TUED Annual Report 2019: Defending and Reclaiming Public Energy on the Global Stage

TUED Annual Report 2019: Defending and Reclaiming Public Energy on the Global Stage

February 18th, 2020

During 2019, TUED made key advances on several fronts, including through extending our analysis of energy and emissions trends and policy commitments to the transport sector; welcoming into the network unions from seven countries representing more than 1.5 million members; strengthening programmatic work in key countries; convening a major, international conference on “the Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership”; and intervening in important policy, advocacy and organizing efforts at local, regional, national and international levels

If your union is interested in being part of TUED, you can find more information here.


  • The TUED network has grown to include 76 participating union bodies representing workers in 24 countries, including 4 Global Union Federations, 3 regional organizations, and 9 national centers, as well as 11 allied policy, academic and advocacy organizations. Nine union bodies from seven different countries, joined TUED during 2019, as well as one new movement ally. These unions represent more than 1.5 million members.
  • In September, TUED hosted an international conference on “The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership,” attended by more than 150 trade union representatives, activists and policy allies from more than a dozen countries.
  • In December, TUED convened unions around COP25 in Madrid, Spain, to discuss and debate “Key Arguments for a Global Trade Union Campaign on Public Ownership of Energy,” as presented in TUED’s latest discussion paper.
  • Regional and national expressions of TUED continue to grow and evolve. Progress has been made in the Asia-Pacific region, South Africa and the UK.
  • TUED’s Working Paper #12, The Road Less Travelled: Reclaiming Public Transport for Climate-Ready Mobility, took an in-depth look at the considerable challenges involved in decarbonizing the transport sector, showing how little progress is being made toward that goal under current policy. It also summarizes climate-related arguments that unions can use in their fight to defend, expand and improve public transport.
  • The TUED e-Bulletin now reaches more than 3,000 union staff, officers, activists and allies—an increase of roughly 20% from one year earlier. Archived bulletins are here.
  • Bi-monthly TUED “Global Web Forums” now regularly see participation by at least 60 union staff and officers from around the world, and as many as 90.

A Growing Global Network: 76 Unions, 24 Countries

During 2019, unions representing more than 1.5 million members joined TUED, from seven countries:

In addition to these unions, during 2019 the New York City chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) joined TUED.

These additions bring the global TUED network to 76 participating union bodies, including 4 Global Union Federations, 3 regional organizations, and 9 national centers, as well as 11 allied policy, academic and advocacy organizations. Unions participating in TUED represent workers in 24 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Greece, India, Italy, Korea, Malawi, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Peru, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States. Participating Global Union Federations represent educators, food workers, transport sector workers, and public services. National centers representing workers in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, Italy, Nepal, the Philippines and South Africa are involved.

A complete list of participating unions and allies is here.

Organizing for Energy Democracy on the Global Stage

UK Unions and Allies Convene in Manchester to Advance Energy Transition to Public Ownership

On July 9-10, 2019, unions and allies in the UK came together in Manchester for a two-day working meeting. Titled “Energy Transition and Economy-Wide Decarbonisation,” the meeting carried forward recent discussions on how unions and close allies can work with the Labour Party to shape its commitments on extending public control over the power sector, and the Party’s strategy for decarbonisation. The event built on discussions at the previous year’s TUED meeting in Sheffield, England.

The Manchester meeting took place against a backdrop of mass student demonstrations for climate action as well as “climate emergency” declarations by the UK parliament and scores of city councils.  Participants included representatives from 15 UK trade union bodies, Labour Party staff and advisors working around energy, transport, and community organizing, and more than 20 close allies from research, policy advocacy and campaigning organizations in the UK and beyond. The full program is available here, and the list of attendees is here.

The meeting produced a draft resolution on public ownership of the power sector that was submitted by the Bakers Union to the Trades Union Congress annual conference in Brighton during September 2019. The resolution (referencing TUED) was passed unanimously.

International Conference on “The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership”

On September 28, 2019, more than 150 trade union representatives, activists and policy allies from more than a dozen countries came together in New York City for a one-day international conference on “The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership.”

The conference took place against the backdrop of the massive “Global Climate Strike” actions led by young people in numerous countries around the world, coinciding with the UN “Climate Week” of talks in New York City. In the weeks before those actions, TUED organized a “Global Web Forum” on the #Strike4Climate, and subsequently compiled a list of union statements and actions in support of the strikes.

The conference program was framed around a number of issues and concerns that have emerged out of recent union-led struggles to both defend and extend public ownership of energy in key countries and regions. Over the course of the day’s proceedings, a number of key themes and broadly shared conclusions emerged, including:

  • Investor-focused climate policy is not delivering the energy transition
  • Privatization of state-owned electricity utilities has failed—but alternatives exist
  • Defending public ownership of energy requires a reform agenda that can drive “de-marketization”
  • Confidence is rising to reverse electricity privatization where it has happened
  • Defending and reclaiming public energy requires building union power
  • The transition must take into account the real development needs of the global South, while contesting carbon-intensive “development as usual”
  • There is an urgent need for technical, programmatic work to make achieving the ambitious goals of the Green New Deal possible

The conference included unions and policy allies from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Korea, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, Uruguay, and the UK. The conference report is now available for download here.

The conference was hosted at CUNY’s School for Labor and Urban Studies, co-sponsored by Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s New York Office, and organized in partnership with National Nurses United (NNU); New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA); United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE); Canadian Union of Public Employees; National Union of Public and General Employees (Canada); Transnational Institute; The Democracy Collaborative; Science for the People; DSA’s Ecosocialist Working Group; #NationalizeGrid; Our Public Power (New York); New York Communities for Change.

COP25 in Madrid, Spain, and “Cumbre de los Pueblos,” Santiago, Chile

In December, 2019, TUED team members participated in events around the official COP25 climate talks in Madrid, Spain, as well as the alternative “Cumbre de los Pueblos” (“People’s Summit”) in Santiago, Chile. The COP25 talks had originally been scheduled to take place in Santiago, but a massive popular uprising that began in October led UN officials to move the “official” meetings to Madrid.

In preparation for the meetings, TUED prepared a discussion document, “Key Arguments for a Global Trade Union Campaign on Public Ownership of Energy.” The paper aimed to stimulate discussion on two questions: first, the need for a global trade union campaign on public ownership of energy and, second, whether unions have the capacity or commitment to build and sustain such a campaign. To anchor those discussions, the paper summarized TUED’s analysis of current energy and emissions trends and the global failure of neoliberal climate policy. The paper was made available in both English and Spanish.

  • Madrid: COP25

In Madrid, TUED’s Irene HongPing Shen and Sean Sweeney organized a one-day TUED event, Reclaiming Energy to Public Ownership, held at the headquarters of Spain’s Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT). The event was organized in partnership with 12 other global union bodies. The invitation can be found here with background framing for the event.

The day opened with Sweeney’s presentation of  TUED’s latest analysis of global energy, emissions and climate policy trends.  Throughout the day, trade unionists from different countries responded to the TUED Key Arguments paper that pointed to the necessity for public ownership to both advance democracy and reach climate goals, the resistance to energy liberalisation, and the regional fights against privatization. The event also allowed for discussion about the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, where plans for a Global Trade Union Assembly are being developed. The full program is here.

  • Santiago: Cumbre de los Pueblos

In Santiago, despite the official COP25 being moved to Madrid, organizers of the alternative Cumbre de los Pueblos went ahead with plans to welcome hundreds of activists from across the region and beyond.

The uprising in Chile, which led to COP25 being moved to Madrid, had come in response to an ill-judged and ill-fated attempt by the government to impose a fare hike for the city’s Metro system. After decades of neoliberal austerity and the deepening insecurity associated with it, the fare hike proved to be the spark that lit the flame of outrage. Students defied the fare hike en masse. The police responded with a level of brutality that shocked even many people initially skeptical towards the students’ protest—and a mass popular uprising was born.

Chile’s Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), which has been active in TUED meetings in recent months, has played a leading role in organizing the “social unity” bloc of protesting forces in Chile, and was a lead convener of events around the Cumbre.

At the Cumbre, John Treat presented TUED’s latest analysis to a mainly union audience, with a special focus on Chile. Treat highlighted how the Chilean government’s most recent announcement of a “competitive” tender for renewable power generation investment avoided setting a price limit for acceptable bids until after the closing date for submissions, effectively allowing them to ensure full participation in exchange for guaranteed returns to investors. The Chilean government’s moves are a good example of the latest efforts by governments around the world to overcome a systemic crisis in renewable investment, as competitive pressures drive profit margins ever lower, and risk continues to rise, driving the “smart money” elsewhere. (For more background, see TUED’s Bulletin #85: “Growth in Renewables has Stalled. Investment is Falling. But Why?”)

Also in Santiago, Fernando Losada—formerly of National Nurses United (NNU) and now helping guide TUED’s efforts in Latin America—participated in additional panels at the Cumbre, presenting TUED’s work to a wider audience of union allies and social movement activists.

On Friday, December 6, Treat and Losada joined the weekly mass march through Santiago to the “Plaza of Dignity” (formerly “Plaza Italia,” renamed as part of the uprising and ongoing popular occupation of the city). The march drew many tens of thousands, who braved teargas, water cannons and the threat of blinding from crowd-control pellets to reinforce the Chilean people’s determination to obtain a new constitution for their country, and the global demand for solutions to the climate and ecological emergency. In addition to CUT-Chile, TUED participating union Public Services International (PSI) brought a strong contingent to Santiago and made their presence felt during the march.

TUED’s Presence at Other Meetings and Debates

During 2019, TUED also actively participated in a number of meetings and events both in the US and elsewhere, including:

  • February: Sean Sweeney visit to South Africa for intensive meetings, research and analysis for the New Eskom initiative, which included production of an OpEd for South Africa’s Business Day and a television interview for channel eNCA.
  • March: In partnership with European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), Transnational Institute (TNI) and Friends of the Earth Europe, TUED organized a one-day workshop on energy democracy in Brussels to examine EU energy policy and alternatives to further energy liberalization
  • June: Sean Sweeney presented at the EPSU 2019 Congress in Dublin, Ireland, June 4-6.
  • June: Irene HongPing Shen served on the planning committee, attended and presented at Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) bi-annual National Convergence June 28-29, 2019. A summary is available here and additional information here.
  • June: Irene HongPing Shen participated in the “Frontline, GND and Climate and Regenerative Economic Policy Summit,” July 18-19, 2019, in Detroit, Michigan, as part of the Climate Justice Alliance. This has led to additional participation in conversations around the GND. Additional information available here, and a video here.
  • July: Irene HongPing Shen participated in the Energy Democracy National Convening, continuing from 2018’s Energy Democracy National Tour, July 26-28, 2019.
  • October: Sean Sweeney in Johannesburg, South Africa, for further meetings with members of the “New Eskom” reference group.
  • November: Irene HongPing Shen participated in the Nov 14-15, 2019 Trinational Meeting in Erie, PA organized by UE, United Steel Workers and RLS.
  • December: Sean Sweeney and Irene HongPing Shen at COP25 in Madrid; John Treat and Fernando Losada at the “Cumbre de los Pueblos” in Santiago, Chile.

Still on Target: TUED’s Research and Political Analysis

TUED’s political analysis continues to be framed by its founding “Resist, Reclaim, Restructure: Unions and the Struggle for Energy Democracy” document, which emerged from union dissatisfaction with the neoliberal “green growth” narrative promoted by the major policy institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, and many large corporations.

Working Papers and Discussion Documents

  • TUED Working Paper #12, The Road Less Travelled: Reclaiming Public Transport for Climate-Ready Mobility

Published in May 2019, TUED Working Paper #12, The Road Less Travelled: Reclaiming Public Transport for Climate-Ready Mobility, took an in-depth look at the considerable challenges involved in decarbonizing the transport sector, showing how little progress is being made toward that goal under current policy. It also summarizes climate-related arguments that unions can use in their fight to defend, expand and improve public transport. The paper drew on TUED’s critical interrogation of the neoliberal, “green growth” optimistic narrative according to which “the transition is inevitable”—a critique consolidated in the 2017 working papers #9, Energy Transition: Are We Winning?, and #10, Preparing a Public Pathway: Confronting the Investment Crisis in Renewable Energy—but applying this to the transport sector, where emissions are rising faster than in other major sectors.

After summarizing the key trends in transport emissions and highlighting the crucial failures of neoliberal policy to slow them, Working Paper 12 looks in detail at the myths and realities surrounding electric cars, which are not remotely likely to meet common assumptions about their role in helping to reach decarbonization targets (even if we wanted them to), and at the rise of “Transport Network Companies” (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft, showing how these currently undercut public transport systems and contribute to traffic congestion and often increase emissions. Both electric vehicles and “platform technologies” can play a role in the sustainable transport systems of the future that we need, but realizing their potential will require integrating them into planned, public systems aimed at providing “sustainable mobility for all” rather than returns for investors. Finally, the paper summarizes some of the climate-related arguments that unions can use in their fight to defend, expand and improve public transport.

  • Analysis: “Growth in Renewables has Stalled. Investment is Falling. But Why?”

Also  in May, TUED’s John Treat and Sean Sweeney co-authored a short analytical piece titled, Growth in Renewables has Stalled. Investment is Falling. But Why? The piece was prompted by new reporting from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which had just announced a flattening of capacity additions to renewable power generation in 2018, after nearly two decades of growth. Calling the new findings “unexpected,” the IEA noted that this development raised serious questions about reaching climate targets.

In response, Treat and Sweeney argued that this flattening was consistent with what TUED had shown to be falling investor interest in renewable generation, as governments were forced to abandon generous (and expensive) “Feed-in Tariff” subsidy schemes in favor of competitive, auction-based procurement systems. The latter gave governments more control over both costs and capacity additions, but at the expense of returns for investors, as competitive pressures to win the long-term “Power Purchase Agreements” (PPAs) drove down contract prices and thus profit margins. As Treat and Sweeney argued:

Under the current policy approach, private project developers have avoided risk and expanded their market share through PPAs with government entities, or with utilities that are mandated to reach renewable energy targets. But the “guaranteed returns” that such PPAs ensure for investors often translate into higher electricity costs for users, which can quickly translate into “political risk” when electricity users start complaining about rising bills. Governments then phase out—often abruptly—the policies that made investment in renewables attractive in the first place. This is what happened in Europe where, once subsidies for renewables were scaled back, investment collapsed.

The piece also noted recent developments in China—often credited as following a different path than most of the rest of the world but in fact constrained by the same dynamics and contradictions. In June of 2018, in an effort to contain exploding subsidy bills and growing overcapacity—a striking parallel to the experience in Europe—the country’s National Development and Reform Commission announced that, effective immediately, approvals for new projects had been “halted until further notice,” and tariffs for existing contracts would be lowered by 6.7 to 9 per cent. The announcement caused serious drops in share price values for Chinese solar companies, and industry players and observers immediately slashed capacity growth forecasts for the year by as much as one-third.

Other Research, Analysis and Policy Work

TUED continued its work with International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), helping to finalize policy recommendations for the ITF’s urban transport committee, drawing on TUED’s contribution to the IFT’s Our Public Transport campaign.

Also during 2019, TUED worked with key allies — Transnational Institute, Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC), and Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) — to develop a proposal for a new, annual Alternative Energy Report. The report will draw on data from the major reports from mainstream sources but will examine these with a critical eye, drawing attention to the ways in which the mainstream reports present these data to serve pro-market ideological ends. The report will equip progressive leaders, organizations and activists with the facts and arguments they need in order to be able to recognize and counter these biases, and to formulate and advocate for sound, fact-based alternatives to the mainstream policy proposals.

Key Regional and National Developments

Asia-Pacific: Consolidating a Regional Expression

TUED unions in the Asia-Pacific region continue to meet regularly through quarterly web-based calls, with unions in Australia, India, Nepal, New Zealand, the Philippines and South Korea participating. With ongoing support from TUED participating ally Union Aid Abroad—APHEDA, the group has become an important platform for coordinating union

The devastating recent fires in Australia have dramatically illustrated the danger that climate change poses for people and ecosystems, and have brought greater awareness and urgency to the struggle for control over energy in the Asia-Pacific region, where fossil fuel use and pollution levels have continued rising in recent years. In response, the TUED AP group has worked on a TUED Asia-Pacific Australian Bushfires Statement for which over 50 unions and union bodies from the region are signatories. The statement will be published soon.

South Africa: Working with Key Unions to Defend Eskom

During 2019, TUED continued its work with key unions and allies in South Africa to defend the country’s public power utility, Eskom, which has been under threat of “unbundling” by the ANC government, as a step towards privatization (a move straight from the World Bank’s privatization playbook). TUED is working with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA; Africa’s largest union), the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)—as well as the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Alternative Information and Development Center (AIDC)—to develop an energy vision for South Africa based on a radically reformed Eskom and social ownership of renewable energy, and to build a “New Eskom.”

“New Eskom” explicitly opposes the current policy to promote for-profit renewable energy because of its impact on the current public system and jobs, particularly in the coal sector, and what many believe will be a sharp rise in the cost of electricity for South Africa’s poor. Most environmental NGO’s support unbundling because they see Eskom as an obstacle to the deployment of renewable energy. In contrast, “New Eskom” promotes a reform agenda and a planned approach to energy transition, with Eskom leading the transition. It has established three commitments. These are:

  • Build a New Eskom: Fully Public and Serving the People
  • Secure a Democratic and Just Energy Transition
  • Fulfill the Promise of Socially Owned Renewable Energy

As part of the “New Eskom” reference group, TUED has drafted a detailed analysis of the challenges and possibilities for moving “Towards Socially Owned Renewable Energy in South Africa,” as part of a larger document to be published in early 2020.

UK: The Labour Party and TUC Commitments to Reclaim Energy

In the UK, TUED worked closely with unions around the Labour Party, and Labour Party advisors, in an effort to continue to develop and refine Labour’s plans for the energy sector. A major step in this work was the July meeting in Manchester, described above.

In May, the Labour Party issued its Bringing Energy Home document committing, if elected, to: a) the renationalization of energy networks (transmission and distribution systems) and; b) the formation of a new National Energy Agency. According to the statement, a Labour Government would create space for and give support to municipal efforts that wish to “gas faster” on decarbonization and energy transition, and encourage “Local Energy Communities” (LECs) (although it was not clear how the LECs would be supported or what role they might play in a new public system).

As noted above, TUED’s work with unions in the UK during 2019 resulted in the submission by the Bakers Union of a draft resolution on public ownership of the power sector to the Trades Union Congress annual conference, which was passed unanimously.

The December electoral defeat for Labour means that TUED’s work with unions in the UK must now re-orient. Currently, discussions are focused on convening a Trade Union Assembly in Glasgow in November, to coincide with the COP26 UN climate talks.

TUED in Europe

In Europe, TUED has partnered with EPSU, TNI and others to raise trade union and social movement awareness of the current crisis facing “for-profit” renewable energy. TUED also contributed to the project developing A Blueprint for Europe’s Just Transition.

There are signs that TUED’s interventions in the European context may be having some effect on debates around ownership and control of energy—for instance, in a recent piece by Yanis Varoufakis and David Adler titled, “The EU’s green deal is a colossal exercise in greenwashing,” in which they write:

“The composition of the green deal is another cause for despair. The so-called sustainable Europe investment plan waxes lyrical in the language of “mobilisation”, pledging to unlock billions of privately held euros in the interests of sustainable investment. Much like the Juncker plan before it, the green deal proposes to encourage private investment by shifting risk from privateers to the EU budget. But this does not reduce risk – it simply shifts it on to the shoulders of the European public, while ensuring that private investors enjoy all of the gains. Without a plan to coordinate energy production and distribution within a proper energy union, the commission’s commitment to private capital promises only to intensify inequalities within and between member states.”

Latin America: Supporting Struggles for the “De-Privatization of Energy”

In Latin America, TUED’s John Treat and Fernando Losada used their time in Santiago, Chile, for the “Cumbre de los Pueblos” (described above) to cultivate relationships with unions in the region.

That work has already produced results, most concretely in the form of excellent turnout and participation in a Spanish-language TUED Web Forum on February 13, 2020, to get feedback on TUED’s COP25 Discussion Paper, “Key Arguments for a Global Trade Union Campaign on Public Ownership of Energy.”

TUED United States

On August 22nd, presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled his proposal for a “Green New Deal.” Sanders’ proposal made a bold and explicit commitment that “renewable energy generated by the Green New Deal will be publicly owned.” In order to take advantage of this potential opening, TUED quickly convened a TUED US Web Forum for August 28th, to discuss “US Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders’ Calls for Public Ownership of New Renewable Energy” and to get feedback on how the Sanders plan was being received.

Convening Unions Globally and in the US

TUED Global Web Forums 2019

During 2019, TUED convened four Global Advisory Group / Global Forum web calls; the agenda for each call is linked to the title:

For the youth climate strikes, the August 28 global web forum and subsequent list of “Union Statements and Actions in Support of the Youth-Led Calls for Global Climate Action” helped some union activists convince their unions to issue public statements of support. According to feedback from one union activist in California, “Appreciate you compiling this list — it’s useful for those of us trying to get action by our organizations.”

TUED US Web Calls and Liaison

During 2019, work with the new formation of TUED US unions required much more extensive informal liaison and base-building than we had originally anticipated (due in part to staff changes at key participating unions). As a result, we convened one dedicated web meeting with the TUED US national sub-group:

In addition to the TUED US web meeting, TUED team members engaged intensively throughout the year to build understanding, capacity and interest among US unions in taking the campaign for public ownership of energy in the US forward. In particular, this included Irene HongPing Shen’s active participation in Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) and “Energy Democracy Tour” events, as well as ongoing telephone consultations with key union leaders by Sean Sweeney.

TUED Bulletins in 2019

During 2019, TUED published eleven electronic bulletins. The audience for these rose over the course of the year from ~2,500 to just over 3,000 trade union officers, staff members, activists and policy allies.

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.


By |2020-02-24T10:39:00+00:00February 18th, 2020|News, Uncategorized|Comments Off on TUED Annual Report 2019: Defending and Reclaiming Public Energy on the Global Stage