Labour working for a Green New Deal in Canada and the U.S.

Updated on January 20 to include Naomi Klein’s new article, “Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” in Dissent (Winter 2020 issue). 

our times jan2020cover re green new dealIn the January 2020 issue of Our Times magazine, “Save this House: A Green New Deal for Canada, Now!”  provides an overview of Canadian labour’s initiatives around a Green New Deal. It highlights the on-the-ground activism of two unionists: Tiffany Balducci, (CUPE member, president of the Durham Region Labour Council and in that role, part of the Green Jobs Oshawa coalition seeking to re-purpose the shuttered General Motors plant  for socially beneficial manufacturing) and Patricia Chong, ( member of the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance and co-facilitator of  the “Green is Not White” environmental workshops which are co-sponsored by the ACW research project).

Asked to define and envision what the Green New Deal will look like, Chong states:

“If the climate crisis is defined as a problem where we need to move money from greenhouse-gas producing industries to non-GHG producing industry, then the answer is to move the money around. If the climate crisis is defined more broadly as a problem that also includes environmental racism, Indigenous genocide, and capitalism, then the solution is also going to be very different. ….When we talk about a Green economy, we do not want to replicate the inherent inequities we already have.”

The article also names the unions which support a Green New Deal for Canada:  “Unifor, Amalgamated Transit Union, British Columbia Teachers Federation, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and CUPE Ontario. The article concludes with a reference to the Private Member’s Motion on a Green New Deal for Canada, introduced in the new 43rd session of Parliament by Peter Julian, the NDP Member of Parliament for New Westminster-Burnaby British Columbia. His motion, introduced on December 5,  defines a Green New Deal as a 10-year national mobilization to: •  reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions •  create millions of secure jobs•  invest in sustainable infrastructure and industry •  promote justice and equity for Indigenous peoples and all “frontline and vulnerable communities.”   Specifically concerning GND jobs, it calls for :

……(vii) ensuring that the Green New Deal mobilization creates high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers, offers training and advancement opportunities, and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition, (viii) guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all Canadians, (ix) strengthening and protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment, (x) strengthening and enforcing labour, workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors, (xi) enacting and enforcing trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments with strong labor and environmental protections to stop the transfer of jobs and pollution overseas, and to grow domestic manufacturing in Canada….  More details are at the Our Time website ; Julian was one of the candidates endorsed by Our Time in Canada’s 2019 federal election.

OurTime_logoThe youth-led organization  Our Time exists to campaign for a Green New Deal.  An overview of their approach appears in “The future is in our hands— not theirs” in the January/February issue of CCPA’s The Monitor (pages 22-  23). Written by two Manitoba organizers from the Our Time campaign , it includes  the youth-led actions of Canada’s Fridays for Future climate strikers, and focuses on the Our Time campaign in the West.  The authors conclude: “Our Time and the CCPA-Manitoba recognize the need to build stronger relationships with the Indigenous community and beyond. We know that any struggle for a Green New Deal must take direction from those who are most dispossessed by fossil capitalism and most exposed to climate change. We do not wish to reproduce in our organizing spaces the undemocratic relationships of exploitation that have gotten us to this point. We need to unlearn the oppressive practices we frequently deploy, often unconsciously, even when our hearts are in the right place.”

Green New Deal proposals in the U.S.:

brecher no workerIn late December 2019, Labor Network for Sustainability released its latest paper regarding the Green New Deal:  a briefing paper written by Jeremy Brecher , No Worker Left Behind:   Protecting Workers and Communities in the Green New Deal . From the introduction: “This paper aims to identify policies that could be actionable by GNDs at national and state levels.… It focuses only on: “GND policies specifically designed to protect workers and communities whose jobs and livelihoods may be adversely affected by deliberate managed decline of fossil fuel burning and other GND policies.”   The document does not endorse one plan over the other – the purpose is to identify and inform trade unionists so that they can make their own determinations.

No Worker Left Behind   includes relevant excerpts from the following U.S. plans:  • Colorado Just Transition law • Center for Biological Diversity Presidential Action Plan • Washington State Initiative 1631 • Senator Bernie Sanders “The Green New Deal – Sanders Details” • Governor Jay Inslee “Community Climate Justice Plan,” adopted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren after Inslee withdrew from the presidential race. • Vice-President Joe Biden “Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice” • BlueGreen Alliance “Solidarity for Climate Action” • Sunrise Movement “Candidate Scorecard Framework” • Peter Knowlton “Jobs for Climate Justice Demands” • Sens. Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, and Edward Markey “Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act” • Political Economy Research Institute, “The Economics of Just Transition” • Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Labor Network for Sustainability, “Beyond a Band-Aid”.

A broader discussion of the Green New Deal appears in Naomi Klein’s new article, “Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” in Dissent (Winter 2020 issue). Although the article focuses on the  U.S. Green New Deal in a historical and political context , Klein continues to cite her “favourite example” of the GND as the Canadian Union of Postal Workers initiative, Delivering Community Power , which she describes as “a bold plan to turn every post office in Canada into a hub for a just green transition.” She continues “….To make the case for a Green New Deal—which explicitly calls for this kind of democratic, decentralized leadership—every sector in the United States should be developing similar visionary plans for their workplaces right now.”

Klein also repeats themes from previous writing, including :

“A job guarantee, far from an opportunistic socialist addendum, is a critical part of achieving a rapid and just transition. It would immediately lower the intense pressure on workers to take the kinds of jobs that destabilize our planet, because all would be free to take the time needed to retrain and find work in one of the many sectors that will be dramatically expanding…This in turn will reduce the power of bad actors like the Laborers’ International Union of North America, who are determined to split the labor movement and sabotage the prospects for this historic effort.”

Finally, her concluding call to action:

“The Green New Deal will need to be subject to constant vigilance and pressure from experts who understand exactly what it will take to lower our emissions as rapidly as science demands, and from social movements that have decades of experience bearing the brunt of false climate solutions, whether nuclear power, the chimera of carbon capture and storage, or carbon offsets.”

Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” is adapted from Klein’s klein we own the future coverchapter  in We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism—American Stylea new anthology edited by Kate Aronoff, Michael Kazin, and Peter Dreier and released by the New Press in January 2020.  Several other recent articles  have appeared in The Intercept are available on her own website here , and her book, On Fire: The Burning case for a Green New Deal was published in September 2019.

Just transition for the Coal and Car Industries – a period of “revolutionary” change in Europe

coal-cars-and-the-world-of-work coverTowards a just transition: Coal, cars and the world of work  is a new and unique report edited by Béla Galgóczi, senior researcher at the European Trade Union Institute, a member of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) research project , and the author of several previous reports on Just Transition, including  Phasing out Coal – A Just Transition approach (2019) and  Greening Industries and Creating Jobs (2012).

In his introduction, he states:

” ‘Just transition’ has become the main concept and strategy tool for managing the transformation towards a net zero-carbon economy in a way that is both balanced and fair, but it is also clear that this concept is developing in a too broad and general, and often even over-stretched, manner. In order to discuss it meaningfully, we need to turn to specific case studies. Coal-based energy generation on the one hand and the automobile industry on the other do not only represent two sectors that are responsible for a large part of total GHG emissions, they also illustrate what is really meant by the different contexts of just transition.”

The report chapters, available individually for download here, are written by European experts, and will provide English-speaking readers with access to some of the research written in the European languages.

Part 1 updates the well-researched decarbonization of the coal industry, in Poland, Germany, France and Italy.

Part 2 breaks newer ground, as it “delivers an account of the revolutionary change taking place in the automobile industry, proceeding from a European overview (chapter 6) to insights both from France (chapter 7) and from Germany, the latter with its central eastern European supply chains (chapter 8). Chapter 9 then gives the view of IG Metall, a trade union which has a key role in managing change in the automobile industry in an active and forward-looking way.”   Regarding the automobile industry, the introduction states: “With digitalisation and decarbonisation, the industry faces unprecedented challenges in the near future that will re-write its entire business model, redefine work and redraw its value chains. Managing this change requires innovative approaches from the main actors and new forms of relationships between the actors.”  Germany’s social partnership bargaining structure is the framework for the innovative initiatives described at the EU, federal, regional and plant level.

The report is summarized by Mr. Galgóczi  in “Why should just transition be an integral part of the European Green Deal?”,  which appeared in Social Europe on December 4.

International conference highlights union initiatives for public ownership and democratic control of energy

TUED 2019 conferenceAn international conference, “The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership“, brought together more than 150 trade unionists, activists and policy allies in New York City on September 28, 2019. In November, a 50-page summary of the conference was released by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), with summaries of presentations (including many links to related documents), as well as links to video of some sessions.

TUED Coordinator Sean Sweeney described the context of the conference:  “The world is completely off-track to avoid catastrophic climate change, and we can’t wait any longer. Fortunately, unions and their allies around the world increasingly recognize that only comprehensive public ownership and democratic control of energy gives us a chance to achieve the scale of change needed in the time available.” Speakers from the U.K., South Africa, South Korea, Zimbabwe, the U.S., among others, addressed the key themes through their own experiences, including:  “Privatization of State-Owned Electricity Utilities Has Failed, But Alternatives Exist”; “Defending and Reclaiming Public Energy Requires Building Union Power”; “The Transition Must Take into Account the Development Needs of the Global South”. As for next steps, Peter Knowlton, outgoing President of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), proposed a specific mobilization for 2020: “to bring millions of workers into the streets for Earth Day on April 22, 2020. But we need to have a continuous series of actions, … A week of activity between the “bookends” of Earth Day and May Day could be a wonderful opportunity to bring the labor and environmental movements together in a way we haven’t seen before.”

The conference was organized by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), with support from Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (New York Office) and the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Labor and Urban Studies, in partnership with unions – from Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). Local 32BJ SEIU  hosted a two-day retreat in advance of the full gathering.

A proposal to convert GM Oshawa to electric vehicle production under public and worker ownership

gm oshawaTriple Bottom Line Preliminary Feasibility Study of the GM Oshawa Facility: Possibilities for Sustainable Community Wealth was released in September 2019 by Green Jobs Oshawa  – a coalition of workers, community leaders, environmentalists, labour and social justice advocates whose goal is to  re-purpose the soon-to-be-shuttered GM Oshawa auto assembly plant “for socially beneficial manufacturing.”

The call to convert GM Oshawa to electric vehicle production has been made before – notably by Sam Gindin, as part of a Lucas Plan-style conversion, and by journalist Linda McQuaig, most recently in her new book The Sport & Prey of Capitalists . But the new Triple Bottom Line feasibility study fleshes out these goals with facts and figures: it  estimates that a  public investment of $1.4 to $1.9 billion would be required to acquire and retool the Oshawa assembly plant for Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) production, which, when supported by government procurement of the vehicles, would result in financial break-even by year 4, and create over 13,000 jobs (up to 2,900 jobs in parts supply and manufacturing) and over 10,000 multiplier jobs.

The Triple Bottom Line study was written by Russ Christianson,  a consultant and active proponent of worker cooperatives. He uses “a triple bottom line evaluation”, including: 1. an economic analysis of the current and future auto industry market, capital investment required, skills and equipment available at the GM facility and in the community, and the potential new products that could be manufactured. 2. Social needs in the Oshawa community for well-paid, dignified work , and 3. “How production at the plant can address the defining issue of our times, climate catastrophe”.

Some Highlights from the report: 

“By paying a good wage to auto workers – this study proposes the existing GM Oshawa tier 1 wage of $35 per hour for assembly workers – it will be possible to gain the workers’ commitment by investing in their jobs through shared-ownership of the new organization.”

“Governments will need to negotiate alongside the workers and community to gain public ownership of the GM Oshawa plant. The financial forecasts include a start-up investment of $10,000 from each of the workers combined with community investment for a total of $37.5 million in Scenario 1, and Scenario 2 estimates $25 million in investment from workers and the community.”

“By the end of year 5, the forecasts show that BEVs will represent 30 to 40 percent of these governments’ total fleets, except for Canada Post, which (like the U.S. Postal Service) is expected to replace the majority of their delivery fleet vehicles with BEVs.”

The CBC reported on the launch of the feasibility study on September 21 in “Autoworkers at GM’s Oshawa plant ask feds for more than $1B to build electric vehicles”  and included commentary from supporters and detractors.  In support, the article quotes from an email by Olivier Trescases, head of the University of Toronto’s Electric Vehicle Research Centre,  which stated: “I think that aiming for government owned EV fleets and electrified public transportation is strategically very important and more logical than trying to produce passenger cars though a Crown corporation.”

Norway municipal pension fund divests from Canada’s oil sands

On October 7, the National Observer reported  “Norway public pension fund severs final link with Canada’s oilsands” . The article describes that KLP, which manages the pensions of Norway’s 900,000 nurses, firefighters and other local and state government employees, has sold off US$33 million worth of equity holdings and US$25 million in bonds from Canada’s Cenovus Energy, Suncor Energy, Imperial Oil (majority owned by ExxonMobil) and Husky Energy, as well as Russia’s Tatneft PAO. This follows the June 2019 vote by the Norwegian Parliament to to tighten the coal exclusion criteria of Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), and the October 1 decision by the GPFG to divest from oil exploration companies (although it still maintains investment in downstream and integrated ventures).  The moves are seen as reflective of the instability of oil and gas investments, and it is notable that the KLP fund has had a 22.8 percent return so far this year, 1.5 per cent ahead of its benchmark.

In contrast to the Norweigian pension administrators, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) as recently as March 2019  invested $1.34 billion in a joint venture which will expand fracking in the western Marcellus and Utica shale basins of the U.S.. The CPPIB manages $400 billion to support the public pensions of Canadians, and continues to hold hundreds of millions of dollars in oil and gas companies, including Enbridge , Suncor  and Pembina Pipeline.   The Green Party of Canada platform in the 2019 election  commits to “regulate the CPP Investment Board to require divestment of coal, oil and gas shares and ensure that all investments are ethical and promote environmental sustainability.”

Another recent, high-profile divestment:  The University of California announced that by the end of September, the university’s $70 billion pension fund and $13.4 billion endowment  fund will have divested all investments related to fossil fuel extraction.  The reason given:  “The reason we sold some $150 million in fossil fuel assets from our endowment was the reason we sell other assets: They posed a long-term risk to generating strong returns for UC’s diversified portfolios.”  A September 18 article in Vox is one of many reporting on this high-profile decision.