February 4th, 2019
In 2018 TUED sharpened its analysis, grew in size and strength, and forged new partnerships. Below is a summary of the recent work of the project. It shows how, and where, things are moving forward.
Trade union support for reclaiming and democratizing energy is rising, and other social movements are joining this struggle. TUED is advancing an analysis that is disruptive to the idea that the private capital is taking care of the energy transition. TUED unions are expressing solidarity by developing a shared analysis and common program for action. This “disruptive solidarity” is anchored in a commitment to public ownership, full democratic control of energy at all levels, with an emphasis on inclusive planning and needs-based cooperation.
If your union is interested in being part of TUED, you can find more information here.
2018: Main Developments
- TUED continues to grow. Unions representing approximately 2.4 million workers joined in 2018. Today the project consists of 68 union bodies from 23 countries.
- Regional and national expressions of TUED continue to take shape in several key regions: Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, South Africa, and the UK. In November, several US unions agreed to launch “TUED United States” to help build a progressive labor response to Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda and to take advantage of significant political openings.
- TUED’s research and analysis had a clear impact on trade union debates and policy during the year. TUED’s Working Paper #11, Trade Unions and Just Transition: The Search for a Transformative Politics, was published in English, and will soon be available in Spanish.
- TUED’s discussion paper, When “Green” Doesn’t “Grow”: Facing Up to the Failure of For-Profit Climate Policy, prepared for the December 2018 UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland (COP24), made a clear impact in the trade union discussions both at the COP and subsequently. The paper has also been republished multiple times, including at MR Online.
- Participation in bi-monthly Global Web Forums continues to grow, connecting unions around the world.
- The TUED e-Bulletin now reaches 2,500 union officers, staff and activists around the world.
- Partnerships and collaborations with policy allies and movement-based NGOs are moving forward. TUED is playing an important part in building a global energy democracy movement.
A Growing Network: 68 Union Bodies Representing Workers in 23 Countries
The TUED network has grown to 68 trade union bodies from both the global North and South, including four Global Union Federations, three regional bodies, and eight national centers representing workers in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, Italy, Nepal, South Africa, and the Philippines. TUED also connects with movement allies in the progressive policy community, and worker education and advocacy. A complete list of participating unions and allies is here.
In 2018, eight unions joined the TUED network:
- British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU);
- Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU; US and Canada);
- Nordic Transport Workers Federation (NTF), headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden;
- National Union of Teachers (NUT) section of the UK’s National Education Union (NEU);
- South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU);
- Canada’s National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE);
- SINTRAEMCALI, the municipal workers’ union of the city of Cali, in Colombia; and,
- Basque Workers Solidarity (Euskal Langileen Alkartasuna, ELA).
Together, these unions represent roughly 2.4 million additional workers across the TUED network.
On Target: TUED’s Research and Political Analysis
TUED’s political analysis continues to have an impact on debates and policy both within the trade union movement, and more widely among allies in the environmental and climate justice movements. TUED’s analysis is framed by the “Resist, Reclaim, Restructure” (RRR) approach, which emerged from a growing dissatisfaction with the neoliberal “green growth” narrative promoted by the major policy institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, and many large corporations. The original “RRR” paper is available as part of the TUED publications.
Working Papers and Discussion Documents
TUED’s overall analysis continues to be confirmed by major studies. In 2017, TUED had drawn attention to the dangers of a false optimism about a supposed “end of fossil fuels,” beginning with Working Paper 9, Energy Transition: Are We Winning?. TUED’s next Working Paper 10, Preparing a Public Pathway: Confronting the Investment Crisis in Renewable Energy, looked at investment levels and why the for-profit approach to energy transition was failing.
In 2018, Working Paper 11, Trade Unions and Just Transition: The Search for a Transformative Politics, examined how this failure needed to be acknowledged by unions engaged in the struggle to achieve a Just Transition.
TUED’s discussion paper for the UN climate talks (COP 24) in Katowice, When “Green” Doesn’t “Grow”: Facing Up to the Failure of For-Profit Climate Policy, updated the political and economic analysis found in the Working Paper series.
TUED Working Paper 12, to be published in early 2019, looks at the transport sector, focusing especially on urban passenger transport, the myths and realities of private electric vehicles, and how the struggle for energy democracy and climate action can and must strengthen union campaigns for modern public transport systems powered by renewable energy.
Other Research, Analysis and Policy Work
In 2018 TUED also producing a series of country “mapping” analyses for Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA for key countries in the Asia-Pacific region, namely Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. These reports have been used to inform a series of strategy workshops with trade unions and allies in each of these countries, as part of a wider effort to advance a pro-public energy transition in the region.
TUED also worked with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), providing data and arguments for its Our Public Transport campaign.
Working with unions in the UK, TUED produced a discussion document that made the case for a Labour Government to establish a new national public agency that would oversee generation, transmission, distribution and supply. See: All, or Something? Towards a “Comprehensive Reclaiming” of the UK Power Sector (more details below).
TUED’s work is also reaching audiences beyond the international trade union movement. For example, TUED made a contribution to a series of essays titled Radical Realism for Climate Justice released by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in September to coincide with the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5 C. That contribution, titled Another Energy is Possible, looked at technology-related challenges, arguing that the climate movement must do more to engage in the debates around different technological options and proposals.
Organizing for Energy Democracy on the Global Stage
Katowice, Poland: Organizing with Unions and Allies at COP 24
From December 3-10, TUED organized several meetings and debates around the UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland.
TUED’s discussion paper, When “Green” Doesn’t “Grow”: Facing Up to the Failures of Profit-Driven Climate Policy, summarized key data and findings from recent TUED Working Papers, and framed the discussions with unions and energy democracy allies. Significantly, TUED teamed up with the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas, PCS-UK, the Transnational Institute, Transform Europe, Friends of the Earth Europe, and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York, to organize several successful meetings for the global trade union delegation and social movement allies.
The full program of TUED-organized meetings in Katowice is here.
New York: TUED International Conference on “Just Transition”
On May 29, trade union representatives and close allies from more than a dozen countries came together in New York City for TUED’s international conference, Towards a Just Transition: International Labor Perspectives on Energy, Climate and Economy.
Participants came from both the global North and the global South, representing 31 unions as well as 15 environmental, community-based, research and policy allies from: Australia, Canada, Brazil, India, Italy, Nepal, Philippines, South Korea, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States (including Puerto Rico) and Vietnam. The conference was also addressed by Zwelinzima Vavi, Secretary General of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU); Angel Jaramillo, President of Puerto Rico’s main power union, UTIER; and by Dr. Anastasia Romanou of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Key Regional and National Developments
Asia-Pacific: Laying the Groundwork
The struggle for energy democracy in the Asia-Pacific region is critically important given the fact that fossil fuel use and pollution levels are rising at an alarming pace.
Led by Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, the TUED regional group in Asia-Pacific region is now well established. Web-based calls take place every three months, and unions in Australia, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Philippines and South Korea regularly participate.
During 2018, TUED partner APHEDA organized workshops on energy democracy and climate justice in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. TUED has generated country-specific reports for these workshops.
Encouragingly, Sentro, TUED’s key ally in the Philippines, facilitated a declaration of unity by energy sector unions affiliated to different national centers, and adopted “energy democracy” as a programmatic goal (pictured above).
UK: The Labour Party and TUC Commitments to Reclaim Energy
The prospects for a decisive shift in energy policy have improved dramatically in the UK with the Labour Party’s commitment to Labour Party’s 2017 Manifesto commitment to reclaim the country’s energy system back to public, democratic control.
In 2018, TUED convened two major discussions of unions and allies on the Labour Party’s current energy vision, providing space to hear and further develop trade union perspectives in the light of the pro-public shift in both Labour Party and TUC policy.
In mid February, all of the UK’s major unions attended a TUED meeting hosted by UNISON in London. Unions from several European countries and left parties (Germany’s Die Linke and Podemos in Spain) sent representatives.
In late June, TUED convened a larger two-day meeting titled “Reclaiming the UK Power Sector to Public Ownership: Developing a Program of Action.” The meeting took place June 28-29 at historic Wortley Hall near Sheffield, England, and brought together representatives from key UK unions—GMB, UNISON, Unite the Union, PCS, TSSA, BFAWU, NEU, and the TUC—as well as policy and movement allies. Unions from Norway and Greece also attended, as did energy democracy advocates from Barcelona, Brussels, and Berlin. Later in 2018, NEU formally joined TUED.
The Wortley Hall meeting was also addressed by Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour Party Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and by Costas Lapavitsas, Professor of Economics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and former member of the Greek Parliament for Syriza.
Discussions addressed questions around the future fuel mix for power generation, special challenges facing the decarbonization of domestic heating and the transport sector, and jobs implications. A number of questions were identified that warrant further investigation and discussion. A report on the meeting is available here. The TUED discussion document (referred to above) generated considerable discussion.
For additional background on TUED’s work in the UK and Europe, please see here.
South Africa: Key Unions Strengthening Ties with TUED
TUED continues to be engaged in discussions and debates around the ongoing challenges facing South Africa’s coal-dependent public power utility, Eskom, and the “Independent Power Producers” (IPP) program promoting privately owned renewable energy. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA; Africa’s largest union) and the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) are working together will the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Alternative Information and Development Center (AIDC), who, alongside TUED, seek to develop an energy vision for South Africa based on a radically reformed Eskom and social ownership of renewable energy.
In March, NUMSA’s Deputy General Secretary Karl Cloete authored an OpEd published by South Africa’s Daily Maverick, laying out the case for the union’s firm opposition to “capitalist capture of renewable energy,” and firm support for “a socially owned and democratic alternative,” also referencing the union’s membership in TUED. The piece takes forward a position NUMSA has been advocating for some time, and which was also described in TUED Bulletin #66: Should Unions Strike for a Just Transition?
In early September, TUED co-convened a 3-day meeting in Johannesburg on The Role of Public Utilities in Transforming the Energy Sector where unions, community representatives and NGOs worked on questions related to the current financial and political national public utility Eskom and the challenges posed by the incursions of private overseas-based renewable energy companies.
The 40-person gathering included key unions including the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the new federation, South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), led by Zwelinzima Vavi.
NUMSA and SAFTU have formulated a clear and strong response, calling for the radical restructuring of Eskom, and social ownership of the renewables sector.
More information on the conference, including the full program and video recordings of key sessions, is available here.
Australia: National Union of Workers Launches “Cooperative Power”
In Australia, trade unions and allies recently launched Cooperative Power, a new, democratically structured energy retailer, in an effort to help build an energy system that is clean, sustainable, affordable and democratic. The initiative aims to “take the power back from huge energy corporations for the benefit of people and our planet.”
Cooperative Power is structured as an “enterprise cooperative,” bringing together trade unions, community groups, NGOs, and other cooperatives to democratize decision-making over how electric power is generated for its members, and how much it costs. Profits that accrue from sales will be used to empower workers and their communities throughout Australia to establish similar worker- and community-owned renewable energy generation efforts.
Founding members include National Union of Workers – General branch; National Union of Workers – Victoria Branch; Australian Services Union – Victoria and Tasmania Branch; National Tertiary Education Union – Victoria Branch; Union Aid Abroad–APHEDA; Earthworker Cooperative; Energy Innovation Cooperative; and, Voices of the Valley.
Latin America: Working for the “De-Privatization of Energy”
In Latin America, the struggle for energy democracy is a priority for the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA-CSA).This commitment was expressed in TUCA’s “Development Platform for the Americas” (PLADA) which was revised and re-adopted at its 3rd Hemispheric Congress in 2016 held in Sao Paulo.
From October 8 to 11, 2018, representatives from 15 countries throughout the Americas met in San José, Costa Rica, for the Third Regional Conference on Energy, Environment and Work. The meeting, convened by TUCA-CSA, brought together 20 trade union centers affiliated to TUCA and 4 which are fraternal, 7 continental social movements, 4 civil society organizations and 5 universities.
The group discussed how to respond to the predatory and repressive actions of mining and drilling companies across the continent. There was unanimous support expressed for “Democratization of Energy” and “De-Privatization” and the recovery of sovereignty over resources. The declaration is available at the following links:
Taking the First Steps: “TUED – United States”
Throughout 2018, discussions on energy in the US have focused on two issues, namely the complete destruction of the power grid in Puerto Rico following hurricane Maria in September 2017, and the White House’s promotion of “Energy Dominance” agenda and the need for the US to continue to extract and export coal, oil and gas.
In October, several US unions agreed to launch “TUED United States” to help build a progressive labor response to Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda and to take advantage of significant political openings. The unions supporting “TUED – United States”: Amalgamated Transit Union; National Nurses United; New England Joint Board—UNITE HERE, New York State Nurses Association, United Electrical Workers, 1199SEIU, union locals from the UAW and IBEW, as well as Labor Network for Sustainability.
In relation to Puerto Rico, TUED has organized several meetings involving UTIER and have helped build international support for its fight against plan to privatize the island’s public utility, PREPA.
Earlier in the year (January) TUED convened a meeting of New York area unions, advocacy and policy organizations, pension fund trustees and public officials for a one-day strategy discussion: “Divest from Fossil Fuels, Yes. Reinvest in Renewable Energy, How?” Hosted by 32BJ SEIU, the meeting was organized in the wake of New York State’s decision to divest pension funds from fossil fuels, and how to move from divestment to getting the reinvestment needed in renewable energy sources. Governor Cuomo’s administration has announced relatively ambitious renewable energy targets (50% by 2030, although existing hydropower currently meeting almost half of that 50% requirement).
In the final months of 2018, TUED connected with the movement for a “Green New Deal” that has been built up around Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, newly elected U.S. Congressional Representative from the Bronx, New York. TUED is also engaged in discussions with Senator Bernie Sanders’ policy team in Washington, D.C.
TUED also participated in the Energy Democracy National Tour 2018. The National Tour consisted of a series of local events around the US, inspired by the new book, Energy Democracy: Advancing Equity in Clean Energy Solutions. The book also includes a chapter by TUED’s Sean Sweeney: “Conflicting Agendas: Energy Democracy and the Labor Movement.”
The Support that Makes TUED Possible
TUED is sustained and supported by unions from around the world, and by the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies at the City University of New York (formerly the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies). The Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office continues to provide invaluable financial and in-kind support, as it has since TUED began in late 2012. Without such support, the work TUED does would not be possible.
For more information on how your union can be part of TUED, please go here.
 See, for example, International Energy Agency, https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2018/july/global-energy-investment-in-2017-.html, also British Petroleum, 2017: https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/media/speeches/spencer-dale-energy-in-2017.html. In the words of BP’s Group Chief Economist, Spencer Dale, “I hadn’t realised that so little progress had been made until I looked at these data.”