The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has produced a booklet ‘Just Transition and Energy Democracy’ which says: ‘The real solutions to the climate crisis are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system— one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work and radically reins in corporate power’.
It calls for ‘an open and urgent discussion amongst workers is needed to develop an industrial strategy that gives real protection to workers’ jobs, pay and conditions through the economic transition. It means learning from various initiatives like the Lucas Plan, One Million Climate jobs and campaigns and projects taking place in many parts of the world. These are a good start point in formulating an alternative to the anti-worker and environmentally destructive role of the energy giants who wield such economic power; where from the dawn of the industrial age a mere 90 companies are responsible for over two thirds of global emissions.’
PCS says that to meet the UK climate targets as part of the Paris global commitment, ‘we need an energy transition to a zero carbon economy based on public ownership and democratic control of our energy system. A system of energy democracy that will underwrite a just transition for workers and communities across all sectors of the economy and re-vision our public services’.
It goes into some detail of what might be involved, based on the principle of Energy democracy – public ownership and democratic control. It notes that ‘community energy and cooperatives are posited as an example of regaining control. With some success in Germany and Denmark there are certainly models to learn from. However often these will be small scale, suit certain types of environment, and mostly those with some initial wealth to pool to make them happen. Therefore whilst there is an important place for different models of energy generation and certainly in rural areas this may make more sense, to address the scale needed including to run our public services of schools, hospitals and transport, the focus for PCS is on the need to remunicipalise our energy system as part of a worker- public partnership’.
It notes that a shift to municipal energy is already happening. Nottingham City council set up Robin Hood Energy in 2015. Leeds City Council have partnered with Robin Hood Energy to establish White Rose Energy. Bristol Energy set up in early 2016, is like Nottingham wholly owned by the City Council on a not-for-profit basis. They are also going beyond a standard business model with wider social and economic aims such as tackling fuel poverty and promoting renewable energy generation. The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan has committed to a municipal energy company – Energy for Londoners – which would be by far the biggest and challenging yet. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) made up of ten councils is also looking at establishing a publicly owned municipal energy company. Scotland has been developing its own energy democracy programmes through Our Power, a community benefit society owned by a number of local authorities and housing associations. It aims to supply 30% of its energy from renewable sources and equally tackle fuel poverty with a focus on social housing tenants.
These are good starting point, but PCS looks to a much more radical approach nationally. It notes that a key element of the ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ campaign is the creation of a National Climate Service (NCS) similar to the National Health Service (NHS), to ensure there is a body to create the jobs needed to lower greenhouse gas emissions. But it also wants other radical government services, including a ‘Ministry for Climate Change’ (MforCC) that can oversee an energy democracy transition to a zero carbon economy. However as well as needing a body like this for centralised planning it says there is also a need for Commissions to support local democrat control and protect worker and community rights, with the civil service in these new bodies ‘working in the interest of a people service not just a government run public service’.
It’s a brave vision, based in part of work done by Prof. David Hall of the Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU). It would involve breaking up much of what exist at present- the nationalisation and municipalisation of much of the power system, at a cost put at £24bn in compensation to the current owners: ‘Transmission and distribution companies would be brought back into the public sector with new legislation brought forward to enable the creation of regional and local supply companies’. But unlike previous nationalisations, it would be subject to meaningful local worker and community control- and with climate issues being central. That’s a big ask- not all workers or communities may see climate issues as central. However, PCS is convinced that it is both in their interests and necessary: ‘climate change and the industrial struggle of unions against workers continued exploitation opens up the opportunity to think and develop a strategy and programme that puts workers at the centre of the economic transformation that will be needed’.
So PCS wants a new approach-very different from some of the others on offer. For example, the World Energy Council has looked to three possible futures, using ‘musical , analogies:
Modern Jazz – driven by markets, strong innovation and rapid deployment of new technologies.
Unfinished Symphony – strong states direction with energy policy priorities focused on security and climate change.
Hard Rock – a fragmented world with a weak economy and strong nationalism.
PCS believe there is a fourth scenario, the Brass Band – an energy transition based on real workers participation, public ownership and democratic control – a workers and public partnership. It notes that ‘A Just Transition’ was a ‘topline’ priority for the trade union movement led by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) at the UN climate talks in Paris, and is recognised in the Preamble to the agreement by way of the following text: “Taking into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities.”
While PCS welcomes that, it says it means nothing ‘without action by trade unions and others involved in labour issues such as those working for social justice to make it happen’. It is certainly trying. It realises that it approach is radical, even maybe utopian, but seeks at the very least to challenge the economic orthodoxy of governments and financial institutions by:
1.Questioning the claims that cost-cutting means greater efficiency
2.Arguing that civil and public services are vital to the economic, political and social well-being of the nation
3.Arguing for public ownership and control over all aspects of service delivery in the civil and public services
4. Making the case for accountable public services with staff involved through their trade unions building public services for the future, including in the energy transition.
https://www.pcs.org.uk/sites/default/files/site_assets/resources/green_workplaces/2017/Just Transition %26 Energy Democracy - a civil service trade union perspective.pdf
The PCS approach has a lot in common with Corbyn’s views, as reflected in the last Labour Manifesto, but with more details. It will be interesting to see if any of it get taken up by Labour, and by other progressive parties, who do share many of the same ideas about local control. In terms of technology, the PCS certainly backs renewables strongly, is critical of fracking and uncertain about nuclear- much like the Labour leadership, although it is constrained by the strong pro-nuclear position of the GMB, the big engineering union: see my last post in the series. But the Greens are no so constrained and may want a stronger anti-nuclear line. However, Labour is pushing the ownership issue: https://labourenergy.org/2017/09/13/who-owns-offshore-wind/And the Unions, via the TUC, are are backing that: http://unionsforenergydemocracy.org/tued-bulletin-64-backing-corbyn-uks-tuc-votes-for-public-ownership-of-energy/