TUED’s Accomplishments in 2016 and Priorities for 2017

TUED unions at COP22 in Marrakech
TUED unions at COP22 in Marrakech

To: Unions Participating in TUED
From: Sean Sweeney, coordinator
Date: February 20th, 2017

Re: TUED’s Accomplishments in 2016 and Priorities for 2017

Table of Contents:

This memo is an internal report on the work of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) for unions participating in the project. It provides a sense of the opportunities that are opening up in key areas as a result of the seismic political changes in North America and Europe in particular. TUED is also making progress in the Asia-Pacific region. In the global trade union discourse TUED’s perspective is making headway.

Background and Overview

In October 2017, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) will celebrate its fifth anniversary. TUED began in October 2012 by presenting an analysis and a framework for an independent trade union approach to the challenges posed by expanding fossil fuel use and the need for a publicly owned and democratically controlled renewables-based energy systems. This has become known as the Resist, Reclaim, Restructure approach, and it has informed 9 TUED Working Papers on a range of energy-related issues as they apply to unions and their close allies. The framework emerged from a series of discussions beginning at the ITF’s World Congress in 2010, NUMSA’s conference on public ownership of renewables in February 2012 in Johannesburg, and the trade union conference held in Rio de Janeiro during the Rio+20 “Earth Summit” talks in June 2012.

TUED today – 54 unions, 18 countries

TUED is today a vibrant global network of 54 unions in 18 countries, from both North and South, committed to building political support in various global spaces for extending democratic control over energy. The TUED network today includes 7 national centers — based in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Italy, Korea, Nepal, and the Philippines — as well as four global union federations: the International Transport Workers Federation, Public Services International, Education International, and the International Union of Food Workers. The full list of current participating unions is available here: http://unionsforenergydemocracy.org/partners/ .

Recent Research and Analysis

In Fall 2016, the New Trade Union Initiative (India), a TUED partner, led the effort to produce a working paper on energy transition in the context of a country where development is a question of human rights and basic welfare: Up from Development: A Framework for Energy Transition in India . Also in 2016, TUED updated and further developed its analysis of fracking for shale gas in the US context. Drawing on another 2016 paper produced by TUED, An Illness to One is the Concern of All , National Nurses United (NNU) issued a high-profile statement affirming the call for an outright ban.

The most recent TUED Working Paper (January 2017), Energy Transition: Are We Winning? , is a major effort that draws on all of the major sources of energy-related data. Separating facts from “green growth” fantasies, it explains what is really going on in the global energy system and the urgent need for progressive and forward-looking unions internationally to work together to develop a more coherent, compelling and effective approach to energy transition. We are grateful to CGIL, the main trade union center in Italy, for translating the document into Italian, Transizione energetica: stiamo vincendo?

Major Developments in 2016

A major meeting of the TUED advisory group and key allies was held 25-26 May 2016 at CUNY’s Murphy Institute in New York. An extensive report on the meeting’s discussions and outcomes is available at: Political Perspectives and the Future of TUED May 25-26, 2016 . One of the main decisions taken at the meeting was to try to establish regional expressions of TUED in areas where prospects to advance the work of the project appeared to be most promising (see below).

In 2016, eight additional unions joined TUED, bringing the total number of unions formally associated with the project to 54. The 2016 additions were:

  • Electrical Trades Union (Australia)
  • Australian Services Union
  • First Union (New Zealand)
  • Unite Union (New Zealand)
  • Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU – US & Canada)
  • UAW, Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions (US)
  • Railroad Workers Union (US)
  • Electrical and IT Workers Union (Norway)

In early 2017, the Executive Committee of the US’ largest health union, 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers East voted to join the project. 1199SEIU represents more than 440,000 members.

TUED is also in discussions with up to 30 other unions around the world that have not yet formally joined but have expressed interest or participated in TUED-organized discussions and events.

2017: Key Areas of Engagement

The seismic political changes in North America and Europe, combined with TUED’s relatively solid presence in both regions, have opened up some exciting opportunities. But the work is also moving forward well in the Asia Pacific region.

Britain and the Corbyn “moment”

In Britain, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader, along with the Brexit vote, has put energy democracy on the political radar. Unions have been divided on key issues (for example, fracking, nuclear power) but with Corbyn supporting some notion of energy democracy based in municipalities there is an opportunity for a more unified trade union approach.

At this time it isn’t clear how long the Corbyn “moment” will last, but TUED’s seven UK-based unions are organizing a two-day meeting titled Reclaiming Power After Brexit: Towards Energy Democracy in the UK. The meeting will take place in London, February 28th-March 1st, and will be hosted by the International Transport Workers Federation. The meeting will involve a meeting at the UK Parliament to meet with the shadow minister for energy and Labour MP, Dr. Alan Whitehead, of the to discuss Corbyn’s commitment to create new municipally owned electricity companies, as part of an effort to reclaim the privatized energy sector to public ownership and control. UNITE, UNISON, GMB, PCS, TSSA, FBU and NUS have said they will participate in the meeting, as have key policy allies. Report to follow.

United States: TUED and the Resistance to Trump

TUED is playing an important role in the US. In 2016, TUED unions were on the front line in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline and efforts to expand fracking. However, following the election of Trump the some leaders of the building and construction unions have embraced his “energy superpower” agenda, deepening the labor movement split that has been developing for several years. Recent “Executive Orders” have indicated Trump’s support for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Meanwhile, The White House has removed all references to climate change from its website, and Trump has vowed to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and rein in the EPA.

Responding to this serious crisis for organized labor, on April 3rd and 4th, TUED is convening a 50-person, two-day retreat for union leaders and staff from progressive unions, key allies and policy experts on the theme, Advancing Progressive Labor’s Agenda on Energy and Climate Change : A Discussion on Union Strategy and Policy in a Time of Resistance. The meeting will take place at Local 3 IBEW’s Education and Cultural Center in Cutchogue, Long Island, New York.

The goal of the meeting is to take stock of the situation and take steps towards developing a response around which progressive unions can rally and work alongside other movements — indigenous communities, climate justice formations, farmers and ranchers, etc. 1 Likely discussion questions:

  • The Trump Agenda: How can progressive labor respond to the “energy superpower” argument?
  • What is the record of “labor-environmental” alliances and coalitions in the US and internationally?
  • Should we defend the Paris climate agreement?
  • Centers of resistance: What role for cities and states?
  • What is happening in key “carbon battlegrounds” countries like Australia, India, South Africa and the UK?
  • How can unions champion public renewable power and build union strength in the renewables sector?

Organizing Amidst Turmoil: TUED’s Plans in Europe

The political turmoil across Europe has opened up possibilities for unions to build alliances with new political forces on the left, particularly in southern Europe, and to insert union approaches to energy democracy into a new discourse.

On May 17th and 18th, TUED will convene a 2-day meeting of unions in Geneva to discuss the prospects of building “TUED Europe.” Leading this effort is Geneva-based Maite Llanos, formerly of CTA-Argentina. Provisionally titled, Reclaiming Power: The Struggle for Europe’s Energy Future, the meeting will take place against a background of political turmoil and the rise of nationalism. In Europe, the political momentum for energy democracy has been driven by several factors. The failures of privatization and liberalized energy markets have been well documented, and these failures today threaten the integrity and stability of the entire system.

In Europe, unions and the political left are beginning to reassess their policies and strategies around climate change and energy transition in the light of the failure of carbon pricing and the threat of ‘carbon leakage’, collapsing investment in renewables as a result of ‘political risk’, the cancellation of carbon capture projects, and the prospect of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in several European countries. The Geneva meeting has been called to review the record of market-driven policies and approaches to energy transition, to discuss the rise of energy democracy both as a policy option and as a movement-in-formation, and to assess support for the idea of launching TUED Europe in order to continue to shape trade union debates on energy in European contexts and in key national spaces such as the UK

TUED in the Asia-Pacific Region

Partnering with key unions, TUED’s work is making significant progress in the Asia-Pacific region.

In the past 18 months, TUED unions and allies have led energy democracy discussions in Korea, India, New Zealand and Philippines. As noted above, in Fall 2016, the New Trade Union Initiative (India), a TUED partner, also led the effort to produce a working paper, Up From Development.

On Feb 21st, 2017, the Electrical Trades Union in Australia convened a “TUED in the South” conference call to discuss building a stronger TUED presence in the Asia Pacific Region. Based in Sydney, Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, the global justice organization of the Australian Council of Trade Union, has been developing its climate justice and energy democracy work in the region, and has recently engaged unions and policy allies in Nepal, where energy shortages have precipitated a major crisis.

In Australia, Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and the National Union of Workers (NUW) are planning energy democracy interventions at the level of policy in, respectively, Queensland and Victoria. The ETU is promoting public renewable power (PRP) as a policy option to help the Queensland Labor government reach its ambitious “50% by 2030” renewable energy target, and the NUW is proposing the Victoria Labor government issue Transition Bonds to drive investment in “zero carbon cities” and to establish a public Energy Transition Authority to generate public renewable power, encourage community-owned generation, etc. As NUW has put it, “Energy democracy must be central to our transition. This will involve the empowering of local communities within a Victorian energy architecture which prioritises the common good over the profits of a few multinational corporations and their shareholders. We cannot afford to place Victoria’s future at the mercy of the profit-motive of a handful of private corporations.” Meanwhile, the Australian Services Union has been active in South Australia around renewable power and just transition, and the Australian Council of Trade Unions recently issued a policy discussion paper on just transition for coal-fired power generation workers.

Latin America and South Africa

TUED’s work in Latin America has benefited from solid support within the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), and unions from Argentina and Brazil will participate in the April meeting in New York. The Third Congress of TUCA met in Sao Paulo in April 2016 and called for a hemispheric moratorium on fracking.

Working through NUMSA and other allies, TUED is hoping to be involved in the work of the new trade union federation in South Africa . TUED will be present at the launch of the new federation in Johannesburg in late March 2017.

Bonn Beckons: TUED and the UN Climate Talks

Working as part of the ITUC’s delegation to the UNFCCC, TUED unions made a strong impact at COP 22 in Marrakesh in November 2016. The Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office took the lead in organizing meetings that included union representatives from indigenous-led struggles around the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and also the rights of Canadian First Nations. At the ITUC’s Day of Strategy on November 12, ITUC delegation leader Alison Tate remarked that support for energy democracy was growing and needed to be integrated into the global trade union discourse on just transition and job-focused climate protection.

TUED unions will be present at COP 23 in Bonn, Germany, where actions and events are already being planned. The Trump regime’s position of climate change denial and the rise of right-wing parties in Europe and elsewhere will inject new urgency into the Bonn talks, as will the actions of social movements.

Sustaining TUED – Financial Targets and Trade Union Appeal

The demands on TUED’s small team (1 full time coordinator and 2 part time research and program staff) continue to outstrip the resources available, but with so many people volunteering their time for TUED, the project has made a little go a long way.

TUED is currently sustained by an uncertain funding stream. In 2016, 16 unions made financial contributions to TUED, allowing us to just reach the $100,000 target for the year from union contributions. Twenty-three unions have made contributions to TUED since its inception. In order to maintain current staffing, our target for union contributions in 2017 is $125,000.

The project continues to receive vital support from the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung’s New York Office (RLS-NY) as well as Rockefeller Brothers Fund. RLS-NY also contributes considerable staff time in developing TUED and enriching the content of the discussions and research.

On behalf of John Treat and Irene Shen in New York, I’d like to thank unions and other allies around the world for sustaining and building this important project.

In solidarity,
Sean Sweeney

1 For more background on the divisions in the US labor movement and how and why they developed, please see Contested Futures: US Labor After Keystone XL, New Labor Forum, May 2016, Standing Rock Solid with the Frackers: Are the Trades Putting Labor’s Head in the Gas Oven? New Labor Forum, December 2016; Pandering to the Predator: Labor and Energy Under Trump New Labor Forum, February 2017
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