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Just Transition: Joint Proposal of PG&E, Friends of the Earth, NRDC, IBEW Local 1245, et. al. to Retire Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

By Various - June 20, 2016

This document is an example of an actual "Just Transition" agreement hammered out through negotiations after years of organizing by environmental organizations and dialog with unions. While it's no doubt far from perfect, it still represents a starting point for similar campaigns elsewhere, and like a union contract, it's the product of negotiations following struggle. To secure better deals, the unions and ecological movements need to keep organizing and building their collective power.

Read the report (PDF).

The Green Jobs and Employment Policies in Transition Process to Green Economy: Evidence from British Labour Force Survey

By Ayhan GÖRMÜŞ - Çalışma ve Sosyal Güvenlik Eğitim ve Araştırma Merkezi, 2016

Climate change and its effects on environment and economy have become one of the most debated issues academically and institutionally. In this respect, it is expected that transition to green economy will reverse or mitigate the negative effects of climate change on environment and general economy. However, specific analyses of effects of climate change on labour market are limited numbers in academic debates. In this context, this paper explores relationship between jobs in green industries and socio-economic circumstances to contribute to academic debates. For this purpose, British Labour Force Survey data set is analysed by using logistic regression modelling to examine the part of those who are employed by green industries. The research results suggest that a range of workplace characteristics, flexible work and work-status nominators have effect on jobs in green sectors. Also, the paper suggests that British green sectors offer good prospects for creation of better jobs.

Read the text (Link).

Just Transition, System Change, and Revolutionary Green Transformation

By Steve Ongerth - Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 21, 2016

The term “Just Transition” is becoming increasingly prevalent in discussions involving workers, climate change, and post carbon energy economics.

Wikipedia describes Just Transition as, “a framework that has been developed by the trade union movement to encompass a range of social interventions needed to secure workers’ jobs and livelihoods when economies are shifting to sustainable production, including avoiding climate change, protecting biodiversity, among other challenges.”

This is particularly timely given the fact that humanity faces a deepening crises due to global warming, brought on by capitalist economic activity centered on a fossil-fuel based economy. In order to prevent the absolute worst case scenarios of what will almost undoubtedly a warming world, at least 80% of the known fossil fuel reserves will need to remain unextracted, and humanity will need to transition to a renewable energy based post-carbon economy. Such a shift will inevitably require a massive transformation of the means of production, likely affecting much of the working class.

Already we’re witnessing the beginnings of major upheaval simply due to the innate characteristics of chaotic capitalist market activity, as 100,000s of workers jobs are imperiled by collapsing coal, oil, and commodities markets worldwide, combined with just the beginnings of a major shift as disruptive technologies such as wind and solar achieve greater and greater share of the mix of energy sources now available.

Furthermore, climate justice and/or environmental activists know—at least intuitively—that the fossil fuel based economy, including all parts of its supply chain must be shut down as rapidly as possible and replaced by ecologically sustainable alternatives, and all attempts at expansion of the fossil fuel based activity must be opposed, by any means necessary, including (but limited to) direct action. 

In this context, the issue of jobs and just transition has become a major topic. Obviously, shutting down any project cold (even if possible) would result in the loss of jobs performed by the workers, who’re not responsible for the activities of their employers (and quite likely do not entirely agree with their employers’ motives). Even limiting such projects can potentially negatively affect the workers’ livelihoods. Given such a threat, it’s understandable that these workers would oppose efforts by climate justice and environmental activists to disrupt fossil fuel supply chains.

It’s not a new concept...

(Read the entire document here in PDF Form)

(Working Paper #6) Carbon Markets After Paris: Trading in Trouble

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, March 11, 2016

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement enshrines emissions trading schemes (ETSs) as a key mechanism for reducing emissions. But are ETSs effective?

Since the early 1990s, “putting a price on carbon” has been, perhaps, the primary policy proposal for fighting climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Whether through carbon taxes or “cap-and-trade” ETSs, proponents of carbon pricing see it as a way to guide investment toward green solutions without the need for more decisive government interventions. ETSs, in particular, have been favored by businesses and neoliberal policy makers seeking to limit emissions without disrupting business-as-usual.

It has been a decade since the European Union established the world’s largest ETS. In the long aftermath of the 2008-9 financial crisis, the price on carbon has been too low to incentivize investors to move away from fossil fuels.

Union Approaches

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC)—a supporter of the EU ETS—has called for policies that would raise the price on carbon while also expressing concern about “carbon leakage” —where companies move polluting activities (and associated jobs) to jurisdictions without price constraints on pollution. Such a position threads the needle of trade union debates around the EU ETS without resolving the underlying tensions—nor, it should be noted, shifting EU policy in any appreciable way. With the Paris Agreement giving an even more prominent role to carbon pricing, unions around the world are likely to face similar debates.

In the TUED Working Paper Carbon Markets After Paris, TUED Coordinator  Sean Sweeney argues that it is time for unions to reevaluate their stance on emissions trading. Market-based solutions may be appealing to business interests and their political allies, but it’s going to take direct governmental action to guide a transition to a just, democratic, and sustainable energy system and a low-carbon economy.  The now battered neoliberal consensus finds public and democratic ownership and control of a key economic sector to be anathema, but it is precisely what is needed if we are serious about combating climate change.

TUED Disclaimer: This paper represents the views of its author.  The opinions expressed here may or may not be consistent with the policies and positions of unions participating in TUED. The paper is offered for discussion and debate.

Delivering Community Power: How Canada Post can be the hub of our Next Economy

By various - CUPW, Leap Manifesto, et. al., March 2016

Many think of Canada Post as a place to mail a care package, buy stamps or pick up the latest commemorative coin.

Some consider the post office past its prime: the last decade has seen efforts to cut, devalue and undermine this quintessentially public service. These moves have been fiercely resisted by people across the country.

What if our cherished national institution, with its vast physical infrastructure and millions of daily human interactions, could offer us something completely different? What if the post office could play a central role in building our next economy — an economy that is more stable, more equal, and less polluting?

Just Imagine...

  • Charging stations for electric vehicles at post offices
  • a renewable-powered postal fleet that connects farms to dinner tables
  • Door-to-door mail carriers checking in on seniors and people with mobility issues as well as delivering locally-produced food and other services
  • Post offices as community hubs for social innovation, connecting climate-friendly businesses to customers
  • Postal banking services that provide small towns and Indigenous communities with inclusive financial services – like loans to families underserved by commercial banks
  • Public-interest financial services that fuel the green energy transition in urban, rural and Indigenous communities We want a 100% renewable economy that addresses inequality, puts power in our hands and improves our lives.

Our post office can deliver it.

Read the report (PDF).

Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, November 11, 2015

Author's Note: This article is a sequel of sorts to my previous piece, Unions and the Climate Justice Movement, which briefly mentions the No Coal in Oakland campaign. The image, depicted at the right, compares a pro-capitalist-logging poster (yellow, near right) ostensibly created by timber workers (but actually crafted by the employers) to mobilize support for a counter-demonstration to a rally and march, held in Fort Bragg in July 1990, organized by the Redwood Summer coalition (which included timber workers). The green poster (far right), represents the Redwood Summer coalition's response, and accurately summarizes their position on timber workers and timber jobs.

At first glance, the Oakland City Council meeting, held on September 21, 2015 looked much like many public hearings where public opposition had organized in response to the plans, practices, or proposals of capitalist interests that threatened the environment. For most of the evening, and well into the night, council members and the Mayor watched and listened as speaker after speaker (out of a total of over 500) either spoke in favor (or against) coal exports or ceded their time to their allies. On one side were a widely diverse group of activists, organized by a coalition known as No Coal in Oakland-- adorned in red (union made and printed) T-shirts--opposed to plans to export coal through a proposed Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), as part of the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center (or Oakland Global), and on the other were the project's supporters, dressed in business attire accompanied by several dozen union workers, many of them from the Laborers' Union, dressed in yellow.  As is often the case, the project's supporters tried to frame the opposition as being composed of insensitive outsiders, and themselves and the supporting "workers" as placing the economic interests of Oakland and its residents above all else. "We support good paying union jobs that will help the struggling, predominantly African-American residents of west Oakland" opined the supporters, trying to suggest that those in opposition didn't.

This is an old, and shopworn script, that has been trotted out numerous times in the past quarter century or more. Anyone who has experienced or studied the "Timber Wars" that took place in the Pacific Northwest during the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s will recall the armies of loggers and mill-workers decked out in yellow shirts, sporting yellow foam car radio antennae balls or yellow ribbons who would show up en massé (at the behest of their employers, often with pay) to oppose limits to clear-cutting or protections for the Northern Spotted Owl and to denounce (often) green shirted environmentalists as "unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs" and/or upper middle class "elitists" (or--defying logic--both). Sometimes, in drawn out campaigns, the employers have often furthered this illusion by creating false front "Astroturf" groups, ostensibly composed of workers, to distract attention away from themselves.

The truth is far much more complex and nuanced, of course. Usually the "jobs" promised by the projects' supporters often don't materialize (indeed, the opposite--namely automation, downsizing, and outsourcing--usually occurs). Those in opposition to environmentally destructive practices and proposals are usually composed of and led by locals, most of whom are, themselves, gainfully employed, and sympathetic to the needs and concerns of the affected workers (in fact, the opposition's counter proposals, if well thought out, do more to create "jobs" and job security than those in support of the project). Meanwhile, the actual level of support among the rank and file workers purportedly backing up the capitalists interests could accurately be described as a mile wide and an inch deep, at best. And the bosses? When they speak of jobs, they actually refer to profits. Nevertheless, in the past, the capitalist media has typically and dutifully reported that these projects are opposed by "green clad environmentalists" (or red in this particular case) and supported by "yellow clad workers" (often neglecting to draw any distinction between the workers and their employers).

Therefore, it is both surprising and refreshing, that in spite of the attempts by the employing class to replay that same script on September 21, 2015 in Oakland, the attempt backfired, due to the diligent and tireless organizing by their grassroots opposition. A closer examination of what happened, and how the opposition organized, will illustrate why this is so and how others can duplicate the organizers' efforts to defeat further attempts by capitalist interests to use divide and conquer tactics to push their climate and environment (not-to-mention job) destroying projects through.

(Working Paper #5) The Hard Facts About Coal: Why Trade Unions Should Re-evaluate their Support for Carbon Capture and Storage

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 6, 2015

The Hard Facts About Coal – Unions and CCS - Coal use has grown dramatically in the past 25 years and is today responsible for 44% of the world’s annual CO2 emissions.  It also has a dramatic impact on health and life expectancy.

Much hope has been placed in carbon capture and storage (CCS) to help address the CO2 generated by burning coal. Its proponents have included trade unionists, climate scientists, environmentalists, and governments looking for a way to greatly reduce emissions. And indeed, this evolving technology promises to capture up to 90% of the CO2 produced by coal-fired power plants and to permanently bury it in stable geological formations deep underground.

However, the promise of CCS has so far gone unfulfilled. In fact, the potential of deploying CCS—and the support it receives from unions and others—has been used as political cover for the development of new coal infrastructure. It seems increasingly unlikely that CCS will ever be deployed at an adequate level, leaving us with a locked-in carbon infrastructure without the promised mitigation.

Even if CCS is deployed at the levels needed to significantly reduce emissions, the environmental damage done by extracting, transporting, and burning coal will continue. Indeed, the “energy penalty” associated with CCS means that coal’s impact on human health and the environment may even be increased. In this context, trade union support for CCS risks alienating frontline communities and other allies who are taking the lead in building a movement for climate and environmental justice.

In this TUED Working Paper, Sean Sweeney, the director of the International Program for Labor, Climate and the Environment at CUNY’s Murphy Institute, looks at CCS in the context of coal-fired electricity generation. He argues that rather than supporting CCS within a market-dominated policy debate, the trade union movement should be exploring a “third scenario,” one that challenges the neoliberal policy framework and the “growth without end” assumptions that dominates policy discussions on energy use. CCS may have a place in the transition to a post-carbon world, but this place must be determined democratically, and by public need.

Unions and the Climate Justice Movement

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, October 7, 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.

Where does the union movement stand on the issue of climate justice? The answer to that question is not entirely simple. First of all, it's important to understand the differences between revolutionary unions (most of which are syndicalist--such as the CNT, FAI, SAC--or Marxist--such as NUMSA--in their orientation, or some hybrid inclusive of both and more--such as the IWW) and mainstream reformist unions, such as the AFL-CIO.  For most revolutionary unions, climate justice is an inherent part of the struggle to overthrow capitalism, abolish wage slavery, and create a new society within the shell of the old. For example, the IWW has organized an environmental unionism caucus that dedicates itself to climate justice and other ecological issues. The South African union, NUMSA, is a supporter of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED)1 and has issued a statement calling for the end to the "Mineral Industrial Complex" (even though they represent mine workers) in favor of renewable energy.

Where the reformist unions (sometimes called "business unions" or "class collaborationist" unions by their detractors) stand varies widely, and to be accurate, some of these "reformist" unions have more (or less) "revolutionary" orientation within the spectrum of the mainstream labor movement. While many still believe that capitalism can be reformed, the evolving realities of capitalism--which is becoming extremely repressive as it imposes increasingly crushing austerity upon the working class--the ever heightening urgency of addressing capitalist induced global warming, and the increasingly impossible-to-ignore realities of police violence, movements like Black Lives Matter, and other social issues are driving many unions to question their adherence to it, beyond the mere rank and file militants within each of them.

One would expect the Building Trades and most heavy industry based unions in the United States, many of which are still largely dominated by white male workers, to be least supportive of climate justice (or even likely to swallow the rhetoric of climate denialism) and conversely expect the service unions, many of which are predominantly composed of women and People of Color to be most supportive of it, and in some cases that's true, but not always! The actual "geography" of where unions stand on climate justice is actually quite complex2, inconsistent, and in some instances contradictory.  Sorting it out completely is well beyond the scope of this article, but it is illustrative to cover some general ground and cite a few interesting examples.

Hoodwinked in the Hothouse

From the Introduction:

Desperate to avoid climate regulation that may affect profits, polluting corporations are working hand-in-hand with governments, presenting a dizzying array of false solutions that deepen inequalities in our societies. There is a clear agenda: Manage the climate crisis without compromising profits, the power structures or the economic system that got us here, even if that means exacerbating the problem. Wall Street financiers, the synthetic biology industry, “green” venture capitalists and a host of others are jumping on the “we care about the climate, too!” bandwagon.

These actors have reduced one of the clearest consequences of an unsustainable system into a mere technical problem that can be “efficiently” dealt with through market-based solutions. This market fundamentalism diverts attention away from the root causes of the problem, encouraging us to imagine a world with price tags on rivers, forests, biodiversity and communities’ territories, all in the name of “dealing with the climate crisis.” At the heart of all false solutions is an avoidance of the big picture: the root causes.

False solutions are constructed around the invisible scaffolding that maintains the dominant economic, cultural and political systems—the idea that economic growth is both desirable and inevitable; that progress means industrial development; that Western science and technology can solve any problem; that profits will motivate and the markets will innovate. Most of us in the Global North, whether sensitized to it or not, are participants and, at times, even take comfort in this world view. Sadly, many find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of a globalized economy built upon the unsteady legs of expanding empire, ecological erosion and exploitation of workers and communities.

We can take steps, large and small, to stop the climate crisis. What we cannot afford to do is go down the wrong road. Hoodwinked in the Hothouse is an easy and essential guide to navigating the landscape of false solutions—the cul-de-sacs on the route to a just and livable climate future.

--Gopal Dayaneni, Movement Generation: Justice and Ecology Project

PDF File

(Working Paper #4) Power to the People: Toward Democratic Control of Electricity Generation

Press Release - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 24, 2015

Unions welcome new report highlighting the need to ‘reclaim’ and democratize the energy system and to promote publicly owned renewable power

Globally, the energy system is failing to protect workers and communities.  Airborne and water pollution levels are out of control, especially in Asia. Energy-related emissions continue to rise as more fossil-based power comes on line. Union leaders say the struggle for democratic control of electrical power generation is central to the struggle for a healthier, safer and fairer world. A major scale-up of publicly owned but democratically controlled renewable power is required. Public renewable power will make it possible to conserve energy, control and then reduce demand, and begin to make transport as well as electrical power less dependent on fossil fuels. A truly “just transition” for workers and communities will require re-asserting the public good over private greed.

A new Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) working paper titled Power to the People: Toward Democratic Control of Electricity Generation shows how “another energy is possible, and absolutely necessary.” It succinctly explains the failure of profit-driven approaches to either emissions reductions or controlling energy demand. The TUED paper, published by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung–New York Office, examines the actual and potential content behind the term energy democracy in order to help unions get a better grasp of what is happening now and what could happen in the future. It discusses the major “fronts” on which the struggle for democratic control of power generation is currently expressing itself: cooperatives in the renewable energy sector and their potential contribution to energy democracy, as well as recent attempts to reclaim electrical power generation at the municipal level. The 4-part paper also examines the historical experience of the “public works” approach to energy transition during the New Deal in the United States and, in particular, the Rural Electrification Administration—a model of state-cooperative interaction and partnership replicated successfully in numerous countries during the post-World War II period. It proposes that a “Renewable Energy Administration” is needed today.

Unions and social movements have the power to help create a new energy system, one that will be located at the heart of a new political economy grounded in equity, true sustainability, and economic democracy. This paper, co-authored by Sean Sweeney (Murphy Institute, CUNY) Kylie Benton-Connell (New School for Social Research) and Lara Skinner (Worker Institute at Cornell) explores concrete possibilities for moving toward this goal.

According to Sweeney, the coordinator of TUED, “The paper is not a blueprint. It shows what is happening, and also what needs to happen in order to reduce emissions and pollution in a way that shifts power toward workers and communities. Its main message is, if we want to control atmospheric warming and to protect our common home, then we have to get serious about reclaiming and democratizing energy.  Unions in different countries and from all sectors are increasingly aware of the need to do this.”

Pages

The Fine Print I:

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