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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.

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report: A Green-Syndicalist Analysis

By Javier Sethness - New Politics, August 28, 2021

Earlier this month, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of ongoing global warming. This study of the “Physical Science Basis” of climate change concludes that the situation is very alarming. As such, the AR6 may be taken as “code red for humanity.” In less than 300 years, the carbon emitted to power industrial capitalism has intensified the greenhouse effect, causing Earth’s global temperature to rise on average by 1°C, or 1.8°F (A.1.3). Overall, the AR6’s authors project the impacts of five trajectories of climate change in what remains of the twenty-first century, from courses that limit warming to a 1.5-2°C (2.7-3.6°F) average increase, to paths promising a rise of 3-5°C (5.4-9°F)—or worse. While these latter scenarios would hasten the Sixth Mass Extinction and threaten humankind’s self-destruction through precipitous global ecological collapse, even in the less destructive cases of increases of 1.5-2°C, “[m]any changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level” (B.5). Indeed, global temperatures will rise this century in all scenarios under consideration, and limiting this increase to 1.5-2°C is only possible with “deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions” now, and in the coming years (B.1)


Since publication of its first assessment report in 1990, the IPCC has borne witness to the ever-worsening problem of anthropogenic climate disruption, together with what amounts to humanity’s suicidal failure to address the factors threatening collective destruction. The AR6 reflects the latest and starkest findings from the field of climatology. Given that each successive report takes 6-8 years to produce, as Guardian environment correspondent Fiona Harvey adds soberly, the AR6 also constitutes “the last IPCC report to be published while we still have a chance of averting the worst ravages of climate breakdown.”

In this article, we will review the IPCC’s AR6 Summary for Policymakers (SPM). The SPM is a much-condensed version of the full report on the “Physical Science Basis” of global warming, which runs to nearly 4,000 pages. We encourage readers to read either or both reports for themselves. After considering the latest findings from climatology, we will conclude by considering possible remedies to the grave problems highlighted by the AR6 SPM. As summarized in the concept of green syndicalism, we will avow egalitarian and socially transformative approaches to radically reducing emissions, in the hopes of minimizing the grave risks posed by the climate crisis. All figures are taken from the SPM.

Voodoo Doughnut Workers Hold National Day of Action

By Shawn Kinnaman - Industrial Worker, August 11, 2021

Our changing climate is increasingly becoming a workplace issue. because these workers engaged in strike action to protest being forced to work in the extreme heat which hit the Pacific Northwest in Summer of 2021, as this article details:

Workers at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland held a national day of action on July 29 to protest against the allegedly illegal firing of staff and to demand better working conditions. The workers, unionized as Doughnut Workers United with the Industrial Workers of the World, were supported by IWW branches in Portland, Eugene, Austin, Houston, Orlando and Los Angeles, who organized actions outside of local outlets of the Portland-based doughnut chain.

The workplace organizing campaign at Voodoo Doughnut goes back several years. Workers tell Mark Medina, an organizer with the Portland IWW who is supporting the campaign, that they earn minimum wage, receive little respect from management, and feel they are at all times close to being demoted or let go altogether. They have also complained of being harassed and even assaulted when leaving the store. During one robbery, an assailant jumped over the counter and threatened staff with a hatchet. Despite the danger, management refused to hire security until pressured to do so by the union.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic further deteriorated working conditions at Voodoo Doughnut. Forty workers were initially laid off, with only three being reinstated. Workers allege that management chose to rehire the minimum number of workers necessary for the company to qualify for pandemic-related relief funds from the federal government and that pro-union workers were intentionally excluded. Workers have also had to procure their own personal protective equipment, which management inexplicably asked them to discard, promising replacements but never delivering.

More recently, workers at Voodoo Doughnut were forced to contend with a heatwave that swept through the region from late June to mid July. Management refused workers’ request to close the shop due to inadequate climate control, forcing them to stage a two walk-out involving nearly the entire staff.

Hoping to address these grievances, Voodoo Doughnut workers organized the recent national day of action across six US cities. Workers have asked supporters to amplify this effort across social media and to contribute to a strike and hardship fund organized by the union. Together, Medina believes that workers and their supporters can show management that the union means business.

“We outnumber them,” he says.

Are you interested in organizing a union at your workplace? Contact the IWW today!

Opinion: Public Utility Campaigns Have A Labor Problem

By C.M. Lewis - The Strike Wave, July 28, 2021

Maine Governor Janet Mills’ labor-backed veto of LD 1708—which would have consolidated two private utility corporations into a statewide consumer cooperative, Pine Tree Power—is a sober warning to those fighting for public utilities: neglect unions at your peril.

Mills is no friend to labor. She previously vetoed pro-worker labor reforms and pledged to veto the right to strike for public workers. But her veto, sustained by the legislature, still accomplished the goal of concerned unions like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 567, who were alarmed at a potential change in legal jurisdiction.

Union resistance to progressive proposals can often cause consternation. Culinary 226’s opposition to Medicare for All notably caused a stir during the Nevada caucuses, raising the ire of many progressives. However, an immediate assumption that IBEW was wrong to oppose the bill buries the complicated reality: the bill would’ve tangibly harmed union workers. 

IBEW’s opposition was driven by concern that the bill would move workers from jurisdiction under the National Labor Relations Board to the Maine Labor Relations Board, bringing them into the public sector. Although that superficially sounds like a minor administrative change, and no reason for opposition, it would’ve had severe consequences for their workers—notably losing the statutory right to strike, and the imposition of the open shop through the Janus vs. AFSCME ruling

Viewed through that lens, IBEW’s opposition—while frustrating—is not unreasonable, and it speaks to a difficult problem faced by advocates for public utilities: that under present law, there is little to no way to bring private utilities under public control without stripping union rights from workers.

US Energy Transition Presents Organized Labor With New Opportunities, But Also Some Old Challenges

By Delger Erdenesanaa - Inside Climate News, July 27, 2021

President Biden’s push for “good, union jobs” in clean energy has increased hope that organizing solar and wind workers can close the pay gap between them and fossil fuel workers.

President Biden’s push for “good, union jobs” in clean energy has increased hope that organizing solar and wind workers can close the pay gap between them and fossil fuel workers.

Two years ago, Skip Bailey noticed a lot of trucks from a company called Solar Holler driving around Huntington, West Virginia. A union organizer with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Bailey saw an opportunity.

“We want to get in on the solar business,” he said, predicting the industry will grow in his home region, which includes historic coal communities in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

Bailey talked to Solar Holler about unionizing its employees who install photovoltaic panels on homes. IBEW showed the company its local training facility for electricians, and explained the health insurance and pension plans it offers. 

“It wasn’t a hard sell in either direction,” said the company’s founder and CEO, Dan Conant. He was already interested in securing union protections for his employees when Bailey contacted him, he said. The move fit with Solar Holler’s dedication to West Virginia’s legacy of energy production and strong union membership.

“It was not just good business, but it just really spoke to our history as a state,” he said.

Conant and Bailey’s efforts paid off in March 2020, when IBEW Local 317 and Solar Holler signed a contract. It’s just a start—Solar Holler only has about 20 unionized employees—but the agreement is an early example of the future Joe Biden is promising. The president frequently pledges to create millions of jobs while transitioning the U.S. to clean energy. Every time he does, he’s quick to add that these will be “good, union jobs that expand the middle class.”

“It’s a great talking point,” said Joe Uehlein, president of the Maryland-based Labor Network for Sustainability, an advocacy group pushing to unionize green jobs. But he added that Biden faces a difficult balancing act to achieve his pledge. 

U.K. Green Jobs Taskforce recommendations address green skills, Just Transition

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, July 21, 2021

On July 14, the Independent Green Jobs Taskforce delivered its report to the government of the United Kingdom, making fifteen recommendations on how best to deliver the green jobs and skills of the future. A summary of the report and steps taken to date appear in the government’s press release. The full Report is here, with an Annex called Sectoral Transitions to Net Zero, profiling specific sectors and occupations.

The U.K. Trades Union Congress (TUC), which participated in the Taskforce, reacted with a blog post titled, A greener economy can be positive for workers too, highlighting key recommendations – and pointing out real-world examples of best practice, including the example of collaboration between EDF and Unite, Prospect and GMB in the successful creation of transition pathways for workers at Cottam coal power station before it closed. The Senior Deputy General Secretary of the Prospect union was also member of the Green Jobs Taskforce, and summarized her thoughts in this blog: “It’s time the government moved from lofty climate change ambitions to action”, saying “ I am pleased that the Green Jobs Taskforce not only uses the language of Just Transition, but recommends the establishment of a new national body to help shape this change and ensure that no worker or community is left behind in the race for net zero. That recommendation is one of many that we on the task force have made to the government, including establishing a ‘green careers launchpad’, making sure that the curriculum reflects the green skills we will need in the future, and publishing a comprehensive net zero strategy ahead of November’s COP26 summit.”

The government will not endorse any of the Report’s recommendations immediately but they are promised to feed into the development of the U.K.’s Net Zero Strategy; in the meantime, “ a cross-cutting delivery group” has been established “to oversee the development and delivery of the government’s plans for green jobs and skills. This group will maintain the momentum generated by the Taskforce and drive meaningful action across the green skills agenda.”

The Green Jobs Taskforce was established in November 2020 , and included labour representatives from the TUC and Prospect union, along with academics, business representatives and the training sector, including Construction Industry Training Board, Engineering Construction Industry Training Board, East London Institute for Technology, Retrofit Works, Edinburgh University and National Grid.

Related reports: Unionlearn (part of the TUC) published a labour education document, Cutting Carbon, Growing Skills: Green Skills for a Just Transition in March 2020, providing discussion and case studies.

Retrofitting Canadian buildings could bring 200,000 jobs, along with healthier spaces

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, July 19, 2021

Canada’s Renovation Wave: A plan for jobs and climate was released by the Pembina Institute on July 14. Borrowing a term originated in a 2020 European Commission report, the authors present a simplified scenario outlining how we could convert the 63% of Canadian buildings currently heated with natural gas or oil to electricity. This, combined with the rapid decarbonization of the electricity grid, would result in significantly lower carbon emissions while generating more than $48 billion in economic development and creating up to 200,000 jobs . Drawing on a 2018 report from Clean Energy Canada, Canada’s Renovation Wave asserts that energy efficiency jobs are inherently labour intensive and create a higher number of jobs than other industries – for example, whole building retrofits are estimated to create an average of 9.5 gross direct and indirect jobs for every $1 million invested.

The authors estimate that “priming the pump for this transformation” will require public investments of about $10 to $15 billion per year, from now until 2040 (or until appropriate regulatory drivers are in place). Much of this sum is directed to subsidies and incentive programs, but it also includes a recommendation for $300 million per year to be spent on skill development, capacity building and recruitment to grow and diversify the energy efficiency and green building workforce.

Related reading: “If heat waves become the new normal, how will our buildings have to change?” (The National Observer, July 2) quotes Pembina author Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze who relates the need for retrofitting to the health impacts of the recent B.C. heatwave.

Aalso, Canada’s Climate Retrofit Mission emphasizes the urgency of the task and outlines market and policy innovations to speed up the process and achieve economies of scale to reduce costs. Authors Brendan Haley and Ralph Torrie state that, at the current pace, it will take 142 years to retrofit all low-rise residential buildings and 71 years to retrofit all commercial floor area in Canada. The report was published by Efficiency Canada in June 2021.

Power, Workers, and the Fight for Climate Justice

By Tara Olivetree (Ehrcke) - Midnight Sun, July 12, 2021

Power

Who has more power than Shell Oil? This is one of the first questions a climate activist should ask themselves, because without finding an answer, we can’t win.

The power of the fossil fuel industry is massive. Fossil fuel companies are worth at least $18 trillion in stock equity, which represents about a quarter of total global stock markets. These vast resources and their outsized share of the world economy allow the industry to continually assert their interests, no matter the destruction this entails. They do so through any means available, of which there are many.

The notorious work of Exxon in first understanding, and then deeply misrepresenting, the science on climate change is one example. After generously funding its own climate research, and being told explicitly in 1977 that global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels was likely to lead to a two- to three-degree increase in global temperatures, Exxon embarked on an industry-wide quest to promote doubt in the science. This lengthy “fake news” campaign cost millions of dollars, and arguably set back the climate movement by decades.

However, the power of the fossil fuel industry goes well beyond the manipulation of global public thought. From the time of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the history of modern capitalism has been replete with wars fought over fossil fuels. These have served to maintain strategic interests and, just as importantly, the profits of fossil fuel companies. A map of twentieth-century imperial conquest would show the disproportionate number of wars waged in the Middle East, where the world’s largest and cheapest oil deposits lie. As Alan Greenspan, a former chair of the US Federal Reserve, stated about one of these wars: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

How, then, do we go about exerting equivalent force, in order to dismantle the fossil fuel industry within the limited timeline outlined by scientists, while at the same time building an equitable, habitable, and just society?

There are a number of competing answers to this question. 

Heat, fire, death in British Columbia show us the reality of climate change

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

he town of Lytton British Columbia became a real-world symbol of climate change for Canada, setting temperature records for three days, reaching 49.6 C (121.1 F) on June 29th — the highest ever recorded in Canada. The next day, the town was virtually destroyed by sudden, irresistible wildfire. As humans and animals have died in unprecedented numbers across the North American West from the heat, other effects were also recorded – wildfires and their smoke, damage to roads and rail lines, power outages, destruction of crops, deaths of shellfish, a shortage of emergency responders, and the stress of their work.

Here is a sampling from the cascade of news coverage:

“For third straight day, B.C. village smashes record for highest Canadian temperature at 49.6 C” (CBC News, June 29)

“Deaths Spike as Heat Wave Broils Canada and the Pacific Northwest” ( New York Times, June 30)

Most homes in Lytton destroyed by catastrophic fire minister says” (CBC, July 1)

“B.C. still a tinderbox as firefighters arrive from other provinces” (National Observer, July 6) – stating that there were 199 active wildfires in B.C. as of July 5 – 13 of which are “wildfires of note”, 5 of which merited evacuation orders.

“Stories of bravery amid ‘unimaginable horror’ of Lytton wildfire” (National Observer, July 8)

“Canadian inferno: northern heat exceeds worst-case climate models” (The Guardian, July 2)

B.C.’s heat wave likely contributed to 719 sudden deaths in a week, coroner says — triple the usual number” (CBC News, July 2) – quoting the Chief Coroner that the province had previously experienced three heat-related deaths in the past three to five years before the heat wave. )

“More than a billion seashore animals may have cooked to death in B.C. heat wave, says UBC researcher” (CBC News, July 5,6)

“B.C. heat wave ‘cooks’ fruit crops on the branch in sweltering Okanagan and Fraser valleys” (CBC News, July 6)

“B.C. Wildfires damaged key rail lines, backlogging Canada’s freight supply chain”(CBC News, July 8)

“North America has its hottest June on record” (NYTimes, July 7) – “average temperature was more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average from 1991-2020″ across North America”

A Plan for Coal Workers as the Industry Declines

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