“Five of the largest energy companies have made almost $60 billion whilst household energy bills are expected to rise to over £4,200 a year, which will drive many more people into energy poverty who are unable to cover these costs.”
By Labour for a Green New Deal
The urgent need for complete decarbonisation through a just transition is incompatible with the current capitalist system. Above all else, privately owned sectors of our infrastructure consistently place capital as their primary focus. As a result this inevitably leads to the exploitation of their workers and increasing costs to the public. Under this model, the environment and the vital services within our communities are also stripped of their resources and exploited in order to maximise profit.
We are seeing the direct impact of this through the widespread industrial action this summer where workers are demanding fair pay and guaranteed job security whilst household bills continue to soar. At the same time the companies which provide key services in our communities, including energy, transport and water, are making billions in profit.
Examples of this are numerous which demonstrates the extent of profiteering that occurs through privatisation. Between April and June this year, five of the largest energy companies have made almost $60 billion whilst household energy bills are expected to rise to over £4,200 a year, which will drive many more people into energy poverty who are unable to cover these costs. Within the transport sector, Stagecoach Group have reported a year end revenue of £1.2 billion in April, but if it weren’t for the 370 Unite members employed at Stagecoach Merseyside these workers would be seeing a real-terms pay cut had they not organised the strike that won them a 10.3% pay rise this July.
Labour for a Green New Deal (LGND) have responded to this in our demands for public ownership as a general principle in our 2022 Conference Motion. Here we argue that if these key services were stripped away from private ownership, workers could be guaranteed a fair wage and would have more opportunity to create a public infrastructure that works for our communities, in part by demanding the rapid decarbonisation of our economy. This will require reorganising the current system around workers and communities instead of capital which will in turn promote democratic control of these services.
We can see the benefits of this model with the example of Uruguay’s state owned power company UTE, who have transitioned to almost 100% renewable energy and cut household electricity bills in the process. Given the urgency of decarbonising the Global North, a democratically controlled and publicly owned energy system is vital for the UK to make this transition.
Undeniably the strength of collective organising within trade unions will also need to be mobilised so that the process of decarbonising public services is fully in the interests of its workers. To achieve this, LGND is campaigning for a just transition that is publicly funded but also worker-led. As this transition will open up thousands of green jobs to shift our public services into green alternatives it is essential that we repeal all anti-trade union laws. It is only with an unrestricted workforce that we can expect to build an infrastructure that works for public good.
LGND have outlined the scale of work that will be required to decarbonise our public services using the example of public transport, green jobs in this sector will include: transitioning to electric and hydro powered vehicles; winding down the production of petrol and diesel; transforming manufacturing jobs to reflect the new transportation infrastructure; and expanding employment in public transport whilst reducing private vehicle use. However, we cannot effectively implement these changes without strong pressure from a unionised workforce and community support.
Working towards a ‘just transition’ will also extend beyond national borders. Through transitioning our public infrastructure we must decommodify the provision of public services to avoid replicating the harmful extraction of resources by the fossil fuel industry. If the aims of a ‘just transition’ are to provide democratically owned public services then it will need to centre the experiences and knowledge of indigenous communities to dismantle colonial labour relations.
Therefore the provision of key public services cannot rely on the indigenous land grabs, outsourcing of carbon intensive labour abroad, or exploitative pay and dangerous working conditions at any stage of the supply chain. Democratic control must be extended to all those involved in the supply of these services.
Even under the constraints of capitalism we are seeing attempts made by trade unions to form links with global campaign groups such as the Climate Alliance and Workers Climate Action to support international efforts that address the climate crisis across borders. Under public ownership, workers in key services would be able to take this further by working directly with all impacted communities to ensure that they too can directly benefit. By aligning the aims of climate justice with trade unions, workers can work alongside impacted communities to determine how we can decarbonise within our collective interests using public funding.
Creating a public infrastructure that actively aims to undo the harms of colonial labour relations is in direct conflict with the corporate model. If kept within the private sector any attempt to decarbonise the Global North will continue the encroachment of indigenous land to extract natural resources. For example, 84% of Europe’s lithium supply is extracted from Antofagasta, Chile to provide a green alternative for energy storage in electric vehicles.
As a direct consequence there has been a water shortage where mining lithium makes up 68% of Antofagasta’s water usage. Whilst there has been significant resistance to this extraction from Atacameño communities and local activists, green solutions of the Global North should not rely on land grabs and intensive extraction of natural resources and wealth. Instead we must restructure this supply chain around communities and workers instead of profit for the supply of green technological alternatives and the wider transport sector. It is only under public ownership that we can start to decolonise our public infrastructure.