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”. 

BlueGreen, AFL-CIO endorse Joe Biden as president

The U.S. BlueGreen Alliance made its first-ever political endorsement on August 26: for the presidential ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.  BlueGreen’s press release states that “Biden’s manufacturing, environmental justice and sustainable infrastructure and clean energy plans align well with the organization’s Solidarity for Climate Action platform.”  That overall platform, released in 2019, has been fleshed out most recently in June, with Manufacturing Agenda: A National Blueprint for Clean Technology Manufacturing Leadership and Industrial Transformation.  It offers practical discussion of its vision:  “With this agenda, the BlueGreen Alliance and our partners put forward a bold program of action to transform the U.S. manufacturing and industrial sectors at the scale and speed our economic and climate challenges demand. By taking the lead in manufacturing the clean technology needed to dramatically reduce the emissions driving climate change, and by upgrading, retooling and cutting emissions across critical industry, we can also rebuild American competitiveness in the global economy, reinvest in hard hit communities, and secure and create good-paying local jobs across America. “

The AFL-CIO has also endorsed the Biden/Harris ticket, though not on the grounds of its climate change platform. President Richard Trumka’s speech at the Democratic National Convention Labor Council was re-posted by Portside as “Trumka to DNC Labor Council: Our Democracy Is at Stake” (Aug. 19) .

And a commentary from Kate Aronoff in The New Republic: “Biden’s Setting Himself Up to Get Blamed for Lost Blue-Collar Jobs” (August 21) is critical of the establishment Democratic policy :

“A transition off of fossil fuels isn’t some far-off theoretical policy debate: It’s happening now in the most unjust way possible. Failing to reckon with that reality sets up Democrats in 2022 and 2024 to take the blame for the industry’s decline. This is all easy to avoid, but Democrats have to be willing to build a generous safety net instead of catering to deficit hawks. And they have to start a frank conversation within the Democratic coalition about the fact that fossil fuel jobs are already disappearing—even without robust climate policy.”

BlueGreen Alliance releases historic climate action platform

bluegreen allianceOn June 24, the Blue Green Alliance in the U.S. released a platform document titled Solidarity for Climate Action.  According to the press release, Leo Gerard, retiring International President of the United Steelworkers, stated:  “This historic moment in labor and environmental cooperation is the culmination of more than a decade of work…. The platform we are unveiling today is a roadmap to address both the climate crisis and growing income inequality in a way that leaves no workers or communities behind.”   The press release includes endorsement statements from: The Sierra Club,  National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Utility Workers Union of America, Service Employees International Union, Union of Concerned Scientists,  Environmental Defense Action Fund, and the League of  Conservation Voters.   Others whose logos appear on the document include: Communications Workers of America, International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen, American Federation of Teachers, and the United Association of Journeymen & Apprentices of the Plumbing & PipeFitting Industry.

In a blog, the National Resources Defense Council calls the platform a “defining moment in the fight against climate change” and states: “Solidarity for Climate Action marks a significant milestone in the relationship between the labor and environmental movements regarding climate action. We’ve had our disagreements, to be sure, but there is more agreement then most might realize, particularly around the need for climate action and income equality, which is one of the reasons this platform was created. It is an expression of hope that our movements will begin a renewed cooperation from a foundation of broad agreement. ” The Center for American Progress also endorsed the platform.

Here are the issue areas, as stated in the 8-page Solidarity for Climate Action document:

Climate Stability: “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society… This global effort to address climate change and inequality must happen at the speed and scale demanded by scientific reality and the urgent needs of our communities.”

High-Quality Jobs: “We must strive to create and retain millions of high-quality jobs while putting forward bold solutions to climate change. Unions are a primary vehicle to confront the economic insecurity most Americans face.”

Community Resilience: “We must dramatically increase the capacity of the public sector, the health care system, and community-based nonprofit sectors to prepare for and respond to the demands our changing climate places on first responders, healthcare workers, social workers, and others who deal with climate-induced disasters…..”

Repair America:  “We cannot address climate change with derelict infrastructure. …. Infrastructure must be designed in ways that reduce emissions and that reflect projected conditions over its lifespan, including the ability to withstand the increased frequency and severity of climate-driven natural disasters.”

Rebuild American Manufacturing: “A comprehensive national commitment to sustainably manufacture the next generation of energy, transportation, and other technologies in the United States will fully capture the benefits to workers and communities.”

Clean Air, Clean Water, Safe and Healthy Workplaces and Communities: “Tackling climate change goes hand in hand with ensuring that all workers and communities have access to clean air and water. We must also guarantee that our workplaces and communities are safe, clean, and free of hazardous chemicals and toxic pollution. This must include stepping up workplace protections and improving our industrial infrastructure through improved process safety and investments in inherently safer technologies.”

Equity for Marginalized Communities: “Generations of economic and racial inequality have disproportionately exposed low-income workers, communities of color, and others to low wages, toxic pollution, and climate threats. We must inject justice into our nation’s economy by ensuring that economic and environmental benefits of climate change solutions support the hardest hit workers and communities.”

The platform offers multiple, specific recommended policies for each of these areas of concern.

 

 

An agenda for U.S. progressive unions: Resist, reclaim, restructure for climate justice and energy democracy

Towards a Progressive Labor Vision for Climate Justice and Energy Transition in the Time of Trump  is  a new discussion paper by Sean Sweeney and John Treat,  acknowledging the work of the progressive unions affiliated with the Labor Network for Solidarity and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and  proposing  an “ambitious and effective agenda for progressive labor to respond to the converging environmental crises, and to pursue a rapid, inclusive approach to energy transition and social justice.”   To set the stage, the authors acknowledge and describe  the divisions within the U.S. labour movement, especially those around the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.  They applaud Bernie Sanders for  breaking new ground in the 2016 Presidential elections by making climate change a central part of the progressive political agenda – notably his call  for a just transition for fossil fuel workers and for a national ban on fracking.  They label “Green Jobs” as  “a Tired Phrase, an Unconvincing Promise”, and find glaring problems with the existing blue-green alliance approach, stating that the accomplishments are not unimportant, “ but the “green jobs” narrative has failed to engage numerous constituencies of potential allies in the struggle for better health, workplace and environmental protections for all, and for broader social, economic and ecological justice.”

In its place, the authors look internationally for inspiration, and propose “an ambitious, pro-active, independent, labor-led program of action” , built on actions  which “resist, reclaim, restructure”, with Just Transition, Solidarity,  and Internationalism as important  principles.  Some specific examples: “Resist : energy-related land seizures, despoliation, and violation of indigenous rights and territories; Resist shale oil and gas drilling and associated infrastructure (pipelines, export platforms, etc.), especially on federal and tribal lands.”  Reclaim: “ Fight to reverse state-level “electricity market restructuring” and to reform Investor Owned Utilities;  Review the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) in order to determine whether it should be repealed in order to restore States’ power to make their own energy choices; Re-invent regulatory bodies for the power industry, establish mechanisms for meaningful public involvement and democratic decision-making; Investigate and pursue new ways to use union pension funds in order to maximize their impact for a “public goods” approach to energy provision and climate change mitigation; Reinvent public infrastructure, beginning with the postal service in order to drive local renewable energy generation and to provide financial services for working class people who need them.”   Restructure: “Demand energy sector reform to allow for a just transition to renewables under public and community control; Demand establishment of dedicated, priority revenue streams for public renewables and a “just transition fund,” to be funded via a Financial Transaction Tax; Reject costly Power Purchase Agreements; Demand adequately funded, modern and available public transit systems, including the development of public fleets of electric vehicles for urban mobility.”

labor for our revolutionTowards a Progressive Labor Vision for Climate Justice and Energy Transition in the Time of Trump was released on June 1  by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and submitted for discussion to Labor for Our Revolution , a network of unions  and labor activists engaged in campaigns to support workers’ rights and contribute to building a broader movement for social and economic justice. LFOR endorses the work of  Our Revolution , the network which grew out of the Bernie Sanders campaign in the U.S.. Our Revolution  states it  has three intertwined goals: “to revitalize American democracy, empower progressive leaders and elevate the political consciousness. “

Lima Leaves Out Key Labour Language

Labour organizations are decrying the lack of language pertaining to just transition policies in the final negotiating agreement of the Climate Conference in Lima in December.

Organizations such as BlueGreen Alliance and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) lobbied leaders prior to the Conference, providing recommendations and wording suggestions to facilitate the inclusion of worker protection and reducing inequality in the climate agreement. BlueGreen advocated for improved international collaboration on best practices for just transition, and joined TUED in calling on the parties to prepare data on the positive and negative employment impacts of climate policies to support decision-making.

While a number of governments did raise labour issues at the Conference, co-chairs ultimately left them out of the text altogether. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, however, there was an overall trend of greater recognition of the centrality of just transition to sound climate policy, an active role played by labour organizations at the Conference, and the ongoing expansion and diversification of the climate justice movement, including increasing attention to labour issues. See Lima climate conference deceives, but not the climate movement. A similar assessment was made by the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Climate talks advance slowly, but activism on the rise.