The role of labour power in sustainability transitions: insights from comparative political economy on Germany’s electricity transition

Prinz, Lukas / Anna Pegels
External Publications (2018)

published on Energy Research & Social Science 24 April 2018


Greenhouse-gas-emission-reductions to prevent dangerous levels of climate change require a global transition away from fossil-fuel energies. Sustainability transitions of such scale present a major redistribution process, and pose severe challenges to national policy-making. While power and politics have recently been addressed by scholars of sustainability transition, the role of labour as a central political actor is still underexplored. This article aims to close this gap by engaging theories from Comparative Political Economy, asking: How does labour power influence energy transitions? Specifically, we introduce power resources theory to Kuzemko et al.’s (2016) “forces for continuity” of fossil-fuel regimes and “forces for sustainable change”. We illustrate the resulting framework with the case of the German electricity transition. Our findings include a) the potential of organised labour to tip the scales in energy transition politics towards continuity or change, b) the relevance of unions’ political access and their internal homogeneity of interests as power resources, c) the aspect of potential changes in unions’ positions over time, and d) avenues for labour in green sectors to gain power resources by organising in small but homogeneous organisations, and/or by prevailing in the internal power struggles of larger but heterogeneous organisations.

About the author

Pegels, Anna



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