Latest bulletin from Trade Unions for Energy Democracy

Bulletin 53 – November 5, 2016

In This Issue…

Not Just a Transition, a Transformation: Why the Paris Agreement has Revolutionary Implications

Sean Sweeney for TUED

Why We’re Going to Marrakech – the Dakota Access Pipeline and Other Struggles

TUED’s Irene Shen Interviewed indigenous Union Leaders Eliza Carboni and Ron Rousseau.

Unions Discuss Energy Democracy in Johannesburg, Montevideo, and Goa

Reports from Valter Bittencourt (TUCA), Maite Llanos (TUED Europe) and John Treat (Murphy Institute)

Find Out More: Trade Unions, Cop 22 and Energy Democracy

Not Just a Transition, a Transformation: Why the Paris Agreement has Revolutionary Implications

Sean Sweeney for TUED

The Paris Climate Agreement came into effect November 4th, 2016. More than 90 countries have ratified the deal, which is enough to turn it into international law.

Unions all over the world are trying to anticipate the agreement’s likely impacts and navigate its provisions to advance the interests of working people. Towards that end, a cross section of international labor will be in Marrakech from November 7th-19th calling for a “just transition strategy,” and to press for more ambitious targets and adequate climate financing for the global South.

Just Transition Remains a Priority

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is taking a strong trade union message to the talks. At COP 21 in Paris a year ago, unions fought hard to get a reference to Just Transition into agreement.1 The ITUC sees this as an important first step, but one that must be consolidated at the national level where the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to reduce emissions will need to be activated. “We know millions of workers and families still depend on a fossil-fuel-based economy for their jobs and livelihoods,” notes the ITUC, “and employers, with workers and their unions must sit together and commit to protect our future through a just transition strategy.”

In terms of what needs to be done, the ITUC statement is clear and strong on a number of key issues. It recognizes the need to move away from fossil fuels and extreme methods of extraction (for example, fracking) noting that, “studies show that at least 80 per cent of current fossil fuel reserves will need to be left in the ground to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.” It also recognizes that “The global common good should be given priority over the profits of large fossil fuel companies that continue to promote the use of ever greater quantities of coal, oil and gas.”

Burning Issues: The Fight Against Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) Comes to Marrakesh

The ITUC’s goals have broad support across the international labor community.

Unfortunately, there are exceptions. The fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in the United States — a fight being led by Standing Rock Sioux and supported by indigenous movements globally — has seen some major building and construction unions openly align themselves with the “export carbon” strategy of the American Petroleum Institute (API). The AFL-CIO also supports the construction of the DAPL. Importantly, the number of unions opposing DAPL and declaring solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes has been impressive.2(See TUED bulletin #51 for more information on unions and DAPL.)

Two indigenous trade union leaders will be speaking about these struggles in Marrakech. (See: Why We’re Going to Marrakech, where TUED’s Irene Shen interviews Ron Rousseau, Aboriginal Vice President for the Canadian Labour Congress and president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), and Eliza Carboni, an eyewitness to the DAPL fight and a leader of New York’s nurses union, NYSNA.)

In recent days a group of rank and file union members launched Labor for Standing Rock (LSR) and supporters of the group traveled to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Registered nurse and UFCW member Cliff Willmeng sent this “there are no jobs on a dead planet” video message on the importance of the DAPL struggle to the fight to protect the climate.

Needed: A Transformative Approach to Just Transition

Stopping the expansion of fossil fuel use and infrastructure is a top priority, and not just for climate-related reasons. But, as the ITUC notes, “staying well below 2°C in average temperature increase, and aiming at 1.5°C”, will only be reached if concrete measures are taken to dramatically change our production and consumption patterns.” In late October 2016, Price Waterhouse Coopers’ (PWC) annual Low Carbon Economy Index reported that “carbon intensity” needs to fall at a rate of 6.5% a year, every year, until 2050 in order to stay within 2 degrees Celsius. In 2013, the same report concluded a 5.1% annual reduction was necessary over the same period, and declared then that the 2 degree Celsius target was “ highly unrealistic.” If it was highly unrealistic then, it has clearly not gotten more realistic since.

Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers

For Asbjorn Wahl, chair of the Urban Transport Committee if the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), the need for dramatic change means, “We have an all-out battle on our hands over how to organise society.” In a paper presented at a recent energy democracy meeting in Johannesburg organized at the Global Labour University’s annual conference, Wahl states, “Solutions to the climate crisis do exist. We have most of what is required in terms of technology, knowledge, and competence to avert a climate disaster. It is the power to translate words into action that will pose the greatest challenge…. Democratic and political control of the economy and society is a prerequisite to preventing a climate crisis.” (See TUED’s Maite Llanos’ report on the meeting here)

A Clear Trade Union Policy on Energy is Needed

Given the urgency of the situation, it is unfortunate that the ITUC statement for COP22 uses unclear and ambiguous language about what an energy transition should entail. It states that, “Universal access and democratisation of energy is needed if we are to achieve ambitious climate action…. Energy companies need to be restructured in order to allow for such democratic involvement of those affected and public oversight, including that of workers’ participation.” It is not clear what “restructured” means in this context, and “public oversight” is clearly not the same as public ownership.

At COP20 in Lima in 2014, unions involved with TUED were successful in having a clearer commitment to public ownership included in the ITUC’s statement, which argued, “Democratic ownership of energy is needed if we are to achieve ambitious climate action. Energy, along with other common goods that belong to humanity (air, water), must be brought, administered and kept under public control.” This language was consistent with the resolution passed at the large Rio+20 trade union conference on climate change in June 2012.

The ITUC statement is strong in many key areas, but as a movement we cannot afford to be ambiguous about the need to struggle for full democratic control over global energy systems. This is necessary in order to drive public renewable power at the speed and scale required. In the energy sector, it is hard to imagine how a “just transition” can be achieved without a shift towards public ownership. As difficult as it will be to make this shift actually occur, it pales in comparison to the challenge posed by the “well below 2 degrees” and “net zero emissions” targets that lie at the heart of the Paris Agreement.

2 See: Amalgamated Transit Union ; California Faculty Association; Communications Workers of America ; Industrial Workers of the World; IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus; National Nurses United ; New York State Nurses Association; National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981; United Electrical Workers ; SEIU 503 OPEU; Border Agricultural Workers ; and the Labor Coalition for Community Action , which includes the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and Pride at Work.

Why We’re Going to Marrakech – the Dakota Access Pipeline and Other Struggles

Irene Shen for TUED

A year after the Paris climate agreement, world leaders will convene again, this time in Marrakech, Morocco for COP 22. Among those attending will be TUED representatives from around the world.  Two Indigenous union leaders from North America will be there representing their unions with TUED: Eliza Carboni, the internal organizing director with New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), and Ron Rousseau, the president of the local chapter of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.  I was fortunate enough to interview them.

Irene: “What are some current issues you are engaged with as union leaders?  Why are you going to Marrakech?”

Eliza: “I went to Standing Rock with NYSNA to show the support of our union for the resistance against the pipeline, and also to bring news and information back to our members so more people can know what’s going on out there.  Talking to other union members at COP 22 will be really important because not all union workers think that these pipeline jobs are the way to go.  I want to connect with unions internationally around these issues and being Seneca myself, I’m excited to meet other Indigenous leaders who will be in Marrakech.”

Ron: “After we started the Indigenous movement, Idle No More (INM) in the Yukon where I live, we saw a lot of change, politically for Aboriginal peoples and in efforts to protect the Earth.  These changes help us push for sustainability on the local level in the union, like getting postal vehicles that use fossil fuels off the road and transitioning into electric and hybrid vehicles instead.  Going to COP 22, I can meet with postal workers from other countries who are doing some of these things, like in France and Norway. We can talk about how to move postal worker issues forward, together.  I also want to connect with other Aborigines from Canada and learn about what they are doing and what they are trying to change.”

Unions Discuss Energy Democracy in Johannesburg, Montevideo, and Goa

Reports from Valter Bittencourt (TUCA), Maite Llanos (TUED Europe)
and John Treat (Murphy Institute)

Last week on October 27th and 28th the TUCA working group on environment had a meeting in Montevideo where people representing the affiliates from Argentina (CTA-A, CTA-T, CGTRA), Brasil (CUT and UGT), Paraguay (CUT Auténtica), Costa Rica (CTRN), Nicaragua (CST), Panama (CONUSI), Colombia (CUT), Peru (CUT), Dominican Republic (CNUS) and our fraternal organizations from Uruguay (PIT-CNT) and Peru (CGTP) could share their experiences and information on their activities about Climate Change. The meeting was supported by FES Uruguay.In the first day the group talked about the economic, social and political situation and its effects on environmental policies in each country and the region. The group watched the TUED presentation video and had also a debate on TISA, TPP, TTIP and their consequences for the people. They also worked in group where they could appoint their needs on research, education, mobilization and social alliances.

In the second day there was a presentation focused on Energy Democracy in Latin America (situation, perspectives, challenges to the unions and communities and the effects of this new geopolitics based on neoliberal governments and the danger of the new trade agreements for the energy sector). The presentation was hosted by Pablo Bertinat, an engineer and Science Master of the Energy and Sustainability Observatory at the National Technological University of Rosario, Argentina.

Finally the group updated the situation about the union participation and perspectives at COP 22.

The Global Labour University hosted its XI GLU Conference, on 28 – 30 Sept. 2016, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The topic this year was:  The Just Transition and the Role of Labour: Our Ecological, Social, and Economic Future. A discussion about energy democracy was held in a special panel on “Labour Responses to Climate Change & Development Challenges”.

In the panel, Kjeld Jacobsen , TUCA adviser, introduced the complex economic, social and political choices for development of Brazil during the years of PT government, and the balance between social justice and environmental and climate limits. Asbjorn Wahl from ITF, presented the union responses in Europe to climate change policies and why a more ambitious political position is necessary to achieve energy democracy and to do the necessary radical changes to address the climate crises. Bruno Dobrusin from CTA-A Argentina reported on the energy scenario in Argentina after the announcement of the introduction of fracking, and how CTA-A decided to oppose this extreme energy agenda. Finally, Sandra Van Nieken from PSRIU explained the challenges of extractionism in Africa, and how renewal energies with public ownership and control could address energy deficits in the continent, being a path for energy democracy in Africa.

You can find their papers here, as well as all the papers of the participants related to the conference topic.

For our report from Goa, please see TUED Bulletin #52: Energy Democracy at the “People’s Forum on BRICS”

Find Out More: Trade Unions, Cop 22 and Energy Democracy

Energy Democracy: A Trade Union Approach to the Climate Crisis

TUED Unions Are Organizing at COP 22.

International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC): Statement for COP 22

Unions call for more ambition from governments, ‘democratisation of energy’ and a ‘just transition strategy’

The Role of Labour in the Fight Against Climate Change

Asbjørn Wahl, International Transport Workers Federation (ITF)

About getting involved

For unions considering being formally involved TUED, most of the information you need is here.

Need more information about energy democracy?  Visit our resource page and take a look at our working papers series (y también en español)

Video: This is What Energy Democracy Looks Like! in English, French and Spanish

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