Trade Unions & Energy Democracy (TUED) : Progress Report

Bulletin 76 — 30 July 2018

This report is intended to update TUED’s participating unions, allies and supporters regarding the project’s considerable progress so far this year.

The first part of the report covers organizational developments. The second part addresses our research and analysis, highlighting how major reports from both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and BP have corroborated the main conclusions of recent TUED working papers. We believe this is a very significant development that confirms both the legitimacy and the importance of TUED’s approach.

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

Main Developments

  • TUED continues to grow. Unions representing 560,000 members have joined so far this year, with others actively deliberating. Today the project consists of 64 union bodies from 24 countries.
  • Regional and national expressions of TUED are taking shape in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, South Africa and Latin America.
  • TUED’s research and analysis continues to have an impact on trade union debates and policy. Earlier this year, TUED’s Working Paper #11, Trade Unions and Just Transition: The Search for a Transformative Politics, became available in English and will soon be available in Spanish.
  • Partnerships and collaborations with policy allies and movement-based NGOs are moving forward. TUED is playing an increasingly significant role in building a global energy democracy movement.

A Growing Network: 64 Union Bodies Representing Workers in 24 Countries

The TUED network has grown to 64 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 and the Philippines. TUED also has movement allies in the progressive policy community, worker education and advocacy. A complete list of participating unions and allies is here.

The first half of 2018 saw three important additions to the TUED network, with the British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU; US and Canada) and the Nordic Transport Workers Federation (NTF; headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden). Together these unions represent 560,000 workers.

TUED International Conference on “Just Transition”

On May 29, more than fifty 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 North and 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 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, Dr. Anastasia Romanou of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and many others. The full conference program is available here, and a report is available here.

The conference was hosted at 1199SEIU’s Cherkasky/Davis Conference Center. Many of the international participants also joined TUED’s two-day strategic retreat, which took place immediately following the conference.

Key Regional and National Developments

Asia-Pacific: Laying the Groundwork

The struggle for energy democracy in the Asia-Pacific region is critically important, given that fossil fuel use and pollution levels in the region are rising at an alarming pace.

Led by Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, the TUED group in the 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.

Workshops on energy democracy, organized by APHEDA, have been held in the Philippines and Vietnam. TUED has generated country-specific reports for these workshops.

In late 2017, representatives of TUED and APHEDA visited unions in India and Nepal, and the effort to engage these unions continues.

In South Korea, the KPTU is taking advantage of the current political opening to urge the new government to chart a new energy course for the country. Currently South Korea is dependent on imported coal and gas, as well as domestic nuclear power.

UK: The Labour Party and TUC Commitments to Reclaim Energy

The prospects for a decisive shift in energy policy in the UK have improved dramatically with the Labour Party’s 2017 Manifesto commitment to reclaim the country’s energy system back to public, democratic control.

TUED has 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 as well as left parties (Germany’s Die Linke and Podemos in Spain) sent representatives.

In late June, TUED convened a 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.

The 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.

For additional background on TUED’s work in the UK and Europe, please see here.

South Africa: Towards a Democratic And Socially Owned Energy System

Struggles around energy have grown in intensity in South Africa. The coal-dependent public power utility, Eskom, is engaged in a public battle with private renewable energy interests or “Independent Power Producers” (IPPs). Eskom has threatened to close coal-fired power stations leaving tens of thousands of union members without employment.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA; Africa’s largest union) and the recently launched South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) have crafted a clear response, calling for the radical restructuring of Eskom and social ownership of the renewables sector. Referencing TUED, 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 its support for a “socially owned and democratic alternative.” The March 2018 piece takes forward a position NUMSA has been advocating since at least 2011, and which was also described in TUED Bulletin #66: Should Unions Strike for a Just Transition?

In the coming months TUED, working together with the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Alternative Information and Development Center (AIDC), will be actively engaged in developing a clear energy vision for South Africa that is consistent with NUMSA’s and SAFTU’s programmatic commitments.

TUED Latin America: Making Steady Progress

In Latin America, the struggle for energy democracy is a priority for the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA). This commitment was expressed in TUCA’s “Development Platform for the Americas” (PLADA) which was revised and re-adopted at its Third Hemispheric Congress in 2016 held in Sao Paulo.

TUED has maintained close ties with the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), the main trade union body in Brazil, during the attacks on former presidents Lula and Dilma Rousseff. Working with TUED, the Federal University of ABC is also offering a course on energy democracy in Brazil and intends to create a space for trade unions, social movements and universities to advance a pro-public and democratic energy vision.

In partnership with TUCA, CUT and others, TUED seeks to build the project’s capacity across the region. TUED is currently in discussions with unions in Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.

TUCA is also organizing a major gathering of unions and allies in Costa Rica in October 2018 to further develop the program on energy democracy and just transition in the region.

United States: Resisting “Energy Dominance”

For the first half of 2018, TUED’s work in the US has focused on two issues, namely the complete destruction of the power grid in Puerto Rico, and the White House’s promotion of its “energy dominance” agenda and the need for the US to continue to extract and export coal, oil and gas.

In terms of Puerto Rico, TUED has organized several meetings involving UTIER, the Puerto Rican power-sector union, and has helped build international support for UTIER’s fight against the plan to privatize the island’s public utility, PREPA. TUED continues to monitor the situation, and to look for opportunities to support UTIER’s efforts to connect with allies in New York and beyond.

Regarding building resistance and alternatives to the U.S. government’s “Energy Dominance” agenda, in late 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 focused on how to move from divestment to getting the reinvestment in renewable energy sources that is needed. Governor Cuomo’s administration has announced relatively ambitious renewable energy targets (50% by 2030, but with existing hydropower currently meeting almost half of that 50% requirement). The discussion was also shaped by TUED’s most recent work on energy and emissions trends and investment patterns (see below).

On Target: TUED’s Energy Research and Political Analysis

Energy and Emissions Trends: The Danger of False Optimism

TUED’s ongoing research and analysis of energy trends and their political implications can be found in the project’s Working Papers. Since the launch of the project in 2012, TUED has argued that, far from being “inevitable” and “already underway”—as is too frequently claimed or implied by mainstream voices—the transition to a sustainable energy system based on renewable sources is not happening, and will not happen without a radical change of course. This need should be a central message of international trade union policy. As a movement, we need a programmatic shift—one that asserts a pro-public and needs-based approach to meeting the climate crisis and achieving a “just transition,” and that can challenge “business as usual.”

Key aspects of TUED’s analysis have recently been corroborated by at least two major news stories. For instance, when BP released its latest annual report of energy trends in June 2018, the company acknowledged that coal’s share in the global power sector for 2017 was the same as it had been 20 years earlier, in 1998—38%—and that the share of non-fossil fuel in the mix is actually down over that same period. In the words of the company’s Group Chief Economist, Spencer Dale, “I hadn’t realised that so little progress had been made until I looked at these data.” Just one year earlier Dale had declared, “The fortunes of coal appear to have taken a decisive break from the past,” which he attributed to “structural, long-term factors.” In fact, TUED had drawn attention to such deeply misplaced optimism about coal, and about fossil fuels more generally, in its Working Paper #9, Energy Transition: Are We Winning?, published in January 2017—six months prior to Dale’s now-debunked positive assessment, and fully eighteen months before his recent epiphany.

Similarly, the International Energy Agency (IEA) acknowledged in its own latest report on world energy investment (July 2018) that combined investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency—both crucial factors to achieve the Paris climate targets—fell by 3% in 2017, and is “failing to keep up with energy security and sustainability goals.” Especially telling is the report’s acknowledgment that investment in the power sector overwhelmingly relies on government guarantees and incentives, rather than on revenues  from market-driven prices. TUED’s previous Working Paper #10, Preparing a Public Pathway: Confronting the Investment Crisis in Renewable Energy, raised these same concerns nearly a year before the IEA’s report.

Just Transition: Beyond “Social Dialogue”

TUED’s political analysis continues to be framed by its founding “Resist, Reclaim, Restructure” (RRR) approach, which emerged from 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.

Released in early 2018, TUED’s latest Working Paper #11, Trade Unions and Just Transition: The Search for a Trans-formative Politics explains how and why “Just Transition” has increasingly been taken up by a wide range of voices, from frontline, indigenous and grassroots communities to major international institutions like the ILO, and has been acknowledged by the UN in its Sustainable Development Goals.

The paper argues that momentum around “Just Transition” provides an opportunity for unions to broaden the perspective beyond “social dialogue.” It shows how a growing number of unions recognize that the struggle for energy democracy has a crucial role to play in the struggle for civilizational survival, and argues that a truly sustainable energy system could provide a platform for more systemic change, and a transition based on meeting human needs and respecting natural limits—informed by a vision that integrates worker-focused concerns into a broad program for broad social and economic transformation.

Other Research, Analysis and Policy Work

TUED is also producing a series of country “mapping” analyses for Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA for key countries in the Asia-Pacific region, looking at factors relevant to a transition to renewable energy in each national context: current energy system (technical, administrative), renewable energy potential, political and economic factors, etc. To date, reports have been produced on Philippines and Vietnam, and another on Indonesia is now in process. Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA are using these reports to inform a series of strategy workshops with trade unions and allies in each country, as part of a wider effort to move the energy transition forward strategy in the region.

Also during the first half of 2018, the TUED research team has produced a major policy document for the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), to inform deliberations at the ITF’s upcoming World Congress in October 2018, where the federation’s policy priorities for the next four years will be set.

The next TUED Working Paper will take the analysis of the transport sector further, in order to place the struggle for sustainable public transport firmly within the energy democracy frame, and clarify key interdependencies between the transport and power sectors.

The Climate Leadership Immersion: Building Capacity, Linking Allies

On March 7-8, TUED held its fifth installment of the “Climate Leadership Immersion for Union Officers and Staff,” part of the International Program for Labor, Climate and Environment (IPLCE), which is based at the new CUNY School for Labor and Urban Studies (CUNY SLU). SLU is the successor institution to the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies; the change became official July 1, 2018. For more information about the Climate Leadership Immersion, contact Irene Irene Shen at [email protected].

Acknowledging Stefanie Ehmsen and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office

TUED is sustained and supported by unions from around the world, and by the newly formed CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studiesat the City University of New York.

However, the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office(RLS) and its dedicated team has provided invaluable support since TUED began in late 2012. Special thanks go to now-former co-director, Stefanie Ehmsen, who, along with co-director Albert Scharenberg, has now relocated to Berlin. We would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate and welcome the office’s new director, Andreas Günther, and look forward to continuing the productive partnership in the coming years.

About getting involved
For unions considering being formally involved in TUED, most of the information you need is here.

There’s also more information on why it’s important for unions to support TUED here.

Need more information about energy democracy?  Take a look at our working papers series (y también en español)

Videos: Including This is What Energy Democracy Looks Like! in English, French and Spanish