On 4-5 September 2017, an International Meeting on the Energy Mix and the Commons was held at the ATE National trade union’s main office, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The meeting was framed within a broader process of exchange of knowledge and experiences on climate and energy policies in Argentina, Latin America and the world. The Argentinian State Workers’ Association (Spanish acronym ATE; acronyms will be for Spanish names where applicable) and the Autonomous Argentinean Workers’ Congress (CTA-A) are engaged in international processes towards the construction of regional and global alternatives, in particular the Development Platform of the Americas (PLADA) and the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) initiative. The PLADA platform was conceived within the framework of the Trade Unions Confederation of the Americas (TUCA; CSA in Spanish) as a strategic political proposal centred around four dimensions—political, economic, social and environmental—aiming to contribute to the design and implementation of a regional model for sustainable development. PLADA proposes a gradual reduction in the use of fossil fuels, the universalisation of access to energy services, and the rationalization of those sectors of the economy that pollute the most. TUED, a global network composed of workers’ confederations and trade unions, focuses on democratizing generation, distribution and consumption of energy around the world.
The meeting was organised by ATE and CTA-A, with the support of the Transnational Institute (TNI, a worldwide network of scholar-activists based in the Netherlands) and the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of State Workers (CLATE).
Specific panels covered a range of topics within the general theme: Energy Democracy, the Commons, and Climate Change; Mining; Hydroelectric Dams; Energy Policies in Brazil; Hydrocarbons; and Nuclear Energy.
Opening the first panel on Energy Democracy, the Commons, and Climate Change, TNI researcher Daniel Chavez provided an overall analysis of the global energy situation, noting that although the transition to a so-called “green economy” is often presented as “inexorable,” a closer look at the overall energy mix presents a very different picture. Urging participants to take seriously questions of ownership and control, Chavez said, “The need for a transition towards a more sustainable energy system is very urgent, but that change cannot be limited to replacing fossil fuels with supposedly greener or cleaner sources. It is also imperative to ensure that the ownership and management of energy production, as well as the distribution, are democratic.”
As basic principles of energy democracy, Chavez enumerated: “universal access and social justice; prioritisation of the energy demands of the popular sectors; the generation of energy based on renewable sources, in a sustainable and as a much as possible local and decentralised manner; keeping fossil fuels in the soil—because reaching a system with 100% renewable energy is technically feasible, but the conditions to make it possible are political; forms of ownership and management based on community or state control; and fair wages and decent jobs, with unionised and well-paid energy workers.”
Following Chavez’ contribution, Pablo Bertinat, Professor at the National Technological University (UTN) and a member of the Ecologist Workshop (an environmental think tank based in the city of Rosario, Argentina), argued that “when thinking about the democratisation of the energy sector, it’s essential to set limits to the notion of ‘development,’ especially in a context of inequality like that of our countries.” That is, it is necessary “to discuss the concept of growth, because today we have enough energy for everybody and the conditions to get rid of poverty, but some must have less in order for others to have more.” Bertinat stressed the need to change the rationality of energy: “We need to challenge the current logic of energy policies and replace it with a logic that recentres energy as a right and not as a commodity, promoting local processes of discussion and planning, understanding energy as a public service.”
Next, Rodolfo Kempf, member of the National Steering Committee of ATE and CTA-A, and a worker at the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA), said that “in this debate, the starting point is to analyse the particular characteristics of each country. In Argentina, we have a country with energy poverty, and that is dependent and environmentally looted. So, when thinking about ‘energy for what, and for whom?’ we also have to talk about limiting monopolies. Because, for example, Argentine President Mauricio Macri is proposing turnkey financing as the alternative.” Kempf also argued that “another case to consider is the Uruguayan experience, because that country ended up incorporated too much renewable energy by forcing the partial privatisation of the segment of electricity generation. Another thing to keep in mind is the existence of clean energy companies with very poor working conditions for their employees. This is key, because energy must serve to solve social problems.”
The additional subject-matter panels dealt in greater detail with issues and challenges in relation to mining, hydroelectric dams, energy policies in Brazil, hydrocarbons, and nuclear energy. Additional detail on each of those discussions is available in the full report, available in English and Spanish.
Closing panel: Towards an Energy Matrix Proposed by Workers
The closing panel began with a presentation by Joaquín Turco, CTA-A’s Secretary for International Relations. Addressing previous debates on the future of energy policy and the meaning of sovereignty, Turco said: “This conversation must be carried out collectively. Nobody here is the owner of the truth. The energy system involves a lot of policies and processes: public policies, sectoral conflicts, strategic alliances, geopolitical alliances, relations between energy and the distribution of wealth, and so on. So, the discussion about the energy mix that we want should be part of a broader discussion that must be developed from a regional perspective.”
Lyda Forero, Coordinator of TNI’s Environmental and Agrarian Justice Program, said, “For me, the most significant contributions were the stories of struggles against the imposition of models that we heard from many comrades. We have to put on the table those differences that might divide us today, but we must also do it from a perspective seeking unity, in defence of the rights and territories of the people struggling against the neoliberal model.” Forero added, “It is very important to know the points of consensus and dissent. But it shouldn’t be about fighting between us, but about understanding that all these struggles are part of a common struggle in defence of our planet.”
The meeting was closed Julio Fuentes, by the Deputy Secretary of National ATE and president of CLATE, who said, “In the last congress of our confederation, held in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, last February, we agreed on a roadmap towards a redefinition of the objectives of our organisation, now that it’s turning 50 years old. And what we agreed was that CLATE must propose and build an anti-capitalist, classist, antipatriarchal, plural, and internally diverse model for workers’ action. But we also agreed that ours must be an ecological model. Because we believe that unions’ struggles cannot be divorced from the fight for the environment.”