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labor and environment

Can a Just Transition Change Appalachia’s Balance of Power?

By Morgan Hickory and Lydia Patton - Science for the People, Summer 2020

From Volume 23, number 2, People’s Green New Deal

Encuentre una traducción de este artículo en español en nuestro sitio web.

Mining and Nurses

“Biggest thing we got around here is that everything is based off coal. I’m not down on coal, like I said, I’m grateful for it, I love it, and whoever else still wants to do it, more power to you. I’ll back you 100 percent. But we have to find something else around here to support our economy. Mining and nurses the only two things you got. If you don’t put some other type of industrial occupation around here, something that’s not based on coal, then our economy is going to be destroyed. There’s literally nothing left for you to do. Like I said, it’s fast food, making minimum wage, mining, or nursing.”

--David Lee Brett, Jr., former coal miner in Harlan County, KY

A new generation of progressive thinkers, from slightly left-of-center Democrats to committed socialists, is proposing federal legislation for a sweeping economic transition away from fossil fuels. Termed the Green New Deal (GND), this proposal promises to phase fossil fuel industries out of existence and introduce well-paid alternatives for workers in these industries. Any federal project that begins as a policy idea, even if it is enacted by Congress, will encounter challenges on the ground. This is especially true in places like Appalachia, where highly localized systems of power, in place for decades or even centuries, funnel resources into channels controlled by the existing ruling class. Federal injections of money are a periodic occurrence in Central Appalachia, whether distributed through New Deal job creation and infrastructure programs in the 1930s or through humanitarian aid efforts initiated by the War on Poverty in the 1960s.1 Local apex families and entrenched government systems have adapted to take advantage of and benefit from extractive industries such coal. As such, the GND risks floundering in Appalachia if robust local knowledge about its people and politics is not built into the conception and execution of a People’s Green New Deal (PGND).

Rebuilding our Economy for All: BC Federation of Labour Submission to the Economic Recovery Taskforce

By staff International BC Labor Federation, May 2020

The economic shutdown resulting from this pandemic is historically unprecedented. Never before have we collectively decided to close entire sectors of our economy, and dramatically curtail others in service of a greater good – our collective health. BC has weathered both this pandemic and the ensuing lockdown in large part because of the sacrifices and courage of working people. They have continued to do the important work of treating the sick, providing vital public services, and ensuring we can continue to have the necessities of life. COVID-19 has revealed that essential portions of BC’s economy depend on frontline workers.

But as public respect for the value of their work has grown, so has our recognition of the many gaps this pandemic has exposed. For example, we better understand the paramount importance of workplace safety and standards, the need for robust public services and social supports, and our collective responsibility to address the continued marginalization of vulnerable populations.

We have the chance as our economy emerges from hibernation to address those gaps, and to do much more. The choices we make in the coming weeks and months can help us build an economy – and a province – equipped to address climate change while prospering along the way. Our choices must acknowledge and genuinely embrace reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and communities. Our choices must secure opportunities and equity in every community of this province.

There will always be voices who suggest we move in the opposite direction: that the public sector should retreat from the economy and the community; that working people who were this province’s lifeline revert back to less protections, poorer working conditions and lower wages; that vulnerable populations remain vulnerable; that we should abandon years of progress toward reconciliation. They will argue that all of this will make business more competitive and generate jobs.

But even in an unprecedented situation, we can learn from history. And history tells us again and again – from the Great Depression through countless recessions and downturns – that ’austerity‘ only serves to freeze out working people and the most vulnerable, enriching a handful of already-wealthy people while hollowing our communities and leaving most of us to fend for ourselves. Austerity, in fact, is why we have many of the gaps this pandemic has so glaringly exposed in the first place. We also know that this pandemic will not impact people or communities equally, and thus our response must work to decrease these inequities, rather than exacerbate them. We can’t cut and slash our way back to where we were before – let alone to a better, fairer, more sustainable and more prosperous future.

Read the text (PDF).

Taking the High Road: Strategies for a Fair EV Future

By staff - UAW Research Department, January 2020

The American automotive industry is constantly evolving and, throughout the union’s history, the United Auto Workers (UAW) has fought to ensure industry changes result in quality jobs that benefit workers and the economy.

The auto industry is facing a new shift in technology with the proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs). This shift is an opportunity to re-invest in U.S. manufacturing. But this opportunity will be lost if EVs or their components are imported or made by low-road suppliers who underpay workers. In order to preserve American jobs and work standards, what is needed is a proactive industrial policy that creates high-quality manufacturing jobs making EVs and their components.

Read the text (PDF).

8 Unions Have a Plan for Climate Action—But It Doesn’t Mention Fighting the Fossil Fuel Industry

By Rachel M. Cohen - In These Times, August 26, 2019

On June 24, the BlueGreen Alliance — a national coalition which includes eight large labor unions and six influential environmental groups—released an eight-page document laying out its vision to curb climate change and reduce inequality. The report, dubbed Solidarity for Climate Action, marks a significant development in the world of environmental politics. It argues the needs of working people must be front-and-center as the U.S. responds to climate change, and rejects the ​“false choice” between economic security and a healthy planet.

While the report’s focus on public investment, good jobs and justice shares much in common with the federal Green New Deal resolution introduced in February, it also stands in tension with environmentalists who demand the U.S. work to transition more quickly away from oil, coal and natural gas. ​“We’d really like them to be stronger and more concise about what it means to move away from fossil fuels and transition to renewables,” said José Bravo, executive director of the Just Transition Alliance and speaking on behalf of the Climate Justice Alliance. Members of the BlueGreen Alliance say the ultimate goal should be to decarbonize the economy — to reduce CO2 emissions, but not necessarily end the fossil fuel industry itself, with its tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. Other climate groups say that won’t be enough, and humanity cannot afford to preserve industries that have caused so much environmental harm. This difference in vision will stand as one of the most fundamental political questions facing progressives in the next decade.

The report spells out a series of principles, including limiting warming to 1.5°C, expanding union jobs, modernizing infrastructure, bolstering environmental protections and rebuilding the nation’s manufacturing sector with green technologies. It also elevates the issue of equity, calling to ​“inject justice into our nation’s economy by ensuring that economic and environmental benefits of climate change solutions support the hardest hit workers and communities.” The BlueGreen Alliance emphasizes the disproportionate impact low-income workers and communities of color will face, and says those affected by the energy transition must receive ​“a just and viable transition” to new, high-quality union jobs.

(Read the rest here)

A Just Transition to a Greener, Fairer Economy

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trades Union Congress, July 2019

The trade union movement recognises that there is overwhelming scientific evidence of the need to decarbonise our economy. Energy-intensive industries, including the energy, transport, manufacturing and construction sectors, will be key to achieving this transition, but this is a project that will require change right across our economy, and trade union members have the expertise to deliver it. The voices of workers who are at the forefront of dealing with the challenge of climate change must be at the centre of achieving a successful transition to the economy we will need.

Such a change, if left to solely to the market, could have massive economic and social consequences, in terms of jobs, skills and knowledge lost and communities destroyed. We need a different approach to the failed neoliberal approach of the 1980s, which left workers behind, and communities devastated.

The international trade union movement has called for a ‘just transition’ to a greener economy, where new jobs that are just as good in terms of pay, skills, pensions and trade union recognition replace those that are lost. Following union pressure, the concept of a just transition was included in the preamble to the 2015 Paris Agreement and in the Silesia Declaration at the climate talks in 2018.

The move to a low-carbon economy has implications and potential opportunities for industrial policy and the quality of employment. However, the opportunities will not be realised unless the workers most affected have a seat at the table where key decisions are taken. They should be able to contribute to solutions, not be told after decisions have been made.

Read the report (PDF).

Working on a warmer planet: The effect of heat stress on productivity and decent work

By Tord Kjellstrom, Nicolas Maître, Catherine Saget, Matthias Otto and Tahmina Karimova - International Labour Organization, July 1, 2019

The phenomenon of heat stress refers to heat received in excess of that which the body can tolerate without physiological impairment. It is one of the major consequences of global warming. By 2030, the equivalent of more than 2 per cent of total working hours worldwide is projected to be lost every year, either because it is too hot to work or because workers have to work at a slower pace. This report shows the impact of heat stress on productivity and decent work for virtually all countries in the world. It presents innovative solutions based on social dialogue to promote occupational safety and health for the most vulnerable groups of workers.

Read the report (Link).

Just Transition at the Intersection of Labour and Climate Justice Movements: Lessons from the Portuguese Climate Jobs Campaign

By Chrislain Eric Kenfack - University of Alberta, 2019

In the current context of climate change and its accompanying adverse effects on natural, human and social systems, the imperative of transitioning to low- and preferably post-carbon societies has become a non-negotiable reality if we want to avoid reaching the point of no return in terms of environmental and climate catastrophe. Such a transition requires that the interests and needs of workers and their communities be taken into consideration to make sure they do not bear the heaviest part of the burden in terms of loss of jobs and means of survival, and that they are prepared to face the new, post-carbon labour environment.

The concept of Just Transition was coined to describe both the socio-political project put forward by trade unions in response to climate change, and the recognition by climate activists that the livelihoods and security of workers and their communities must be ensured during the transition to a post-carbon society. However, just transition movements are divided between two quite different orientations, which are labelled “affirmative” and “transformative.” On the one hand, affirmative just transition advocates envisage a transition within the current political-economic system. Transformative just transition activists, on the other hand, envisage a post-capitalist transition.

This article, drawing upon an extensive case study of the Portuguese climate jobs campaign, goes beyond showing how these orientations shape the positions taken by union and climate activists. The article also analyses how the conflicts and cooperation between these key actors can shed light on the possibilities and/or limitations of just transition as a framework for the collective action needed to achieve rapid, deep decarbonisation of economies in the Global North context.

Read the report (PDF).

18 Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make the Climate Mobilization Work

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, 2019

The Green New Deal projects a broad vision of creating a climate-safe America through an economic and social mobilization on a scale not seen since the New Deal and World War II.

That mobilization can provide a historic opportunity to create millions of good, high-wage jobs, virtually eliminate poverty, provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security, and counteract systemic injustices. So far discussion about the Green New Deal has rightly focused on values and goals. But there are many practical problems that will have to be solved as well.

The LNS discussion paper 18 Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make the Climate Mobilization Work lays out how the Green New Deal can realize its goals.

Read the report (PDF).

A Green Growth Program for Colorado: Climate Stabilization, Good Jobs, and Just Transition

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, and Tyler Hansen - Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), April 2019

This study examines the prospects for a transformative green growth program for Colorado. The centerpiece of the program is clean energy investments—i.e. investments to raise energy efficiency levels and expand the supply of clean renewable energy sources. These investments should be undertaken in combination by the public and private sectors throughout the state. This program can advance two fundamental goals: 1) promoting global climate stabilization by reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in Colorado without increasing emissions outside of the state; and 2) expanding good job opportunities throughout the state while the state’s economy continues to grow. The program is specifically designed to reduce Colorado’s CO2 emissions by 50 percent as of 2030 and by 90 percent as of 2050 relative to the state’s 2005 emissions level while the economy grows at an average annual rate of 2.4 percent. The consumption of oil, natural gas and coal to generate energy will need to fall sharply in Colorado, since CO2 emissions result through the combustion of fossil fuels.

We estimate that total investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy will need to average about $14.5 billion per year between 2021 – 2030, equal to about 3.5 percent of Colorado’s average annual GDP over those years. These investments will generate about 100,000 jobs per year in the state. New job opportunities will be created in a wide range of areas, including construction, sales, management, production, engineering and office support. At the same time, the contraction of the state’s fossil fuel related industries will generate about 700 job losses per year, of which about 600 will be non-managerial jobs. We develop a Just Transition program for workers impacted by the contraction of the state’s fossil fuel industries. The program includes: pension guarantees for retired workers who are covered by employer-financed pensions; retraining to assist displaced workers to obtain the skills needed for a new job and 100 percent wage replacement while training; re-employment for displaced workers through an employment guarantee, with 100 percent wage insurance; and relocation support as needed. We also propose a broader set of policies to meet the state’s emissions reduction goals. These include a carbon tax; strengthening the state’s existing energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standards; strengthening existing procurement programs for clean energy public investments; increasing financial subsidies for clean energy investments; expanding the state’s worker training programs for clean energy employment opportunities; and channeling a disproportionate share of new clean energy investments into communities that will be significantly impacted by the contraction of the state’s fossil fuel related industries.

Read the text (PDF).

Labor Unions and Green Transitions in the USA

By Dimitris Stevis - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, February 27, 2019

“In broad terms there are now two camps amongst US labour unions with respect to climate change and renewables (the two not always related). On one side, are those unions that believe that something needs to be done about climate change and that renewables are a good strategy. On the other side are those that are opposed to meaningful climate policy –even as they claim that climate change is a problem.”

This report outlines the deep cleavages with respect to climate policy but also argues that the views of unions are more complex and contradictory than the opposition-support dichotomy. Additionally, it seeks to understand what explains the variability in union responses to climate change and policy. What can account for the contradictions evident amongst and within unions?

Read the report (PDF).

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