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green unionism

Australian unions advocating for Just Transition, economic recovery, and decent jobs in renewables

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

As Australia endures more record-breaking heat in its current summer season, the Climate Council released a report in January: Hitting Home: the Compounding Costs of Climate Inaction, which catalogues the natural disasters and their toll on the country. New Climate Change legislation was introduced in November 2020 which would legislate a net zero emissions target by 2050 and establish a system of emissions budgeting. A Parliamentary House committee has just concluded public hearings on the legislation, to which the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) submitted a brief: No-one left behind: Australia’s transition to zero emissions . The ACTU chiefly calls for improved supports for workers in an energy transition, and the establishment of a national Just Transition or Energy Transition Authority . (The ACTU passed a more detailed climate and energy transition policy statement in 2018 )

In November 2020, the ACTU also published Sharing the benefits with workers: A decent jobs agenda for the renewable energy industry, which provides an overview of the renewable energy sector in Australia, and features both best and worst workplace practices. The report proposes an agenda to improve the quality of jobs, with special attention to the small-scale solar industry. “Particular attention is paid to the current practice of outsourcing construction of renewable energy projects to labour hire contractors, which is where many of the poor employment practices occur, and to ensuring project developers are maximising local job creation through procurement, hiring and local content planning.”

In August, the Victoria Trades Hall Council, released Transition from Crisis: Victoria Trades Hall Council’s Just Transition & Economic Recovery Strategy which links climate change and Covid-19 in words that could apply in any country:

“….The scale of the fiscal response to COVID-19 shows that, when a government takes a problem seriously and commits to dealing with it, the finances to get the problem fixed can be found and the spending is supported by the general population. The implications for action on climate change are obvious. …..The trauma, disruption and dislocation caused by COVID-19 are unprecedented outside of war time. The response, with its restrictions of civil liberties and suppression of economic activity, has been necessary, proportionate to the threat, and largely accepted by the population. The deep irony is that acting proportionately to deal with climate change would require none of those infringements of liberties and would produce an economic transformation that would leave Victorians better off. Hence this strategy is not simply for a just transition but for an economic recovery and the reconstruction of Victoria. In the period of recovery, after COVID-19 has been brought under control, we must learn the lessons from the virus response, continue to mobilise the resources we need, build on the incredible growth in community spirit and mutual aid, and get to work to deal with climate change with a determination that is based on hope and necessary action for a better world. “

The Transition from Crisis report has many purposes, but ultimately it is a comprehensive discussion of policy ideas to help the transition to a socially just and sustainable society, with workers at the centre. The strategy is built on eleven principles, which include inclusion of First Nations, gender equality, social equity, and new energy ownership models, among others. The report discusses the many ways in which unions can advocate for climate change action and protect their members: through participation in tri-partite industrial planning, training and retraining, occupational health and safety protection, collective bargaining, and union networking and cooperation. Regarding union cooperation for example, the VTHC pledges “to participate in, or establish if needed, national and state level just transitions committees to formulate policies around just transition, provide support to individual unions, engage with state climate and environment organisations, and provide a conduit into national-level decision making.”

Response to Greg Butler's critique of the Green New Deal and the Rank-and-File Strategy

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, February 7, 2021

As stated in our standard disclaimer (at the end of this editorial), the opinions expressed in this text are those of the author alone and do not represent the official position of the IWW or the IWW Environmental Union Caucus. This piece includes very strongly worded opinions, therefore the author deemed it best to emphasize that point.

There are certainly plenty of constructive, comradely criticisms of the Green New Deal, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Kim Moody's "Rank-and-File Strategy", The North American Building Trades Unions, and Jacobin (none of which are either mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive). Unfortunately, Greg Butler's The Green New Deal and the "Rank-and-File Strategy", published on December 17, 2020, by Organizing Work, is not a good example. In fact, Butler's piece is little more than a sectarian swipe at a number of targets which are only indirectly related to each other, and worse still, it's full of inaccuracies and unfounded claims that have no evidence to support them.

Canadian steel, concrete, aluminum and wood: low carbon solutions for public infrastructure

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 2, 2021

In a February 1 press release, Ken Neumann, National Director for Canada of the United Steelworkers says, “We need our governments to support the creation and retention of good jobs by strengthening Canadian industrial and manufacturing capacities in ways that support the low-carbon transition of the economy”. To support that point, Blue Green Canada has released a new report, Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution . Buy Clean calls for the use of Canadian-made building products in infrastructure in order to reap the dual benefit of reducing carbon emissions and supporting local industry and jobs. The USW press release continues: “Buy Clean makes sense for Canada because it leverages our carbon advantage. Whether its steel, aluminum, cement or wood, building materials sourced from within Canada are typically lower carbon than imported materials” – thanks largely to our low-emissions energy supply and reduced transportation costs. The report recommends that all levels of government continue and expand the use of Buy Clean policies for procurement. The report also calls for an Industrial Decarbonization Strategy to encourage technological innovation in the manufacture of steel, aluminum, concrete and wood , and for a “Clean Infrastructure Challenge Fund” , to act as a demonstration fund modelled on the Low Carbon Economy Challenge, but available only for public infrastructure projects, not to private industry.

Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution is also available in a French-language version, Acheter Propre: Créer des emplois et réduire la pollution par une utilisation judicieuse des fonds publics en construction . The report includes appendices for each of the sectors, providing brief but specific summaries of how Canadian industry has already achieved lower carbon processes than their competitors – particularly in steel and aluminum, and what further decarbonization opportunities remain.

The Buy Clean message seems closely related to the Stand Up for Steel national campaign by the United Steelworkers, which also calls for the use of Canadian-made steel in infrastructure projects. After the disruptive tariffs levied by the previous U.S. administration, the Stand up for Steel Action Plan also calls for the right for unions to initiate trade cases; for expanding the definition of ‘material injury’ in trade cases; and for a carbon border adjustment on imported steel.

From 1955 to Today, Recognition of Struggle is Key to Transit Equity

By Leo Blain - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 2021

What were you doing when you were 15? Homework, sports, parties, dances: these are standard fare for 15 year-olds. 

Claudette Colvin was no standard 15-year old, though. When she was 15, she sat down on a Montgomery, Alabama bus and refused to give up her seat to a white person. She was arrested and wrongfully charged with assault and battery. Despite being just 15 at the time of her arrest, Colvin was booked into a cell in Montgomery’s adult jail. When Colvin’s pastor, Reverend H.H. Johnson bailed her out the evening of her arrest, he told her that she had “just brought the revolution to Montgomery.”

And, she did it on March 2, 1955: Nine months before Rosa Parks’ similar and much more famous action. 

Colvin brought a lawsuit along with three other women that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and led to the legal desegregation of the Montgomery bus system. When the Montgomery bus system was desegregated Colvin wasn’t invited on the first desegregated bus. Neither was Parks. In fact, none of the women who were among the first to be arrested in protest of the segregated bus system were invited. Five men took the first ride: Martin Luther King Jr., E. D. Nixon, Ralph Abernathy, and Glenn Smiley, and Colvin’s lawyer, Fred Gray. [2]

Spurred by what she had learned in Black history classes at school, Colvin was the first person to be arrested for refusal to surrender in Montgomery. She was the first person in Montgomery to make a legal claim that transit segregation violated her constitutional rights. The contemporary civil rights movement starts with Claudette Colvin’s act of near-unconscionable bravery, yet she has been largely erased from the history books. 

After Colvin’s arrest, she was ostracized by many community members and struggled to find work after high school. She got pregnant soon after her arrest, and due to her pregnancy and the preference of civil rights leaders for Rosa Parks as the face of the boycott, Colvin was largely cast aside by the very movement she had sparked. Ultimately, her perception in Montgomery became untenable and she moved to the Bronx where she worked in relative obscurity as a nurse. 

In recent years, though, Ms. Colvin has found a champion in movement leaders such as Samuel Jordan, founder of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition. For Jordan, telling Colvin’s story is both long overdue and a critical piece of his work towards transit equity in Baltimore and nationwide. Baltimore has a pattern of public transit policy that is harmful to marginalized residents and has been used to manipulate Black youth. If Claudette Colvin’s story of taking a bold stand against transit inequity can get the attention it deserves, maybe the young people who are victims of transit inequity today can have their voices heard too. 

Essential Workers and Renewable Energy: Key Themes During Community Hearing on Transit Equity

By Judy Asman - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2021

Right: Placards created by Charleston, South Carolina-based transit riders advocacy group Best Friends of Low Country Transit that were displayed on bus seats to honor Rosa Parks on her Birthday, Transit Equity Day. To see full media coverage of actions like these, click here.

With nearly eight hours of testimony by more than 50 essential workers and riders, both live and pre-recorded, the Community Hearing on Transit Equity, which took place on Feb. 3 and Feb. 4, provided an intentional space for those wanting to share their plights brought on by transit service cuts during the pandemic and with greater threats to transit funding.

The Hearing kicked off with an opening panel, welcoming movement leaders such as International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth Kirk of the Amalgamated Transit Union—a founding union of Transit Equity Day, which takes place on Feb. 4, Rosa Parks’ birthday, each year. International Secretary-Treasurer Kirk lifted up Ms. Parks’ act of resistance, which taught us: “Each of us must choose, whether to move or not,” as he underscored transit equity as a civil right. He also talked about transit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with busses emitting “80% less carbon dioxide” than cars and that busses can also offset traffic congestion.

Kathi Zoern, a transit rider in Wasau, Wisconsin, who is visually impaired, called her bus pass her “car keys to independence.” Passionately emphasizing that transit and transit workers are “essential,” Zoern, stressed that those living in “outlying communities,” three miles from a bus stop, who are unable to drive or who cannot afford a car “cannot get to work, go to school, shopping, medical appointments or go to places to socialize.”

Jonathan Smith, President, New York Metro Area Postal Union Local 10, of the American Postal Workers Union, reminded viewers and listeners that postal workers help to “preserve democracy, and we are proud to do it.” He added, “Many of our members rely on the bus and the train to get to work and to their families, and their families also rely on these services as well. If it were not for the transit in our city, we would not be able to process your mail.”

The hearing also highlighted collaborations that have formed as a result of frustrations with transit authorities and extreme pressure on transit workers with limited funding. In San Francisco, disability rights activist and journalist Zach Karnazes and Roger Marenco, President of the Transport Workers Union of America Local 250A, teamed up to organize for fair access to transit by disabled riders, often challenged by tight schedules for bus operators.

Then there are the impacts on young people who depend on public transit to get to school. During the final hour of the hearing with the American Federation of Teachers–moderated by Jane English, Program Manager on the Environmental Climate Justice Program, NAACP–Carl Williams, President of Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees and Vice President of American Federation of Teachers, and Wayne Scott, President of Colorado Classified Employees Association, talked about the extreme consequences of students living in areas where there are service cuts in transportation–these include the need to shut down campuses that become unreachable to students and even higher risks of higher drop-out rates.

A riveting closing presentation by Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, tied the social isolation of COVID to lack of transit and light rail, especially within rural areas. President Weingarten, whose union recently endorsed the Green New Deal and the THRIVE Agenda, talked about the need for revamping transit systems not just for mass accessibility but to support climate. “There is an opportunity here as well. It’s not just new jobs but it’s also revamping them in a way that we can reduce our carbon footprint,” President Weingarten said, recounting that AFT’s pension system was a foundational investor in the modernization of La Guardia Airport, an effort recognized for its transition to renewable energy “and the jobs that came about from building all of that.”

To watch both days of the Community Hearing on Transit Equity in English and Spanish, as well as all of the submitted pre-recorded testimonies, visit bit.ly/savetransit2021.

Climate and Jobs: Proposals for the Biden Agenda

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2021

Groups concerned about climate, labor, and justice have been working diligently to develop ideas and plans for this promising moment. Here are some we encourage the Biden administration and Congress to study as they prepare:

  • The Green New Deal Network has laid out the THRIVE agenda, “a vision to revive our economy while addressing these interlocking crises of climate change, racial injustice, public health, and economic inequity with a plan to create dignified jobs for millions of unemployed workers and support a better life for the millions more who remain vulnerable.”
  • The Evergreen Action Plan, originally initiated by Washington governor Jay Inslee, provides detailed plans for a national mobilization for worker-friendly climate policy. It has now laid out a detailed plan for what each federal agency can do to mobilize for climate protection.
  • The Build Back Fossil Free Coalition proposes a set of executive actions that the Biden administration can take immediately to protect and invest in the Black, Indigenous, Brown, and working-class communities; end the era of fossil fuel production, reject fossil fuel projects, and eliminate giveaways to oil, gas, and coal corporations; and launch a national climate mobilization to Build Back Fossil Free, delivering jobs, justice, and opportunity for all.
  • The Center for Biological Diversity has just issue a report laying out 50 critical environmental protections the Biden administration can implement without action by Congress.

Coal Communities Ask Biden Administration for Just Transition

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2021

Labor leaders, economic development groups and environmentalists from coal states recently wrote to President Joe Biden to fund a “just transition” from coal to renewable energy. They also asked the administration last week in a letter to immediately establish a White House Office of Economic Transition to work on rebuilding the economies of coal communities.

Led by the Mountain Association, an economic development group based in Eastern Kentucky, groups signing the letter included West Virginia-based Coalfield Development, Kentucky-based Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Montana-based Western Organization of Resource Council, the Colorado AFL-CIO, the Union of Concerned Scientists and two Indigenous groups: Tribe Awaken and Tó Nizhóní Ání.

Shortly thereafter President Joe Biden issued an executive order which included the establishment of an Interagency Working Group to “coordinate the identification and delivery of Federal resources to revitalize the economies of coal, oil and gas, and power plant communities” and to “assess opportunities to ensure benefits and protections for coal and power plant workers.”

Going back to the Obama era, LNS has advocated such an approach, calling for:

An interagency task force composed of US agency officials overseeing issues of employment, energy and the environment. Their first task could be to create a transition package for coal miners, utility workers, and other affected workers that would provide robust financial and training support and preferential access to the new jobs created by environmental policies. That could be combined with vigorous support for economic planning and investment in the communities affected.

A Rapid and Just Transition of Aviation: Shifting towards climate-just mobility

By staff - Stay Grounded, February 2021

Covid-19 has grounded air traffic. The aviation industry itself expects to be operating at a lower capacity over the next few years. This Paper discusses how long-term security for workers and affected communities can be guaranteed, without returning to business as before. 

With the looming climate breakdown, automation, digitalisation and likely climate induced pandemics, we need to be realistic: aviation and tourism will change – and they will do so either by design or by disaster. They will transition either with or without taking into account workers’ interests.

This Discussion Paper, published by the Stay Grounded Network and the UK Trade Union PCS in February 2021, is a result of a collective writing process by people active in the climate justice movement, workers in the aviation sector, trade unionists, indigenous communities and academics from around the world. It aims to spark debates and encourage concrete transition plans by states, workers and companies.

Read the text (PDFs: EN | DA | DE | ES | FR | PT ).

Just Transition and Extractive Industry Workers

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 26, 2021

In some ways it might be easier to establish dialog and find common ground with resource extraction workers (on issues such as climate change, just transition, and the Green New Deal) than we think. In other ways it may prove more difficult than we expect. That’s not as contradictory as it may sound, however:

First, let’s acknowledge that we’re primarily discussing decarbonization of the energy system and the economy, particularly fossil fuel capitalism, specifically coal, oil, and gas.

We’re discussing entire supply chains, from exploration and extraction to transportation and refining, to distribution, power generation to marketing and sales.

Extraction includes all forms of mining.

Transportation includes rail, road, ship, aircraft, and pipelines. It also includes storage, distribution hubs, and control centers.

Refining is a highly specialized and labor as well as capital intensive process.

How it might be easier than we think:

Most of the jobs involved in the aforementioned supply chains are not directly related to fossil fuels themselves:

For example:

  • Exploration (ie search for new “deposits” could instead be repurposed for siting renewable energy sites;
  • Offshore oil rig workers could be retrained as offshore wind power technicians (and many of the ancillary jobs, such as transportation of workers to and from sites, dispatching workers (or power), clerical work, etc. is directly transferable);
  • Transportation of goods and commodities can be utilized to transport alternative goods and commodities (eg grain rather than coal);

Where jobs may not be directly transferable, they can be retained for the repurposing or decommissioning of infrastructure or the restoration of damaged ecosystems. Such efforts often require years or decades, thus providing enough job-years for mature workers (often those with the highest seniority, wages, and benefits anyway) to last until retirement, or at least, allow sufficient time for just transition;

Failing that, many of these jobs can be made much “greener” without decommissioning, if a wholistic approach as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach is utilized, and transition efforts focus on the “low hanging fruit” (such as retiring older, more polluting facilities first, etc.);

New York, New York: Another Divestment Win

By staff - Fossil Free California, January 25, 2021

Three of New York City’s five pension funds announced they are divesting a total of $4 billion from fossil fuels following a six year campaign led by a multiracial, multigenerational coalition. Pension funds for teachers, school administrators, and civil servants voted to divest from fossil fuels. Police and fire department pension funds have not yet voted to divest. Said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, “Divestment is a bold investment in our children and grandchildren, and our planet.” The divestment of the $239 billion NYC pension funds is the largest municipal pension fund divestment to date.

The New York City commitment joins last month’s pledge by NY State Comptroller Tom Di Napoli to divest the $226 billion state Common Retirement Fund from the riskiest fossil fuel companies, and fully decarbonize the portfolio by 2040, a decade earlier than the “net-zero by 2050” pledges made by other funds such as California’s CalPERS.

After a 2018 divestment commitment made by Mayor de Blasio and NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, a coalition of retirees, youth activists, and union representatives held countless meetings with city officials and staff, scoring interim successes on related projects such as stopping the Williams Pipeline, getting a ban on all new fossil fuel projects in NYC, and doubling NYC investments in climate solutions. Youth and elders from New York Communities for Change, People’s Climate Movement NY, DivestNY, 350NYC, 350.org, and a host of other organizations celebrated every success and focused on growing a stronger and stronger coalition. New York City coupled its 2018 commitment to divest with a string of lawsuits against Big Oil – see “Divest and Sue”.

“It is right and just that, in the midst of the deadly pandemic, our beloved NYC is choosing life over death and acting on its commitment to divest the pension funds from fossil fuel investments,” said Marilyn Vasta, for People’s Climate Movement NY. “For too long we have financially supported the polluters that harm us; it is time to make polluters pay as we invest in a just transition to renewable energy. Although it has taken almost a decade, from small living room meetings to a city-wide cry for divestment, the People’s Climate Movement-NY proudly stands today with Comptroller Stringer and Mayor de Blasio, and applaud them for taking this positive step towards a fossil free future.”

Divestment is a strong remedy for the social and environmental harms caused by continued fossil fuel use and investment, but the urgency of the climate crisis demands this kind of bold climate action. Divestment should be part of every engagement strategy, and it is the best tool for removing climate-related financial risk from a portfolio. 

New York State and New York City are showing us the way: now CalPERS, CalSTRS, and California’s 20 municipal pension funds need to follow suit. To catch a glimpse of some of the New York climate activists that made this victory possible, check out this video of our coalition panel called “Youth and Elders Unite for Climate-Safe Pensions” that aired during last summer’s “Earth Day Live”.

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