Labour union proposals for Green Recovery

Canadian Labour Congress

To coincide with Labour Day and in advance of the federal government plan, expected to be released in the Throne Speech on September 23, the Canadian Labour Congress unveiled its new social media campaign, “Forward Together: A Canadian Plan” with a press release which says: “We need the government to reject calls for austerity and make real investments in our future. The only way to fix what’s broken is to invest,” …. “Workers are key to the recovery. The federal government can help alleviate a lot of anxiety by investing in jobs, making long-term care part of public health care, supporting a child care strategy, and implementing national pharmacare.”

Media coverage related to this launch focussed on the employment impacts and the CLC recommendations to expand employment insurance: for example, in the Opinion piece by CLC President Hassan Yussuff in the Toronto Globe and Mail and in  “Canada’s Top Labour Leader on Building a Better Life for Workers after the Pandemic”, published by The Tyee. Yet this focus doesn’t match up with the CLC pre-Budget Submission to the federal government in August,  Forward Together: A Good Jobs and Climate Budget.

That formal document states : “Budget 2021 must be a Climate Action budget” and makes the first of its five recommendations: “Budget 2021 should set out a plan, with clear targets, benchmarks and timetables, for achieving Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions targets, committing $81 billion over 5 years to expand renewable energy, home and building retrofits, public transit, and Just Transition measures supporting workers and their families.”   

Under the heading “Climate Action and Just Transition”, the CLC states: “Budget 2021 must be a Climate Action budget. The CLC recommends that the federal government adopt a five-year plan setting out a bold plan with clear targets, benchmarks and timetables for accomplishing a systematic shift in Canada’s energy system, its transportation networks, and housing and building stock. Expanded public investments in renewable energy production, green building construction, and public transportation offer major opportunities for skills training and the large-scale creation of good jobs. Along with its partner organizations in the Green Economy Network, the CLC calls for investments of $81 billion over 5 years in order to develop renewable energy, home and building retrofits, and low-emissions public transportation in urban centres.

The CLC recommends that the federal government establish a Crown corporation mandated to overhaul and transform Canada’s energy industry in collaboration with provinces and territories. It would identify renewable energy projects and ensure that existing and new manufacturing sources increase capacity to supply parts, equipment and new technology to meet Canada’s renewable energy needs. Through direct investment and procurement policy, the federal government should support continued conversion of idle plant for the manufacture of medically-necessary and green economy products and equipment. Consistent with this, it should invest in the conversion of the General Motors Oshawa facility to produce zero-emission vehicles to electrify the Canada Post fleet.

Budget 2021 must significantly expand investments in Just Transition measures to assist workers, their families and their communities affected by climate change policy to access training and employment services, relocation, childcare and housing assistance to adjust to new jobs, and support for older workers to transition to retirement.

Following the experience of the European Union, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should establish a guarantee that all young people under the age of 25 will receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. This could include a focus on providing decent jobs in land remediation and restoration, climate adaptation, and energy efficiency. It should also include green skills training and learning opportunities through partnerships with public education and training providers, with an emphasis on women, marginalized, low-income and at-risk youth.”

Green Recovery proposals have been made by other Canadian unions and union-affiliated groups are described in a previous WCR post, Update: Summer Proposals for Canada’s Green Recovery focus on public infrastructure, retrofitting .

United States unions endorsing a THRIVE Agenda:

Although the U.S. labour unions are famously independent-minded and following different paths, but on September 10, a new initiative launched. The THRIVE Agenda is an economic renewal plan created by the Green New Deal Network and endorsed by more than 100 climate justice, civil rights and labour organizations –  including the American Federation of Teachers, American Postal Workers Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, Communication Workers of America, Railroad Workers United, Service Employees International, United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) as well as the  Labor Network for Sustainability. Notably, it is also endorsed by prominent Congressional leaders including Senators Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among many others.

The THRIVE Agenda proposes “ to revive our economy while addressing these interlocking crises of climate change, racial injustice, public health, and economic inequity with a plan to create dignified jobs for millions of unemployed workers and support a better life for the millions more who remain vulnerable in this pivotal moment.”   A 6-page Resolution document offers details of the goals, condensed into “8 Pillars” which include:   Pillar 5:  “Combating environmental injustice and ensuring healthy lives for all; Pillar 6 “Averting climate and environmental catastrophe”; Pillar 7 “Ensuring fairness for workers and communities affected by economic transitions” and Pillar 8 “Reinvesting in public institutions that enable workers and communities to thrive”.  

The THRIVE Agenda claims that their proposals would create nearly 16 million new jobs and sustain them over the next critical decade, based on modelling by Robert Pollin and Shouvik Chakraborty, published by the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) in  September 2020.  Their report, Job Creation Estimates Through Proposed Economic Stimulus Measures models the costs and job creation benefits of economic recovery proposals made by various groups in the U.S.

For recent context on the political stance of U.S. unions:  “Unions fracture over climate” is a long-read from Politico’s newsletter, The Long Game , published on Sept 1  and re-posted to Portside  on Sept. 6.   It argues that “Environmental protection and union jobs are a fault line among Democrats, which will only be magnified nationwide if Joe Biden defeats President Donald Trump in November. The article includes  quotes from union members from building trades in California, SEIU in New Jersey, United Mine Workers, and Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Also, “The Green New Deal Just Won a Major Union Endorsement. What’s Stopping the AFL-CIO?” (Aug. 20) and “Why Every Job in the Renewable Energy Industry Must Be a Union Job” (Sept. 3) both appeared in In these Times.

United Kingdom Trades Union Congress

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) released a series of reports over the Spring and Summer with recommendations for economic recovery.  Most recently, on September 13, A plan for public service jobs to help prevent mass unemployment  calls for direct government investment to create 600,000 jobs in health care, social services, local government, education, and public administration.   In June, they released  Rebuilding after recession: A Plan for Jobs , which calls for government action, including sectoral recovery panels composed of unions, employers and government, and a new government -funded jobs guarantee, with increased training rights for workers who lose their jobs. The Rebuilding after Recession report was based on economic research conducted by Transition Economics , titled  Can an infrastructure stimulus replace UK jobs wiped out by COVID19 crisis? That study concluded that “1.24 million jobs across the UK can be created in the coming two years through a two year emergency clean infrastructure stimulus, reabsorbing workers who have lost employment due to the COVID19 crisis. Our analysis recommends 19 infrastructure projects totalling £85 billion public investment.”  An earlier report from TUC, A Better Recovery had been released in May, and in June, the TUC in Wales released  A Green Recovery and a  Just Transition  

International Trade Union Confederation

The International Trade Union Confederation announced a new campaign , “A New Social Contract for Recovery and Resilience” , to be focused on the  World Day for Decent Work on October 7. The Social Contract statement, released in July, is a broad statement of principles which address “the convergent challenges of the pandemic, climate change and inequality”. 

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