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decarbonization

Eco Socialism: The Only Way To Save Our World?

How Minnesota Unions are Building Power in Their Communities

SEA CHANGE: UAW Signs on to Calls for Ceasefire

Labor unions are still giving Democrats climate headaches

By Alex Nieves - Politico, December 4, 2023

One of California’s most powerful unions is not loosening its grip on oil jobs.

Despite the Biden administration and California lawmakers pouring billions of dollars into new climate-friendly industries like electric vehicles, hydrogen and building electrification, a key player in state politics is still defending fossil fuel interests that provide thousands of well-paying jobs.

President Joe Biden’s investment in clean energy sectors through a pair of massive spending bills — which promise lucrative tax credits for projects that pay union wages — was supposed to speed up the labor transition away from oil and gas. That hasn’t happened in deep-blue California, home to the country’s most ambitious climate policies — and most influential labor unions.

“We believe we’re still going to be working in the oil and gas space for the foreseeable future,” said Chris Hannan, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, which represents nearly 500,000 members across dozens of local unions, from pipefitting to electrical work.

Unions’ longstanding — and well-founded — distrust of the renewable energy industry as a reliable source of labor-friendly jobs is slowing the “just transition” that Biden, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders around the country have pushed.

With federal officials trying to get clean energy funding out as fast as possible ahead of the 2024 election, and California politicians cracking down on the fossil fuel industry, unions’ reluctance to relinquish fossil fuel jobs undermines Democrats’ aggressive climate targets, according to a lawmaker who serves both a union- and oil-rich area of the state.

While the union embrace of fossil fuels is unique to California — one of the few blue states with significant oil production — the struggle highlights a larger question over how states can quickly build massive amounts of clean energy infrastructure without undercutting labor.

Working for Climate Justice: Trade unions in the front line against climate change

By Ben Crawford and David Whyte - Institute of Employment Rights: Centre for Climate Crime and Climate Justice, November 23, 2023

For further background, visit this site.

Co-authors of the report, David Whyte, Queen Mary University of London and Ben Crawford, The London School of Economics, argue that the transition away from a carbon-based economy relies on the collective action of workers and their organisations, challenging an economic system focused on extracting value at any cost. While the primary analysis addresses the British context, the authors acknowledge the global nature of ecological sustainability and its transformation of social existence both within and outside the workplace.

Focusing on the economic sphere of production as the engine of climate change, the authors contend that the future of the planet relies heavily on workers' power and collective action. Contrary to decisions made in boardrooms and cabinets, they stress that a sustainable transition depends on workers and their communities organising a new social and economic system.

Co-author of report Professor David Whyte, and Director of the Centre for Climate Crime and Climate Justice, Queen Mary University of London explains: “Time is running out for us. We don’t have time to wait politely until employers decide to do the right thing. This is why a transition to a low carbon economy has to be led by workers taking action in their workplaces. A sustainable planet has to be based on sustainable jobs and sustainable ways of working and living.”

Trade unions, historically not prioritising climate change in bargaining, have a rich history of environmentalism and struggles against the commodification of labour. The pamphlet argues for a "secret solidarity" between workers and nature, emphasising the shared interest in slowing down production processes causing social and environmental harm.

To achieve a transition at the necessary scale and pace, the pamphlet proposes priorities for the trade-union movement:

  1. Empowering Members: Workers must put climate change on an industrial footing, building a grassroots power base through coordinated workplace representatives and political education.
  2. Integrating Climate Bargaining: Climate bargaining should be integrated into campaigns for employment rights, demanding a statutory basis for the right to bargain on climate and ecology.
  3. Allocating Resources: Trade unions must allocate greater resources to climate campaigning, countering the false dichotomy between jobs and a green economy and advocating for public ownership of key sectors.
  4. Engaging Globally: Unions should organise and recruit along global supply chains, recognising the need for international coordination and bargaining.

The report concludes by urging a transformative approach to just transition, where workers and trade unionists rethink the production and purpose of value, ensuring products and services align with socially useful and sustainable goals. The call is clear: workers must harness their collective power to lead the way towards a low-carbon economy.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Power Up for Climate Justice: a landmark report on financing a global renewable energy target

By staff - 350, November 22, 2023

With just days to go until Cop28, we are launching a landmark report to highlight the need for massive investment in renewable energy sources rooted in justice. “Power Up for Climate Justice: Financing and Implementing a Global Renewables Target” makes it clear: an agreement to triple renewable energy capacity to over 11,000 gigawatts by 2030 is poised to take center stage at COP28.

But such a target will only deliver for climate justice if it is accompanied by a robust energy package that includes finance for the Global South and financial system reform. 

It is also imperative that a target be accompanied by a binding commitment in the COP28 final text to phase out fossil fuels by 2050. Both the scaling up of renewable energy capacity and the phase out of fossil fuels must be anchored with concrete processes and resources for their implementation.

Earlier this year, G20 leaders acknowledged that a yearly investment of $4 trillion by 2030 is required to finance the global energy transition. But across the Global South outside of China, we are confronted with a stark reality: investment in renewable energy has remained more or less flat since the Paris Agreement.

COP28 must underpin the tripling of renewables with tangible political commitments and processes to unlock finance: debt cancellation at scale, $100 billion in concessional finance, and $200 billion in grants yearly.

The good news is, this is all possible. 350.org’s Power Up for Climate Justice report presents a roadmap for unlocking the finance to make a global renewable energy target at COP28 a significant milestone for the climate. 

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Unjust Transitions: Climate Migration, Heat Stress, and Labour Exploitation in the United Arab Emirates

By staff - Equidem, November 20, 2023

Workers at the heart of the United Arab Emirates's renewable and gig sectors, and at the site that will host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) have left homes in Africa and Asia because of climate change only to be subjected to physical abuse, heat stress, exploitation and discrimination, a new report from Equidem reveals. Serious labour violations have taken place at the site of COP28, Expo City, as well as at five renewable energy firms, including Siemens Energy. 

Based on correspondence with 248 workers, and interviews with 102, the expansive report offers unprecedented insight into the renewables, construction, security, and delivery sectors in the UAE, shedding light on both industrial and service sector working conditions for 9 million migrant workers. 

The shining facilities at Expo City Dubai boast internationally lauded solar and wind parks and a booming local gig economy. Underneath that cheerful exterior, however, women and men from some of the poorest countries on earth are falling victim to an unjust transition: Migrant workers from Africa and Asia are being subjected to serious human rights abuses in a nation whose oil and gas-powered economy is at the heart of the planet’s climate crisis. 

“Hosting this peak global conference in a climate and rights abusing state was bad enough. Equidem’s research starkly reveals that the UAE is failing on almost every metric of the UN’s own human rights benchmarks for addressing climate change through the COP process,” said Mustafa Qadri, CEO of Equidem. 

Abuses include workplace violence, wage theft, working in extreme heat and other occupational health and safety risks, nationality-based discrimination, exploitative hiring practices, understaffing and overwork, lack of opportunities for promotion, overcrowded accommodations, inadequate food allowances, and inadequate channels for workers to seek relief from these violations. 

Investigations by Equidem were carried out between February and October 2023 at Expo City Dubai and in the renewables and delivery sectors, including at Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, Al Dhafra Solar Power Project, Noor Abu Dhabi Solar Plant, Sir Bani Yas Wind Farm Project; and in the delivery sector in the UAE. 

  • Together, 57% of the migrant workers interviewed come from climate impacted areas of Asia and Africa.
  • 41 % of the workers reported nationality-based discrimination.
  • 77.% of the workers in renewable sector reported living in overcrowded accommodations, with up to 20 people in a room fit for six or fewer workers.
  • 83% of the African and Asian workers interviewed reported being unable to afford nutritious and healthy food.
  • 40% of the workers said they were skipping meals.

Equidem’s research found that African and Asian workers have migrated for employment based upon climate impacts in their own country, and then find employment in the industrial and service sectors in the UAE. These migrant workers are doubly impacted by the global climate crisis—they migrate in response to climate impacts and find employment in exploitative industrial and service contexts where they work long hours in extreme heat. These rights violations take place against a backdrop of racially delineated exclusion from labour rights protections, denial of freedom of association, and authoritarian suppression of dissent in the UAE. 

Download a copy of this publication here (Link).

Socialize the Railways!

By Tom Wetzel - East Bay Syndicalists, November 13, 2023

The downward slide of the major (Class 1) American freight railroads in recent years shows how capitalist ownership of the railway system is dangerous and inefficient — and fails to make use of the potential of the railways as a solution to the global warming crisis.

Downward slide has been accelerated over the past decade due to the adoption of “Precision Scheduled Railroading” (PSR). This has no precise definition but the aim is to reduce costs. As in “lean production” management theory, any expense not directly needed for profit is regarded as “waste.” PSR is a cost-cutting strategy that puts short-term profits for stockholders as the controlling priority. To maximize the rate of return, the railroads cut corners on maintenance, constantly work to reduce the number of railroad employees, and actively discourage shipments that are less profitable for them to haul. To keep Wall Street investors happy, they work to maximize short term profit. To enrich stockholders, the rail companies have poured billions of dollars into stock buybacks rather than invest in system improvements.

The Fight for Steel: A Workers’ Plan for Port Talbot

By staff - UNITE, November 2023

For further background, visit this site.

We are at the crossroads. There are two paths on offer, and it’s time to choose. On the one hand, there is a path of cuts: further decimating our steel industry and the town. On the other, a path of growth: an immediate gateway to rebuilding the industry.

The current plan from Tata is a hammer blow. It would severely shrink the plant: cutting production capacity by another 40%, with thousands of job losses. Another well-meaning proposal from the consultants Syndex also involves cutting capacity. It would also mean thousands of job losses: some immediately, and some in the longer term.

Why can’t we have another option? A path that would deliver profitability in the long term, and safeguard every job now. That’s the Unite plan. The cuts path wouldn’t just cost thousands of jobs on the site. It would also have massive knock-on effects on contractors, downstream sites, and the town and local economy of Port Talbot.

Our industry has suffered decades of decline. We don’t forget the impacts of the mine closures, or of the steel works at Ebbw Vale. We must not let Port Talbot be next. It is time to stop this vicious cycle.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

“What Could We Win Together?” Labor in Minnesota Gears up for a Major Escalation

By Isabella Escalona and Amy Stager - Workday Magazine, October 31, 2023

Minnesota unions have been planning for this moment for a decade.

Over the years they’ve meticulously coordinated their contracts to expire at the same time in order to maximize unity and bargaining power. Now, as these expiration dates are within sight, union organizers and rank-and-file members are beginning to prepare.

SEIU Local 26 has a contract expiring for 4,000 commercial janitorial workers on December 31. Their contracts for another 1,000 airport workers and 500 retail janitorial workers close on January 31, 2024. And the contract is up for 2,500 security workers on February 29, 2024.

In the world of public schools, the contracts for the St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) Local 28, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) Local 59, and SEIU Local 284 (which represents support staff), already expired on June 30, but those contracts remain in effect until an agreement is put in place due to the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA).

The contract for the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1005 also expired over the summer, on July 31, but has been extended until a new contract is ratified. (The ATU is currently negotiating with the Metropolitan Council.)

Meanwhile, the Metro Transit bus and rail operators with the ATU and maintenance workers voted to authorize a strike in September. One of the ATU’s main demands is a cost of living adjustment plus 1%. 

While the unions are organizing and bargaining separately, the shared expiration timeline was no accident. After decades of communication and coalition, many Minnesota unions have been eyeing opportunities like this in order to pool resources, strategize around bigger demands, and build a synergy they hope will lead to major gains.

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