Right now we are seeing how quickly things can change when there is a crisis. Naomi Klein called it Coronavirus Capitalism and warned us that this can be a time for advancing the courageous goals of the people or furthering in fear the despotic ideas of the controllers. Power to the Public chooses courage. That’s why we are calling for a utility strike.
A #UtilityStrike is a reminder to utilities, the private utilities especially, who often forget, that they serve the people at the people’s pleasure. As this crisis broadens and tens of millions of people are laid off and many businesses are shuttered, our utility bills become a bigger looming burden. It’s important to realize that for many the utility bill has already been a huge monthly difficulty.
As many as 31% of US households reported it as a challenge in paying their energy bills before this crisis even started. That 31% likely has an even greater difficulty now with more feeling the pinch after having lost their jobs.
About one in five households reported reducing or forgoing basic necessities like food and medicine to pay an energy bill and 14% reported receiving a disconnection notice for energy service. Households may have also used less energy than they would prefer to: 11% of households surveyed reported keeping their home at an unhealthy or unsafe temperature.According to the most recent results from EIA’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS)
When people in our society are “forgoing basic necessities like food and medicine to pay an energy bill” that means our utilities are fundamentally flawed in how they operate. That should never be an acceptable choice for ourselves, our family or our neighbors to have to make. Utilities that already force low income families, dis-proportionally effecting minorities, into these choices before the crisis aren’t going to improve the situation for them after the crisis on their own. It’s up to us to force them towards humanitarian solutions to the crisis.
Being able to adequately regulate the temperature of your home also affects the health of those that live inside. Being worried about your power being shut off is a big stress that can adversely affect your health as well. Having to choose between paying for energy and paying for medicine, again, is a public health concern. At a time when we are fighting a pandemic and are asking everyone to sit at home and people’s work is shutting down we really should be addressing whether our utility companies are supporting that effort or hurting it.
Protecting the well-being of all utility customers.
Utilities aren’t normal companies. They are almost always natural monopolies. Which means that there isn’t competition that would enable the market to be the regulator, to keep the price fair and the company honest. Which means they should be publicly owned and democratically controlled. If they aren’t directly publicly owned, then they should be highly regulated to the point where they are forced to act like it.
All electric utilities, even public ones, need the people to keep a vigilant eye on them to keep them honest. A robust fourth estate would have reporters sleuthing what we are paying for with the 10% average of our household bills that get spent on electricity alone. Citizen watchdog groups that apply pressure on the utilities to serve the public good would be in every community. Politicians and regulators that are champions for the people instead of controlled by the utilities’ lobbyists would be common. Without a doubt, if all these were in place today, we would already be paying an average of lower rates for greener energy with more support for those in need.
It is easy to see that in the US many of these necessary ingredients for creating utilities that work for the well being of customers are lacking. With the crisis that is currently underway we have the opportunity to start fixing these fundamental problems. We deserve utility companies that are deeply responsive to our needs and aren’t callous to our struggles.
Take, for example, the needless death of an elderly patient of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure in Texas. His family had notified the utility company that he would die without electricity for his oxygen concentrator. But that didn’t stop the utility from shutting off his power over just $129.62 in unpaid bills. He died from suffocation.https://ips-dc.org/the-inequality-crisis-hiding-behind-high-utility-bills/
Cutting off power to already struggling poor people doesn’t produce well being in our society. It produces a hell. A hell people often blame themselves for being in. It is something, right or wrong, that people feel shame for. Even in this current situation when a pandemic is causing people everywhere to suddenly shudder their businesses and layoff all their workers, people still will feel a responsibility for not being able to pay. But irregardless of feelings of personal responsibility, the societal act of cutting off power for vulnerable people, just like taking away food from hungry people, or taking away medicine from sick people, isn’t right.
The need to incorporate human rights into the utility business model is a key component of the larger reform of the extractive energy economy and movement toward energy justice. The energy justice movement upholds that all individuals have the right to: safe, sustainable energy production; resilient and updated energy infrastructure; affordable energy; and uninterrupted energy service.https://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Lights-Out-in-the-Cold_NAACP-ECJP-4.pdf
What can we do during the crisis?
Now is the time to get organized. Many people are sitting at home right now watching their bills accrue as their bank accounts diminish. Most utilities are putting forward false solutions that they want to force people to accept. What we need is to develop counter proposals and force the utilities to accept them. They will want to deal with us one on one as individuals so that we are weak. We will force them to deal with us together as a consumer union because we are strong.
Utilities, especially investor owned utilities, are powerful foes. They are often the strongest corporate interest in many areas and have deep political relationships that comes from their deep pockets when it comes to political contributions. Utilities are also very lucrative and can afford to spend a lot on public relations firms that make them look responsible, green and generous. They will give what will seem like a lot to local charities, to the foodbank and to low income programs. Compared to what they put into investors pockets and CEO pay though, this is chump change.
Starting a local Utility Strike is the first steps in starting a consumers union, a citizens watchdog that has teeth. What you all do together is up to you but if groups form across the country then we can work together as a confederation of consumers unions. It is the chance to turn this crisis into an opportunity for greater democratic control and more support for vulnerable people.
Join Utility Strike today!
If you would like to join Utility Strike, please sign up below, we’re just getting started! We would also like to help you form your own local Utility Strike group. It would be amazing if they were organized by utility. Like “Utility Strike (Your Electric Company’s Name Goes Here)”.
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We’re asking for a donation of $27, pay when you can, if you can, more if possible.Make a one time donation!