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Gas price burden on rural mail carriers; also harms environment

By Gabriela Calugay-Casuga - Rabble, July 4, 2022

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) claims that Canada Post is placing an undue burden on Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMCs) that is also harming the environment. As Canadians from coast to coast are feeling the pinch at the pumps, RSMCs are paying out of their own pockets to do their delivery routes. RSMC vehicles are left out of Canada Post’s plan to move their fleet to electric, which means that there is no end in sight. 

As the thousands of RSMCs continue to shoulder the burden of gas, they struggle to serve the more than 8,000 routes they cover. In 2021, over six million Canadian residents, or 17.8 per cent of the population, lived in rural areas, according to Statistics Canada. Including relief employees, there are more than 11,000 RSMCs who cover 8,129 routes, according to CUPW National President Jan Simpson. 

Amidst rising gas prices, CUPW members launched a petition urging the government to act on the high gas prices. 

“The members who initiated the petition tell us that the additional cost for gas cuts into their earnings, and that some of them have to consider changing jobs because they can’t afford to keep delivering the mail,” Simpson said in an email to rabble.ca. “It’s an extra burden on top of the costs of maintenance and insurance to keep their own vehicles on the road for work.” 

According to a press release by CUPW, RSMCs are currently compensated for their mileage up to the CRA cap for non-taxable automobile allowances for 2022, which is 61 cents per kilometer up to 5000 kilometers. The release says that this cap was set in December 2021, which means it is based on 2021 inflation figures. 

The tax-exempt per-kilometer allowance limit is reviewed annually against inflation to ensure that it continues to roughly reflect the average costs involved in business driving. Any changes to cost components that arise during a year will typically be reflected in the limit that applies in the following year.

Simpson said that RSMCs collectively drive more than four million kilometers daily. She calculated that at an average consumption of 13 liters per 100km, that would be more than 62,000 liters of fuel used daily.

“This burden does not belong on the individual worker,” Simpson said. 

The large amount of fuel used by RSMCs falls under Canada Post’s Scope 3 emissions, which means they are not considered direct emissions caused by Canada Post. Scope 3 is supposed to be for emissions by contractors and suppliers that Canada Post does not have control over. Simpson said, Canada Post makes the routes, and tracks the distances for compensation. 

CUPW said in their press release that RSMC emissions should be included in Scope 1 which encompasses emissions that Canada Post is directly responsible for. 

Due to the classification of RSMC vehicle emissions, the more than 11,000 RSMCs are left out of Canada Post’s plan to move to electric vehicles. This means Canada Post RSMCs will continue to use tens of thousands of liters of fuel daily. This not only maintains the cost burden on workers, it also means that Canada Post will not truly have net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

Simpson said that the burden of responsibility should shift from the worker to the corporation. 

“If Canada Post Corporation were responsible for equipping RSMCs with vehicles and fuel, then the workers wouldn’t have to worry about the cost of the gas they need to do their job,” Simpson said. “It would also bring the RSMCs’ emissions into CPC’s scope 1 emissions, which would increase their incentive to electrify more of the delivery fleet. Or there may be other solutions we could find to make Canada Post responsible for rising fuel costs, which would also increase their incentive to improve fuel economy and emissions.”

Book Review: The Future is Degrowth

By Timothée Parrique - Timothée Parrique, July 3, 2022

The best the degrowth literature has to offer served on a silver platter. That’s how I would describe The Future is Degrowth: A Guide to a World beyond Capitalism(June 2022) by Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vetter, and Aaron Vansintjan.[1] Reading it, I felt like Neo in The Matrix learning everything there is to know about Kung Fu all at once – “I know degrowth.” 

This kind of synthesis was long overdue. The degrowth literature has grown rather large and I cannot think of a single text that maps it all. Research on degrowth used to be my favourite guide to degrowth but there is only so much you can do in a 20-page article (plus, the literature has more than doubled since it was published in 2018). Degrowth: A vocabulary for a new era (2014) is a good pot luck of perspectives but lacks coherence and depth due to its multi-author, short-entry format. I tried my best in The political economy of degrowth (2019) but the end result is rather cumbersome. 

In The Future is Degrowth, the authors have achieved a colossal Spring cleaning of the field. Sufficiency, dépense, commoning, pluriverse, unequal exchange, conviviality, self-determination, and many more (I have counted more than sixty concepts throughout the book). With such an exhaustive span, this book is to degrowth what the IPCC is to climate science: the best available literature review on the topic. 

But warning: this book is not for the academically faint hearted. If you’re looking for a wide-audience introduction to degrowth, this is not one of them, and I would rather recommend The Case for Degrowth[G. Kallis, S. Paulson, G. D’Alisa, F. Demaria], a shorter, less demanding way of covering the basics. If you’ve never heard of the topic at all, Less is more[Jason Hickel], Post Growth: Life after capitalism[Tim Jackson], and Degrowth [Giorgos Kallis] are also good places to start. 

The Future is Degrowth is rather long (more than 100,000 words) but neatly organised. The literature is chiselled into six tidy lists: 3 dimensions and 7 critiques of growth, 5 currents and 3 principles of degrowth, 6 clusters of proposals, and 3 strategies for change. The book itself is divided in seven chapters. After a long introduction (12% of the total book length), the first two chapters deal with understanding economic growth and its critics (that’s about half of the book). The remaining chapters follow Erik Olin Wright’s famous triad: Chapter 4 is about the desirability of degrowth (11%), Chapter 5 about its viability (13%), and Chapter 6 about its achievability (11%). This leaves us with a short concluding chapter (5%) titled “The future of degrowth.” 

With such a monumental piece of work, I could not resolve myself to write a short review, which would feel like summarising all seasons of Game of Thrones in a single tweet. This book deserves a proper dissection, and so I will here process chapter by chapter, taking all the space needed to summarise its content and, in the end, analyse its (many) strengths and (very few) weaknesses.

On Inflation and Working Class Struggle

By anonymous - angryworkers.org, June 17, 2022

On Saturday 18th of June, (there was) a national TUC demo in London, and as part of the build up, we were invited to sit on a panel hosted by the People’s Assembly called ‘Wages Up, Bills Down, Tories Out’. We were joined by six other panelists from the RMT, Bristol Co-operative Alliance and the Tribune, Bristol Trades Council and the NEU, the TUC and PCS, the Green and Labour Councillors for Ashley Ward, and the Secretary for Unite South West, who chaired the meeting.

Below is the transcript of the input from one AngryWorkers comrade about the current crisis, followed by a report from a comrade on the meeting in general.

I work as a housekeeper at Southmead hospital and I am a GMB rep there. I previously worked for several years in warehouses and food factories. I can see every day how people who earn around the minimum wage are struggling more.

I think we’re in a crisis in more ways than one. It’s a cost of living crisis, yes. It’s also coinciding with a long-running crisis of working class organisation and militancy (e.g. the fact that NHS workers can’t even enforce an actual pay rise, despite all the public support and the fact that we slogged our guts out in the pandemic, says a lot). And it’s also a crisis of the system where there aren’t any obvious answers.

Digital Ecosocialism: breaking the power of Big Tech

By Michael Kwet - ROARMag, April 4, 2022

In the space of a few years, the debate on how to rein in Big Tech has become mainstream, discussed across the political spectrum. Yet, so far the proposals to regulate largely fail to address the capitalist, imperialist and environmental dimensions of digital power, which together are deepening global inequality and pushing the planet closer to collapse. We urgently need to build a ecosocialist digital ecosystem, but what would that look like and how can we get there?

This essay aims to highlight some of the core elements of a digital socialist agenda — a Digital Tech Deal (DTD) — centered on principles of anti-imperialism, class abolition, reparations and degrowth that can transition us to a 21st century socialist economy. It draws on proposals for transformation as well as existing models that can be scaled up, and seeks to integrate those with other movements pushing for alternatives to capitalism, in particular the degrowth movement. The scale of needed transformation is massive, but we hope this attempt at outlining a socialist Digital Tech Deal provokes further brainstorming and debate over how an egalitarian digital ecosystem would look and the steps we might take to get there.

Amid Rolling Blackouts, Energy Workers Fight For Clean Public Power In South Africa

By Casey Williams - In These Times, March 31, 2022

Can South Africa transition from a reliance on coal to clean power while maintaining jobs? The energy workers fighting for a just transition think so.

The lights went out around Johannesburg on a Monday morning in November 2021, not to flicker back on until early that Friday in some areas. It marked the last rolling blackout of a year troubled by more outages than any in recent memory. The fate of Eskom, the beleaguered power utility behind the crisis, is now at the center of South Africa’s struggle for a just energy transition — a break from fossil fuels without leaving behind frontline communities or energy workers.

As a public company, Eskom has a constitutional mandate to guarantee electricity as a basic right. But the utility struggles to meet that mandate with its aging equipment, staggering debt, corruption and rules that require it to break even, which drive exorbitant rate hikes. Moreover, the electricity running through Eskom’s wires comes almost entirely from coal, smothering the country’s eastern coal belt in deadly pollution and adding planet-warming emissions to the atmosphere — and putting the utility at odds with South Africa’s decarbonization commitments and global calls for renewable energy. South Africa, the 26th-largest country by population, ranks 14th in carbon output worldwide and is responsible for 1% of global emissions, because of this reliance on coal.

Few believe Eskom will survive in its current state, and what comes next is the subject of a high-stakes debate — and is about more than the climate. The state-owned company employs 45,000 workers and supports 82,000 coal jobs in a country where more than a third of the population is out of work. Eskom is a union shop, as are South Africa’s biggest coal mines.

The government’s plan, already underway, is to invite private companies into the energy sector on the dubious grounds that clean energy is bound to win in a competitive market. The powerful miners and metalworkers unions oppose privatization, which they worry will hobble their organizations, if not eliminate the jobs they’re entrusted to protect. 

The unions have reason to worry. European multinationals have installed most of South Africa’s wind and solar capacity so far, importing technicians and hardware. The local jobs that come with them are often low-paid and temporary, vanishing once plants get up and running. Workers with permanent jobs, meanwhile, have struggled with for-profit energy companies over the right to strike.

While some union leaders and workers have responded to the threat of privatization by defending coal mines and the union jobs they offer, unions also say they support decarbonization efforts. There are currents within the labor movement organizing for a just transition to turn Eskom into a unionized, public and clean power utility, run by and for the South African people.

This tug-of-war holds lessons for workers everywhere: The South African labor movement has largely succeeded in making the public debate about ownership and power— about who owns energy resources and who decides how they’re used — rather than simply about renewables versus coal. Still, the temptation for labor to double down on coal jobs remains strong as the South African economy flags and unemployment spikes, emblematic of how hard it can be to fight for long-term goals if jobs are under threat.

The Ohio River Valley Hydrogen Hub: A Boondoggle in the Making

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, March 18, 2022

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) torpedoed the Build Back Better bill because, he said, it is too costly. But the fleet of hydrogen hub projects he is now promoting for locations around the nation, one of them in the Ohio River Valley, may cost nearly as much, they will drive up utility bills and create few new jobs, and they will miss a large share of the emissions they’re supposed to eliminate. They will also block less costly climate solutions that can create more jobs and actually eliminate climate-warming emissions the hydrogen hubs would only partially abate. 

According to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the hydrogen hubs, which have as their centerpiece massive pipeline networks that would funnel carbon captured from power plants and factories to injection points for underground sequestration, would cost between $170 billion and $230 billion just to construct. That figure is dwarfed by the additional investment in carbon capture technology that would have to be made by plant owners whose costs to operate and maintain their retrofitted plants would also rise significantly.

A recent Ohio River Valley Institute brief pointed out that retrofitting just the nation’s coal and gas-fired power plants for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) would add approximately $100 billion per year to Americans’ electric bills, an increase of 25%. The cost of adding CCS to steel mills, cement plants, factories, and other carbon producing facilities could be that much or more.

Nationalizing Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Practical Solution to Rising Inflation

By C.J. Polychroniou and Robert Pollin - Truthout, February 24, 2022

Since mid-2020, inflation has been rising, with the level of average prices going up at a faster rate than it has since the early 1980s. In January 2022, prices had increased by 7.5 percent compared to prices in January 2021, and it now looks like the U.S. may be stuck with higher inflation in 2022 and even beyond.

Why are prices rising so dramatically? Are we heading toward double-digit inflation? Can anything be done to curb inflation? How does inflation impact growth and unemployment? Renowned progressive economist Robert Pollin provides comprehensive responses to these questions in the exclusive interview for Truthout that follows. Pollin is distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

C.J. Polychroniou: Back in the 1970s, inflation was the word that was on everybody’s lips. It was the longest stretch of inflation that the United States had experienced and seems to have been caused by a surge in oil prices. Since then, we’ve had a couple of other brief inflationary episodes, one in the late 1980s and another one in mid-2008, both of which were also caused by skyrocketing gas prices. Inflation returned with a vengeance in 2021, causing a lot of anxiety, and it’s quite possible that we could be stuck with it throughout 2022. What’s causing this inflation surge, and how likely is it that we could see a return to 1970s levels of inflation?

Robert Pollin: For the 12-month period ending this past January, inflation in the U.S economy was at 7.5 percent. This is the highest U.S. rate since 1981, when inflation was at 10.3 percent. Over the 30-year period from 1991 to 2020, U.S. inflation averaged 2.2 percent. The inflation rate for 2020 itself was 1.2 percent. Obviously, some new forces have come into play over the past year as the U.S. economy has been emerging out of the COVID-induced recession.

To understand these new forces, let’s first be clear on what exactly we mean by the term “inflation.” The 7.5 percent increase in inflation is measuring the average rise in prices for a broad basket of goods and services that a typical household will purchase over the course of a year. At least in principle, this includes everything — food, rent, medical expenses, child care, auto purchases and upkeep, gasoline, home heating fuel, phone services, internet connections and Netflix subscriptions.

In fact, prices for the individual items within this overall basket of goods and services have not all been rising at this average 7.5 percent rate. Rather, the 7.5 percent average figure includes big differences in price movements among individual components in the overall basket.

The biggest single factor driving up overall inflation rate is energy prices. Energy prices rose by 27 percent over the past year, and within the overall energy category, gasoline rose by 40 percent and heating oil by 46 percent. This spike in gasoline and heating oil prices, in turn, has fed into the total operating costs faced by nearly all businesses, since these businesses need gasoline and heating oil to function. Businesses therefore try to cover their increased gasoline and heating oil costs by raising their prices.

Why We Need to Be Able to Say No at Work

By Kristof Calvo and Marguerite van den Berg - Green European Journal, January 26, 2022

For most of us, life revolves around our jobs. As a result, efforts to improve people’s lives have focused on improving working conditions rather than challenging the centrality of work in our lives. Sociologist Marguerite van den Berg sets out to do just this in her recent book Werk is geen oplossing [Work is Not a Solution]. In this conversation with Belgian green politician Kristof Calvo, she explains how workers can recognise and assert their power.

Kristof Calvo: You write that everyone is tired and that no one has time, yourself included. Where did you find the time to write this book?

Marguerite van den Berg: I had a six-month fellowship at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, and that gave me time to work on the book. But the pandemic shook things up. Suddenly everything that makes life worth living stopped – except for the work. I had to deal with that craziness. Suddenly I felt even greater urgency to write the book.

Every author has their own method. How did you work? With fixed days for writing or by finishing a short piece each day?

I already had some parts on paper, but I wrote as much as I could in the mornings. Our kids were still at home when my fellowship started in February 2021, but things improved from May onwards.

In your book, you argue for a different view: a shift from “I am tired” to “We are exhausted”. Is this the essence of your story?

Yes. I wanted to show that everyone is struggling on a personal level. Few dare to mention to anyone other than those close to them that they are worried about how they will get through the next week. I felt compelled to acknowledge this collective feeling of exhaustion as well as its political dimension. I specifically did not want to reduce it to the vulnerability and precariousness of certain groups. Exhaustion does not only occur on the “margins”; it is happening across the full breadth of society.

Your message is clear. You don’t spare anyone in your analysis.

I address everyone directly by using “we”. Where I make a distinction, as when I speak of a “boss”, it’s a deliberate choice; I’m not referring to the person but rather the hierarchies at work that demand more and more from us.

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Ecosocialism and Degrowth: a Reply

By Simon Butler - Climate and Capitalism, January 6, 2022

David Schwartzman makes some very good points about the ecological benefits of ending militarism. I was also pleased to read his arguments about the strong potential for 100% renewable energy to meet global energy needs, although I cannot judge if his specific calculations about global per-capita energy are correct.

I’m not a degrowther per se. I think the fundamental problem is capital accumulation, of which capitalist growth is a product, but there are some questionable aspects to Schwartzman’s critique.

First, there is a claim about political strategy: that degrowth will appeal only to “the professional class” (I suppose this means middle class/petty bourgeois/intellectuals etc) in the North and would alienate the “global working class.”

That’s a strange formulation because it seems obvious that it’s not the “global” working class that Schwartzman and similar critics are worried about convincing, but the working class in the North who, they fear, will be repelled by a message that emphasises sharing resources with people elsewhere. The degrowth answer to this is that living standards for working people in the North can still improve even if economic growth is halted, as long as there is significant wealth redistribution.

I suspect that hostility to degrowth ideas among some ecosocialists in the North is linked to glossing over the sharp inequalities that divide “the global working class.” Any worthwhile ecosocialist strategy must address the North’s unequal access to the South’s mineral resources & soil nutrients. We in the North cannot hope to form international alliances with mass movements in the South if we neglect to do this. It’s imperialism that so destructively distorts the economies (and political cultures) of the South and the North, producing glaring inequalities and reproducing the ecological rift on a global level.

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