The Dream of America’s Green Revolution Lives On


[Note: This article originally appeared on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020 in the Danish newspaper, Avisan Danmark.  Its translation to English is the responsibility of Frank Hammer and Kelly Eubank, both of whom were interviewed].

From the Motor City to the capital of green energy. In Detroit, Michigan I met a fighting young climate activist and a trade unionist retired from the U.S. automotive industry who both want to save the planet. Joe Biden was not their preferred presidential candidate, but the activists feel that he will listen to them.

Journalist Emil Jorgensen covered the U.S. presidential elections for the newspaper Danmark. Emil Jorgensen’s stories from the United States are developed in response to questions from readers. If you have input, questions, or ideas for Emil, write to him at


Nine years. That is the apocalypse deadline to save the planet from man-made climate change. A deadline which the UN has given the globe, one that 29-year old Kelly Eubank builds her life around. And nine years, says Kelly, is optimistic.  While sitting at a Detroit cafe, sipping a lavender latte with oat milk, her eyes reflected desperation during her interview with Avisen Danmark, “We are not just moving toward a catastrophe. We’re already there,” she says.

Forest fires have razed California. Over the past five years, Texas has been hit by  multiple “once in 500 years” storms. Globally, nine million people die annually due to air pollution.  I do not understand how people can act as if things are normal. And why people in power do not take this seriously.” 

Kelly is not alone. She belongs to the growing group of young people who, with strikes and demonstrations, are trying to push the adults into action now with a President-elect who may be responsive.

Kelly Eubank is 29 years old and part of the Sunrise Movement. She organizes in Michigan, one of the leaders of the Detroit Hub. In the movement, young people all the way down to 15-years-old lead the movement, right now trying to pull President-elect Biden in a more progressive direction.

Sunrise Movement

Kelly sighs deeply and sits silently for a few thoughtful seconds when I mention Joe Biden’s name. She does not like him. As part of the Sunrise Movement – a young, forward-looking climate movement – she sees the Democrats’ leadership as guardians of the status quo.

The Sunrise Movement was founded in 2017 with a view of the solution to the country’s multiple  problems: the “Green New Deal.”  It’s a comprehensive bill which, within 10 years, would usher in 100 percent renewable energy in the electricity grid, Federal job guarantees and universal health care. Bernie Sanders championed the Green New Deal in the democratic primary elections, where the founder of Sunrise Movement, Varshini Prakash, publicly gave Joe Biden’s climate policy thumbs down. 

Biden, in his many years in American politics, has never been progressive when it came to the climate, Kelly says.

Recounting the early November debates with Trump, she shouted at her television when Biden promised that he does not want to stop the extraction of oil and gas using the controversial fracking method. 

Joe Biden listened

Still, Kelly spent up to 40 hours per week leading up to the presidential election on November 3rd, calling voters and urging them to vote for Biden. Why? Partly because the alternative, Donald Trump, has no intention of combating climate change and partly because Joe Biden has actually adopted the fuse of the progressive left – in a good way.

After the victory in the primary election Biden invited Bernie Sanders and the Sunrise Movement to help him design a climate policy. They did not come out of the negotiations with the Green New Deal.  Nevertheless, Biden has the most ambitious climate plan presented by a presidential candidate.

$2,000 billion will be invested in green conversion in a corona stimulus package to ensure that the United States is back on track economically, at the same time that the entire U.S. social economy by year 2050 is converted to be CO2-neutral.

“Biden is not our candidate but at least he listens to us,” says Kelly Eubank. A study from the New York Times reports that 80 percent of all 18-29-year-olds in the U.S. support the future president’s climate plans.

There are plenty of Resistance activists.  However, Donald Trump has not thrown in the towel, and is arranging large voter rallies to rile up its voter base.

Internally in the Democratic Party there are open quarrels between the Conservative and progressive wings. Right-wing media commentators question how far Biden can go before the U.S. sees uprisings like France’s “Yellow Vests.” In the country where the expression, “I come from the government and I want to help you,” is terrifying to large parts of the Republican electorate, state regulations and intervention in the name of climate change does not appear to be beneficial.

Frank Hammer: Why not declare a state of emergency and restructure Detroit’s automotive industry for the production of sustainable vehicles and infrastructure? This is what Frank Hammer proposes. He is the former Chairman of United Auto Workers Local 909, the trade union for workers at a Detroit area GM factory. He liked that Joe Biden’s climate policy is more far reaching.


Green New Deal will, within a 10-year horizon:

● Eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases from industry, agriculture and transport sector 

● Restructure the entire electricity consumption to 100 percent green electricity from renewable energy

● Secure all Americans access to clean water 

● Tax-financed education, training and job security for all

● Universal health insurance

· CO2-neutral economy in the year 2050

● Investments of 2,000 billion dollars in green conversion,  Including 40 percent earmarked to the historically most vulnerable areas

● Re-entry into the Paris Agreement 

· Eliminate Trump’s anti-climate change hostility decrees

Biden’s climate plan is hardly so radical, but it is more concrete.  

But new winds are blowing across the U.S. which, in Detroit, are illustrated in the form of activists fighting the climate battle side by side with Kelly Eubank and the Sunrise Movement. “Young people don’t have a monopoly on being afraid that we will leave a devastated planet to future generations,” says Frank Hammer. He is 77 years old and has fought for a working-class revolution his entire adult life. In the 1960’s he was part of the student uprising at the Berkeley campus of the University of California.  After earning degrees in Sociology and Architecture, he and his wife made a life-changing decision. If they really believed in their ideals, they had to integrate themselves in the working class.

Frank first got a job at an industrial rubber factory in Boston, and then at a GM car plant in Detroit. He worked for more than 30 years in the automotive industry in the center of what is called Motor City, because Ford, Chrysler and General Motors all have their headquarters there.  

Frank was elected Bargaining Chairman of his United Auto Workers local union and witnessed from the inside how globalization, automation and neoliberalism reduced the ranks of his colleagues.  The heavy job losses led to Detroit’s declared bankruptcy in 2013. Today Detroit is one of the poorest cities in the United States.

Climate arsenal

In the lead up to World War II, the U.S. auto industry was ordered to replace car production with military production. The companies did it practically overnight and Detroit came to be known as the “Arsenal of Democracy.”  Detroit should now do the same thing, though this time in the name of climate. 

– Frank Hammer, retired union leader in the “Motor City,” Detroit

In an empty parking lot, along a barbed-wire fence circling around a huge factory building, Frank shared nostalgic memories from his old workplace and its green dreams for the future. He points out that  Detroit’s motor industry had proven to be adaptable in the past.

“At the start of the second world war, Detroit was ordered to restructure car production for military production. The conversion was rapid, and the city became known as the ‘Arsenal of Democracy,’” says Frank.  He’s got an infectious energy as a veteran autoworker who has given many speeches for his “Comrades”.  Now Detroit should do it again but, this time, in the name of climate. The situation is today at least as alarming.

In Frank’s eyes, it is not just a necessity. It is also a unique opportunity. The proportion of citizens without jobs in Michigan rounded 24 percent earlier this year, and is still at almost 10 percent. If Joe Biden invests some of the $2,000 billion in producing electric cars and green infrastructure in Detroit, he secures not just the future, says the veteran union leader. Biden would also secure lots of jobs.  

“I do not know how many jobs, but I know that it is the chance to get a lot of people back to work to fight against climate change as part of the green transition,” Frank Hammer said, hopefully.  

Get ready for more weather disasters, climate panel says


This article appeared on page 11A in the local corporate press (Detroit Free Press) a few months ago.   Though we are beginning to see many more references to “global warming” and “climate change,” the subject is not getting the same kind of attention as, for example, the calamitous shootings in Colorado, or the pedophile scandal at Penn State University.  So it doesn’t hurt to post this article even now, in the hopes that more and more people get the message.  Weather reporters across the US refuse to consider the connection between the extreme weather that crowds their reports, and the underlying weather volatility resulting from the warming of the planet.  The more we make the connection, the more they will be forced to as well.  

WASHINGTON — Global warming is leading to such severe storms, droughts and heat waves that nations should prepare for an unprecedented onslaught of weather disasters, an international panel of climate scientists says in a report issued Wednesday. The greatest danger from extreme weather is in highly populated, poor regions of the world, the report warns, but no corner of the globe — from Mumbai, India, to Miami — is immune. The document by a Nobel Prize-winning panel of climate scientists forecasts stronger tropical cyclones and more frequent heat waves, deluges and droughts.

The 594-page report blames the scale of recent and future disasters on a combination of man-made climate change, population shifts and poverty.In the past, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, founded in 1988 by the United Nations, has focused on rising temperatures and oceans. This report by the panel is the first to look at extreme weather changes.“We mostly experience weather and climate through the extreme,” Stanford University climate scientist Chris Field said Wednesday. He is one of the report’s top editors. The scientists say that some places, particularly parts of Mumbai could become uninhabitable from floods, storms and rising seas. Other cities at lesser risk include Miami; Shanghai, China; Guangzhou, China; Bangkok, Thailand; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Yangon (formerly Rangoon), Myanmar, and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. The report — the summary of which was issued in November – is unique because it emphasizes managing risks and taking precautions, Field said.The study forecasts that some tropical cyclones, including hurricanes, will be stronger because of global warming, but the number of storms should not increase and may drop slightly. The scientists also predicted more heat waves worldwide and increased downpours in Alaska, Canada, north and central Europe, east Africa and north Asia. Study coauthor David Easterling of the National Climatic Data Center said this month’s U.S. heat wave fits the pattern of worsening extremes.

Seth Borenstein
Associated Press – March 29, 2012


I will be giving a report on March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day) about the conference I attended in Johannesburg sponsored by the metalworkers union of South Africa, representing auto, steel, mine and energy sector workers.  Two of the remarks by the union’s leadership at that conference already appear in previous blog posts.  If you live in the Detroit area, I hope you can come out and hear about a different kind of “green.”

Renewable Energy: Stop Another Capitalist Grab! – Cedric Gina, NUMSA President

Opening Address

International Conference

Building a Renewable Energy Sector in South Africa

04-08 February 2012

Johannesburg, South Africa


  • The 2nd Deputy-President of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (NUMSA) – Cde. Christine Olivier,
  • NUMSA’s National Officers Bearers (NOBs) present here today,
  • Regional leaders of our mighty union,
  • Representatives from the Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU) and its affiliates,
  • Representatives from our ally and leader of the Tripartite Alliance – the African National Congress (ANC),
  • Delegates representing various environmental organisations, climate justice networks and “civil/uncivil” society,
  • Officials from government departments and public utilities,
  • Our local and international guests,
  • Conference delegates,
  • Comrades and friends;

Cedric Gina, President, NUMSA

On behalf of NUMSA’s leadership and 287 422 members of our union, let me greet and welcome you to this important conference of metalworkers of South Africa.  Without being boastful, for NUMSA, the gathering that starts today is a first trade union conference that brings together unionists, environmentalists, climate justice activists, political activists, government officials and other policymakers to talk about renewable energy.  For us, pulling together such diverse constituencies – without even considering outcomes – is an achievement on its own. I’m sure, that we will all admit that discussions on renewable energy have been divisive; pitting environmentalists against unions that organise in fossil fuel industries.

For our guests, let me saying something about NUMSA; which will underlie why the mere coming together of constituencies gathered here is an achievement on its own. NUMSA is the largest metalworkers union in South Africa and Africa. We organise workers in energy intensive industries. This includes steel, chrome, aluminium and other smelters. We also have members in power stations, which are mainly coal-powered, as well as in car factories and other metal and engineering-related sectors. In other words, we organise in some of the “dirtiest” industries on the planet, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and their impacts on climate change.

Now, why does a union that organises in “dirty” industries convene a conference on renewable energy?

Origins and motivation for this conference:

The idea of this renewable energy conference comes from NUMSA’s national mini-congress held in May 2009.  The mini-congress in 2009 resolved;

 “NUMSA must also commit resources for a national trade union conference on energy matters so that the union can adopt an informed decision on international carbon-trading, global warming, nuclear energy and the use of alternate energy resources such as solar, wind and wave-powered energy.” 

At the same mini-congress, the union took a number of other energy-related resolutions. This is what we said;

1.   Government should invest in power generation capacity of Eskom and other environmentally friendly sources of energy. The increase in capital expenditure required by Eskom must not be funded through higher tariffs by consumers.

2.   Privatization of Eskom should be rejected.

3.   NUMSA together with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) should oppose building of nuclear power stations and the investment thereof should be re-directed to environmentally friendly sources of energy.

4.   With the increase of electricity tariffs, we demand that the 50 kilowatt hours (KWh) of free electricity be increased by 100% to 100 kilowatt hours (KWh).

5.   Pensioners, unemployed and the poorest of the poor should be further subsidised on their electricity consumption.

6.   Government to lead a drive to convert to solar heating for hot water in all existing domestic and industrial users via generous tax rebates.

It is these above resolutions together with other key decisions of NUMSA’s national executive committee (NEC) and central committee (CC) that have guided the preparatory work towards this conference.

Let us say upfront that while the United Nations (UN) Conference of Parties (COP17) held in Durban in December 2011 highlighted the need to speedily search for a people’s centred and people’s driven solutions to climate change, the origins of this conference lie somewhere before the Durban conference. We are implementing a decision made by our members in May 2009; when they called “for a national trade union conference on energy matters so that the union can adopt an informed decision … on the use of alternate energy resources.”  We are not jumping on a climate change bandwagon, as many are doing!

 To just remind ourselves and let our international guests know: 2008 and 2009 were crunch years in South Africa in terms of supply of electricity. In 2008, we saw massive blackouts as the electricity utility – Eskom – could not meet the demand in electricity. A programme of planned cut-offs called “load-shedding” was implemented leading not only to cut-offs of households but many of our factories had to adopt phased shutdowns to adapt to Eskom’s load-shedding programme. The electricity crisis of 2008 had the following consequences:

  • an escalation of the electricity infrastructure build programme aimed at refurbishment of existing installations and new investments in generation, transmission and distribution. The electricity build programme budget now stands at R150-billion.
  • a massive increase in prices of electricity aimed at partially paying for the electricity build programme. Since April 2008, electricity consumers have felt the effects of price increases, which when compounded constitute an average 260% increase.

With electricity being an important component of the means of production in our sectors, the escalation in tariffs is obviously a union issue. Everyday our union organisers receive notices for retrenchments. Written on these retrenchment notices is: INCREASING ELECTRICITY PRICES.

But workers do not live in the factory. With electricity a key part of the means of subsistence, the increase in price of electricity also had a direct impact on the livelihood of our members, their families and communities. As NUMSA, we define ourselves as a revolutionary trade union which means that issues that affect our members outside the factory gates and in the communities; are union issues. Escalating electricity prices are not only a factory and shopfloor issue but are a societal problem.

So when the mini-congress in May 2009 said convene a conference “so that the union can adopt an informed decision …on the use of alternate energy resources”; they were looking at how renewable energy sources could be a solution to what was definitely a crisis.

As the problems of increasing price of electricity that were identified in 2008/2009 have not abated, the National Office Bearers (NOBs) hope that this conference will rise to the occasion and address the question of how renewables can be alternatives to conventional energy sources. 

Wall, Bree St., Johannesburg, South Africa

Other reasons for organising the conference:

 In addition to implementing the resolution of the May 2009 mini-congress, there are clearly other reasons why the convening of this conference is important and opportune:

Firstly, despite the fact that NUMSA represents workers in some of the “dirtiest” energy industries, we nonetheless have a strong commitment to work on strategies aimed at both mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

  • In July 2011, we held a 3-day national school on climate change. 
  • We also contributed to our trade union federation – COSATU’s – framework on climate change that was adopted in August 2011 
  • We also made submissions on the Green Paper on Climate Change which led to our government’s policy on climate change 
  • Last year, we established two worker-based Research and Development Groups (RDGs); one on energy efficiency and the other on renewable energy. Using participatory and action research methodology, we have plans to use these groups to develop union policies on energy-related questions. 
  • During COP17, NUMSA held an international seminar on Class Struggle & Climate Change where we discussed how we should reclaim the issue of climate change from elites and make it a matter for mass struggle. I am glad to see that some of the faces that were at the international seminar in Durban are again here with us. Thank you comrades! 

Secondly, South Africa is embarking on developing its renewable energy sector. As recent as December 2011, the South African government announced a number of independent power producers (IPPs) that were successful in Window 1 of the bidding process to bring renewables onto the grid. According to the Department of Energy (DoE), the “IPP Procurement Programme has been designed so as to contribute towards the target of 3 725 megawatts and towards socio-economic and environmentally sustainable growth, and to start and stimulate the renewable industry in South Africa”. According to a cabinet-adopted Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010 – a twenty year electricity plan for the country – about 9% of all electricity generated in the country by 2030 will be from renewable energy sources. The session that follows my address will sketch how we have arrived at the point at which we are; in terms of renewable energy policy formulation.

The third additional reason why the conference is important to us is that as a union, we also organise in factories where renewable energy infrastructure is produced. In this room we have comrades who produce small wind turbines, solar water heaters and solar panels. As a revolutionary union, we have a vested interest in the character of the renewable sector that is built in South Africa. The building of a renewable energy sector raises questions about;

  • who benefits from the emergence of a renewable energy sector? Do communities stand to benefit or is this another capitalist grab to enrich a few? 
  • for whom is the renewable energy being produced? Is it for big corporations who get the electricity at a discount or is it to give access to those who presently do not have access? 
  • what is the primary goal of developing renewable energy sector? Is it to supply electricity to the grid or is it to bring electricity to those off the grid? 
  • where will South Africa and other developing countries fit in the emerging division of labour within the global renewable sector? Will developing countries and the South continue to be recipients of products developed in the North or can we turn things around and level the global playing field? 
  • how do fossil-fuel dependent countries make the transition to low-carbon economies without hurting their economies? 
  • should renewable energy be a commodity for profitable sale in the world-market or should it serve as a non-commercial means of subsistence? 
  • will workers devote their skills to expanding the renewable energy sector on the terms of the world market and global patent regimes or will they instead dedicate their services to ensure that the renewable energy sector remains in the common domain? 

Renewable Energy Is Not Inherently Progressive

For NUMSA, these are vital questions. As labour, we need to be clear that there is nothing inherently progressive about renewable energy. The renewable energy sector can be as exploitative as the “dirty” energy sectors. “Green jobs” can be indecent as blue or brown jobs. The renewable energy sector can use cheap labour, exploit women and children, use labour brokers and be dangerous in terms of occupational health and safety. Without being defensive, we need an analysis of the renewable energy sector so as to steer it in our favour.

Slave ship powered by renewable energy, painting by William Jackson

Like other energy forms, renewable energy has contradictory functions. On the one hand, it is a highly profitable commodity for production and exchange in the world-market and an essential raw material in the production and circulation of other such commodities. Furthermore, it is also an important substitute for human labour, and an enhancer of labour productivity.  On the other hand, it is also fundamental to human life and subsistence. Energy generation and distribution plays a key role in shaping human relations, playing a fundamental role in any division of labour, capitalist or otherwise. While the process of building a new energy system based around a greatly expanded use of renewable energies has the potential to make an important contribution to a process of constructing new egalitarian relations of production and exchange; the new energy system can be exploitative as the one that we have now.

Every form of energy implies a particular organisation of work and division of labour. Similar to fossil fuel industries, the renewable energy sector can be a site of inequality, hierarchy and struggle. Though still at an early stage, labour conflicts are emerging in the sector. Sometimes we wonder whether in fact it may be more accurate to speak about “green unemployment” than about “green jobs”. Territorial conflicts are also becoming increasingly important, in areas rich in renewable energy resources, such as wind, sun, water and biomass. Communities living in these territories, for the most part peasant and indigenous communities, are starting to face invasions and enclosure of their lands, as multi-national companies are given preferential treatment to access both the land and the finance and regulatory framework necessary to benefit from the energy resources.

There are also ongoing struggles throughout the world over the privatisation of commonly owned forests, which are a source of much of the world’s biomass fuels. Frequently these struggles have involved harsh state repression and, also foreign military occupation. Many people have already lost their lives in these conflicts. As this conference is taking place, major struggles have erupted in Nigera around the price of fuel. In future, these struggles may be about renewables and not petrol!

Social ownership and control at the center 

At this conference we will hear about conflicts that are happening around renewables in countries like Mexico. Conflicts such as these are the unavoidable consequences of satisfying the energy requirements of urban based industrialisation and a political and economic system which prioritises profit. Without a significant change in the way the sector is expanding, this process is only likely to worsen.

It is for all these reasons that the August 2011 Central Committee (CC) of NUMSA decided that in the discussion on building a renewable energy sector in South Africa, we should put the question of social ownership and control at the centre.  The Central Committee called for the building of a socially-owned renewable energy sector. Unless there is collective ownership and control of the new renewable energy sector, what is being built will be substantively not different from the exploitative system that exists. We have not forgotten that capitalist relations took shape in an era of renewable energies, in which wind powered sailing ships were the vehicle of choice for colonialists, and in which sugar was milled by wind mills on slave plantations.

Since August 2011, we have been working on what we mean by socially-owned renewable energy sector. On Day 3 of this conference, our Deputy General-Secretary (DGS) will give our initial thoughts on the subject. To help the discussions in the next two days, let me say that when talk about socially-owned renewable energy sector we are referring to a mix of different forms of collective ownership – energy parastatals, municipal-owned solar parks; wind cooperatives and other community-owned and controlled renewable energy companies. As NUMSA, we do not believe that a socially and ecologically desirable transition to a new energy system in which renewable energy plays the dominant role is actually possible within the constraints imposed by capitalist relations. Equally, we do not believe that existing parastatals like Eskom can be building blocks of a socially-owned renewable energy sector without being re-socialised. For more of this, wait for the NUMSA presentation on what we mean by a socially-owned renewable energy sector.

But it is not only government that is moving on the question of increasing the amount of renewables in our energy system. Private companies – local and foreign – have been positioning themselves for such an introduction and move. Capital as is always the case, views the introduction of renewables as a new site of accumulation. Unfortunately, government and other policymakers see the new renewable energy sector as being privately owned. Thus far it appears that the state is content to outsource the country’s renewable energy sector to the private sector. As NUMSA, we have also raised concerns about the low local content requirements and the fact that the incremental approach being adopted in the introduction of renewables could only lead large-scale importation. So the plan on the table on not only putting renewables in private hands, they are giving to multinational corporations on a silver platter! Today we will hear what the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) plans to do about this.

What we hope to achieve through this conference?

 This conference is being organised to learn and deepen our understanding of what a socially-owned renewable energy sector might look like. We also hope to develop a framework and concrete proposals for building such a sector in South Africa.

NUMSA is interested to learn from international efforts to build different forms of socially-owned renewable energy sectors in other countries, as well as to learn about the dangers that people face due to the expansion of the sector along non-socially-owned lines, namely capitalist renewable energy development. We have invited international participants to bring their experiences to shape this South African intervention. This afternoon and tomorrow morning, we will hear case studies from countries as varied as Mali, Tunisia, Denmark, Spain, China and Mexico.

We also hope that we will collectively reflect on the benefits of different forms of socially-owned renewable energy, and the obstacles in achieving this kind of development of the sector, which is rapidly expanding along capitalist lines.  This reflection includes sharing information and experiences about:

    • democratic and participatory ownership models that already exist in the renewable energy sector.
  • the threats and encroachments that these models of collective ownership are currently facing from investors, privatisation, territorial enclosures, inappropriate political regulations, or inability to compete in markets
    • the emerging conflicts within the sector such as conflicts relating to ownership and control of renewable energy infrastructure and technologies; ownership and control of territories that have abundance of renewable energy resources
  •  the division that is emerging within the renewable energy sector between those who defend an expansion of the sector along the lines of public, common or community ownership and control and those who see the sector as nothing more than a tool for capital accumulation

We have organised this conference so that it can:

  • lay the basis within NUMSA for a long term process of developing the skills and knowledge base amongst a wide range of workers in our sectors so that they are able to take a leading role in developing the renewable energy sector under social ownership and control 
  • lay the basis for NUMSA to develop a strong energy policy aimed at shaping South Africa’s industrial development in this field. Having such an energy policy will allow NUMSA to engage with relevant policy frameworks, such as the review of Integrated Resources Plan (IRP 2010), South Africa’s electricity policy framework from now till 2030, and the Integrated Energy Plan (IEP).

Wall, Johannesburg, SA (iPhone photo by FHAMMER)

As we are gathered here, the ruling party and the leader of our Alliance  – the ANC – is having its national executive committee to look at policies that it will take to its National Policy Conference in June 2012. Among the policies that are being discussed are energy policies. The policies that come out of the ANC processes will guide the country for the next five years. I hope that what we discuss, can find their way onto the ANC process. Our federation COSATU has organised a workshop to coordinate our unions’ intervention in the ANC policy process. As NUMSA, we must take what we discuss over the next five days into COSATU.

Cedric Gina, NUMSA President

Although what we plan to do in the next five days is to shape and fashion a South African intervention, we hope and expect that our international guests will learn from this initiative about possible national level interventions that they can make in their own countries. In other words, we believe that if we can get it right here, we can inspire initiatives in other countries.  It is our belief that the best internationalism plays itself on a national level. Already, in a workshop held last weekend the RDGs have been asked to research what an internationalist energy policy means. The RDGs must look at how what we do as a South African union must be informed by Southern African and African perspectives. We also need the RDGs to look at how we could as South Africa look at progressive energy models and policies in other parts of the globe. While the theme of this conference is: Building a Socially-Owned Renewable Energy Sector in South Africa we are not oblivious to our internationalist responsibilities and perspectives.

Conclusion: Time is Running Out

Changes in the world’s energy system are already underway, and are likely to accelerate in the coming period. A combination of ecological, political, economic and financial factors mean that energy production and consumption is becoming central to global political, economic, and financial dynamics. This is true of energy in general and renewable energy in particular. In the face of a rapidly deepening world economic crisis, and an increasingly acknowledged climate crisis, it is almost certain that the renewable energy sector will experience a massive and rapid global growth. This is a topic for the session that takes place after lunch today.

In addition to increasing the share of renewable energy in meeting the world’s need for sustainable power, heat, cooling and transportation energy solutions, such an accelerated industrial development would also create thousands of new industries and millions of jobs. The growth of the sector will also create demand for steel, fibreglass and the many other components of renewable energy manufacturing process.

We are currently facing a situation in which the expansion of the renewable energy sector is rapidly developing along capitalist lines. Efforts in “green capitalism” are rapidly becoming key to paving the way for a new cycle of global accumulation, in an attempt to resolve the current economic-financial crisis.

The way in which the world’s energy system evolves in the years ahead will be intimately intertwined with different possible ways out of the world economic-financial, and increasingly political, crisis. Changes in the world’s energy system cannot be understood without a discussion of capitalism, crisis and class struggle. Furthermore, the question of energy is also crucial to anti-capitalist resistance and the construction of non-capitalist ways out of the crisis.

The global renewable energy sector is still young and small relative to other sectors. This means that there is still a window of opportunity, as, for the most part the struggle has not yet been lost. As such, workers and communities are still relatively well positioned to shape the sector’s expansion. However, time is running out, and there is a lot of work to be done in order for workers and communities to change the power balance. The window of opportunity will soon be closed. Currently we are very ill-prepared for this, and companies are the only ones who are really prepared, as they have the technology and capital. There is even a very real danger that the sector can expand too fast, as the companies are the only ones who are ready to drive the transition.

As workers and communities, we are at great risk of being left behind, and being forced to pay the costs of the sector’s expansion, unless we are able to appropriate these technologies for ourselves, and turn them into tools of resistance and not tools of domination. This is why we have chosen to host this conference about socially-owned renewable energy.








Speech by Deputy General Secretary Karl Cloete to Renewable Energy Conference – Envisioning a Socially-Owned Renewable Energy Sector, February 6, 2012, Johannesburg, South Africa

Speech by DGS to RE Conference – Envisioning a Socially-Owned Renewable Energy Sector
2012/02/06  08:24 AM

Envisioning a Socially-Owned Renewable Energy Sector
– A NUMSA Working Perspective –

Karl Cloete
NUMSA Deputy-General Secretary


Since our call made in August 2011 for a socially-owned renewable energy (RE) sector, questions have been raised about what NUMSA means about “socially-owned renewable energy sector”. We have also been asked for motivations for this call. With us convening this conference under the theme: Building a Socially-Owned Renewable Energy Sector in South Africa; questions about what we mean about “a socially-owned renewable energy sector” have become more louder.

In this short presentation we hope to answer these questions. The presentation is divided into the following sections:

1. Sketching out our vision of a socially-owned renewable energy sector

2. Briefly stating our reasons for the call for a socially-owned renewable energy sector

3. An outline of what we consider as potential building blocks for the construction of a socially-owned renewable energy sector in South Africa

4. Identification of potential obstacles to the realisation of our objective to build socially-owned renewable energy sector in the country

5. Listing of concrete steps that we need to take to realise our objectives.

Before we outline our vision of a socially-owned RE sector, let me say that although we have been working on a definition of a socially-owned RE since August 2011 what we are about to describe are tentative ideas, a working perspective. We are humble enough to say that we see this conference as contributing to our efforts to refine our understanding of what we mean by a “socially-owned RE sector”.

Deputy General Secretary Karl Cloete, NUMSA

The Research and Development Groups (RDGs) which are NUMSA worker-based research groups are meant to take this work forward after the conference. The plan is – in the near future – for the union’s constitutional structures to finally adopt what will become NUMSA’s position and perspective. So any suggestions and advices are most welcome!

What do we mean when we talk of a “socially-owned renewable energy (RE) sector”?

1. When in NUMSA we speak about a socially-owned RE sector, we are referring to a mix of different forms of collective ownership that we want to see in the sector. The mix includes energy parastatals, cooperatives, municipal-owned entities and other forms of community energy enterprises.

2. While in our view these socially-owned entities will involve some level of decentralisation in terms of ownership and operation, they must relate to each other and be integrated in a way that builds a national sector as a coherent whole. We are aware of the limitations of the transformative potential of “stand alone” entities.

3. For socially-owned RE entities to prevail in the sector, they must have prioritised access to the grid. The grid itself, as the backbone of the sector, needs to be publicly-owned.

4. The mandate of socially-owned RE enterprises should be service provision, meeting of universal needs, de-commodification of energy and an equitable dividend to communities and workers directly involved in production and consumption of energy. From our perspective socially-owned RE enterprises should be NON-PROFIT entities.

Clearly, socially-owned RE entities cannot be modelled on current corporatised state-owned enterprises (SoEs) in the energy sector such as Eskom. While existing state-owned energy enterprises can be important building blocks – among others – for a socially-owned RE sector; it is NUMSA’s considered view that for existing state-owned energy enterprises to contribute to a construction of a socially-owned RE sector they need to be re-socialised in the following manner:

1. Change their mandates from the current profit orientation to that surpluses generated are for service provision.

2. Change the existing forms of accountability. Instead of boards of directors appointed by Ministers and other politicians, our discussion points to the need for significant representation of energy consumers and energy producers on new and legislatively-empowered governing councils of these SoEs.


Vincent Mabuyakhulu Conference Centre

So our definition of a socially-owned RE sector is not just about OWNERSHIP. Our definition has FIVE elements;

o ownership yes, but also
o democratic control through constituency-based governing councils;
o a strict social mandate;
o prioritisation in the grid of electricity generated by socially-owned RE entities; and
o accrual of a large share of economic benefits of renewable energy production and consumption to producers and owners of the actual means of renewable energy production.

As NUMSA, we are still discussing which branches of the sector are most necessary to bring under social ownership and control. We are also asking ourselves strategic questions such as: what sectors are we best positioned to bring under such control? Related to these two questions is the issue of how to approach private investors in the RE sector. It’s the question of what we think is necessary but equally the issue of strategy: what is possible in the short, medium and long term?

To begin answering these questions we used a commodity chain analysis where we broke the RE sector into the following sub-sectors:

• sources (eg: solar, wind, tidal and geo-thermal)
• research, innovation and training
• technology production and manufacture
• construction and installation
• utilities (generation, transmission and distribution)
• servicing, maintenance and refurbishing.
• consumption of energy generated

The pace and the ability of bringing these sub-sectors under social ownership will differ from sub-sector to sub-sector and on each technology. It may be more difficult (from a balance of class forces, financial and technological perspective) to, in the short-term, bring under social ownership an already existing privately-owned  turbine-manufacturing company than to start a new cooperative that installs and maintains solar water heaters (SWHs) that municipalities are rolling out.

The work to determine which branches of the sector we bring now or later under social ownership is outstanding. We hope that this conference and post conference collaborations will contribute to these discussions. But for us there appears to be some non-negotiables. These are:

1. Bringing sites with the greatest abundance of useable renewable energy sources such as land under public, community or collective ownership.

2. Fight for social ownership of utilities (generation, transmission and distribution)

3. Bringing the fossil fuel industry under social ownership and control. To manage a transition to low carbon economy requires interventions on both sides of the energy line – on the renewable energy side and on the fossil fuel side.

Bringing the fossil fuel industry under social ownership means that we have to seriously discuss with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) the question of nationalising coal mines. It also raises the standing resolution of COSATU, NUMSA and the South African Communist Party (SACP) to renationalise SASOL; a company that produces synthetic fuel from coal. A fossil fuel under social ownership will allow for a planned transition to a low carbon economy.

4. Although we are still discussing the role of the private sector, we are of the view that to ensure that we build a manufacturing base in South Africa, a strategic and targeted local content requirement regime should be implemented. This local content requirement regime should look at manufacturing capabilities that exist now, potential to build these capabilities and necessary to convert existing manufacturing infrastructure into capability to produce RE technologies.
Reasons for the call for a socially-owned RE sector:

a) Renewable energy has a great potential to give communities greater control of their resources and satisfying their energy needs on a decentralized basis, where fossil fuels are currently failing. Renewable energy is essential to mitigate climate change.

b) However, the renewable energy sector is not developing as fast as it needs to and a socially-owned and controlled sector can push its development far faster than it is currently expanding.

c) Because of the fact that energy is vital for production and meeting basic needs, energy supply that is determined by the dictates of the market is vulnerable. Social-ownership of renewable energy can guarantee greater security of supply and equality of access.

d) However, as the NUMSA President pointed out in his opening address, although renewable energy is necessary, there is nonetheless, nothing inherently progressive about renewables. They can be as exploitative as any other sector, as we have heard from various comrades in this conference.

e) Energy is central to national development, and a socially-owned renewable energy is a way to resist that the country’s energy is determined by foreign multinational corporations. Socially-owned renewables can provide a strong basis for energy sovereignty, as an important way of confronting, and in the long term overcoming, energy inequalities in the world-market.
Potential building blocks for construction a “socially-owned renewable energy sector”:

a) There is natural abundance of Renewable Energy Sources. South Africa has one of the best solar energy resources in the world. It also has good wind resources.

b) We have an industrial base with certain skills, capabilities and infrastructure.

c) We have a strong basis to collectively and democratically plan an industrial conversion process away from the mineral energy complex.

d) We have organizational strength in key industrial sectors and a strong tradition of anti-capitalist political consciousness and struggle. Importantly, this includes an already existing strong discussion on ownership questions of the country’s key productive assets.

e) We still have public energy entities, even if they have been corporatized and have problems. These include: ESKOM, Central Energy Fund and subsidiaries.
Likely obstacles to the realisation of our objectives:

a) The biggest obstacle is the structure of our economy and its dependence on fossil fuels (coal and oil). The abundance of fossil fuel mainly coal in our country, is a strong weapon the hands of the fossil fuel lobby. This is made more difficult by the fact that two different unions organise on the different sides of the energy line; with us organising in companies that produce and service RE technologies and National Union of Mineworkers having its base among workers who work in coal mines. It is our firm belief that no significant transition can happen without winning over and dealing with the fears of workers in the fossil fuel industry.

b) The private sector has been the first to move, and is currently much better prepared than the working class and communities to carry out the expansion of the renewable energy sector. This includes the fact that they have better access to capital, and technology, R & D and innovation. This is all protected by Intellectual Property Right’s regimes.

c) The public Research & Development and innovation capacity that does exist is weak and underdeveloped.

d) The regulatory framework which is being developed is being almost exclusively shaped by the private sector.

e) Foreign imports may make it hard to develop a South African manufacturing base in the sector. There is a risk of being consumers of technology, not innovators.

f) The fear amongst workers of job losses in the existing energy sector as the country moves towards renewables. There is a concern that these people will not be adequately re-skilled. There is widespread scepticism about the reliability of RE to run the economy.

g) The ownership structures of land in South Africa may hinder the development of a socially-owned RE sector, as they heavily favour private ownership. Linked to this is the fact that private RE developers may get access to the land where key strategic renewable energy sources exist before communities and workers are able to benefit from these resources.

h) There may be conflicts of land-use as some communities may resist the use of their land for renewable energy use, unless there is a strong awareness raising campaign.


We hope that this has given you some ideas of the current state of our thinking about social-ownership of renewable energy. There is still a lot of work to be done. Because of some presentations that are still to come, I have not touched on the following issues which we need to consider:

• Financing of a socially-owned RE sector

• The question of innovation and technological capabilities

• Policy instruments that will be necessary for building a socially-owned RE sector. Crucial in this is the question of whether the system of bids that has been adopted by the South African government is it not favouring private capital. This opens up the debate that is a subject of this afternoon; that of the Renewable Energy Feed In Tariff (REFIT) versus the REBID.

• The role of the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) which for us has become nothing else but a space for career advancement for officials from Eskom and Department of Energy.

Much more work lies ahead of us and we therefore view this conference as an initial intervention. As part of this, in the last day of this conference we will talk concretely about what immediate steps should be taken in South Africa to realize this vision. We are certain that the following further interventions are necessary if we are to concretise our vision and mission of establishing a Socially Owned Renewable Sector in South Africa.

1. As we indicated earlier the Numsa Research and Development Groups (RDGs) and our soon to be launched Numsa Economic Institute shall be catalysts in the work to realise Numsa’s strategic objective related to the establishment of a Socially Owned Renewable Sector in South Africa.

2. We commit to work with our sister Unions in COSATU more specifically National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Chemical Energy Petroleum Paper Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU) to take forward our vision building a Socially Owned Renewable Sector in South Africa.

3. We shall use our Numsa Parliamentary Office in the National Assembly and our representatives in NEDLAC to advance the Numsa policy perspectives and strategic objective of building a Socially Owned Renewable Sector in South Africa.

4. Going forward we shall work very closely with the ANC Parliamentary Study Group on Energy. The invitation to Comrade Sisa Njikelana who Chairs the ANC Parliamentary Study Group on Energy to participate in the Numsa International Conference to establish a Socially Owned Renewable Sector in South Africa is testimony to our intentions to take this project to higher levels.

5. We shall as a national leadership of NUMSA use our proximity to the Presidency, Department of Trade and Industry and other relevant ministries to further advance our call for the establishment of a Socially Owned Renewable Sector in South Africa.

We believe it is very important that this conference contributes to the development of NUMSA’s work, and is not just an academic exercise. We also hope that the conference will lead to concrete collaborations with different participants in order to advance this ongoing work.

As a class orientated trade union, NUMSA and its leadership is absolutely clear that nothing will come in a platter or like manna from heaven. We shall have to mobilise our members and the working class in particular to struggle side by side for the realisation of the establishment and building of a Socially Owned Renewable Sector in South Africa.



Karl Cloete

Deputy General Secretary Karl Cloete, NUMSA


Remarks by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka UN Investor Summit on Climate Risk

This is the first comprehensive statement I’ve seen by the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka on “climate risk.” It’s well worth reading as a jumping off point for every worker and every labor activist, and beyond. Trumka is ambivalent about the Keystone XL pipeline, but then again he is faced with unions which are part of the federation which are desperate to find jobs for their members, the planet be damned.

January 12, 2012

Good afternoon. I am honored to be here with all of you. And thank you, Denise (Napier), for that kind introduction and all your work to protect the pensions of public employees of the state of Connecticut. I also want to express the thanks of the labor movement to Tim Wirth and the United Nations Foundation, and to Mindy Lubber and her team at CERES, not just for organizing this event, but for all you’ve done to focus investors on the opportunities for investment in addressing climate change as well as the risks of failing to address climate change.

Today, as we meet together, scientists tell us we are headed ever more swiftly toward irreversible climate change—with catastrophic consequences for human civilization. We must have a stable climate to feed the planet, to ensure there is drinking water for our cities but not floodwaters at our doors. A stable climate is the foundation of our global civilization, of our global economy—the prerequisite for a profitable investment environment.

And to those who say climate risk is a far off problem, I can tell you that I have hunted the same woods in Western Pennsylvania my entire life and climate change is happening now—I see it in the summer droughts that kill the trees, the warm winter nights when flowers bloom in January, the snows that fall less frequently and melt more quickly.

Even so, some will ask, why should investors or working people focus on climate risk when we have so many economic problems across the world? The labor movement has a clear answer: Addressing climate risk is not a distraction from solving our economic problems. My friends, addressing climate risk means retooling our world—it means that every factory and power plant, every home and office, every rail line and highway, every vehicle, locomotive and plane, every school and hospital, must be modernized, upgraded, renovated or replaced with something cleaner, more efficient, less wasteful.

Taking on the threat of climate change means putting investment capital to work creating jobs. It means building a road to a healthier world and a healthier world economy–one less dependent on volatile energy prices, one where many more of us have the things that modern energy makes possible.

Not since World War II – 70 years ago — have we in America faced an equivalent national challenge. And working people are ready to rise to that challenge—to invest our pension capital, to put on our hard hats, to get the job done. Because this is the kind of challenge that America has always ridden toward greatness.
But today we have to face the reality that at least in the United States, we are not acting fast enough. And why is that? Why is that, when tens of millions need work, when investors have trillions in cash parked making almost nothing and the risks of doing nothing are mounting?

Here’s an important part of the answer. Too often, we have failed to consider who bears the cost of change and ensure that change is managed fairly and respectfully. And when we do that, no matter how important the reasons might seem, we sacrifice the chance to build the power to move forward. The only way for our democracy to act is for those who care about climate change to engage with the people whose livelihoods are tied up with carbon emissions. All of us—investors, companies, workers, environmental activists, governments—need to be part of this dialogue. Any other approach to addressing climate risk is not just fundamentally unfair, it simply won’t work in our democracy.

Now, this dialogue should be connected with responsible, comprehensive public policy making. It was through just such a process of dialogue that the AFL-CIO came to endorse the House Climate Bill in 2009. But it is clear that as long as Congress is effectively controlled by climate change deniers, all of us—investors, companies, workers and the broader public, must take action ourselves. So a year ago, as the climate bill failed in Congress, as the jobs crisis deepened, and as workers’ pension funds continued to suffer from microscopic fixed income yields, the American labor movement decided we couldn’t wait—we had to act to help advance profitable, risk weighted investments that would create jobs and address climate change.

We started with investment areas we knew well—the AFL-CIO’s Housing Investment Trust started investing in energy efficient retrofits of multifamily housing. And then, with the help of CERES, and then the Clinton Global Initiative, we laid out an ambitious program for investing in building retrofits, transportation, energy and educational infrastructure.

The AFL-CIO, our Building Trades Department and our affiliate the American Federation of Teachers went public with a plan at the Clinton group’s first American meeting last June. That commitment involved a labor movement pledge to work together with pension funds, money managers, experts and public officials to see that $10 billion of new capital was allocated to job creating infrastructure investment over the next five years, together with $20 million in immediate investment in energy efficient retrofits. We also pledged to retrofit our own headquarters building in Washington as an example of what could be done relatively quickly and easily.

Six months later, more than $200 million in workers’ capital has been invested in energy efficient retrofits, including a brand new partnership between the labor movement and the state of Oregon’s Cool Schools program to retrofit Oregon schools. More than $1.2 billion in workers’ pension assets have been committed to job creating infrastructure investing—with new efforts underway in New York, Oregon, and other states. I know that Jack Ehnes is here today from CALSTERS, and I want to acknowledge the leadership of CALSTERS and CALPERS, together with California Treasurer Bill Lockyer, in launching these key infrastructure initiatives. And this spring the AFL-CIO will launch our own building retrofit, complete with solar paneling.

So I’m pleased to be able to say that today, the American labor movement is in the problem solving business — looking for profitable investment opportunities that address climate risk and create jobs. We’re looking for partners, and we’re already working with many of you here today directly and indirectly to move capital to profitable and productive purposes, to step forward in addressing climate risk.

But we have learned something else important through our work this past year. By themselves, capital markets will not properly incorporate climate risk and reward into pricing investment opportunities. Climate risk in the short run is an externality—but in the long run diversified investors will bear the costs of climate change.

That’s why investors need, for our own economic reasons, government policies to make sure that critical investments get made—investments in building retrofits, in high speed rail and the smart grid, in carbon capture and sequestration. That’s what comprehensive climate legislation is about—and that’s why we as nation must return to the work of passing a climate bill.

That’s why labor and environmental organizations jointly created the Apollo Alliance and the Blue Green Alliance to focus on creating good jobs and a cleaner planet. That’s what the UN sponsored COP process, which met most recently in Durban, South Africa, is all about—and it’s another effort strongly supported by the global labor movement. That’s what efforts led by CERES at least to require disclosure by companies of the impact of climate risk is designed to address—to give the capital markets better information on a company by company basis and get prices to better reflect the realities of risk.

And so these political realities bring us back to the point about fairness and dialogue. I want to take a few minutes to give you a deeper sense of how serious a challenge the problems of fairness and dialogue are to the agenda of addressing climate risk—and then lay out a proposal to you.

First, what do I mean by unfairness? Half of the electrical power in the United States comes from coal. This has been true for years. People I grew up with dig the coal that lights the lights and heats the buildings all across this country today. The world we know exists because coal miners go down to the mines. But the carbon emissions from that coal, and from oil and natural gas, and agriculture and so much other human activity– causes global warming, and we have to act to cut those emissions, and act now.

Now, some people’s response is to demand that we end all coal production now—they say “End Coal.” Never mind that such a thing is simply not going to happen—there is no substitute now for metallurgical coal and if we stopped burning coal this afternoon and cut the power in the U.S. grid by 50 percent, as Mayor Bloomberg advocates, he’d be reading handwritten memos by candlelight this evening. Given that reality, it’s important to think about how that slogan is heard in places like my hometown of Nemacolin,

Nemacolin lives on coal—the coal mine my grandfather and my father went down to every day of their working lives, the power plant the mine feeds, the rail lines that carry coal to other plants. When these folks hear “End Coal,” it sounds like a threat to destroy the value of our homes, to shut our schools and churches, to drive us away from the place our parents and grandparents are buried, to take away the work that for more than a hundred years has made us who we are.

So why, in an economy without an effective safety net, would the good men and women of my hometown and a thousand places like it surrender their whole lives and sit by while others try to force them to bear the cost of change.

The truth is that in many places – and not just places where coal is mined – there is fear that the “green economy” will turn into another version of the radical inequality that now haunts our society—another economy that works for the 1% and not for the 99%.

So if we are going to build an innovative, sustainable, climate friendly American economy, if we are going to rebuild, restore, modernize or replace everything we inherited in just 30 years, we are going to need the energies, talents, passion and hard work of more than some regions or some Americans. No, the job we have to do is too big. We need the skill and effort of all of us. Our enemy in this great challenge, as always, is fear. Sometimes it seems like fear, and the power of money, has paralyzed our government. But the antidote to fear is trust.
So how can all Americans sit down together and develop trust? I think it begins with a commitment—a challenging and difficult commitment—that we are going to measure our approach not by how well it fits the needs of the well-positioned. We must ask ourselves, “How well does this pathway serve the least, the hardest to reach, the most likely to be left behind?” Places like West Virginia and the Ohio Valley must come first, not last.

How can this happen? Let’s think about the new EPA emissions rules for power plants. All of the unions of the AFL-CIO want to see coal fired power plants retrofitted immediately to cut back on mercury and sulfur emissions—those retrofits create good jobs, save lives.

We oppose anyone who would take away the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to keep our air and water clean. But power plant and mine workers want to know that if their employers commit to doing the retrofits, they will get the time to complete them. Surely through dialogue common ground can be found between workers who want the retrofit jobs and clean air and public health advocates.

But we need to be honest that mass unemployment makes everything harder and feeds fear. The AFL-CIO has not taken a position on the Keystone pipeline—unions don’t agree among ourselves. But we cannot have a trust building conversation about it unless opponents of the Pipeline recognize that construction jobs are real jobs, good jobs, and supporters of the Pipeline recognize that tar sands oil raises real issues in terms of climate change.

For our part, the AFL-CIO believes that honest, constructive dialogue between workers and their communities and environmental advocates, between investors and companies can forge pathways to fair and politically sustainable change—and that without it, we will not move forward. And we are ready to help lead that dialogue—to work together with others to shape a process for how we are going to address climate risk by putting America back to work, how we are going to build a smart grid and retool our vehicle fleet, catch up with our foreign competitors on high speed rail and wind and solar, retrofit coal plants and commercial buildings and modernize industry, how we are going to help communities prosper when coal plants and mines are closed, how we are going to create jobs for out of work construction workers—jobs that build America’s competitiveness, while we turn our nation’s economic future in a low carbon emissions direction.

And so I am closing with a proposal that all of us sit down together on the basis that we live on one planet, and that we share a common humanity that requires respect for each others’ families and communities.

In particular we need dialogue between environmentalists and workers and communities about the future of coal. About what the global labor movement calls a Just Transition to a low carbon emissions economy. And the AFL-CIO is ready to host that dialogue.

Addressing climate risk is the path to a competitive, profitable future for investors, but the path is only open if it is a path to an economy that works for the 99% who seek good jobs, economic security and healthy communities—not just in New York, but in Nemacolin, and in countries around the world, from Australia to Poland to South Africa to China, countries that face the same issues and share the same climate with you and me.

Thank you.

A Futuristic Documentary About Global Warming set in 2055 AD


This film is about a subject which typically we relegate to the back burner.  That’s where the topic of “global warming” sits, as we address the problems that seem far more immediate and pressing.  The unspoken assumption is that we’ll address “global warming” once we get past the obstacles that are current in our daily lives.  Mortgage foreclosures, layoffs and unemployment, wage and benefit cuts, state takeover of our cities, attacks on labor rights, rising college costs, militarization, etc., are the stuff of our current condition.  Who’s got time to worry about the warming of the planet?

If we visualize the earth as suffering from a “fever,” we would be less inclined to ignore it.  When someone dear to us is suffering from a fever, we acknowledge there’s an underlying problem which needs our urgent attention.  Our other ‘to dos” get pushed back; our priorities get switched.  Such is the power of a fever.

Our planet is suffering from a “fever.”  We know that because scientists regularly take the earth’s temperature.  The first decade of the 21st century was the hottest ever recorded.  2011 is no different.  If we continue on the current trajectory, scientists are warning that human activity will very soon raise the earth’s temperature 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over what it was a century ago.  That’s because the carbon dioxide that we are sending into the atmosphere (from our use of fossil fuels like oil and coal), far exceeds what the earth can absorb.  We are creating “greenhouse gases” which are trapping heat, and causing the earth to “catch a fever.”  This triggers the more extreme weather patterns we see here and around the world, including “freak” snow storms, record heat waves, extreme hurricanes, and devastating flooding right alongside severe and prolonged droughts.


While we cannot ignore the immediate crises at hand, we cannot postpone tackling the earth’s “fever” until it’s out of control.  If so, it will be too late.  To get out of this

conundrum we must begin to connect the dots between challenges that are immediately pressing and actions we can take to tackle the underlying cause of our planet’s “fever.”  Examples: creating jobs to weatherize homes will lead to reduced energy consumption; hiring workers to build wind turbines can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels; employing laid-off autoworkers to build light rail transit or high speed rail cars can help replace gas guzzlers, etc.  As we fight for our immediate needs, in this case jobs, we can simultaneously make inroads towards ensuring our long term survival by ushering in new energy and transportation systems.  Our short term and long term survival are therefore one.


Even as we make the connections, many assume that this sort of transformation of our fossil-fuel-based economy to one based on renewable-energy will take decades.  The

reality is that the earth’s “fever” is already well along to the point where large scale intervention must happen now.  Just as a fever has a tipping point (with potentially deadly consequences), so does global warming.  A growing number of informed voices are saying that the trajectory of rising carbon emissions has to be slowed and reversed within 5 years – lest we exceed that 2 degree Celsius limit and push the warming of the planet past a tipping point of no return.  If we fail to act, our generation and upcoming generations will witness a run-away warming rate, faster than what the earth has experienced so far.  This will bring untold misery.  It is urgent we find ways to merge the fight for the immediate needs of today with the equally pressing need to cool the planet.  It cannot wait.

7 pm Thurs – Jan 12


19940 Livernois – 1/2 Mi  So. of 8 Mile – Detroit

For more information, please contact Frank Hammer—








Arsenal of Survival – Remaking Detroit for the 21st Century

 Global warming due to human reliance on fossil fuels is the defining issue of our time.  The escalating danger posed by the consequent climate change and extreme weather patterns around the world by way of droughts, floods, hurricanes, etc., requires an “all-hands-on-deck“ response – globally – if we are to slow it down and ultimately reverse it.  The U.S. contributes a full quarter of the world’s carbon emissions, of which the petroleum-based auto industry is responsible for an estimated 20%.  If we in the Midwest and Detroit in particular are to reduce our “carbon footprint,” we must take the lead in creating a new, renewable energy and transportation paradigm – not tomorrow, or in the distant future – but now, asap.  We can start by demanding that closed auto plants be immediately reopened and retooled, and our laid-off industrial workforce be re-employed, to produce components for renewable energy such as wind turbines and solar panels, as well as more efficient transportation including more electric and hybrid cars and buses, and light and high speed rail.  This way we can reduce “greenhouse gases” while simultaneously combating the hyper-unemployment laying waste to our regional economy and livelihoods.

There are many “green jobs” advocates who do not grasp the great urgency of this project.  We are talking rapid conversion in a manner similar to what took place at the onset of WW 2 right here in Detroit, when the auto companies were ordered by the Federal Government to cease automobile production and begin immediately producing weapons for the forces in Europe combating the expansionism of the axis powers.  The conversion was accomplished in 8-months, earning the city the accolade, “Arsenal of Democracy.”

Developing the political force to bring this about requires uniting all who can be united, beginning with environmental justice and union activists from the auto, steel and other industrial sectors, along with the massive ranks of the unemployed, to create a new “Arsenal of Survival.”  Our immediate focus should be to demand that the rail cars for the planned Woodward Light Rail, and the proposed high-speed rail line linking Detroit to Chicago, be built right here to establish Detroit as the transportation center for the 21st century.

 We are not operating in a vacuum.  The Military-Industrial Complex has its own designs in this region – to further militarize our productive capacity and thereby make us increasingly dependent on never-ending military conflicts for our livelihoods.  The peace and progressive faith-based communities rejects this and are eager to join with the environmental and union movements as advocates of “retooling for peace.”   “Transportation as a democratic right” is also looming as a critical issue, as we approach the global depletion of accessible oil.  25% of Detroiters already don’t have cars, a figure that will surely rise.  The social movements advocating more democratic forms of transportation – including urban-, student- and transit-activists, will also want to join this effort.

Work is already underway to reach out to these forces with a mobilization for a May Day Rally in 2012 at the Michigan Train Depot in Southwest Detroit – icon of a once-successful public transportation system.  May 1st is International Workers Day, a fitting time to declare that U.S. workers and allies have joined the developing global struggle against climate change.   Southwest Detroit is also the site of recent immigrant rights rallies, which will become even more critical as climate change triggers many more migrations globally.   The close proximity of the immigrant rights rally at Clark Park and the proposed May 1st event allows for a natural link.  Autoworker Caravan, Peace Action of Michigan, the Detroit Area Network for Peace and Justice, and Southeast Michigan Jobs With Justice have already committed to organizing towards this goal, with events beginning this fall.  To join, and for more information, please contact Frank Hammer at or 313-863-3219

DETROIT, MI - August, 2010 (FHAMMER photo)


Frank Hammer, Detroit