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Food Sovereignty Is About Deciding To Change the World

By Pancha Rodríguez - La Via Campesina, April 27, 2021

To celebrate April 17th, International Day of Peasant Struggle, Capire publishes this interview with Pancha Rodríguez, a member of the Latin American Coordination of Countryside Organizations (Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo—CLOC-La Via Campesina) and of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women of Chile (Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Rurales e Indígenas—ANAMURI). Pancha spoke about a long personal and collective journey of struggle for food sovereignty, feminism, and socialism.

First of all, please introduce yourself, looking back at your struggle as a militant and your life story.

I’m Luz Francisca Rodríguez, and everyone knows me as Pancha, which is short for Francisco and Francisca in our country. I come from a rural village that is now part of the city, because as the city expands, it takes over a big part of the countryside and the sectors that used to feed the villages. This forces me to be constantly migrating from the city. I’m someone who doesn’t have much formal education, but I have a great contribution regarding social, political, ideological, and cultural education within the movement.

I’m a flower farmer—this was my contradiction, I produced flowers, not food. When I was young, my work was dedicated to what now may be called a seasonal worker. I was a farmer, a gatherer. We started with the beans and worked our way to the vineyards.

Since I was very little, I had to take care of my home. I worked in different areas, including seasonal work in the countryside and working several different jobs in the winter. I worked for two years at a casino, the post office, and the telegraph office. Then I started to work in the union, at the youth department of the CUT [Unified Workers’ Central]. At age twelve, I joined the Communist Youth, and I’m “old school”: I’m part of the Communist Party, I do militant work in a cell, I pay my dues, I buy the newspaper, I study, I don’t hold big positions in the party, but I’m dedicated to the organization.

I was the woman in charge of the Communist Youth national office in its Central Committee, I worked a lot with the Women’s Front of the Popular Unity for the people’s government, I was one of the sisters working side by side with great women who built the first Women’s Department in the Allende administration, working for the Ministry of Women. Later, when I went underground, I worked with human rights supporting women who were building collectives with partners of political prisoners and victims of forced disappearance, with political prisoners, and family members in exile.

As of 1979, I was no longer underground and I joined the work of the Peasant Confederation of El Surco, now Ranquil, and became the female head. In 1988, when the “no” plebiscite was about to be held, my partner was elected secretary of the International Union of Agriculture, Forests, and Crops, which at the time was part of the World Federation of Trade Unions. I was in charge of the Women’s Matters office. From this process, I went on to build the campaign to commemorate the 500 years of Indigenous, peasant, Black, and grassroots resistance, and then the constitution of the CLOC and La Vía Campesina, always developing work with women in the organization, side by side with young sisters who come from feminist movements and organizations.

Just transition needed in transit electrification, labor leaders say

By Chris Teale - Utility Dive, April 27, 2021

Dive Brief:

  • As public transit agencies electrify their bus fleets and other vehicles, they must ensure a just transition to protect workers who may be put out of work by the new technologies, transportation labor groups warned Monday.
  • In a joint policy statement, leaders of two unions that represent transportation workers — the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU), alongside the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO (TTD) — said transit agencies should be required to show the workforce impacts of buying electric vehicles (EVs), establish a national workforce training center to train current employees on those systems and guarantee that workers will be represented on task forces and committees around climate change and technology.
  • The groups cautioned that if the federal government fails to mandate worker protections as transit agencies electrify their operations, major job losses could result, while a lack of training programs could leave workers unprepared for the next generation of vehicles.

Read the remainder of the article here.

You can’t fix what’s meant to be broken

By D'Arcy Briggs - Spring, April 22, 2021

Regarding the battle against climate change, there is a common liberal argument that says we simply need an improvement in technology, or to push market investments to companies already producing this kind of tech. We’re seeing a boom in renewable energy investment, with many groups clamoring to add these companies to their portfolios. But this push towards new technologies doesn’t exist in an economic vacuum. They are directly informed by the labour processes which create them. No matter how many wind farms or electric cars we create, capitalism will necessarily find a way to destroy us.

Because capitalism is in a constant state of over-production, there is a drive to replace old goods with new ones. If we were happy with the amount and quality of products we fill our lives with, and if we could replace them among our own means, consumer capitalism wouldn’t be able to exist. I think this is pretty self evident and we can easily relate. We are constantly bombarded with ads for new products: phones with better cameras, computers with faster processors, cars with stronger engines, etc. Capitalism can’t function in a world with clean, ‘green,’ energy. It can’t function in a world where the working class are given the tools to function and thrive. Simply put, you can’t fix what’s meant to be broken.

Mineworkers Union Supports Biden's Green Energy Plan

By Brian Young - ucommBlog, April 21, 2021

One of the biggest impediments to President Biden’s climate plan has done a 180 and is now supporting the plan.

The United Mineworkers of America (UMWA) announced this week that they support the President’s green energy policies in exchange for a robust transition strategy. The union hopes that this will mean more jobs for their members as it becomes clear that more industries are moving away from coal. The move by the UMWA is especially important as they have a close working relationship with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin whose support will be needed to pass any green energy plan. Manchin is also the Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The union is also calling on Congress to allocate funds to train miners for good-paying jobs with benefits in renewable energy sectors.

President Biden has proposed allocating $16 billion to reclaim abandoned mines and to plug leaking gas and oil wells. This would not only provide bridge jobs for workers in areas like West Virginia, but it would also address serious environmental issues that these abandoned mines and wells are causing.

Mineworkers President Cecil Roberts said in a live-streamed event with the National Press Club that coal jobs decreased by 7,000 last year leaving only about 34,000 active coal miners in the United States.

“Change is coming, whether we seek it or not. Too many inside and outside the coalfields have looked the other way when it comes to recognizing and addressing specifically what that change must be, but we can look away no longer,” the United Mineworkers stated. “We must act, while acting in a way that has real, positive impact on the people who are most affected by this change.”

“We have to think about the people who have already lost their jobs,” Roberts said. “I’m for any jobs that we can create that would be good-paying jobs for our brothers and sisters who have lost them in the UMWA. As we confront a next wave of energy transition, we must take steps now to ensure that things do not get worse for coal miners, their families, and communities, but in fact get better."

To help these workers through a just transition, the union is proposing significant increases in federal funding for carbon capture technology and storage research and development funding. They are also calling for building out a carbon capture infrastructure such as pipelines and injection wells. This would allow coal-fired plants to remain open, but they would have to install technology that would capture emissions and store them underground instead of in the atmosphere.

Earth Day, Labor, and Me

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 21, 2021

The approach of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 provides us an opportunity to reflect on the “long, strange trip” shared by the environmental movement and the labor movement over four decades here on Spaceship Earth.

A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world. But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!”

Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO. Walter Ruther, President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2000 to help kick the effort off ““ to be followed by much more. Hayes recalls:

“The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial. It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars. Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence. And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut.”

Some people may be surprised to learn that a labor union played such a significant role in the emergence of the modern environmental movement. When they think of organized labor, they think of things like support for coal and nuclear power plants and opposition to auto emissions standards.

When it comes to the environment, organized labor has two hearts beating within a single breast. On the one hand, the millions of union members are people and citizens like everybody else, threatened by air and water pollution, dependent of fossil fuels, and threatened by the devastating consequences of climate change. On the other hand, unions are responsible for protecting the jobs of their members, and efforts to protect the environment sometimes may threaten workers’ jobs. First as a working class kid and then as a labor official, I’ve been dealing with the two sides of this question my whole life.

Bristol Earth Strike: Action for Earth Day

By Earth Strike UK - Bristol Earth Strike, April 21, 2021

What is Earth Day?

Earth Day was started on 22nd April 1970 and has continued annually since then. Each year, on 22nd April, a wide range of events take place globally with the aims of enacting transformative changes to tackle environmental crises and build a sustainable future.

Why is this important?

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned us that we must cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, and reach carbon neutrality by 2050, or we risk the planet heating beyond 1.5 degrees. If we fail to curb our carbon emissions and the average global temperature continues to increase, we risk triggering a climate breakdown that we will have no hope of stopping, causing global devastation.

Despite this stark warning by the scientific community, many governments and employers continue to act as if there were no crisis at all.

To bring about the change needed will require holding all sectors of the global economy accountable for their role in the environmental crisis and calling for bold, creative, and impactful solutions. This will require action at all levels, and we as workers have a part to play in ensuring a global just transition, the sustainability of our workplaces, and the compliance of our industries with scientific climate targets.

Regardless of how important you feel the Climate and Ecological emergency is, changes to the economy to address these issues are already happening. We feel it is important that Workers are fully involved in how these changes happen so that they can secure the rights and livelihoods of themselves and future generations.

Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition

By staff - United Mineworkers of America, April 20, 2021

At the end of 2011, nearly 92,000 people worked in the American coal industry, the most since 1997. Coal production in the United States topped a billion tons for the 21st consecutive year. Both thermal and metallurgical coal were selling at premium prices, and companies were making record profits.

Then the bottom fell out. The global economy slowed, putting pressure on steelmaking and metallurgical coal production. Foreign competition from China, Australia, India and elsewhere cut into met coal production.

Domestically, huge increases in production from newly-tapped natural gas fields, primarily as a result of hydraulic fracturing of deep shale formations, caused the price of gas to drop below that of coal for the first time in years. As a result, utilities began switching the fuel used to generate electricity from coal to gas. An enlarging suite of environmental regulations also adversely impacted coal usage, production and employment.

By 2016, just 51,800 people were working in the coal industryii. 40,000 jobs had been
lost.

Companies went bankrupt. Retirees’ hard-won retiree health care and pensions were threatened. Active union miners saw their collective bargaining agreements – including provisions that had been negotiated over decades -- thrown out by federal bankruptcy courts. Nonunion miners had no recourse in bankruptcy courts and were forced to accept whatever scraps their employers chose to throw their way.

Since 2012, more than 60 coal companies have filed either for Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy or Chapter 7 liquidation. Almost no company has been immune.

In 2017 and again in 2019, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and its bipartisan allies in Congress, led by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), successfully preserved the retiree health care and pensions that the government had promised and tens of thousands of miners had earned in sweat and blood.

The UMWA was successful in preserving union recognition, our members’ jobs and reasonable levels of pay and benefits at every company as they emerged from bankruptcy, but in no case has the contract that came out of bankruptcy been the same as the one our members enjoyed when a company went into bankruptcy

Read the text (PDF).

Freight Automation: Dangers, Threats, and Opportunities for Health and Equity

By staff - RAMP, HIP, and Moving Forward Network, April 20, 2021

The freight transportation system in the United States is a fundamental part of our economy, infrastructure and environment, but many freight system frontline workers labor in arduous conditions yet receive low wages and limited benefits.

Freight Automation: Dangers, Threats, and Opportunities for Health and Equity explores how automation in the freight transportation system affects the health of workers, communities, and the environment—and also how these effects will be inequitably felt by people with low incomes and communities of color. Created PHI’s Regional Asthma Management and Prevention, Moving Forward Network, Human Impact Partners and community partners, the report also provides recommendations for policies and programs that promote health and equity for frontline workers and fence-line communities.

Read the text (PDF).

Don’t call it a Just Transition: United Mineworkers announce Principles for Preserving Coal Country

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, April 20, 2021

United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts was accompanied by West Virginia’s senior Senator Joe Manchin on April 19 when he announced the UMWA’s new principles for addressing climate change and the energy transition. Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition is built on three goals: “preserve coal jobs, create new jobs, and preserve coalfield families and communities.” The UMWA statement calls for specific steps to achieve those goals, including enhanced incentives for carbon capture and storage research, with a goal of commercial demonstration of utility-scale coal-fired CCS by 2030; tax incentives for build-out of renewable supply-chain manufacturing in coalfield areas, with hiring preference for dislocated miners and families; and provision of wage replacement, family health care coverage, and pension credit/401(k) contribution, as well as tuition aid. For the community, the principles call for direct grants to coalfield counties/ communities/school districts to replace lost tax revenues for 20-year period, as well as targeted investment in infrastructure rehabilitation and development – roads, bridges, broadband, schools, health care facilities. 

The document concludes with a statement of willingness to work with Congress, President Biden, and other unions, and with this: “This cannot be the sort of “just transition” wishful thinking so common in the environmental community. There must be a set of specific, concrete actions that are fully-funded and long-term. The easiest and most efficient way to fund this would be through a “wires” charge on retail electric power sales, paid by utility customers, which would add about two-tenths of one cent per kilowatt hour to the average electric bill. This would amount to less than $3.00 per month for the average residential ratepayer.”

Summaries appeared in: “Miners’ union backs shift from coal in exchange for jobs” from Associated Press, published in the Toronto Star; “Surprise news from the miners union gives Democrats an opening against Trumpism” in the Washington Post; “A coal miners union indicates it will accept a switch to renewable energy in exchange for jobs” in the New York Times, and “America’s largest coal mining union supports clean energy (with conditions)” in Grist.

At the same press conference on April 19, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin announced that he will co-sponsor the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, as reported by Reuters here. Passage of the PRO Act is also one of the action items in the Mine Workers Preserving Coal Country statement, and a key goal for American unions.

Equitable energy transition will require more than funding and job training, researchers say

By Emma Penrod - Utility Dive, April 19, 2021

Dive Brief:

  • To achieve social and economic equity goals, organizations should focus on tightening policies around qualifications and livable wages for employees and contractors, according to a new guide from Inclusive Economics and the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge.

  • Previous attempts to invest in education and workforce education actually backfired, driving down wages and trapping workers in dead-end jobs, according to according to Betony Jones, founder of research and consulting firm Inclusive Economics.

  • Governments and utilities that want to increase economic equity must find ways to make jobs more selective, which spurs income creation, without causing those jobs to become exclusionary toward disadvantaged populations, Jones said.

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