Global Labor Debates the “Green New Deal” and the Reclaiming Utilities — TUED Bulletin 83

February 21, 2019

1. TUED Global Forum: “The Green New Deal: Can the Utilities be Reclaimed and Reformed?” (Video link below.)

On February 14, 2019, TUED hosted its latest Global Forum on the “Green New Deal” (GND), and how calls for a GND are shifting climate and energy debates, both in the US and internationally. The meeting focused especially on the role of the utilities, and how unions and their allies are struggling in various countries either to keep utilities public (in South Africa, for example) or to reclaim them to public, democratic control, so they can play a leading role in the energy transition.

In the US, calls for a GND broke into the headlines late last year, spearheaded by newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“AOC”), and driven largely by young activists who are part of the Sunrise Movement. Those efforts ultimately led to the submission in early February of a joint Resolution to Congress by AOC and Senator Ed Markey (discussed in more detail in the next item of this bulletin, below).

Many trade unions represent utility workers, and rightly fight to defend their members as power generation systems face rising uncertainty and accelerating change. Increasingly, attention is also turning to the role of the utilities (whether currently public or investor owned) in the power systems of the future—and what an agenda would look like that aimed to reclaim and reform them to democratic control and a greater focus on providing renewable power as a public service rather than a commodity.

Participants from 35 unions and federations from 16 countries joined the call, as well as labor movement allies. Union leaders from Australia, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, South Africa, and the UK reported on the struggles in their contexts against the ongoing neoliberal push to privatize utilities, whether public or cooperatively owned. Some unions do not support privately owned renewable energy companies because history has proven that these companies prioritize profit at the expense of workers’ rights, working conditions and a just transition, but that social ownership of the utilities that includes renewable energy generation will advance a working class agenda, a sustainable planet and a true just transition.

Submitted to Congress on February 5th, the proposed resolution for a “Green New Deal” (GND) seeks to commit the US to reach “net zero GHGs.” But what role can the utilities play in this proposed transition? The United Electrical Workers of America (UE) one of the unions participating in the new “TUED US”) proposed that the GND include language committing to a transition to public ownership of utilities’ generation, transmission and distribution.

Allies from the Sunrise Movement, Food & Water Watch, Democracy Collaborative and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) also gave updates, including on DSA’s #NationalizeGrid campaign. These allies are promoting public ownership of utilities, highlighting the benefits to all ratepayers, particularly low-income consumers, and workers through local control over what should be a public good.  Reports included the opportunity for a state takeover of California’s largest investor owned utility, PG&E; a proposal for a nationalized program to transition local communities to renewable energy cooperatives; and campaigns to municipalize utilities in the states of Rhode Island and Maine (IBEW 1837’s support for Maine municipalization).

The agenda for the meeting can be found here, and a video recording of the meeting can be found here.

2. “The Green New Deal’s Magical Realism” — New Labor Forum

TUED Coordinator, Sean Sweeney, has written an opinion piece for the New Labor Forum, a journal on labor issues published by CUNY’s School of Labor and Urban Studies (where TUED is based). The piece locates the latest calls for a “Green New Deal” within the terrain of US electoral politics, particularly within the Democratic Party, and notes that the GND seems certain to be “a major issue in the 2020 election cycle.”

The piece also interrogates the most serious charge being made against the GND, including by some unions: that it is “unrealistic.” On the contrary, Sweeney argues, the GND’s radicalism is precisely what is called for by the nature of the challenge we face:

Representative Ocasio-Cortez and her supporters understand that the magnitude of the climate crisis makes the half-measures and failed “market mechanisms” of the mainstream more “unrealistic” than the bold plans put forward by the Green New Deal.

Read the full column on the New Labor Forum website, here.

3. TUED Annual Report 2018: “Advancing a Disruptive Solidarity to Reclaim Energy”

In 2018 TUED sharpened its analysis, grew in size and strength, and forged new partnerships. TUED’s Annual Report, published earlier this month, provides a summary of the project’s recent work, and 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 disrupting 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.

Read the full report on the TUED website, here.

4. Welcome, New Zealand Public Service Association

The TUED team in New York is also very pleased to announce our latest participating union: the New Zealand Public Service Association (NZPSA). Please join us in extending a warm welcome!


By |2019-02-21T18:11:53+00:00February 21st, 2019|News, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Global Labor Debates the “Green New Deal” and the Reclaiming Utilities — TUED Bulletin 83