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Jim Stanford lauds Canadian unions for their climate activism

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 6, 2021

Well-known Canadian unionist Jim Stanford gave a shout-out to Canadian labour unions in Canada’s Secret Weapon in Fighting Climate Change: Great Trade Unions” , posted in the Progressive Economics Forum on May 3. Stanford is well-placed to make the observations and analysis, after a long career and wealth of experience at Unifor – for example, he correctly recalls the genesis of “Just Transition” here : “For example, it is significant that one of the first uses of the phrase ‘just transition’ was by a Canadian union activist, Brian Kohler: a member of the former CEP who coined the phrase in 1998 to refer to the needed combination of planned energy transition, alternative job-creation, and income supports and transition assistance.”

In this brief Great Trade Unions article, he specifically cites the work of Unifor, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the Alberta Federation of Labour, and supports his assessment of “greatness” partly by citing the work of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change research project – specifically, the Green Agreements database. He states:

“….Many other unions in Canada have used their voices, their bargaining clout, and their political influence to advance progressive climate and jobs policies in their workplaces and industries. This database, compiled by the York University-based ACW research project, catalogues many innovative contract provisions negotiated by Canadian unions to improve environmental practices at workplaces, educate union members and employers about climate policy, and implement concrete provisions and supports (like job security and notice, retraining, and adjustment assistance) as energy transitions occur. It confirms that Canadian unions are very much ahead of the curve on these issues: playing a vital role in both winning the broader political debate over climate change, but then demanding and winning concrete measures (not token statements) to ensure that the energy transition is fair and inclusive.”

Stanford concludes with high praise for Canada’s unions

“Of course, the approach of Canadian unions to climate issues has not been perfect or uniform: there have been tensions and debates, and at times some unions have supported further fossil fuel developments on the faint hope that the insecurity facing their members could be solved by approval of just one more mega-project. But in general the Canadian union movement has been a consistent and progressive force in climate debates. The idea of a Canadian union endorsing a pro-jobs climate plan (like Biden’s) wouldn’t be news at all here. And that has undoubtedly helped us move the policy needle forward in Canada.

I have worked with unions in several countries around climate, employment and transition planning issues. In my experience, Canada’s trade union movement sets a very high standard with its positive and pro-active approach to these issues. Our campaigns for both sustainability and workers’ rights are stronger, thanks to our union movement’s activism, vision, and courage.”

Stanford now focuses on both the Canadian and Australian scenes, and posts his thoughts at the Centre for Future Work, where he is Director.

Environmental groups and Unifor agree: 60% emissions reduction goal is Canada’s Fair Share

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 5, 2021

Towards Canada’s Fair Share is a new report endorsed by seven of Canada’s leading environmental advocacy groups. It was released just before Prime Minister Trudeau’s announcement at the international Climate Summit on April 22-23 that Canada will increase its emissions reduction target to 40 – 45% of 2005 levels by 2030. Although this is an improvement on the target mentioned in Canada’s April 19th federal budget (36% below 2005 levels, it fails to match U.S. President Biden’s announcement of a 50% target, and is far below the more ambitious target proposed in Towards Canada’s Fair Share – a 60% emissions reduction by 2030. The report was based on modelling by EnviroEconomics and Navius, and endorsed by Climate Action Network Canada, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Stand, and West Coast Environmental Law.

A recent CBC report, “Union representing energy workers backs stronger emissions cuts — as long as there’s a transition plan” ( April 27), states that Unifor agrees with the Fair Share target of 60% by 2030 – “provided the right framework is in place to help its 12,000 members move out of the oil and gas sector.” The CBC quotes Unifor representative Joie Warnock: “Our members in the energy sector have a lot to say about the path to decarbonization. The pathway to a lower carbon economy goes directly through their livelihoods, through their lives, through their communities,…..We’re very concerned that the government hasn’t done the work to plan for a just transition.” The union accepts that an energy transition is underway, and is working to “get in front of it” – and not only for its members in the oil fields, but also for members in the auto industry, facing the transformation to electric vehicles.

The Blue New Deal: Making a Living on a Living Ocean

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network For Sustainability, May 5, 2021

Last year Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called for “A Blue New Deal for our Oceans.” Since then, there have been many additional proposals for a Blue New Deal–including measures that President Joe Biden could implement by executive order. Here’s the backstory of the Blue New Deal. Not surprisingly, it was a worker who inspired the idea.

Paraguay: The struggle for Food Sovereignty is the struggle for life.

By Perla Alvarez - La Via Campesina, May 4, 2021

Whether in the movement or outside of it, the word “agribusiness” brings to mind instant associations like “soybeans,” “Brazil,” or “the Mennonites.” Why? When did this word first enter common parlance? What are we actually saying when we use this word?

The word “business” is not an accidental component of this portmanteau word; on the contrary, it is central to the whole concept. Agribusiness embodies a different conception of the earth than the one upheld by peasants and Indigenous peoples. For agribusiness, the earth is a commodity, a product to be bought and sold and made profitable, to be commercially exploited. It is no longer seen as tekoha, the place where we are, where we live, produce, and reproduce, where we come into our own, in which our culture is rooted. No: for agribusiness, the earth and its capacity to support life are negotiable. They are measured in terms of uniformity, not diversity; in tonnes of grain, not seeds; in productivity, not safety; in dollars, not life; in contour lines, not disappearing species of trees and birds.

That is agribusiness: the capitalist exploitation of the earth, extracting from it anything that can generate a profit in record time. Agribusiness subjects the earth to “inhuman” treatment because for agribusiness, agriculture has nothing to do with humanity. What’s human about chemical fertilization, constant tillage with heavy machinery, backbreaking labour, the spraying of toxic compounds, an unswerving routine? That’s not how we provide food our bodies or care for our health, is it? But when agribusiness hears the word food, it thinks in terms of commodities. For agribusiness, the earth is not a living thing but a machine, and to be treated as such. It has been that way ever since capitalism set foot in the countryside. True, these tendencies were there earlier, but timidly, at various stages of production, when merchants refused to pay fair prices, or when they started selling seeds, or when they presented themselves as the peasants’ allies and starting hawking poisons. With the rise of agribusiness, this mentality invaded the countryside and stealthily changed everything, even the way we think.

What do I mean by “changed the way we think”? In general, when we talk of agribusiness, we refer to large commercial plantations. But we also see its effects in the luxury vans cruising through villages, in fantastical-looking, robot-like tractors roaming the streets and kicking up so much dust we have to stay indoors. We see the elements of “success” and we think to ourselves: “So much money made in so little time… Why work so hard, if poisons and machines will make you rich?” We think that maybe, if we emulate this model, we’ll get rich too. Or we take a stab at it and become divorced from our communities; we stop being communitarians and start being landowners. We start using “weedkillers” so we can stop hoeing; we buy genetically modified seeds; we go into debt to buy biotoxins; we get someone to harrow so we don’t have to plough. We lease tractors because we can’t afford to buy them, and can’t get a bank loan without giving our land as collateral (but we don’t have the deed). We secretly take after agribusiness, whom we personify as a successful businessman, a role model. So when agribusiness colonized the countryside, it also colonized minds. It planted genetically modified seeds in the countryside and planted new ideas in our heads. As a complex process of rural capitalist accumulation, agribusiness applies costly, high-tech recipes (machinery, hybrid or GM seeds, biotoxins, trucks, etc). It looks easy and attractive on the surface, and that’s how it took hold of our minds. It occupied the countryside, displacing communities, and it occupied our thoughts, displacing knowledge. What we knew became old hat, a thing of the past, for Luddites only. The result, for rural peoples, for peasant and Indigenous communities, has been depopulation of the countryside, disappearance of wild land, lost seed varieties, and changes in food customs. And we didn’t turn into the nouveau riche, not by a long shot. Instead we were impoverished, lost our land, had our knowledge taken from us. Only the old rich kept getting richer, while a few others managed to sweep up some of the crumbs. And all this is by design: The purpose of agribusiness isn’t to enrich us but to fill the coffers of investment banks and multinationals.

New Analysis Estimates an Equitable Energy Economy will Require $33 Billion to $83 Billion Investment in Workers

By staff - Utility Workers Union of America, May 4, 2021

As the Biden administration considers federal resources for coal workers and their communities, the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) urge a set of comprehensive supports estimated to cost between $33 billion over 25 years to $83 billion over 15 years. The analysis, Supporting the Nation’s Coal Workers and Communities in a Changing Energy Landscape, underscores that a fair and equitable shift to a low-carbon economy requires intentional, robust, and sustained investments in coal workers, their families, and their communities.

Coal-fired electricity is down to 20 percent today from about half of the nation’s electricity generation a decade ago. With more closures on the horizon, a sustained and comprehensive set of supports is needed to ensure individuals who have powered America for generations can stay in their communities, prepare for new careers with family-sustaining wages, and can retire with dignity.

“For decades, the coal industry has simply locked its doors and forgotten the individuals and communities who rely on the coal industry and who exist in almost every state across the country,” said UWUA President James Slevin. “Approaching these closures with the right set of economic supports offers a better alternative to the chaos and devastation we’re seeing today.”

Recognizing coal and mining facilities often directly employ hundreds of individuals and many more indirectly across several counties, the economic and social infrastructure of a region undergoes lasting changes when facilities close.

“The economic upheaval resulting from the dramatic job losses in the coal industry over the last decade has uprooted families, deepened economic anxiety, and left community leaders scrambling to keep schools open and social services in place,” said report co-author Jeremy Richardson, a UCS senior energy analyst who comes from a family of coal miners. “But solutions are readily available with forward-looking and visionary action by policymakers.”

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition’s Earth Day Strike

By Cal Colgan - Industrial Worker, May 4, 2021

The nonprofit industry in the U.S. has seen an upswing of organizing drives in the past few years, with a growing number of the industry’s workers viewing unionization as the best way to ensure that the NGOs for which they work live up to their progressive ideals. Few of the mainstream labor unions that are leading this organizing wave, however, have bothered to reach out to nonprofit workers in West Virginia. The staff at a small environmental justice nonprofit are hoping that their example of organizing with the Industrial Workers of the World can inspire other nonprofit workers in the Mountain State. 

Workers at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) staged a one-day strike this past Earth Day, April 22, to demand that their Board of Directors voluntarily recognize their union, known as the OVEC Union. The staff publicly announced their decision to organize with the IWW on March 4. The workers said the backlash they have received from some of OVEC’s board members is what sparked them to strike. 

Dustin White, OVEC’s Project Coordinator, said that the workers’ decision to unionize started as a series of conversations between the workers about the organization’s future.

“We knew that in a few years we may be expanding our staff and we would have a new executive director and, honoring the values we have as an organization, a union seemed like the logical next step in the progress of our organization and work,” he said.

White also noted that West Virginians’ experience with federal and state governments’ attacks on progressive values inspired the OVEC workers to reflect on issues around equity and diversity within their organization.  “A union was the logical next step into creating a stronger OVEC to create an even more equitable workplace than we already had, not just for us, but for any and all new staff.”

The OVEC Union workers said they chose to organize with the West Virginia IWW General Membership Branch both because of the union’s willingness to help them immediately and because of the IWW’s history of organizing some of the most marginalized and disadvantaged workers in the working class.

Beyond Coal: Why South Africa Should Reform and Rebuild Its Public Utility

By Dominic Brown - New Labor Forum, May 2021

Despite 2020’s record fall in carbon dioxide emissions—largely due to extensive and repeated “lockdowns” of cities, plus dramatic decreases in air travel and the use of motor vehicles[1]—the world is far from making the changes necessary to avert climate catastrophe. The fact that the shutdowns over periods of last year had a marginal effect in the fight against climate catastrophe at best illustrates the enormity of the task that lies ahead. According to a 2019 report from the World Meteorological Organization, “time is fast running out,”[2] while Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), observes “The pandemic and its aftermath can suppress emissions, but low economic growth is not a low emissions strategy. Only an acceleration in structural changes to the way the world produces and consumes energy can break the emissions trend for good.”[3]

In addition to ravaging health systems, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated food and housing insecurity, deepened unemployment, and put a spotlight on existing inequalities. In South Africa, growing awareness of these problems has brought renewed hope in the possibility of a response to the pandemic crisis that could aim for a “just transition” to a low-carbon economy. Like other countries, South Africa is in desperate need of an energy transition. The South African economy remains disproportionately energy intensive[4] (although it is becoming less so), per capita emissions remain high,[5] and the country is the fourteenth largest contributor to global carbon emissions.[6] This energy and emissions profile reflects the historical and continuing dominance of the country’s “minerals-energy complex” (“MEC”)[7] which is supported by cheap electricity generated mostly from low-quality coal, while higher quality coal is exported.

Beyond its detrimental ecological impacts, South Africa’s MEC is deeply intertwined with the legacy of cheap Black labor in the mines and the formation of racialized capitalism. This structure of South Africa’s economy underpins the country’s massive inequality, serious health impacts for many thousands of people in mining affected communities, and the country’s disproportionate contribution to global emissions. This is why the shift to renewable energy (RE) in South Africa must include measures to ensure a just transition that leaves no worker or community behind while working to reverse the legacy of mass unemployment and deep socioeconomic inequalities.

The Political Economy of South Africa’s Energy Crisis

Since coming to power in 1994, South Africa’s government has promised “electricity for all” as a critical component in undoing the gross disparities of apartheid. This commitment has produced a dramatic rise in grid connections, such that more than 80 percent of households were connected to the grid by 2015, up from only 30 percent in 1994. Harder to shift have been the persistent levels of poverty and inequality. South Africa’s “Gini coefficient”— a global measure of inequality—today places the country as the world’s second most unequal, after neighboring Lesotho. With current unemployment at over 40 percent, many households cannot afford electricity, even when they are connected to the grid. The introduction of a provision for free basic electricity in 2004 was a step in the right direction, but at just 50 kWh per month for poor households that is insufficient to meet even basic requirements.

Since coming to power in 1994, South Africa’s government has promised “electricity for all” as a critical component in undoing the gross disparities of Apartheid.

Making matters worse, South Africa’s stateowned power utility, Eskom—which generates over 90 percent of energy consumed in the country—is in deep crisis. Eskom’s crisis has multiple dimensions and various causes, both internal and external, including (1) the 1980s era commercialization of Eskom; (2) postapartheid commitments to provide electricity to the majority of the country previously excluded, under the full cost recovery (FCR) model where the excluded majority are unable to afford rising electricity prices; (3) underinvestment in the utility’s infrastructure, particularly in building new capacity to meet increased demand; (4) conversion of the utility in 2002 to a public corporation, forcing it to pay taxes as well as dividends for the first time since its establishment almost a century earlier; (5) Eskom’s rising debt, dominated by foreign currency borrowed against the weak rand (R); (6) expensive coal contracts with windfall profits, signed in the name of promoting Black ownership in the coal industry; and (7) dramatic increases in the price of low-quality coal, upon which Eskom depends to generate electricity.[8]

Ireland’s Energy System: The Historical Case for Hope in Climate Action

By Sinéad Mercier - New Labor Forum, May 17, 2021

For thirty years, governments have been promising climate action. They seem incapable of undertaking the necessary major shifts in their energy systems required by the 2015 Paris Agreement. They also seem incapable of delivering on climate targets in a manner that both “leaves no one behind” and “reaches the furthest behind first,” as required by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also agreed in 2015. In Ireland, we fall continually to the bottom of the rankings in climate action, with the current Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Green Party coalition government failing to achieve a mere 16 percent target of renewable energy by 2020.[1]

There are lessons to be learned from the past. One hundred years ago, the two civil war parties—Fine Gael (then Cumann na nGaedheal) and Fianna Fáil—were united in their commitment to a state-owned energy system with an objective of universal access, public good, and public value. Irish state electricity generation started out in 1929 as being from almost 100 percent renewable sources.[2] The historical development of Ireland’s own energy system can be a model for a successful, fast paced national delivery program for a just transition and energy democracy. Ireland has previously made sweeping changes to the energy system, in a time of far greater difficulty, fewer resources, and almost intractable political fragility. The example is the establishment of the country’s—and the world’s—first state-owned national energy company, the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), and its roll-out of universal access to affordable electricity through the Rural Electrification Scheme (RES).

Administering Dreams

The Ireland of the 1920s presented unlikely circumstances for ambitious national projects of any kind. After three years of guerrilla warfare against the British Crown forces, a form of independence had been achieved by 1922. The young Irish Free State government of freedom fighters and idealists was to set out on its own with little source of economic development beyond the sale of cattle to Britain and with much of its populace in extreme poverty. In 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, giving independence to twenty six counties and leaving the six counties in the north east of Ireland under British rule. The signing of the Treaty caused a split in the founding Sinn Féin party between those opposing and supporting the Treaty. This sparked a bitter civil war from June 1922 to May 1923 that has marked Irish politics for a century. The pro-Treaty element formed Cumann na nGaedheal, today the centerright (Christian Democrat) party Fine Gael. A group of republicans led by Éamon de Valera broke away from Sinn Féin in 1926 and formed Fianna Fáil,[3] in protest at the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown, which all members of Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament) were obliged to take. The Cumann na nGaedheal party was in office from 1922 to 1932. Laissez-faire economic and commercial orthodoxies of the 1920s, inherited from the British administration, and a reinstated civil service were largely the global order of the day.

One hundred years ago, the two civil war parties . . . were united in their commitment to a state-owned energy system with an objective of universal access, public good, and public value.

However, the young state took on a number of major interventions in the economy. Most notable were the Land Commission and the creation of Ireland’s state energy company, the ESB, and its primary power source, the Ardnacrusha Hydroelectric Power Station on the Shannon River—also known as the “Shannon Scheme.”[4] To deliver Ardnacrusha’s energy to the public, in 1927 the government established its first Irish state company, the ESB, through the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1927. This was to be the first national electricity service in the world, with full responsibility for the generation, transmission, distribution, and marketing o electricity.[5] From its beginnings, the aim of the ESB was not-for-profit, universal, and affordable access to electricity; “strong on technical expertise, with set targets and with the muscle, dynamism and freedom to achieve these targets.”[6] Attempts had been made to attract foreign investors, particularly from the United States, but “most of the big corporations objected to the government’s stipulation that unprofitable rural lines might have to be built without any guaranteed government subsidy.”[7] The Irish electricity industry had been in existence for forty years, yet the vast majority of the population had been left in darkness and drudgery. As a result of these failings, the fledgling Department of Industry and Commerce concluded that confining the ESB to mere distribution of the energy from the Shannon Scheme was likely to place the whole enterprise in “immediate jeopardy.”[8] The government therefore nationalized what was a piecemeal mess of three hundred expensive, “badly run,” inefficient private and local authority undertakings.[9]

Rutgers Divests!

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 2021

Members of Rutgers American Association of University Professors – American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) are joining with student allies in celebrating a vote to divest from fossil fuels by the Rutgers Board of Governors and Board of Trustees.

The decision, set in motion last year by a formal request from a broad student coalition, backed by Rutgers unions, will commit the university to cutting financial connections to any company or investment fund whose primary business is in oil, coal, or natural gas, from exploration and extraction to pipelines and transportation.

Divestment is the culmination of years of efforts by students, faculty, and staff to get Rutgers to take concrete action toward the goal of climate justice, said David Hughes, past president and current treasurer of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union representing full-time faculty and graduate workers. “This is seven-and-a-half years in the making,” Hughes said, “and it will give greater strength to the divestment movement at exactly the moment when the new Biden administration is beginning to take up climate change.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten also highlighted the years of organizing. “The university community at Rutgers has shown that when people come together around an issue like climate sustainability, change is possible,” Weingarten said. “Hopefully the work Rutgers is doing on fossil fuel divestment will set a standard for other institutions. For our universities to truly become institutions of climate mitigation and resiliency, we must also invest in solarizing buildings and other measures that generate clean energy.”

Does Shale Gas Extraction Grow Jobs?

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