Moving the trade unions past fossil fuels

August 9, 2017

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has launched a pamphlet, Just Transition and Energy Democracy: a civil service trade union perspective, urging trade union support for the transition away from fossil fuels and restructuring the energy system under public ownership. In this interview SAMANTHA MASON, PCS policy officer and main author of the pamphlet, published in May, talks about combating the pro-fossil-fuel lobby in the unions and the Labour Party, and how to unite social and environmental movements.

Gabriel Levy (GL). Could you describe the PCS’s long engagement with energy and climate policy, which has culminated in the Just Transition pamphlet?

Samantha Mason (SM). We have been engaged with climate change issues, and increasingly with the whole energy debate, for about ten years. This has in large part been due to motions coming to conference from the grassroots membership, and an assistant general secretary, Chris Baugh, leading on

Anti-fracking protesters in Lancashire: the PCS is working with them. Photo from Reclaim the Power

this, which has enabled us to develop our policy and campaigning agenda.We participate in meetings with other industrial and energy unions, mainly through the Trade Unions Sustainable Development Advisory Committee. [Note. This committee was set up as a joint government-union forum after the 1997 Kyoto climate talks, but government participation dried up under the Tories. It is now a meeting place for union policy officers, and latterly, industrial officers.]

Some of the unions there represent workers in the fossil fuel and nuclear sectors, so while we’re supposed to look at sustainable development issues, Read the rest of this entry »


Ukraine: miners strike back against wage arrears

August 4, 2017

Miners in eastern Ukraine have responded to the build-up of wage arrears and steep inflation with strikes and underground protests.

At the Kapustin mine in Lugansk region, 54 miners staged an underground sit in, and forced from their employer, Lisichanskugol’, a promise to cough up wage arrears dating back two years in some cases.

The cash was promised for Wednesday (2 August). But when it came, it was 10% short of the total, and yesterday (3 August) miners again refused to start work.

Vladimir Ivanshin, head of the local Trade Union of Coal Industry Workers (the “official”, government-linked union) said that the 10% shortfall was a “breach of the first point of the agreement” made after the sit-in.

The dispute at Kapustin first erupted on 16 July. A group of face-workers and ancillary underground men refused to leave the pit. The action began Read the rest of this entry »


Free Nurbek Kushakbayev! Support independent workers’ organisation in Kazakhstan!

April 19, 2017

Trades unionists have launched an international campaign for the release of Nurbek Kushakbayev, who was jailed this month for his part in organising strike action in the western Kazakhstan oil field.

A court in Astana, the Kazakh capital, sentenced Kushakbayev to two-and-half years in jail, followed by a further two-year ban on organising.

Kushakbayev is a trade union safety inspector at Oil Construction Company (OCC), an oilfield service firm based in Mangistau, western Kazakhstan. He is also deputy president of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan, which the government banned last year under a law designed to straitjacket unions not controlled by the state.

In January, workers at several oil companies in Mangistau staged a hunger strike in protest at the ban on union federation, to which their workplace

Nurbek Kushakbayev, in the cage for defendants, and his wife, after the verdict. Photo by Radio Azattyk.

organisations were affiliated. Dozens of participants in the hunger strike were arrested. Most were released without charge, but Kushakbayev and another union organiser at OCC, Amin Yeleusinov, were arrested and Read the rest of this entry »


Investors who profit as oil workers face repression

April 19, 2017

The companies that this month helped to jail trade union leader Nurbek Kushakbayev are linked, via Kazmunaigaz, Kazakhstan’s state-controlled oil and gas firm, to Chinese and international capital.

While workers in the western Kazakhstan oilfield suffer repeated waves of state repression – from the notorious police massacre of strikers at Zhanaozen in December 2011 to this year’s fines, arrests and bans on trade union organisation – investment funds based in New York and London profit directly from their labour.

Kushakbayev worked at the Oil Construction Company (OCC), an oilfield service company, where workers staged a two-week hunger strike in Read the rest of this entry »


Ukraine: trade unionists and communities oppose Donbass rail blockade

March 13, 2017

Trade union activists in eastern Ukraine are working with local communities to demand an end to a blockade of coal shipments organised by populist politicians and military veterans.

The blockade began last month, preventing anthracite coal from mines in the separatist-controlled areas from being moved by rail to power stations in other parts of Ukraine.

The parliamentary deputy Semen Semenchenko from the nationalist Samopomich faction, speaking for the blockaders, has said that they want a law passed that will define the separatist-controlled areas as occupied by Russia and cease trade with them. The government and the majority of parliamentarians oppose this.

In Ukraine, many people think that the blockade may reflect clashes between the country’s powerful business oligarchs. The anthracite mines, and the power stations supplied by them, are mostly owned by DTEK, an energy company controlled by Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man.

Disruption to the energy complex hurts Akhmetov, and may also hurt the government and president Petr Poroshenko, an oligarch in his own right.

But communities in eastern Ukraine point out that the blockade hurts them too: power cuts are in prospect, as are factory shut-downs and lay-offs. This in a country devastated by two years of military conflict and economic slump.

Pavel Lisyansky, director of the East Ukrainian Human Rights Group – who has played a role in supporting workplace organisation in the area since the military conflict began in 2014 – has spoken out against the blockade.

“This action is putting many industrial workplaces in danger of being stood down, or permanently closed”, Lisyansky said in an email. “Those in

Demonstration on 6 March. The posters read “stop the blockade”

danger include the Kurdiumovskii clay pits, the Zarya chemical plant, the Nikolayevskaya heat and power plant, and the Alchevsk steel works.”

Workplace representatives formed an initiative group to seek an end to the railway blockade by peaceful means. When a press conference was held, Read the rest of this entry »


Networked socialism: back to the future

September 23, 2016

Germany, 1888. Karl Steinmetz, a precociously smart twenty-year old student, quit the university town of Breslau with the police on his heels. Steinmetz had been caught up in the crackdown on the Social Democrats, then Europe’s largest socialist movement by far.

Soon after starting university, Steinmetz joined the socialist club, which was banned after affiliating with the Social Democrats. A

Charles Steinmetz

Charles Steinmetz

previous round of arrests had hit a party newspaper, The People’s Voice, and he took over as editor. Soon afterwards, he wrote an article that was deemed inflammatory, and he had to flee arrest.

Steinmetz emigrated to the US, travelling steerage class (i.e. sleeping in the hold). He anglicised his first name to Charles, and soon found work at a small electrical firm in New York. He became an electrical engineer and by 1893, aged 28, had made a key contribution Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s take Corbyn’s climate proposals seriously

September 9, 2016

Climate change is “the single most important issue facing humanity”, and politicians need to propose “real solutions” to it, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Wednesday as he launched a policy document on energy and the environment.

The document (downloadable here) proposes to produce 65% of the UK’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. It aims to make the UK a world

Anti-fracking protesters at parliament, 2012. Creative Commons licence.

Anti-fracking protesters at parliament, 2012. Creative Commons licence.

leader in renewable technology, and create jobs in renewables equipment manufacture, with a £500 billion investment programme. Labour would set up 1000 local cooperative energy producers with a “right to supply” their local communities.

A Corbyn-led Labour government would ban “fracking” (the controversial natural gas production technique the Tories love), and restore the Department for Energy and Climate Change (which Theresa May axed the moment she got to no. 10 Downing Street).

I can think of reasons not to take Corbyn seriously on this. His team has taken a year to come up with seven pages of policy proposals … which is slow, for “the single most important issue facing humanity”. There are gaps in the proposals – such as a stance on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, into which May’s government is currently considering sinking several tens of billions of pounds. And with Corbyn fighting off a challenge from Owen Smith for the Labour leadership, cynics may see the document’s shortcomings as evidence that it has been thrown together for the election campaign.

But I think the proposals should be discussed widely.

It may have taken a year to come up with them, but then many political leaders in Read the rest of this entry »