You are here

labor and environment

(Working Paper #1) Global Shale Gas and the Anti-Fracking Movement

By Sean Sweeney and Lara Skinner - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 2014

This paper has been prepared to assist unions and their close allies who wish to better understand the impacts of shale gas drilling, or “fracking,” and want to develop a position or approach to fracking that protects workers, communities, and the environment. It begins with a summary of the shale gas industry’s global expansion, and then looks at the opposition to fracking that has emerged in a number of key countries. A preliminary profile of the anti-fracking movement highlights the goals and characteristics of this movement as well as the issues that lie at the heart of the resistance.

The paper concludes by attempting to bring together the available information on unions’ perspectives and positions on this increasingly important issue. It also raises for discussion the prospect of unions giving support to a global moratorium on fracking based either on the precautionary principle (the health and environmental effects are not fully understood or have still to be adequately addressed) or on the more definitive assessment that fracking can never be sufficiently safe in terms of its impact on health and the environment and should therefore be stopped altogether.

Read the report (PDF).

Coal Miners and the Green Agenda

By Robert Pollin - New Labor Forum, Winter 2014

From 2014...

In June 2012, President Obama announced his “Climate Action Plan.” This is his administration’s major second-term initiative to re-energize its agenda around fighting climate change and supporting major new investments in clean energy.

The primary focus of the Action Plan is the administration’s program to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from the country’s electricity utility plants. These emissions result primarily from burning coal, but also natural gas, to produce electricity. Carbon emissions from electricity generation represent about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions produced by all sources within the U.S. economy today. It is evident that these emissions need to be cut dramatically if we are going to stop playing Russian roulette with the environment.

New Regulations and Technologies Are Not Enough

The administration’s strategy for achieving these emissions cuts is to begin strictly enforc-ing the existing air pollution regulations estab-lished as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act.

The administration is taking this approach because it allows them to avoid asking Congress to either spend more money or pass new regulations.The administration expects that the utility companies can achieve the needed emissions reductions through a technological fix: the introduction of carbon capture and sequestra-tion (CCS) processes, through which, they believe, coal and natural gas could burn cleanly. This is how the phrase “clean coal” has begun to emerge on billboards and TV commercials. CCS encompasses several specific technolo-gies that aim to capture carbon emissions from power plants and other industrial facilities. The captured carbon is then transported, usually through pipelines, to locations where it is then stored permanently—that is, for all time—in subsurface geological formations.

Opponents of the administration’s Action Plan claim that CCS remains unproven and, even if it becomes technically feasible, would impose heavy new costs on utilities.

In this instance, the administration’s critics have the weight of evidence on their side. As such, the Action Plan faces two fundamental problems. First, as there is no proven technol-ogy for delivering clean coal—or, for that mat- ter, clean oil or natural gas—the only viable path for dramatically reducing carbon emis-sions is to sharply reduce fossil fuel consump-tion. This, in turn, means that workers and communities dependent on the fossil fuel indus-tries will face job losses and retrenchment. It is therefore no surprise that even Democratic pol-iticians representing the affected communities are actively opposing Obama’s initiative.

Read the report (PDF).

Ecosocialism in a Nutshell

Arranged by Stan Rosenthal (Socialist Environment and Resources Association) - Writers and Reader Cooperative, 1980; (republished by Ian Angus - Climate and Capitalism, November 13, 2013

This booklet outlines in cartoon form perhaps one of the most significant developments in contemporary politics--the blending of the traditional concerns of the Labour Movement with those of the fast growing rcological lobby into a new concept: Eco-Socialism.

It has been compiled from the relevant parts of Nuclear Power for Beginners since this was considered to be the best material available for publicizing the new ideas in the most concise and effective manner.

Not only does the booklet trace the coming together of the Greens and the Reds, but it shows how you can help turn their vision into reality.

Read the report (PDF).

Fracking Capitalism: Action plans for the eco-social crisis

By staff - A World to Win, November 2013

The message has gone out to corporations everywhere: Britain is open for fracking. In response, campaign groups now exist the length and breadth of Britain in opposition to the plans to industrialise the countryside with tens of thousands of drilling sites. They are taking legal action, lobbying their representatives and protesting and occupying sites at considerable risk of police brutality.

But this grass roots movement is up against formidable adversaries. Corporations have the backing of the state and a public relations campaign led by the government is promoting the lie that fracking is safe and will lead to cheaper energy.

Yet public support for shale gas extraction continues to fall while backing for renewables grows. Government claims about jobs and lower gas prices are exposed for the grand deceptions they are. None of this will deter the Cameron government, however, which has thrown the weight of the state behind the frackers.

Read the report (Link).

Jobs Beyond Coal

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, 2012

This manual is intended for anyone—communities, unions, environmentalists, native tribes, public officials, and others—involved with or affected by the retirement of coal-fired power plants. It is designed as a guide for those who wish to make the transition away from coal in a way that is most beneficial and least threatening to ordinary workers, consumers, and community members.

In the past decade, a broad-based campaign has formed to move America beyond coal and power the nation with clean energy. The movement includes people from all walks of life—medical professionals, faith leaders, environmentalists, business people, workers, decision makers, and local residents—who are working to address the serious pollution problems caused by coal and to seize the economic opportunity offered by clean, safe, renewable energy.

This campaign has been remarkably successful, preventing the construction of more than 165 new coal-fired power plants, and thereby keeping energy markets open for clean energy. In state after state, as newcoal proposals have stalled, advocates have launched campaigns to retire existing coal plants and replace them with clean energy, securing the retirement of more than 110 existing coal plants to date.The coal industry and their allies regularly claim that jobs, workers, and unions benefit from coal plants and that transitioning away from coal will harm them. Industry claims about creating or protecting jobs have often proved fallacious or hugely exaggerated. Still, this message resonates powerfully in tough economic times and presents a real challenge to coal retirement efforts.

Several recent campaigns have demonstrated that coal retirements can be structured in ways that take care of affected workers and the area economy, and even win the support of organized labor and local decision makers. As the case studies described in this manual show, addressing these economic challenges is most effective when the concerns of workers and the local economy are built into the campaign objectives, messaging, proposals, action, and interventions in policy arenas.

Read the report (PDF).

Are “Green” Jobs Decent?

By Lene Olsen, et. al. - International Labour Organization, 2012

This issue of the Journal focuses on the question of whether the jobs that are emerging in the efforts to reach sustainable development can be described as “decent”.

A series of case studies is presented which demonstrates that this seems to be far from the case. While these results remain very partial, this should be seen as an important reminder that “green” employment is not decent by definition and that like in any other sector, green jobs require careful stewardship from public authorities to ensure that workers are able to exercise their rights. This is all the more the case given the central role government policy plays in creating the enabling conditions for these industries to emerge and thrive.

Read the report (Link).

Towards a Greener Economy: The Social Dimensions

By International Institute for Labour Studies - International Labour Organization, November 16, 2011

The European Commission and the International Labour Organization have combined efforts in reaction to the deep crisis that hit the global economy in 2008. The aim of this joint project is to examine policies that will lead not only to a quicker recovery but also to a more sustainable, environmentally friendly and equitable global economy. This is particularly relevant given the uneven and fragile nature of the recovery process across and within countries. These efforts have culminated in the publication of two Synthesis Reports. The first report examines the origins of the crisis and provides an overview of immediate policy responses across both developed and developing economies; the second discusses green policies and labour market issues related to this necessary long-term economic transformation. Both reports are based on a series of technical discussion papers.

This second report aims to promote a clearer understanding of the nature of the green economy and its implications for labour markets, especially the reallocation of jobs from high- to low-polluting sectors. It shows that a double dividend in terms of increased decent work opportunities and a greener economy is possible, provided that complementarities between environmental, economic and social policies are adequately exploited. The report discusses the green policy measures that EU countries are currently undertaking, with a view to identifying any gaps in the policy mix. It also presents model estimates on the likely transmission mechanisms arising from these measures.

Read the report (Link).

Pipe dreams? Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of Keystone XL a report by Cornell University Global Labor Institute

By Ian Goodman and Brigid Rowan - Cornell University Global Labor Institute, September 2011

The purpose of this briefing paper is to examine claims made by TransCanada Corporation and the American Petroleum Institute that, if constructed, TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline will generate enough employment to kick-start important sections of the US economy through the creation of tens of thousands—perhaps even hundreds of thousands—of good, well-paying jobs for American workers.

This briefing paper raises a number of questions regarding the jobs claims promoted by the industry, questions that are serious enough to generate a high level of skepticism regarding the value of KXL as an important source of American jobs. With national unemployment levels presently (September 2011) around 9%, and the real unemployment figures considerably higher, jobs are desperately needed both to sustain families and to help the broader economy. However, it is our assessment—based on the publicly available data—that the construction of KXL will create far fewer jobs in the US than its proponents have claimed and may actually destroy more jobs than it generates.

The results presented below should also cast doubt on the recent claim made by American Petroleum Institute that the oil industry could create more than a million jobs over the next decade—if the US government would open public lands, beaches, oceans, to unlimited oil drilling. If the industry’s jobs estimates made in the context of KXL are any indication, then this broader claim should be scrutinized very carefully indeed.

Read the report (PDF).

Tar Sands: Rejecting False Conflict Between Trade Unions and Environment

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 23, 2011

Sometimes a decision forces you to think deeply about what you believe in and how you act on those beliefs. It was like that when the climate protection leader Bill McKibben asked me to sign a letter calling for civil disobedience to block the building of a pipeline designed to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. Opposing the pipeline might strain ties with unions that I’ve worked with and been part of for my whole adult life. And yet the pipeline might be a tipping point that could hurtle us into ever more desperate acceleration of climate change.  Amid these conflicting pulls, what should I do? Having lived at the confluence of trade unionism and environmentalism, what’s the right course of action – what has my life’s work meant?

I was born into a union family. My dad worked in the steel mills in Lorain, Ohio and was a founder of the Steelworkers Union. My mom had been an organizer in the Clothing Workers Union in Cincinnati. I grew up near Cleveland and I walked the picket line with my dad during the 1959 steel strike.

My own trade union life began the day I walked through the factory doors at Capital Products Aluminum Corporation in Mechanicsburg, PA. I was 17 years old, and I joined the United Steelworkers of America. That summer I engaged in my first strike. The following year Hurricane Agnes pounded the mid-Atlantic states; Central Pennsylvania was devastated, and the mill was flooded out. So I joined the Laborer’s Union and went to work on construction.

That’s where I first learned something about working on pipelines. I worked building the Texas-Eastern pipeline as it wound its way through the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania. Small teams of operating engineers, pipefitters, and laborers traveled across the state doing work we enjoyed and that we understood to be useful and important. (We didn’t know then what we know now.) It was a great job and I was a member of a great union, Laborer’s Local 158. We formed friendships and shared a solidarity that touched us all deeply.

On another job building a railroad bridge across the Susquehanna river, a buddy of mine got fired by a hubris-filled college kid. (The kid’s dad owned the construction company so the kid had been made chief foreman over all laborers.) We struck and shut the job down. The operating engineers, carpenters and ironworkers supported us. Without that support we would have lost, but we won and my brother laborer was hired back.

These jobs helped me pay my way through college. They also taught me a lot about solidarity and trade unionism, and helped launch me on a life-long pursuit of workers rights and jobs with justice, first as a local leader and eventually as an official with the AFL-CIO.

I grew up along the banks of Lake Erie and I learned at a tender age about the possibility of human threats to the environment. I was there when they posted the signs telling us to stop swimming in the lake and stop eating the fish. I’d already eaten hundreds of Lake Erie Yellow Perch and swallowed more of that lake water than I care to think about.

I also learned early about the potential conflict between protecting labor and protecting the environment. In the 1970s I worked on the concrete crew during the construction of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, and my local union put out a bumper sticker that read “Hungry and Out of Work? Eat an Environmentalist.”

Since then I’ve devoted much of my life trying to bridge the gap between labor and environmental movements. I’ve argued that both share a common interest in combining economic and social sustainability with environmental sustainability. I’ve argued that “jobs vs. the environment” is a false choice.

Can Trade Unions Become Environmental Innovators?

By Nora Räthzel, David Uzzell, and Dave Elliott - Soundings, December 2010

Learning from the Lucas Aerospace Workers

The attempt by workers at Lucas Aerospace in the 1970s to develop a plan to convert production in their company from weapons to socially useful goods has recently been invoked in debates on creating low-carbon societies.[1] As Hilary Wainwright and Andy Bowman have argued, a renewed Green New Deal that involved a similar level of painstaking attention to grass-roots participation ‘would be a worthy successor indeed’.[2] We agree with this view, and we would like to make the additional argument that the Lucas example is particularly helpful for international trade union debates on climate change.

The Lucas workers were way ahead of their time in recognising the need for sustainable development - even if such a concept did not exist at that time. But their project also demanded a radical revision of the ways in which society determined its priorities. In today’s terms, their argument was for a ‘Just Transition’. In other words, in adapting production for different needs, it was important to make sure that any new strategies would take workers’ interests into account. And it is this notion that is important in trade union debates today.[3]

Trade unions are not commonly regarded as being on the frontline of the climate change battle. Many people (including not a few trade unionists) see unions as being on the side of climate sceptics, or as being a constituency for whom other concerns are more important. But many national and international unions are currently seeking to develop policies through which their industries can help to mitigate the causes and effects of climate change; and unions do have a long history of struggling for environmental issues - even if this history is not given so much attention today. For example, in the early years of industrialisation trade unionists fought against air and river pollution in their communities. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that safe workplaces - an issue where the history of trade union involvement is more familiar - are also an environmental issue. One reason why the trade union record is often overlooked is that environmental issues have often been raised by environmental movements, which have paid little attention to social and work issues. Equally, trade unionists often reject environmental arguments, for example claiming that it is more important to preserve and create jobs than to ‘save a few trees’ - as was the kind of dismissive remark sometimes made in the course of our interviews. However, things are changing dramatically and fast.

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.