Energy and Climate as Labour Issues

by Nicholas Hildyard

first published 18 April 2016

Organised labour has long insisted that energy is more than an issue of electrons. Over two decades ago, the Congress of South African Trade Unions was explicit that addressing energy poverty is not just a matter of power plants, grids and transformers; it is also – and primarily – a matter of political change. Who controls energy production, who finances it, what the energy is used for and who decides are key to the struggle to ensure that people have the energy they need to ensure decent livelihoods.

But coping with and resisting capitalist exploitation of labour means questioning even what "energy" is. Energy as the abstract "stuff" that keeps factories working, workers disciplined, consumers consuming, trains and cars running, the economy rolling and capital accumulating is different from the actual energies that are part of living well.

Recognising that energy is a labour issue is critical if the shift away from fossil fuels is to achieve more than simply helping elites find new, greener tools for exploiting the majority world.

This presentation was made at a seminar held at the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour, Vienna.