U.S. Labour unions’ climate change policies explained

stevis report 2019 cleavagesLabour Unions and Green Transitions in the USA: Contestations and Explanations is a new report by Dimitris Stevis, released on February 27 by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) project.  Professor Stevis, from Colorado State University, identifies and provides details about 50 climate change-related initiatives by labour unions in the U.S. , up to May 1, 2018. In his own words:  “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?”

From his conclusion: “There is good evidence to suggest that unions can adopt initiatives to deal with climate change and can and have supported climate policy. But it is very unlikely that broader and deeper change can take place without some modification of the institutional and political economy dynamics of the country or, at least, some states. There is plenty of evidence that internal factors do shape the attitudes of unions as there is also good evidence that public policies can steer unions in one direction or another. For that reason strategies that aim at changing public policy at the level of cities, states and, even better, the whole country are necessary. In their absence the road of labour environmentalists will be that much harder.”

The Green New Deal and Labour – updated with March 8 letter by AFL-CIO Energy Committee

LNS at 2017 Washington Climate MarchThe Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S.  published a new Discussion Paper written by Jeremy Brecher in late February.   18  Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make the Climate Mobilization Work  states that initial discussion of the Green New Deal resolution was rightly focussed on values and goals, but this Discussion paper moves on to the “how”- in 18 specific proposals which are itemized individually, but are intended to work together. The paper explains and consolidates many of the goals and strategies which have been proposed before by  LNS, including: protect low-income energy consumers and empower communities; mobilize labour and leave no worker behind; ensure worker rights and good union jobs, and yes, provide a “job guarantee.”  The 18 Strategies Discussion paper is summarized as “The Green New Deal can work: Here’s How”, which appeared in Commons Dreams on February 25  and was re-posted in  Resilience on Feb. 26.  In the article, Jermey Brecher states: “A GND will not pit workers against workers and discourage the growth of climate-protecting industries and jobs abroad. It will oppose both escalating trade wars and the free trade utopia of neoliberalism.”

The Labor Network for Sustainability has worked to build solidarity behind the Green New Deal, and on February 26,  published a Special  Issue of their newsletter, which profiles the GND endorsements and initiatives of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council in California, SEIU Locals 32BJ in New York, SIEU Local  1021 in San Francisco, and the Business Manager of IBEW Local 103 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, along with other examples and resources.  The LNS  website also hosts a new blog by Todd Vachon,  Green New Deal is a Good Deal for New Jersey workers , in which he argues for the GND and cites some of his research  which shows that union members are more likely than the general population to support environmental action.

Sean Sweeney, the Director of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, has published  “The Green New Deal’s Magical Realism” in New Labor Forum,  which rejects the “far-fetched” label that many have used for the GND, and argues that “the magnitude of the climate crisis makes the half-measures and failed ‘market mechanisms’ of the mainstream in fact more unrealistic than the bold plans put forward by the Green New Deal.”  He further argues that the GND deserves to be defended by the Left,  not least because it  does not call for carbon pricing. “If it can be sustained, this exclusion will amount to a massive policy breakthrough, because it flies in the face of almost 30 years of investor-focused climate policy.”

Another voice for consensus:  David Roberts, the climate change journalist at Vox, who wrote “This is an emergency, damn it: Green New Deal critics are missing the bigger picture  (Feb. 23).  Roberts  states: “….. So that’s the context here: a world tipping over into catastrophe, a political system under siege by reactionary plutocrats, a rare wave of well-organized grassroots enthusiasm, and a guiding document that does nothing but articulate goals that any climate-informed progressive ought to share. Given all that, for those who acknowledge the importance of decarbonizing the economy and recognize how cosmically difficult it is going to be, maybe nitpicking and scolding isn’t the way to go. Maybe the moment calls for a constructive and additive spirit.”

On the other hand, Naomi Klein attacks Republicans, but also unions, in her article  “The Battle lines have been drawn on the Green New Deal” , which appeared in The Intercept (Feb. 13) . Klein praises the Canadian Union of Postal Workers for their climate change vision in Delivering Community Power , but singles out “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.” Calling LiUNA “a fossil fuel astroturf group disguised as a trade union, or at best a company union”, Klein states: “The time has come for the rest of the labor movement to confront and isolate them before they can do more damage. That could take the form of LIUNA members, confident that the Green New Deal will not leave them behind, voting out their pro-boss leaders. Or it could end with LIUNA being tossed out of the AFL-CIO for planetary malpractice.”

The LiUNA official response to the Green New Deal was posted on February 7, and states: “It is exactly how not to successfully enact desperately needed infrastructure investment. It is exactly how not to enact a progressive agenda to address our nation’s dangerous income inequality. And it is exactly how not to win support for critical measures to curb climate change…. threatens to destroy workers’ livelihoods, increase divisions and inequality, and undermine the very goals it seeks to reach. In short, it is a bad deal.”

UPDATE:   On March 8, the Energy Committee of the AFL-CIO released a letter they sent to Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, opposing the Green New Deal.   The Washington Post reported:  AFL-CIO criticizes Green New Deal, calling it ‘not achievable or realistic’” (March 12)  and  in a follow-up piece , “Labor opposition to Green New Deal could be a big obstacle” ( March 14).   More details are here, along with a link to a policy paper submitted by IBEW, United Mine Workers of America and others to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in February 2019.

For all those who are still wandering through the mountains of Green New Deal articles and opinions:  Canada’s  National Observer published a very brief summary in  “What is the Green New Deal and how would it benefit society?   (reprinted from The Guardian in the U.K. ).  A more detailed explanation appears in The Green New Deal: Mobilizing for a Just, Prosperous and Sustainable Economy , a 14-page paper written by the originators of the concept, Rhianna Gunn-Wright and Robert Hockett at New Consensus, or their 2-page summary  . And here is the text of the GND Resolution tabled in the House of Representatives on February 7 2019: Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal  .

Green New Deal – an opportunity for the U.S. and for Labour

As the U.S. Congress returned for its 116th Session in January 2019, newly-elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal  have become the symbols of the “freshmen” class in Washington. The term is now everywhere – as shown green new deal tweetsby  “What’s the Deal with the Green New Deal” from the Energy Institute at Haas, University of California at Berkeley, which coins the acronym “GND” and shows a graph of the Twitter traffic on the topic.  More substantially, the article critiques the economic, job creation proposals in the Green New Deal proposal, as does economist Edward B. Barbier in “How to make the next Green New Deal work” in Nature.com on January 1. From a Canadian, much less conservative viewpoint, Thomas Clayton-Muller discussed a Canadian version called the “Good work Guarantee”, as proposed by 350.org.  in “Canada needs its own Green New Deal. Here’s what it could look like” in the National Observer (Nov. 29) , and Matt Price urged unions to follow the lead in “Unions Should Go Big on a Green New Deal for Canada” in an Opinion piece in The Tyee  (Dec. 10) .

Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein of the  Labor Network for Sustainability write “The Green New Deal provides a visionary program for labor and can provide a role for unions in defining and leading a new vision for America” in “12 Reasons Labor Should Demand a Green New Deal” in Portside. The article reviews the history of the original U.S. New Deal, but more importantly, shows how the Green New Deal can help U.S. labour unions reclaim bargaining power, political power, and good jobs.  They conclude with a long list of Labour goals for any Green New Deal, including: Restore the right to organize: Bargain collectively and engage in concerted action on the job; Guarantee the Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly in the workplace; Restore the right to strike; Guarantee the right to a safe and healthy work environment; Provide a fair and just transition for workers whose jobs may be threatened by economic change; Establish fair labor standards; Establish strong state and local prevailing wage laws; Encourage industry-wide bargaining; Establish a “buy fair” and “buy local” procurement policy. They conclude with suggestions for how unions can support a Green New Deal .  Héctor Figueroa ,  President of 32BJ Service Employees International Union also urges other unions to support the GND, and describes its importance for his union in “For the Future of Our Communities, Labor Support for The Green New Deal” in Common Dreams (Dec. 13) .

The political story of the Green New Deal revolves around the negotiations to form a House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, summarized in a great article from Inside Climate News, “New Congress Members See Climate Solutions and Jobs in a Green New Deal” (Jan. 3).  HR-1, the first Bill tabled by the Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party in the new House of Representatives is a  60-page statement, which establishes the mandate of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in Section 104, (pages 46-49). Reaction from the Sunrise Movement  stated:  “The mandate for @nancypelosi‘s Climate Select Committee is out, and it’s everything we feared. No mandate to create a plan on the timeline mandated by top scientists; No language on economic & racial justice, or a just transition; Allows members to accept fossil fuel money. As well, it lacks power to supoena.” Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash is extensively quoted in  “They Failed Us Once Again’: House Democrats Denounced for Dashing Hopes of Green New Deal”  from Common Dreams (Jan. 3), and though disappointed, she states: “In losing this fight on the Select Committee, we have won the biggest breakthrough on climate change in my lifetime.”

The Select Committee is  not the only political avenue to deal with climate change. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Democractic Representative Frank Pallone, announced it will hold its first hearing on climate change, as reported by The Hill  . And prospective Democratic presidential candidates are under pressure, as described in “Green Leftists Prepare to Give Democratic Candidates Hell” in the New Republic (Jan. 4) .

COP24 Updates and Week 2: Voices of unions, business, the U.S., and youth

COP24-table of delegatesThe official meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP 24) in Katowice began optimistically, with  over 40  countries, including Canada,  adopting the host country’s Solidarity and Just Transition  Silesia Declaration . On the same day, December 3,   IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriAll European Trade Union issued a joint declaration demanding a Just Transition for workers  .  The week ended with a diplomatic stand-off on whether delegates would “welcome” or “recognize” the landmark IPCC Scientific report – with four obdurate fossil fuel countries – U.S., Russia,  Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait –refusing  to use the word  “welcome”;  The Energy Mix summarizes those weekend negotiations and why the outcome is important – the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a statement that they are “deeply alarmed” by the U.S. position.    DeSmog UK sums up some of the concerns from Week 1 in  ‘We Cannot Accept an Unjust Energy Transition’: Future of Coal Communities Becomes Crucial Issue at Climate Talks”  .   The good news, according to an ITUC policy officer quoted in the article, is that “never, ever, before had climate negotiators debated so much about the impacts of the energy transition on workers and their communities”.

Away from the official agenda, in all-important side meetings:  on December 6, the Polish trade union Solidarność signed a joint declaration  with the U.S. Heartland Institute, aligning itself with the climate denying group and rejecting climate science.  A series of meetings were co-organized by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED)  ,  Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA)Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung-New York Office, the UK’s Public and Commercial Services UnionFriends of the Earth Europetransform! europe. The Agenda of the meetings is here ; discussion focused on the TUED discussion paper  written by  Sean Sweeney and John Treat,   When “Green” Doesn’t “Grow”: Facing Up to the Failures of Profit-Driven Climate Policy,  which is described as  “a discussion paper highlighting the failures of profit-driven climate policy and making the case for an alternative approach that focuses on the public good and meeting basic human needs, and that embraces the struggle for public / social ownership and democratic control over energy resources and use.”   It concludes with the observation that at the moment, everyone is being left behind. “This is not a scenario that unions can accept. Only a coordinated, public-goods approach allows us to escape the contradictions of commodified energy systems that pit some workers against others.”

Week 2, which runs from December 10 to 17th, has seen the arrival of political leaders, including Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna.  An interview with McKenna on her first day in Katowice appears  in the National Observer,  “McKenna says climate targets could be law in future” .  One of the issues addressed in the interview: a new report from Stand.earth and Environmental Defence, Canada’s Oil and Gas Challenge: A Summary Analysis of Rising Oil and Gas Industry Emissions in Canada and Progress Towards Meeting Climate Targets ,  which  shows how oil and gas emissions in Canada are rising, and documents examples of how oil and gas companies have influenced  Canada’s climate policies. It calls for phasing out subsidies to the oil and gas sector on an accelerated timeline, and extending just transition policies , especially to oil and gas workers. McKenna did not commit to any such new policies.

In its only official event, the  U.S. Administration attempted to lead a session on December 10,  called “US innovative technologies spur economic dynamism”, which promotes “ clean coal”.  As reported by Common Dreams  and DeSmog UK , protesters – mostly young people – disrupted the meeting  with laughter and speeches before they walked out.  Think Progress summarizes the event and the U.S. presence at COP24 in “Anger, protests greet U.S. fossil fuels side event at U.N. climate talks”.  In contrast to the positions of the U.S. Administration, We are Still In  , the coalition of U.S. state and local governments and organizations, is presenting a full slate of presentations and panels supporting the Paris Agreement – their agenda is here .  Included under this umbrella are the positions of the U.S. business community, including the We Mean Business coalition .  Their  blog, “Why we need a Just Transition to a Low Carbon World” summarizes their report, released at COP24:  Climate and the Just Transition: The Business Case for Action   .

From an international business view,  Climate Change and the  Just Transition: An  Investor  Guide was released on December 10   by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, in partnership with the the Initiative for Responsible Investment at the Harvard Kennedy School.    The International Trade Union Confederation is also listed as a partner in this publication.  The Guide endorses the need for Just Transition and illustrates a review of academic research and reveals the viewpoints of the financial community on the value of Just Transition. The release of the report coincides with the release of a Global Investor Statement  by some of the world’s largest pension funds, asset managers and insurance companies, which calls for governments to phase out thermal coal power, put a meaningful price on carbon, and phase out fossil fuel subsidies. It’s significance is described  in The Guardian article, “Largest ever group of global investors call for more action to meet Paris targets”   .  The Investor Group Briefing Paper  includes an endorsement of the Powering past Coal Alliance, and states: “Investors encourage governments to transition to a low carbon economy in a sustainable and economically inclusive way. As stated in the Paris Agreement, this must include “the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities”, by providing appropriate support for workers and communities in industries undergoing transition . Additionally, governments should work with investors to ensure that the benefits and opportunities created by acting on climate change and the increased adoption of clean energy technologies are accessible to all”.

For COP24 News  from a trade union perspective , read a blog by Philip Pearson appear in “Breaking News” at the Greener Jobs Alliance website or the  COP24 Blog by IndustriALL  .

And for another view of the “unofficial” side of COP24, check Democracy Now, which is reporting from Katowice.   “Thousands Protest at U.N. Climate Summit in Coal-Heavy Poland, Facing Riot Police & Intimidation ”   was posted on December 10,  and Amy Goodman interviewed Swedish teenager and “climate hero” Greta Thunberg  on December 11.  December 8 was officially dedicated to Youth voices , with Greta being the most publicized, but certainly not alone.  Last words to Greta and the  young people she represents:   “… we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future,” …. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge.”  And from video of a speech posted by the UNFCC , she states: “The first thing I have learned is that you’re never too small to make a difference.”greta speech cop24

Talking Just Transition in the heart of coal country: COP24 delegates gather in Katowice, Poland

cop24 just transitionRepresentatives of almost 200 nations are meeting  at the 24th annual Conference of the Parties (COP24)  in Katowice, Poland from December 3 to 17.  Their goal is to negotiate a “rulebook” to turn the Paris Agreement pledges of 2015 into reality – basically, trying to find agreement on a host of implementation details so that the world can limit warming to 2, preferably 1.5 degrees C.

Katowice coal museum

Museum to coal mining in Katowice, Poland

With Poland as the host country and the  location of the meetings in the centre of the country’s coal region, it was inevitable that Just Transition would have a high profile at COP24 . The first day of the meetings at the Polish Pavilion was devoted entirely to discussion of the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration  which has been signed by Poland’s President and heads of 44 other countries. The Declaration states that social approval of changes is essential for the transition to a  low-carbon economy and the social security of workers in affected communities is the first and foremost policy goal. Although the International Trade Union Congress is meeting for its 4th World Congress in Copenhagen in the week of December 2,  it released a statement of support for the Silesia Declaration, stating “This declaration means that workers and their unions will have a seat at the negotiating table and workers’ voices will be heard when climate policies are developed and implemented. Good social dialogue processes are a crucial factor to make the changes to industries, sectors and national economies that will stop dangerous climate change and unleash a 65 million low-carbon jobs dividend by 2030. ”

Also at the ITUC World Congress, Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff delivered a speech (radio broadcast here ) on December 5 about on how Canadian unions are dealing with climate change.  The European Trade Union Confederation is also participating in the discussion on Just Transition –notably with participation in the  December 3 session  ‘Game changer for the future of work: Towards a just transition with gender equality’ . A list of ILO sessions and events regarding Just Transition and Decent Work is here .

December 10 has been designated as “Ambition and Just Transition Day”, and on December 13, Canada and the U.K. , as co-founders of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, will co-host a Side-event  to showcase the PPCA progress and to launch a new report on global coal economics by Carbon Tracker . mapping just transition 2018Already  launched at COP24:  Just Transition: Mapping Just Transition(s) to a Low Carbon World , published by the Just Transition Research Collaborative (JTRC), part of the U.N. Research Institute on Social Development (UNRISD). It focuses on Brazil, Germany, Kenya, South Africa, the United States, and Canada – with contributions from Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood.  The report discusses how differently Just Transition has been framed, and provides case studies of how it is being implemented in the six countries.

The Climate Action Network- Canada (CAN-Rac) is participating at COP24 and released a Brief which sets out five goals for the meetings, including  Just Transition goals. CAN-Rac calls for stronger institutional recognition of just transition – by  including a Just Transition commitment  in the official Nationally Determined Contribution, and by including it as a permanent theme within the COP meetings (which guarantees it status as an agenda item and as part of the official work programme). CANRac  supports the Polish Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, recognizing the need for a carefully planned process built on social dialogue.  Within the Canadian context,  the Brief calls for an ongoing mandate for the federal Just Transition Task Force and an expansion beyond coal phase-out, to include all fossil fuel sectors. Finally it states: “The contribution of Indigenous communities in the creation and implementation of just transition policies and national plans is essential.”

What will Canada do at the COP24?  The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) makes its predictions in “The End of Coal? What to Watch for at the Upcoming UN Climate Conference (COP24)” . Environment and Climate Change Minister McKenna will not arrive at the meetings until December 9 ; December 10 has been declared “Ambition and Just Transition Day”, and December 13,  “Coal-free Day”. On December 13,  McKenna , along with the other co-founder, U.K.’s Claire Perry, will co-host a Powering Past Coal Side-event to showcase the PPCA progress and spotlight a new report, Powering Down Coal  by Carbon Tracker.

In advance of leaving for COP24, the Minister pledged  that Canada will set more ambitious GHG emissions targets when the Paris Agreement begins in 2020 –  which is a good thing since recently released data from the Global Carbon Project shows Canada is one of the world’s top ten polluters, and the current target of reducing emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 is generally considered insufficient (even if we were to meet it).  The 2018 Emissions Gap Report from the U.N. documents just how insufficient the efforts of all countries have been.

How to  Keep up to date with COP24:  The United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) website has comprehensive coverage including highlights, official documents, photos, and webcasts from the meetings.  The  International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) also provides detailed daily coverage, including photos, in its Earth Negotiations Bulletin  (and has also written a Short Guide to COP24  as an introduction to how it all works).  For media coverage:  Climate Home News has extensive and expert coverage of all aspects and The Guardian, as always, has strong coverage.  For the latest  developments, follow Environment and Climate Change Canada’s  Twitter feed here ;  also   #JustTransition  ; #Climate Justice ; and for a variety of views ,  #COP24Katowice .