Information Digest – July 2023

Electric motors help drive union thought and practice in this month’s review of the green and sustainable economic development required to secure good jobs, clean energy, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and a future for us all.


Developing Industrial Policy for Manufacturing Electric Vehicles in Australia

Mark Dean

Australia mass-produced passenger vehicles until 2017, when General Motors-Holden, the last remaining automotive manufacturing firm, closed its assembly operations, following previous closures by Ford and Toyota. Since then, in a context of geopolitical and energy shifts that are driving a race for critical mineral resources to power renewable technologies, it is pertinent to explore the possibilities for Australian manufacturing. Could this be a new dawn for vehicle manufacturing in Australia?

Anchoring Australia’s industrial transition in an EV industry policy represents a significant opportunity to rebuild an advanced manufacturing industry – one that helps the nation meet its international environmental obligations and contributes to a just transition for Australian workers and communities.

Journal of Australian Political Economy No. 91, pp. 7-30.

Mark is National Research and Planning Officer for the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

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Electric cars alone won’t save the planet. We’ll need to design cities so people can walk and cycle safely

Timothy Welch Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, University of Auckland

With electric vehicles we don’t solve traffic congestion. They need to be part of much re-design of our cities and our priorities. More public transport use will be enabled by better transport. This requires big changes in infrastructure models.

(diagram by D Walker for COP26 critiquing its focus on electric vehicles).

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Bet on technology or limit growth? Climate modelling shows ‘degrowth’ less technologically risky

A comprehensive comparison of ‘degrowth’ with established pathways to limit climate change highlights the risk of over-reliance on technology to support economic growth, which is assumed in established climate modelling.

The first comprehensive comparison of ‘degrowth’ scenarios with established pathways to limit climate change highlights the risk of over-reliance on carbon dioxide removal, renewable energy and energy efficiency to support continued global growth – the approaches assumed in established global climate modelling.

Degrowth is defined as an equitable, democratic reduction in energy and material use while maintaining wellbeing. A decline in GDP is accepted as a likely outcome of this transition. It focuses on the global North because of historically high levels of energy and material use in affluent nations, thereby enabling a just transition mindful of poverty especially in low-income nations.

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Degrowth is about global justice

By Green European Journal Staff, Jason Hickel, originally published by Green European Journal

Most people in the Global North would benefit from a transition to an eco-social economy. We call for reducing unnecessary production and shortening the working week. We call for a radically fairer distribution of income. We call for a climate job guarantee and a basic income. We call for universal public services, and the decommodification of housing. This is the story we need to tell to get ordinary people on board. Remember, there is real poverty in rich countries. Many people live in sub-standard housing and can barely afford rent. In the US people cannot afford healthcare and education. The programme that the degrowth movement calls for answers these concerns about insecurity under capitalism. We need to help people envision what the alternative looks like.

Green parties sometimes think that the battle is to get the working class on board. This illustrates a real problem: the working class is not on board because green policies don’t speak to them! So change your policies, change your narrative. Talk about how we are going to decommodify the core social economy, make housing a public good, ensure universal access to livelihoods and necessary resources, take the question of employment off the table. Then we can talk about scaling down unnecessary production. The only people that are against these ideas are the capitalist class. The obstacle is not ordinary people. The obstacle is capital. That’s the terrain we need to be fighting on.

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Planned Degrowth: Ecosocialism and Sustainable Human Development—An Introduction

The July August issue of Monthly Review is on Planned Degrowth.

The introduction by John Bellamy Foster is here:

“Some non-degrowth socialists, confronted with climate change, have succumbed to technology fetishism, proposing dangerous geoengineering measures that would inevitably compound the planetary ecological crisis as a whole.124 There is no doubt that many on the left see the entire solution today as consisting of a Green New Deal that would expand green jobs and green technology, leading to green growth in a seemingly virtuous circle. But since this is usually geared to a Keynesian growth economy and defended in those terms, the assumptions behind it are questionable.125 A more radical proposal, more in line with degrowth, would be a People’s Green New Deal oriented toward socialism and democratic ecological planning”.

Critics of degrowth who nonetheless support the urgency need to save the habitat and human life on earth argue instead that “decoupling” economic growth from carbon emissions is the real alternative. See for example political economist Robert Pollin.

The European Trade Union Institute has published.

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Beyond economic growth: The role of trade unions in the transition to well-being

by Peter Nitsche-Whitfield

“It is widely accepted that the pursuit of economic growth is becoming increasingly infeasible and undesirable, necessitating substantial changes to European economies.

European economic activity in terms of emissions, resource use, pollution and impacts on biodiversity is ecologically unsustainable. In the face of tipping points soon to be reached and cascading, inter-related ecological crises, the impacts of economic activities need to fall rapidly and substantially to avert disaster. It is no longer possible to decouple growth from ecological impacts sufficiently within the required timespan. Furthermore, even disregarding the necessity to reduce ecological impacts, a multitude of reasons – from energy crises to demographic change – are leading many economists to question European growth prospects.

In any case, curbing ecologically damaging practices will be key to addressing the multiple crises Europe is facing. The pursuit of evermore undifferentiated GDP growth will therefore not deliver for working people in terms of well-being and social progress. GDP is particularly unsuitable for measuring the benefits of public services and accounting for inequality. Therefore, trade unions should strengthen their collaboration with the growing group of actors calling for a move beyond growth and a focus on well-being.

Public services are key in this, as their collective nature minimises ecological impacts while improving the well-being of more people. Universal basic services provided on a collective basis have substantially smaller ecological footprints than providing for the same needs on an individual basis. Public services can also provide good-quality and meaningful jobs. Universal basic services should be an inalienable part of any just transition, as they are at the core of strong and effective social protection systems. Lastly, focusing on universal quality public services has the added benefit of making economies less reliant on economic growth for securing well-being.

A labour-nature alliance will be indispensable to bringing about a social-ecological transformation beyond growth. Actions of solidarity between environmentalists and trade unionists are thus an important step to a better future. Trade unions can play a unique role in developing narratives showing how a Europe moving beyond GDP and towards redistribution and social justice could improve lives and livelihoods across the continent.”

In Australia the ACTU has developed policies addressing the issues.

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Decent Jobs in Renewable Energy

An important part of a successful energy transition is ensuring that emerging clean energy jobs are good jobs. The ACTU recently released a major report outlining the potential for Australia to create thousands of secure renewable energy jobs with good conditions. We are now working with the renewable energy industry towards a shared understanding of what best practice employment standards look like for renewable energy projects.

The report, Sharing the Benefits with workers: A decent jobs agenda for Australia’s renewable energy industry, is here.

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Energy Transition Authority: What Workers Need

Australia’s economy is undergoing a fundamental transformation, the scale and scope of which rivals anything in our history. With legislated commitments to reduce emissions by at least 43% by 2030 and to reach net zero emissions by 2050, the transition to a low-carbon economy will accelerate across all sectors in the coming years.

The Federal Government has announced will legislate a national Net Zero Authority to ensure the workers, industries and communities that have powered Australia for generations can seize the opportunities of Australia’s net zero transformation.

The report, Energy Transition Authority: What Workers Need is here.

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Workplaces WILL be and are affected by climate extremes

Elizabeth Humphries and others have been researching the issues:

“Exposure to high heat and humidity in the workplace is a critical health and safety issue, and in Australia, where heat waves are occurring with more frequency and intensity as a result of climate change, the risks posed by occupational heat exposure have been acknowledged by employer groups, trade unions, and statutory government agencies. Research on these impacts for Australian workers, especially the socio-political determinants of effective workplace heat management, remains limited. High heat is a growing problem for industry as well, and the International Labour Organisation says the impact of climate change on labour productivity will get significantly worse in the next few decades.

Over the last few years our team at the University of Technology Sydney based in the Climate Society and Environment Research Centre (C-SERC) has been examining the impacts of climate change on workers, by investigating their health and safety experiences on the job. Much of our work has examined the impacts of high heat, although we have spoken to workers about bushfires as well. The people we have spoken to have been working as firefighters, food delivery cyclists, parks and recreation staff, cleaners, water and electricity technicians, home care workers, early childhood educators, production line attendants and many more.

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Shipping can be greener, safer and more efficient if technological change is worker-led

Seafarers see the prospect of autonomous ships as an opportunity to solve a number of problems in commercial shipping but warn that crew expertise is central to decision-making in a time of technological change, and to make change effective companies and governments need to ensure the technology is transparent and reliable. Governments and companies need to be more transparent to ensure that crews’ expertise is central to decision-making in a time of huge technological change.

These are the conclusions of research collating seafarer perspectives and expectations on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) published jointly by the Korea Maritime Institute (KMI), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the Korea Institute of Maritime and Fisheries Technology (KIMFT). Researchers interviewed 17 seafarers and seafarers’ representatives, giving voice to their hopes and fears about increasing levels of automation in the merchant fleet.

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A large government presence required for energy transition does not mean massive deficits are required

Bill Mitchell

But how do we pay? Is the cry. Well apart from the fact that paying for all the disasters, recoveries, trauma, species extinction right now means huge costs, we should take note of Bill Mitchell’s comment “we should avoid thinking that ‘green financing’ of energy transition will deliver anything that is desirable.

It is also clear that we will need to use ‘social’ calculus rather than ‘private’ calculus to justify the sort of shifts that are required”…. I am convinced that governments will have to increase taxes to reduce private disposable income and free up resources in order to meet the challenge.

That means that while government expenditure relative to the scale of the economy will have to increase ‘massively’ (hence the size of government will increase), the tax revenue will also have to increase, not to fund the spending but to reduce the capacity of the existing private users of the extant resource base to enjoy that usage.

In other words, fiscal deficits might rise a bit but they might also fall depending on the context, which is defined by the available fiscal space.”

A National Job Guarantee would be a crucial part of a sustainable equitable world. Here is a proposal from the Sustainable Prosperity Action Group.

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Why we Need a National Job Guarantee in Australia

We need a National Job Guarantee for Australia that is federally funded, nationwide and permanent. It would be voluntary, not for profit, and carbon negative. Job Guarantee positions would be paid at the minimum wage, could be either full time or part time, and include paid leave, WorkCover, and superannuation entitlements.

A National Job Guarantee would benefit unemployed and underemployed people by reducing poverty, facilitating skill development, and enabling participation in meaningful work. Small and large businesses would benefit from increased demand for goods and services, plus easier recruitment of skilled and motivated workers. The economy would benefit from smoothing out booms and busts, and an increased use of total national workforce capacity. Society benefits with increased inclusion and reduced inequality. The environment benefits because a significant number of Job Guarantee programs would be directed towards environmental restoration and repair.

Job Guarantee programs would be aligned with national goals and meet local needs, as determined by genuine local consultation. Regional Job Banks would be set up to match workers with positions available. We recommend that initial programs are implemented through Local Government and community-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.

In the USA the BlueGreen Alliance is taking on the challenges of jobs and climate action. As their website says “Too often, Americans are asked to choose between jobs and the environment. But as we face increasingly severe impacts of environmental challenges like climate change and adapt to an interconnected global economy, we can no longer choose one or the other. We believe we can and must choose both.”

The BlueGreen Alliance unites labor unions and environmental organizations to solve today’s environmental challenges in ways that create and maintain quality jobs and build a clean, thriving, and equitable economy.

We are guided by the principle that we can no longer choose between good jobs and a clean environment—that the actions we take to create quality jobs and to protect working people and the environment must go hand-in-hand, and that together, we will build clean, thriving and fair economy.

Our efforts center on the immediate need to develop commonsense solutions that protect the environment and create and maintain quality, family-sustaining jobs across the economy. Our staff and supporters:

design public policies, perform research, and run public education and advocacy campaigns to advocate for practical solutions;

facilitate dialogue between environmentalists, union members and other stakeholders;

and educate America’s labor union members and environmentalists about the economic and environmental impacts of climate change and the job-creating opportunities of environmental protections.

For a guide to their current work go here.

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Ten trade union arguments for a just energy transition in Africa from the Labour Research Service in South Africa

Just transition arguments for trade unions.

  1. Sub-Saharan Africa contributed the least to climate change but will be affected the most
  2. There is an energy crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa
  3. Existing energy systems don’t address the energy crisis
  4. The poor are paying the highest price
  5. The lack of clean energy causes the deaths of many people
  6. The lack of energy is negatively impacting service delivery
  7. Energy poverty is gender unjust
  8. There is a convincing economic case for a just energy transition
  9. Renewable energy provides an opportunity to create clean jobs with better protection
  10. Without a just transition, a capitalist version of mitigating climate change will continue to exploit workers while failing to reach sustainability goals

Full discussion paper here  Defining a Just Transition for Sub-Saharan Energy Workers – A discussion paper of the Sub-Saharan Africa Energy Network

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Trade Union Competence Centre (FES TUCC) and the Labour Research Service (LRS) in 2021 published.

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Trade Unions Going Green: Environmental Issues in the World of Work

The booklet seeks to encourage unions to initiate campaigns to address environmental issues in the workplace. The booklet will help to put unions in a position to engage in dialogue for sustainable development policies, while representing the interests and needs of workers.

The purpose of this booklet is twofold: to inform workers and workers’ organisations about the potential of a ‘just transition’, and also to provide practical information on how to ensure this for workers.

The transition to a more climate-friendly world is unavoidable, and workers’ voices must be heard. The booklet will help unions understand issues such as occupational health and safety, water pollution control, and reforestation, as well as provide simple tips for including these demands in collective bargaining.

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Just Transitions for All

Lots of links debating green jobs, just transitions and union approached here

Some good papers on the state of play in South American countries here

Jonathan Tasini is the main driver here. Jonathan is a political/organizing/economic strategist/analyst/writer. I’ve worked on idea/projects spanning a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 30-plus years. I enjoy finding the “white spaces” that need filling, the places to make connections and create projects to enhance the great work many people do to advance a better world. I’m also publisher/editor of Working Life. Finally, in 2022, I launched Just Transition For All, a global project to advance the call for a “high bar” Just Transition for the millions of workers whose jobs are at risk due to climate change adaptation.

Enactment of the Act on the Promotion of a Smooth Transition to a Decarbonized Growth-Oriented Economic Structure (GX Promotion Act)

In Japan the Japanese Trade Union Confederation -Rengo has cautiously welcomed the Japanese government legislation of May 2023 – an Act on the Promotion of a Smooth Transition to a Decarbonized Growth-Oriented Economic Structure (GX Promotion Act).

After much work by unions the legislation and supplementary resolutions ensured that workers concerns were addressed and will continue to be central to transition processes: “ support measures were also incorporated to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises, whose delay in responding to GX has been a matter for concern, would not be left behind. These included expanding support programs, constructing more effective support systems, and efforts to promote GX throughout the supply chain through initiatives by large companies.”

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Trade unions confronting the climate crisis in the Philippines

APHEDA reports that “Workers in the Philippines are on the frontlines of climate crisis, facing rising temperatures, regular climate disasters and impacts on food production. SENTRO are educating and organising workers to fight for climate justice in their workplaces and communities.

As part of a regional project in partnership with the Trade Union Solidarity Center of Finland (SASK), Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA is working with union partner organisations in the Philippines, Indonesia and Nepal to advance the campaign for climate justice with workers.

In the Philippines, SENTRO, a national trade union centre, are implementing this project in Cebu. They are working in partnership with workers in the garment sector, fishing sector and informal workers to increase their understanding of the climate crisis and how it impacts on their work.”.

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Workers’ safety and health in green jobs

Green jobs cover a wide range of different jobs in different sectors, and involve a diverse workforce. There are many different definitions of the term, such as the ones by the United Nations Environment Programme, the European Commission or Eurostat. But green jobs can be understood as contributing, in some way, to the preservation or restoration of the environment. They can include jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity, or reduce consumption of energy and raw materials, reduce waste and pollution. Our purpose at EU-OSHA is to raise awareness of the need for good occupational safety and health (OSH) in these jobs. Green jobs need to provide safe, healthy and decent working conditions in order to contribute to a truly smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

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Who bears the pollution costs of manufacturing “eco-friendly” products?

Austyn Gaffney

“Rockwool, a producer of mineral wool insulation, broke ground for its new facility in Ranson, W.Va. — right across from an elementary school — in the summer of 2018. (Ranson is less than 7 miles from Danzey’s home, just north of the Washington, D.C., metro area.) Mineral wool plants give off carbon dioxide and hazardous chemicals as volcanic rocks and slag are melted down in large furnaces, spun into wool, bound, cured, cooled and bagged. Rockwool says it is a ​“net carbon negative company” because its insulation saves ​“100 times the energy consumed and [carbon dioxide] emitted in its production.” Local communities bear the brunt of its emissions.” AN example of a “green” production company exporting their waste. Unusual in that it is from one western country to another, rather than to a “third world” country.

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