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  .

TUED conferences: A Social Power vision of Just Transition, and U.K. Energy Democracy

The international alliance of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy  convened two meetings over the summer of 2018, summarized in  Just Transition: A Revolutionary Idea – TUED Bulletin 73 , which summarizes an international conference held in New York in late May, and  Reclaiming UK Energy: What’s the Plan? – TUED Bulletin 75  , which summarizes meetings in the U.K. on June 28 and 29 to discuss different approaches to reclaiming the power sector, while honouring climate commitments and addressing energy poverty.

The Just Transition international conference brought together representatives of 31 unions as well as 15 environmental, community-based, research and policy allies from both the global North and the South.  The Program is here  ;  links to videos of the presentations on YouTube  are here  . In Opening Remarks, Paula Finn, Associate Director of the Center for Labor, Community & Public Policy at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies  “highlighted the necessity of confronting frankly and honestly the divisions within the global trade union movement—in particular divisions over “whether unmitigated economic growth and extractive capitalism must be challenged, or we can somehow ride the wave of ‘green jobs’ towards a solution of the climate crisis.”  Much of the discussion was based on the TUED’s Working Paper #11, Trade Unions and Just Transition: The Search for a Transformative Politics ( April 2018) by Sean Sweeney and John Treat and available from the Rose Luxemburg Stiflung  as part of its Climate Justice Dossier .   The Sweeney/Treat paper argues for a “Social Power vision” of Just Transition, which “ must be radically democratic and inclusive, and it must hold at its center a recognition that nothing short of a deep socioeconomic and ecological transition will be sufficient for the challenges our planet currently faces.” Watch Sean Sweeney summarize and discuss the paper in a video of Session 2: Broadening the Just Transition Debate: The Search for a Transformative Politics . Donald LaFleur, Vice-President of the  Canadian Labour Congress,  appears as a discussant to the paper at approximately minute 29 of the video.

The second TUED meeting of the summer of 2018 is summarized in Reclaiming UK Energy: What’s the Plan? – TUED Bulletin 75  .  The forty delegates attending  included GMB, UNISON UNITE, PCS, TSSA, Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, National Education Union,  and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), along with allies including the Greener Jobs Alliance, Friends of the Earth Europe and Scotland, Transnational Institute and others from across Europe.  The Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of the U.K. Labour Party presented their current energy platform which focuses on establishing a number of regional public energy companies, and participated in a discussion of union policies and opinion.  In addition to the summary from the TUED Bulletin, a summary also appears in the July/August Newsletter of the Greener Jobs Alliance .  Documents on which discussion was based include:

From the TUED: All, or Something? Towards a “Comprehensive Reclaiming” of the UK Power Sector, which argues for  establishing a new national public entity that would encompass generation, transmission, distribution and supply.

From Unison: The need to take into public ownership the customer and retail operations of big 6

From Professor Costas Lapavitsas,  the University of London spoke regarding the potential impacts of Brexit on energy nationalization, based on  his  arguments and observations in  “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour vs. the Single Market.”   in Jacobin (May 2018) .

The many activities and accomplishments of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy are summarized in New Unions and Regional Advances: A Mid-Year Report — TUED Bulletin 76 dated 30 July 2018.  Of note : “The first half of 2018 saw three important additions to the TUED network, with the British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union(BCGEU), the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU; US and Canada) and the Nordic Transport Workers Federation (NTF; headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden). Together these unions represent 560,000 workers.”  64 trade union bodies are now members of TUED .

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“Historic” climate change resolution is passed unanimously at the 2017 Trades Union Congress in the U.K.

According to a  September 13 press release from Trade Unions for Energy Democracy :  “The annual congress of the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) has passed a historic composite resolution on climate change that supports the energy sector being returned to public ownership and democratic control. The resolution—carried unanimously—calls upon the 5.7-million-member  national federation to work with the Labour Party to achieve this goal, as well as to: implement a mass program for energy conservation and efficiency; lobby for the establishment of a “just transition” strategy for affected workers; and, investigate the long-term risks to pension funds from investments in fossil fuels.”   The “composite resolution”, Resolution 4, along with discussion and videos of the debate are here . The Bakers, Food and Allied  Workers Union (BFAWU) submitted the first resolution; the final composite resolution incorporated  amendments by the Communication Workers Union,  Fire Brigades Union, the train drivers union ASLEF, and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association.

A previous climate change resolution had been defeated at the 2016 annual congress.  What was different this time?  Speakers in the debate mentioned Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the chaos of Brexit, and also Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, fresh evidence of the disasters of climate change.  Trade Unions for Energy Democracy credits the influence of the Labour Party, and in advance of the vote,  Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn received an enthusiastic response to his speech to the Congress.  The Labour Party Manifesto, For the Many, not the Few , had been released during the 2017 General Election, and highlighted the issue of energy poverty,  committing to “take energy back into public ownership to deliver renewable energy, affordability for consumers, and democratic control.” It further called for the creation of “publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and co-operatives to rival existing private energy suppliers.”  Another influential document, “Reclaiming Public Service: How cities and citizens are turning back privatization,” was published in June 2017 by the Transnational Institute, providing global case studies of  “re-municipalization” of public services, including energy.

The Trades Union Congress 2017 Congress website provides videos, reports, and an archive of documents from the meetings.  This blog post summarizes the General Council statement on workers’ rights and Brexit.

An agenda for U.S. progressive unions: Resist, reclaim, restructure for climate justice and energy democracy

Towards a Progressive Labor Vision for Climate Justice and Energy Transition in the Time of Trump  is  a new discussion paper by Sean Sweeney and John Treat,  acknowledging the work of the progressive unions affiliated with the Labor Network for Solidarity and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and  proposing  an “ambitious and effective agenda for progressive labor to respond to the converging environmental crises, and to pursue a rapid, inclusive approach to energy transition and social justice.”   To set the stage, the authors acknowledge and describe  the divisions within the U.S. labour movement, especially those around the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.  They applaud Bernie Sanders for  breaking new ground in the 2016 Presidential elections by making climate change a central part of the progressive political agenda – notably his call  for a just transition for fossil fuel workers and for a national ban on fracking.  They label “Green Jobs” as  “a Tired Phrase, an Unconvincing Promise”, and find glaring problems with the existing blue-green alliance approach, stating that the accomplishments are not unimportant, “ but the “green jobs” narrative has failed to engage numerous constituencies of potential allies in the struggle for better health, workplace and environmental protections for all, and for broader social, economic and ecological justice.”

In its place, the authors look internationally for inspiration, and propose “an ambitious, pro-active, independent, labor-led program of action” , built on actions  which “resist, reclaim, restructure”, with Just Transition, Solidarity,  and Internationalism as important  principles.  Some specific examples: “Resist : energy-related land seizures, despoliation, and violation of indigenous rights and territories; Resist shale oil and gas drilling and associated infrastructure (pipelines, export platforms, etc.), especially on federal and tribal lands.”  Reclaim: “ Fight to reverse state-level “electricity market restructuring” and to reform Investor Owned Utilities;  Review the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) in order to determine whether it should be repealed in order to restore States’ power to make their own energy choices; Re-invent regulatory bodies for the power industry, establish mechanisms for meaningful public involvement and democratic decision-making; Investigate and pursue new ways to use union pension funds in order to maximize their impact for a “public goods” approach to energy provision and climate change mitigation; Reinvent public infrastructure, beginning with the postal service in order to drive local renewable energy generation and to provide financial services for working class people who need them.”   Restructure: “Demand energy sector reform to allow for a just transition to renewables under public and community control; Demand establishment of dedicated, priority revenue streams for public renewables and a “just transition fund,” to be funded via a Financial Transaction Tax; Reject costly Power Purchase Agreements; Demand adequately funded, modern and available public transit systems, including the development of public fleets of electric vehicles for urban mobility.”

labor for our revolutionTowards a Progressive Labor Vision for Climate Justice and Energy Transition in the Time of Trump was released on June 1  by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and submitted for discussion to Labor for Our Revolution , a network of unions  and labor activists engaged in campaigns to support workers’ rights and contribute to building a broader movement for social and economic justice. LFOR endorses the work of  Our Revolution , the network which grew out of the Bernie Sanders campaign in the U.S.. Our Revolution  states it  has three intertwined goals: “to revitalize American democracy, empower progressive leaders and elevate the political consciousness. “

How can U.S. Labour recover from the Keystone XL Fight?

Contested Futures: Labor after Keystone XL”  was published in New Labour Forum   and reproduced on the website of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy , where author Sean Sweeney is Coordinator.  His analysis begins with the considerable complexities of union positions in the  Keystone XL pipeline debate in the U.S. between 2011 and 2015, and continues to the present, considering the divided approaches towards the Clean Power Plan and the upcoming U.S. election campaign . His vision:   “Labor’s KXL fight could be the precursor to more disunity and acrimony in the labor movement in the years ahead, especially if the Black-Blue Alliance remains in place and “Saudi America” imaginings continue to shape labor’s discourse. Alternatively, unions in all sectors—the Trades, transport, health, and so on—can work together to support an approach to energy and climate that is needs-based, grounded in the facts, and independent of both industry interests and the mainstream environmental groups that support renewable energy “by any means necessary.” Sweeney calls for labour to unite behind an energy democracy agenda which would shift control over energy toward workers, communities, and municipalities.