Updated: U.S. Labour views on climate strikes and the Green New Deal

Speakers, listed here, addressed the issues of Just Transition, the Green New Deal, public ownership of energy production, and an appropriate role for labour in climate activism at the New York Labor History Association Annual Spring Conference on May 11, under the banner  “Taking the Lead: Labor and Global Warming: Our History, Activism and Challenge”.  “New Calls for a General Strike in the Face of Coming Climate Catastrophe” appeared in the Labor Press (May 13) (re-posted to Portside on May 22) , summarizing some of the discussion, especially the statement by Bruce Hamilton, VP of the  Amalgamated Transit Union, that a general strike “should never be taken off the table”.  The article notes that “A general strike, however, requires a level of unity around the question of climate change and the Green New Deal that presently does not exist inside organized labor.”  On May 30, Portside published  a lengthly compilation of “Reader Responses”  , both pro and con, about using a general strike as a tactic.  (Note that the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is calling for  “a day of global action on climate change” on June 26 as part of their  Climate Proof our Work campaign   , and the Fridays for Future student strike movement has called for a worldwide general strike by adults and youth for September 20).

Union differences  around the Green New Deal have been noted before in the WCR:  in “Labor’s voice in support of the Green New Deal” (May 14) , and “AFL-CIO Energy Committee releases letter opposing the Green New Deal” (Mar 14). On May 22, “The Green New Deal is fracturing a critical base for Democrats: unions” appeared in Vox, providing  a broad overview of national and state-level examples.

Service Employees International Union endorses GND: On June 6, the Service Employees International Union issued a press release announcing that the International Executive Board had passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal , which states in part: “the Green New Deal supports the right of all workers to have unions, no matter where they work; makes unions central to accomplishing the ambitious goal of an environmentally responsible and economically just society; and commits to providing universal healthcare and a good, union job with family-sustaining wages
and benefits for everyone who wants one.”   The Resolution affirms the goals of the GND, commits to political action, and to cooperation with other advocacy partners in environmental,  immigrant, health care,  and economic justice movements.

On the issue of transitions, it states:

4. “SEIU stands in solidarity with all in the labor movement who share our desire to create family-sustaining union jobs and a healthy and safe environment. Workers who have built and are dependent upon the fossil fuel industry must have:

  • a. Access to good union jobs, training and advancement if their current jobs cease to exist;
  • b. Guaranteed pensions and a bridge of wage support and healthcare until impacted workers find comparable employment or reach retirement;
  • c. Financial support for local community public services during a transition period

Green New Deal and Labour in California:  There is support for the Green New Deal  in polling the green new dealCalifornia – as evidenced by “Packed Bay Area Convergence on Climate Plans for Green New Deal” and other articles  in the Green New Deal compilation by the Labor Network for SustainabilityYet “Labor anger over Green New Deal greets 2020 contenders in California”  appeared in Politico, focusing on the opposition to the Los Angeles Green New Deal announced on April 29, chiefly by California’s building trades unions.  Those unions fear job loss and the costs members may face from higher gas taxes, as well as congestion pricing for tolls on freeways during rush hour. They have differed with environmentalists in the past over environmental justice and pollution regulation at the State level .  In “The Green New Deal- Be-labored?” in Resilience (May 11) and originally in Civil Notion, author Joel Stronberg describes the California divide in even greater detail and quotes a professor from Loyola Law School, who assesses that “the Green New Deal…divides the Democrats on a fault line, which is more of the elites against the working class Democrats who are concerned about losing their jobs.”  Stronberg also states that the Association of Flight Attendants is a second union which has endorsed the Green New Deal, and cites a recent survey by Data for Progress between March 30 and April 7, 2019 which measured union members’ (not leadership) attitudes. According to Stronberg, it shows 52 percent of current union members approve of the Green New Deal, 22 percent were opposed,  21 percent didn’t know about it, and five percent were neutral.

Canadian unions:  In Canada, unions have not yet been as vocal about the Green New Deal – although “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal: The Canadian Connection” in The Tyee (June 3) describes the close ties between the U.S. GND and Canadians Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein of The Leap.    Some unions have endorsed the uniquely-Canadian Pact for a Green New Deal – and the United Steelworkers  have endorsed the New Democratic Party’s newly announced climate change platform  – Power to change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs .

U.K. makes progress on a Green New Deal amid the chaos of Brexit

Understandably, the Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom are preoccupied with the chaos of the Brexit crisis – which in itself, has huge implications for environmental policy in the country.  “How Brexit will impact the UK’s environmental policy”  provides a good summary of the specifics, and an active website publishes analysis by “a network of impartial academic experts analysing the implications of Brexit for UK and EU environmental policy and governance” . Greener UK, a network of 14 environmental NGOs, is also focused on Brexit “in the belief that leaving the EU is a pivotal moment to restore and enhance the UK’s environment. ”

Lucas UK screenshot gnd billProgress on a Green New Deal  amidst the chaos:  But while Brexit rages, and  the country awaits the May 2 publication of recommendations on long term net zero emission targets by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC),  the Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill  was tabled in the House of Commons by two members of Parliament – Green Party member Caroline Lucas  and Labour Party member Clive Lewis .  Although the bill doesn’t use the term “Green New Deal”,  Caroline Lucas  does in her Opinion piece in The Guardian, “The answer to climate breakdown and austerity? A green new deal” (March 27).  She states: “Our bill would introduce a “green new deal” – an unprecedented mobilisation of resources invested to prevent climate breakdown, reverse inequality, and heal our communities. It demands major structural changes in our approach to the ecosystem, coupled with a radical transformation of the finance sector and the economy, to deliver both social justice and a livable planet… This is purposely radical territory. We must push the boundaries of what is seen as politically possible. Because climate justice and social justice go hand in hand.”  The official summary  of the Bill appears on page 7 of the parliamentary Order Paper for March 26 including a 10-year time line with reporting requirements, and a stated goal for  community and employee-led transition from high-carbon to low and zero-carbon industry, and the eradication of inequality.

UK Green New Deal coverGreen Party MP Caroline Lucas has a long history with the concept of “green new deal”, as part of the Green New Deal Group which was founded in the U.K. in 2007  and published its first policy statement :  A Green New Deal Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices  in 2008.

The Labour Party has also been in the news recently for its new grassroots initiative, the Labour Green New Deal.  For example,  “Labour scrambles to develop a Green New Deal” in Climate Change News (Feb. 14);  “Labour members launch Green New Deal inspired by US activists” in The Guardian (March 22) ; and “Our new movement aims to propel Labour into a radical Green New Deal”  (March 22) in The Guardian,  an Opinion piece by  Angus Satow, co-founder of the coalition, who states that the party’s  Green Transformation Environmental policy statement, is a starting point, but “ a GND means a new settlement for Britain. It would give local communities the funding and power to control their future, while democratising industry and the economy. Communities with control of utilities will have great power over their lives, while tackling fuel poverty, as the profits go to ordinary people, not shareholders.” “Labour for a Green New Deal – because climate change is a class issue” by Chris Saltmarsh at Labourlist(March 22) lays out the role of unions in the initiative, with specific and detailed plans: “A Green New Deal in the UK is therefore nothing without participation and leadership from our unions. Rank-and-file trade unionists across the country are ready to organise for this from below. We’ll work with them to build support, host events, pass motions from branches to policy conferences, and develop regional plans for a Green New Deal that put workers first.”

Labour union voices at the Global Climate Action Summit

The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), which brought together the world’s politicians, business leaders, and civil society organizations in San Francisco, concluded on September 14 .  The final Call to Global Climate Action calls on national governments to urgently step up climate action, including by enhancing their UNFCC Nationally Determined Contributions by 2020.The GCAS final press release summarizes the many announcements and 500+ commitments that were made; even more comprehensive is  A Chronology of Individual Summit and Pre-Summit Announcements , in which Summit organizers list all important actions and documents, dating back to January 2018.  Plans were announced to monitor actions flowing from the Summit  at a revamped Climate Action Portal, hosted by the UNFCC –   focused  around an interactive map as the key to aggregated  data about  climate action by region and sector.

richard-l-trumkaLabour unions at the Summit:    Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, delivered a speech to the Summit on September 13, “Fight Climate Change the Right way” , in which he highlighted the passage of Resolution 55 at the AFL-CIO Convention in October 2017. He emphasized that the climate change/clean energy resolution was adopted unanimously…”with the outspoken support of the unions whose members work in the energy sector. That part is critical–the workers most impacted by a move away from carbon fuels came together and endorsed a plan to save our people and our planet….”

Trumka also spoke on September 12  at  Labor in the Climate Transition:  Charting the Roadmap for 2019 and Beyond , an affiliate event sponsored by the University of California Berkeley Labor Center, along with the California Labor Federation, California Building and Construction Trades Council, Service Employees International Union, IBEW 1245, the International Trades Union Confederation, and BlueGreen Alliance.   In that speech,  titled Collective Action and Shared Sacrifice Key to Fighting Climate Change,  Trumka cast the AFL-CIO climate record in a positive light, repeated the success of Resolution 55 at the 2017 Convention, gave a 100% commitment to fighting climate change, and stated: “…we must be open to all methods of reducing carbon emissions—including technologies some environmentalists don’t like.” He concluded: “When the movement to fight climate change ignores the issue of economic justice, or treats it as an afterthought, when we seek to address climate change without respecting the hard work and sacrifice of workers in the energy and manufacturing sectors whose jobs are threatened—we feed the forces who are trying to tear us apart…. If we don’t get this right, we could find that our democracy fails before our climate…as rising fear and rising hate converge on us faster than rising seas.”

John Cartwright

The Berkeley event also featured panels on Just Transition, chaired by Samantha Smith, Director, Just Transition Centre of the ITUC, and included Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour,  as a speaker, and a panel on Energy Efficiency  in buildings , which included John Cartwright, President, Toronto & York Region Labour Council (pictured right)  as a speaker.  Videos of  the Berkeley event are here  , including one of the Trumka speech.

ITF statement 2018 green-and-healthy-streetsFinally, as part of the main Summit announcements, the International Transport Federation (ITF) released a statement in support of the Green and Healthy Streets Declaration by the C40 Cities, which  commits signatory cities to procure zero emission buses by 2025 and to ensure that major areas of cities are zero emissions by 2030. (Montreal and Toronto are the two Canadian signatories).  The ITF statement,  Green & Healthy Streets: Transitioning to zero emission transport , is motivated by the benefits of lowering air pollution and occupational health and safety for transport workers, as well as the economic justice of providing transit opportunities for workers to commute to work.

The ITF and its affiliates commit to: “Working in partnerships with mayors and cities to ensure that the transition to fossil-fuel-free streets is a just transition that creates decent jobs, reduces inequality, and drives inclusion and improvements in the lives of working class and low income people. • Building partnerships with mayors and city authorities to develop and integrate just transition plans that drive decent work and social action, including labour impact assessments, safeguards and job targets for men and women workers. • Mobilising workers knowledge and skills to shape and enhance the supportive actions needed to meet the commitments in the Declaration. • Working in partnerships with mayors and city authorities to deliver a just transition to zero emission buses, including developing plans for relevant worker training.”

Other progress for workplace concerns  at the Summit:

Amid the announcements from the formal meetings, one new initiative stands out: the Pledge for a Just Transition to Decent Jobs, which commits renewable energy companies to ILO core labor standards and ILO occupational health and safety standards for themselves and their suppliers, as well as social dialogue with workers and unions, wage guarantees, and social protections such as pension and health benefits. The BTeam press release “Companies step up to Deliver a Just Transition”  lists the signatories, and also  quotes Sharan Burrow, Vice-Chair of The B Team and General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, who states: “We will not stand by and see stranded workers or stranded communities.…  We have to work together with business, with government and workers. We can build a future that’s about the dignity of work, secure employment and shared prosperity.”  The BTeam press release also references  Just Transition: A Business Guide, published jointly by the B Team and the Just Transition Centre in May 2018.

Another announcement related to the workplace: 21 companies announced the Step Up Declaration, a new alliance “dedicated to harnessing the power of emerging technologies and the fourth industrial revolution to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all economic sectors and ensure a climate turning point by 2020.”  The press release   references “the transformative power of the fourth industrial revolution, which encompasses artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT). In addition, the declaration acknowledges the role its signatories can play in demonstrating and enabling progress both in their immediate spheres of influence and “collaboratively with others— across all sectors of society, including individuals, corporations, civil society, and governments.”    Signatories include several established climate leaders: Akamai Technologies, Arm, Autodesk, Bloomberg, BT, Cisco Systems, Ericsson, HP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Lyft, Nokia, Salesforce, Supermicro, Symantec, Tech Mahindra, Uber, Vigilent, VMware, WeWork, Workday.

Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco includes labour meetings

The Global Climate Action Summit  in San Francisco will gather 4,500 delegates from around the world on September 12 – 14.  According to the Summit website, “At GCAS governors and mayors, business, investor and civil society leaders will make bold new announcements that will act as a launch-pad to Take Ambition on climate action to the Next Level while calling on national governments to do the same. ” Discussion and statements will be organized around  five themes: Healthy Energy Systems, Inclusive Economic Growth, Sustainable Communities, Land and Ocean Stewardship and Transformative Climate Investments.

The University of California Berkeley Labor Center is holding an official “affiliate event” at the Summit,  called Labor in the Climate Transition:  Charting the Roadmap for 2019 and Beyond .  The sold-out event will showcase the best practices in worker-friendly climate policy for 2019  and highlight “the importance of labor unions for building sustainable broad-based coalitions that can support strong climate policies at the state, national and international level.” Co-sponsors of the event are the California Labor Federation, California Building and Construction Trades Council, Service Employees International Union, IBEW 1245, the International Trades Union Council, and BlueGreen Alliance.

Rise for climateThe global  Rise for Climate action ,  led by 350.org, was timed for September 8, to capitalize on the publicity and high profile attendees of the San Francisco Summit.  According to The Guardian’s report , San Francisco alone attracted 30,000 demonstrators, led by Indigenous leaders.    The San Francisco Chronicle also reported that demonstrations will continue throughout the week, in “Angry activists plan to crash Jerry Brown’s SF climate summit”  (Sept. 9), and there is an online petition at the “Brown’s Last Chance”  protest website , calling for the elimination of fossil fuels in the state.

Among  the reports/announcements released so far at the Global Climate Summit:  Climate Opportunity: More Jobs; Better Health; Liveable Cities , which estimates that “by 2030, a boost in urban climate action can prevent approximately 1.3 million premature deaths per year, net generate 13.7 million jobs in cities, and save 40 billion hours of commuters’ time plus billions of dollars in reduced household expenses each year.” The report was published by C40 Cities, The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy and the New Climate Institute; a press release summarizing the report is here (Sept. 9).

EPA roll back of fuel economy standards and what it means for Canada

pick up truckOn April 3, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its decision  in a midterm evaluation of the fuel-economy standards for light vehicles manufactured in 2022-2025.  EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued his  Final Determination , supported by  a 38-page analysis – which overturned the evidence of a 1,200-page draft Technical Assessment Report completed under President Obama in 2016. This opens up the uncertainty of a new rule-making process, with vehement opposition from the State of California, which is entitled to set its own emissions standards, as well as other players in the U.S., including  over 50 mayors and state Attorney Generals from across the U.S., who issued their own  Local Leaders Clean Car Declaration  . The Declaration  states: “ Whatever decisions the Administration may make, we are committed to using our market power and our regulatory authority to ensure that the vehicle fleets deployed in our jurisdictions fully meet or exceed the promises made by the auto industry in 2012.”  Within the auto industry, parts-makers represented by the Automotive Technology Leadership Group (including the  Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, the Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association, and the Aluminum Association)  support the existing standards .  The Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers  trade group, which represents Toyota, Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen, have pushed for lower standards since the Trump inauguration.

All of this matters for Canada for at least two reasons:  1).  95% of vehicles manufactured in Canada are exported to the U.S., and thus our fuel emissions regulations have been developed in collaboration with the U.S. EPA – most recently to govern production for  2017 – 2025 models, and 2).  transportation represents the 2nd highest source of emissions in Canada.  The WCR surveyed  Canadian reaction in March 2017, when Donald Trump first authorized the EPA review.  Now, with the decision published, recent reaction appears in  “Canada in tough position if  Trump Administration lessens vehicle standards”  in the Globe and Mail (April 1);  the National ObserverScott Pruitt delivers another Trump-era shock to Canada’s climate change plan” ( April 2) ;  “Trump’s fuel economy rollback leaves Trudeau in a bind: Follow the U.S., or take a stand” (April 3)  in the Toronto Star , which quotes the the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, as saying  that “both Canadian consumers and climate efforts could be harmed if Trudeau decides to maintain a higher standard for Canada than Trump does for the U.S.” .   Unifor, representing most Canadian auto workers, has not issued a reaction yet, although president Jerry Dias was quoted in March 2017 in “ Auto workers union takes aim at Trump’s examination of fuel standards” in the Globe and Mail, stating that he “would fight any attempt to roll back environmentally friendly regulations in the auto industry ”.

For well-informed U.S. reaction, see  “Stronger fuel standards make sense, even when gas prices are low ” in The Conversation; “Why EPA’s Effort to Weaken Fuel Efficiency Standards Could be Trump’s Most Climate-Damaging Move Yet” in Inside Climate News (April 2 ) ;  from the American Council for an Energy- Efficient Economy “EPA fails to do Its homework on light-duty standards” ;  and  “Auto Alliance Pushed Climate Denial to Get Trump Admin to Abandon Obama Fuel Efficiency Standards”  in  DeSmog  (April 2).