Deciphering Union Environmental Politics: The ‘Greening’ of Energy Systems in the United States and Australia

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 08:55
Oral Presentation
Darryn SNELL, RMIT University, Australia
Dimitris STEVIS, Colorado State University, USA
A growing body of research suggests unions are performing important environmental roles particularly in relation to climate change. Union environmental politics, however, is rarely straightforward and can be contradictory and variant between unions and the workers they represent, within the same union depending upon the level of the union organisation and often the geographical locations in which they operate. Energy policy and clean energy technology transitions is one of the major areas where unions have often struggled to articulate a clear vision. This paper examines how energy unions in the United States and Australia have grappled with energy questions in the context of climate change concerns. Global warming and associated climate change have called into question the heavy use of fossil fuels in the stationary energy systems in both the US and Australia. Shifts in energy production have significant implications for workers and communities and trade unions have sought to speak on behalf of these workers, communities and the environment in different ways. When jobs are threatened or potentially boosted by energy policy changes union positions at the workplace level, have not always mirrored the union’s position at the national and international level. Drawing upon union policy documents, media statements and reports, and selected interviews with union officials, the paper adopts a multi-level and multi-union analysis that examines union positions at the international, national and local levels and identifies the membership and politics of scale challenges they confront in articulating a unified position. The paper concludes that union environmental politics are likely to remain complex and contested domains within the union movement but government and industry efforts to decarbonise the energy system must involve unions and address the social justice issues unions raise if we are to be successful in tackling carbon lock-in.