USW Workshop Guide – and other climate change training resources

USW-365x365The United Steelworkers Union in Canada  produced a workshop guide, Climate Change and Just Transition: What will workers need? . The guide was piloted at the United Steelworkers National Health, Safety, Environment and Human Rights Conference in 2017, and released to the public in May 2019 by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW), which was a partner on the project. The 47-page guide is designed to lead union members through discussion topics and activities, including general introduction to climate change concepts and vocabulary, and how climate change contributes to the world of work, particularly in the forestry, mining, and transportation industries where USW membership is concentrated. The Guide also discusses Just Transition and the Canadian experience, as well as areas of action for unions: Collective Agreements; Political Lobbying; Green Procurement; Training; and Employment Insurance.

A 2018 resource,  Communicating Climate Change and Energy in Alberta , focuses on how to talk to people effectively, and gives specifics about vocabulary and themes that are participative and non-confrontational.  Some highlights are cited in Lessons in talking climate with Albertan Oil Workers” (Feb. 21), including:

“In Alberta, recognising the role that oil and gas has played in securing local livelihoods proved crucial. Most environmentalists would balk at a narrative of ‘gratitude’ towards oil, but co-producing an equitable path out of fossil fuel dependency means making oil sands workers feel valued, not attacked. Empathetic language that acknowledges oil’s place in local history could therefore be the key to cultivating support for decarbonisation.

…..This project was also one of the first to test language specifically on energy transitions. While participants were generally receptive to the concept, the word ‘just’, with its social justice connotations, proved to be anything but politically neutral. In an environment where attitudes towards climate are bound to political identities, many interviewees showed a reluctance to the idea of government handouts, even where an unjust transition would likely put them out of a job. Rather, the report recommends a narrative of ‘diversification’ rather than ‘transition’, stressing positive future opportunities instead of moving away from a negative past.”

The report was produced by the  Alberta Narratives Project, whose lead partners are The Pembina Institute and Alberta Ecotrust. It  is part of the global Climate Outreach Initiative,  whose goal is to understand and train communicators to deliver effective communications which lead to cooperative approaches.

environmental racism trainingThe ACW also partnered with  the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists  to produce the training materials used for an Environmental Racism and Work workshop at the Indigenous and Workers of Colour Conference organized by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council on June 1st.  The 2-hour workshop was co-delivered by Patricia Chong (Asian Canadian Labour Alliance) and Chris Wilson (Coalition of Black Trade Unionists) – the Facilitator’s notes for the 2-hour workshop are here.  Related  training materials on environmental racism are described, with links, here .

climate resistance handbookThe Climate Resistance Handbook  was released by 350.org in May 2019, and meant to be used with their library of free training resources.  This handbook is directed at a general audience, especially young climate strikers, with very basic principles of building relationships, tactics, and moving from actions to strategic campaigns.  It includes the example of an organized action in 2014 at the National Energy Board against  TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline.

 

Updated: U.S. Labour views on climate strikes and the Green New Deal

Speakers, listed here, addressed the issues of Just Transition, the Green New Deal, public ownership of energy production, and an appropriate role for labour in climate activism at the New York Labor History Association Annual Spring Conference on May 11, under the banner  “Taking the Lead: Labor and Global Warming: Our History, Activism and Challenge”.  “New Calls for a General Strike in the Face of Coming Climate Catastrophe” appeared in the Labor Press (May 13) (re-posted to Portside on May 22) , summarizing some of the discussion, especially the statement by Bruce Hamilton, VP of the  Amalgamated Transit Union, that a general strike “should never be taken off the table”.  The article notes that “A general strike, however, requires a level of unity around the question of climate change and the Green New Deal that presently does not exist inside organized labor.”  On May 30, Portside published  a lengthly compilation of “Reader Responses”  , both pro and con, about using a general strike as a tactic.  (Note that the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is calling for  “a day of global action on climate change” on June 26 as part of their  Climate Proof our Work campaign   , and the Fridays for Future student strike movement has called for a worldwide general strike by adults and youth for September 20).

Union differences  around the Green New Deal have been noted before in the WCR:  in “Labor’s voice in support of the Green New Deal” (May 14) , and “AFL-CIO Energy Committee releases letter opposing the Green New Deal” (Mar 14). On May 22, “The Green New Deal is fracturing a critical base for Democrats: unions” appeared in Vox, providing  a broad overview of national and state-level examples.

Service Employees International Union endorses GND: On June 6, the Service Employees International Union issued a press release announcing that the International Executive Board had passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal , which states in part: “the Green New Deal supports the right of all workers to have unions, no matter where they work; makes unions central to accomplishing the ambitious goal of an environmentally responsible and economically just society; and commits to providing universal healthcare and a good, union job with family-sustaining wages
and benefits for everyone who wants one.”   The Resolution affirms the goals of the GND, commits to political action, and to cooperation with other advocacy partners in environmental,  immigrant, health care,  and economic justice movements.

On the issue of transitions, it states:

4. “SEIU stands in solidarity with all in the labor movement who share our desire to create family-sustaining union jobs and a healthy and safe environment. Workers who have built and are dependent upon the fossil fuel industry must have:

  • a. Access to good union jobs, training and advancement if their current jobs cease to exist;
  • b. Guaranteed pensions and a bridge of wage support and healthcare until impacted workers find comparable employment or reach retirement;
  • c. Financial support for local community public services during a transition period

Green New Deal and Labour in California:  There is support for the Green New Deal  in polling the green new dealCalifornia – as evidenced by “Packed Bay Area Convergence on Climate Plans for Green New Deal” and other articles  in the Green New Deal compilation by the Labor Network for SustainabilityYet “Labor anger over Green New Deal greets 2020 contenders in California”  appeared in Politico, focusing on the opposition to the Los Angeles Green New Deal announced on April 29, chiefly by California’s building trades unions.  Those unions fear job loss and the costs members may face from higher gas taxes, as well as congestion pricing for tolls on freeways during rush hour. They have differed with environmentalists in the past over environmental justice and pollution regulation at the State level .  In “The Green New Deal- Be-labored?” in Resilience (May 11) and originally in Civil Notion, author Joel Stronberg describes the California divide in even greater detail and quotes a professor from Loyola Law School, who assesses that “the Green New Deal…divides the Democrats on a fault line, which is more of the elites against the working class Democrats who are concerned about losing their jobs.”  Stronberg also states that the Association of Flight Attendants is a second union which has endorsed the Green New Deal, and cites a recent survey by Data for Progress between March 30 and April 7, 2019 which measured union members’ (not leadership) attitudes. According to Stronberg, it shows 52 percent of current union members approve of the Green New Deal, 22 percent were opposed,  21 percent didn’t know about it, and five percent were neutral.

Canadian unions:  In Canada, unions have not yet been as vocal about the Green New Deal – although “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal: The Canadian Connection” in The Tyee (June 3) describes the close ties between the U.S. GND and Canadians Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein of The Leap.    Some unions have endorsed the uniquely-Canadian Pact for a Green New Deal – and the United Steelworkers  have endorsed the New Democratic Party’s newly announced climate change platform  – Power to change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs .

U.K. Parliament declares climate emergency; Government committee calls for Net Zero Emissions by 2050

extinction rebellion signThe government of the United Kingdom became the first national government to declare an environment and climate emergency. on May 1 when it passed a motion by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (and Ireland followed suit with its own vote in Parliament on May 10) . Many agree with the headline from Common Dreams, “Activism works: UK Parliament makes history in declaring climate emergency”, reflecting on the huge impact made by the April demonstrations of the School Strikes and Extinction Rebellion in the U.K.

UK net-zero-coverOn the heels of the symbolic victory of the climate emergency declaration, on May 2 the U.K. government’s Committee on Climate Change delivered its long-awaited landmark report, requested by the U.K., Scottish and Welsh Governments in 2018.  Net Zero: the U.K.’s contribution to stopping Global Warming  calls for net zero emissions by 2050, with Scotland to target net-zero by 2045 and Wales to target a 95 per cent reduction by 2050 relative to 1990.  The net-zero target would cover all greenhouse gases, including international aviation and shipping, and allow for the use of emissions credits. The Committee estimates the cost at equivalent to 1-2% of GDP each year, made possible by the rapidly falling cost of new technologies – and balanced by the benefits of a cleaner environment and improved health. In calling for more ambitious targets than the existing one of 80% emissions cut by 2050 (set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act), the Committee states that “Current policy is insufficient for even the existing targets”, and calls for “clear, stable and well-designed policies to reduce emissions … across the economy without delay”.

Links to the research reports supporting the Committee’s report are here .  The Guardian released a brief overview in “‘This report will change your life’: what zero emissions means for UK . More substantial reactions come from:  Carbon Brief, with a detailed summary; and from The Grantham Institute “What is Net Zero?” , and a political wish list in “Urgent response needed from U.K. government on Net Zero Emissions”  .

The Greener Jobs Alliance , a coalition of U.K. unionists and environmentalists, also summarizes what the new report may mean, acknowledging that “The 2050 target date for zero emissions will disappoint many demonstrating across the UK.”, but focusing especially on the breakthrough of the Committee’s call for Just Transition. The GJA states: “It should now reinforce this message by setting up a Just Transition Advisory Group, with union representation from the industrial, energy, public and voluntary sectors….” and “….the absence of a strategic advisory role for unions in the work of the committee is no longer tenable.”

Below is the GJA overview of what the Net Zero report will mean for workers, as published in their news release:

  • Up to one in five jobs across the UK will be affected by a Zero Carbon Britain strategy.
  • Major moves away from fossil fuels – with job losses across oil and gas extraction, power and heating industries, as well as job losses in supply chains for these sectors.
  • Some gas fired power stations could be needed, but they will need to run using hydrogen or Carbon Capture & Storage. All coal-fired stations close.
  • Huge job growth is expected in sectors like renewables, electric vehicles, home insulation and domestic heating.
  • Employment in offshore wind, for example, is predicted to quadruple to 27,000 jobs by 2030. The big prize comes when all three main parts of a wind turbine – the tower, the cell at the top and the blades – are made in the UK. The UK is currently a big importer of renewable technology. The UK has to develop full supply chains across the renewable energy sector.
  • By 2025 at the latest all new cars and vans should be electric, or use a low- carbon alternative such as hydrogen. The automotive industry must transition to electric vehicles, with major implications for jobs, skills and investment.
  • No new homes should be connected to the gas grid after 2025.
  • Retrofitting homes with energy efficiency measures and installing low-carbon heat into new and existing homes will require new skills. This programme could generate many more high-skilled jobs in the installation and construction industries.

The potential of worker ownership to finance Just Transition – and other inspiring Canadian examples

briarpatch special issueSaskatchewan’s Briarpatch magazine has published a Special Issue on Just Transition. It is a treasure trove of inspiring on-the-ground perspectives and information from Canadians working for an economic  Just Transition. 

All the articles are worth reading, but here are some highlights:

How will we pay for a Just Transition”   expresses doubt that we can rely on the usual government policies to finance meaningful transition – for example, it reviews the One Million Climate Jobs campaign of the Green Economy Network and the inadequate response by the Trudeau government.  Instead, the article provides examples of more innovative models of worker ownership and cooperation which support redistribution of wealth and financial capital. First,  The Working World, which launched in 2015 in Buenos Aires to finance employee ownership of non-extractive businesses, and now administers a “financial commons” Peer Network .  The Working World has inspired other projects, such as the Just Transition Loan Fund and Incubator and the Reinvest in Our Power projects , being launched by the U.S. Climate Justice Alliance . The article discusses the role of philanthropy, specifically the U.S. Chorus Foundation, which states that it “works for a just transition to a regenerative economy in the United States.” In Canada, a much smaller similar philanthropic initiative is the Resource Movement,  a project of Tides Canada, which gathers “ young people with wealth and class privilege working towards the equitable distribution of wealth, land and power.” 

Other articles:

Recommendations for Just Transition coal phase-out in Europe

Bela Phasing-out-coal-a-just-transition-coverPhasing out coal – a just transition approach  was released as a Working Paper by the European Trade Union Institute in April – the latest of several publications on the topic by ETUI Senior Researcher and ACW associate Béla Galgóczi . Following  a summary of the role of coal in the European economy and the current employment structure of the broader coal sector, the paper provides an up-to-date summary of energy policies and just transition policies in France, Germany, Poland and Spain, and also looks at lessons learned from past phase-out experiences in the Ruhr Valley of Germany, Hazelwood coal plant in  Australia, and ENEL, Italy.  He notes that  a clear distinction should be made between hard coal regions, like the German Ruhr or Silesia in Poland, which are strongly-industrialized regions with a high level of urbanization and  a greater economic diversity,  and brown coal regions  such as German Lusatia or the Polish Lodzkie region, which  are rural areas with low population densities and employment concentrated in the mining and energy sectors.  The paper concludes that successful just transition requires, amongst other things: specific and targeted just coal transition policies with government involvement at the central and regional level; a properly-funded, specific mine closure agency, or a specialized agency for employment transitions for several years; individualized active labour market policies and personal coaching; and active EU-level financial support.

The author has made similar arguments  in a 5-page ETUI  Policy Brief,  From Paris to Katowice: the EU needs to step up its game on climate change and set its own just transition framework  (2018), and in his detailed  report  published by the ILO in October 2018 : Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies  and Societies for All, previously summarized in the WCR.