf front group for the capitalist developers profiteering ambitions. The few unions whose officials support the project (namely the Teamsters and Building Trades) are hardly bastions of democratic, rank and file driven unionism. The Teamsters remain highly divided, with the local leadership (which is largely aligned with Jimmy Hoffa Jr's faction) opposed by a sizable Teamsters for a Democratic Union opposition faction (though this faction has not taken a stand on the matter of coal).

As detailed in the previous installment in this series, Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland, the developer has already attempted to create the illusion of grassroots rank and file union member "support" (mostly from non-English speaking Laborers' Union members) for coal exports at a City Council meeting on September 21, 2015, timed deliberately to undermine the Alameda County Central Labor Council's resolution against coal exports, but the attempt failed miserably, as the rank and file workers admitted to the assembled media reporters that they were being used. (The pro-coal developers later also tried the same stunt with a small group of faith leaders--who, as it turns out, has essentially taken bribes from the developer to support coal exports--when a much larger group of faith leaders spoke out against coal).

None of the developer's subterfuge should be surprising, given the amount of dirt and conflicts of interest the No Coal in Oakland campaign has been able to dig up--including the fact that the developer has a direct financial connection to Bowie Resources, the (non union) mining company that will be extracting the coal in the first place, or that California Governor Jerry Brown, himself, has a deeply entwined financial relationship with Phil Tagami, the speculator driving this project. (again, for the sake of brevity, all of these details are left to the readers to explore for themselves on the No Coal in Oakland site).

Furthermore, it's not surprising that the developer is still trying to create the illusion of community and worker support for coal exports.

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