Labour working for a Green New Deal in Canada and the U.S.

Updated on January 20 to include Naomi Klein’s new article, “Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” in Dissent (Winter 2020 issue). 

our times jan2020cover re green new dealIn the January 2020 issue of Our Times magazine, “Save this House: A Green New Deal for Canada, Now!”  provides an overview of Canadian labour’s initiatives around a Green New Deal. It highlights the on-the-ground activism of two unionists: Tiffany Balducci, (CUPE member, president of the Durham Region Labour Council and in that role, part of the Green Jobs Oshawa coalition seeking to re-purpose the shuttered General Motors plant  for socially beneficial manufacturing) and Patricia Chong, ( member of the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance and co-facilitator of  the “Green is Not White” environmental workshops which are co-sponsored by the ACW research project).

Asked to define and envision what the Green New Deal will look like, Chong states:

“If the climate crisis is defined as a problem where we need to move money from greenhouse-gas producing industries to non-GHG producing industry, then the answer is to move the money around. If the climate crisis is defined more broadly as a problem that also includes environmental racism, Indigenous genocide, and capitalism, then the solution is also going to be very different. ….When we talk about a Green economy, we do not want to replicate the inherent inequities we already have.”

The article also names the unions which support a Green New Deal for Canada:  “Unifor, Amalgamated Transit Union, British Columbia Teachers Federation, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and CUPE Ontario. The article concludes with a reference to the Private Member’s Motion on a Green New Deal for Canada, introduced in the new 43rd session of Parliament by Peter Julian, the NDP Member of Parliament for New Westminster-Burnaby British Columbia. His motion, introduced on December 5,  defines a Green New Deal as a 10-year national mobilization to: •  reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions •  create millions of secure jobs•  invest in sustainable infrastructure and industry •  promote justice and equity for Indigenous peoples and all “frontline and vulnerable communities.”   Specifically concerning GND jobs, it calls for :

……(vii) ensuring that the Green New Deal mobilization creates high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers, offers training and advancement opportunities, and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition, (viii) guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all Canadians, (ix) strengthening and protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment, (x) strengthening and enforcing labour, workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors, (xi) enacting and enforcing trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments with strong labor and environmental protections to stop the transfer of jobs and pollution overseas, and to grow domestic manufacturing in Canada….  More details are at the Our Time website ; Julian was one of the candidates endorsed by Our Time in Canada’s 2019 federal election.

OurTime_logoThe youth-led organization  Our Time exists to campaign for a Green New Deal.  An overview of their approach appears in “The future is in our hands— not theirs” in the January/February issue of CCPA’s The Monitor (pages 22-  23). Written by two Manitoba organizers from the Our Time campaign , it includes  the youth-led actions of Canada’s Fridays for Future climate strikers, and focuses on the Our Time campaign in the West.  The authors conclude: “Our Time and the CCPA-Manitoba recognize the need to build stronger relationships with the Indigenous community and beyond. We know that any struggle for a Green New Deal must take direction from those who are most dispossessed by fossil capitalism and most exposed to climate change. We do not wish to reproduce in our organizing spaces the undemocratic relationships of exploitation that have gotten us to this point. We need to unlearn the oppressive practices we frequently deploy, often unconsciously, even when our hearts are in the right place.”

Green New Deal proposals in the U.S.:

brecher no workerIn late December 2019, Labor Network for Sustainability released its latest paper regarding the Green New Deal:  a briefing paper written by Jeremy Brecher , No Worker Left Behind:   Protecting Workers and Communities in the Green New Deal . From the introduction: “This paper aims to identify policies that could be actionable by GNDs at national and state levels.… It focuses only on: “GND policies specifically designed to protect workers and communities whose jobs and livelihoods may be adversely affected by deliberate managed decline of fossil fuel burning and other GND policies.”   The document does not endorse one plan over the other – the purpose is to identify and inform trade unionists so that they can make their own determinations.

No Worker Left Behind   includes relevant excerpts from the following U.S. plans:  • Colorado Just Transition law • Center for Biological Diversity Presidential Action Plan • Washington State Initiative 1631 • Senator Bernie Sanders “The Green New Deal – Sanders Details” • Governor Jay Inslee “Community Climate Justice Plan,” adopted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren after Inslee withdrew from the presidential race. • Vice-President Joe Biden “Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice” • BlueGreen Alliance “Solidarity for Climate Action” • Sunrise Movement “Candidate Scorecard Framework” • Peter Knowlton “Jobs for Climate Justice Demands” • Sens. Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, and Edward Markey “Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act” • Political Economy Research Institute, “The Economics of Just Transition” • Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Labor Network for Sustainability, “Beyond a Band-Aid”.

A broader discussion of the Green New Deal appears in Naomi Klein’s new article, “Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” in Dissent (Winter 2020 issue). Although the article focuses on the  U.S. Green New Deal in a historical and political context , Klein continues to cite her “favourite example” of the GND as the Canadian Union of Postal Workers initiative, Delivering Community Power , which she describes as “a bold plan to turn every post office in Canada into a hub for a just green transition.” She continues “….To make the case for a Green New Deal—which explicitly calls for this kind of democratic, decentralized leadership—every sector in the United States should be developing similar visionary plans for their workplaces right now.”

Klein also repeats themes from previous writing, including :

“A job guarantee, far from an opportunistic socialist addendum, is a critical part of achieving a rapid and just transition. It would immediately lower the intense pressure on workers to take the kinds of jobs that destabilize our planet, because all would be free to take the time needed to retrain and find work in one of the many sectors that will be dramatically expanding…This in turn will reduce the power of bad actors like the Laborers’ International Union of North America, who are determined to split the labor movement and sabotage the prospects for this historic effort.”

Finally, her concluding call to action:

“The Green New Deal will need to be subject to constant vigilance and pressure from experts who understand exactly what it will take to lower our emissions as rapidly as science demands, and from social movements that have decades of experience bearing the brunt of false climate solutions, whether nuclear power, the chimera of carbon capture and storage, or carbon offsets.”

Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” is adapted from Klein’s klein we own the future coverchapter  in We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism—American Stylea new anthology edited by Kate Aronoff, Michael Kazin, and Peter Dreier and released by the New Press in January 2020.  Several other recent articles  have appeared in The Intercept are available on her own website here , and her book, On Fire: The Burning case for a Green New Deal was published in September 2019.

Just Transition and Green New Deal as policy and bargaining issues for Unifor

unifor logoAccording to their website, “Unifor is Canada’s largest oil, gas and chemical sector union, representing over 11,800 members in nearly every province, from offshore platforms off Newfoundland’s outer banks to Suncor in Alberta’s oil sands; from energy crown corporations in Saskatchewan to private refineries in every region of Canada.”

The union’s 3rd Constitutional Convention was held in Quebec City in August , gathering delegates to debate Resolutions , including Resolution #5, submitted by the autoworkers of  Local 222 in the Oshawa area regarding a Worker’s Green New Deal…“defined as “a massive government jobs program and investment in clean energy, green technology and electrification.” A Workers’ Green New Deal must include just transition protection for workers whose jobs are affected and fair labour standards. BECAUSE: • This program meets the needs of and has the potential to unite the labour movement, environmentalists and all those who have been the victims of inequality, discrimination, racism and now, climate change. ….”

and Resolution #21 regarding Just Transition, submitted by the energy workers of Local 707A from Fort McMurray, Alberta:  “…..UNIFOR NATIONAL WILL: 1. Launch and promote a nationally-coordinated awareness and action campaign that will include: a. Awareness materials to the attention of Unifor members explaining the idea of just transition and how it can apply to workers in Canada today to build a more sustainable, fair future for working people with workers at the table when planning for a Just Transition to a regenerative economy. b. A call to all levels of governments to: i. support strategic investments in infrastructure, ii. A recognition of climate change needs and a commitment to meeting international greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, iii. A national strategy on Just Transition for workers c. Unifor’s inaugural Just Transition Conference scheduled for September, 2019 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 2. Encourage all local unions to take part in the campaign in solidarity with Unifor’s energy workers in all provinces…”

Just as the resolutions regarding Green New Deal and Just Transition call for advocacy and action campaigns, the 50-page Collective Bargaining Program approved at the Convention deals with these issues not as bargaining priorities, but as policy challenges: “…we demand that governments: • Bolster our public health care and education systems; • Secure industries and workplaces most vulnerable to ongoing trade disputes; • Establish more rigorous income assistance and just transition supports for workers adjusting to labour market changes (including those that are climate-related) (italics added by WCR); • Invest in public and social infrastructure, including long-overdue universal public Pharmacare and Child Care programs; • Develop a coordinated national, sustainable industrial development strategy.”

The National Unifor Just Transition Conference   is scheduled for September 22 -24 in Saskatoon, and is described in this July letter  from the  National Health, Safety and Environment Director .  “The Conference plenaries, workshops and discussions will focus on the importance of climate policies aimed at reducing emissions along with those aimed at building resilience and adaptive capacity. These large table discussions that will take place at the conference will set the tone for Unifor’s position on carbon footprint reduction and job security as the entire country moves forward to address the need for climate change initiatives.”  Unifor’s previous lobby document,  The International Climate Crisis and Just Transition, from 2018, is here.

A June press release,  “Unifor energy workers ratify historic national agreement” announced a new pattern-setting four-year collective agreement with Suncor Energy, and highlights gains in wages, severance, and a new framework for addressing domestic violence. The Suncor agreement will set the pattern for all energy sector employers in Canada – the text is not  publicly available as of early September 2019.

Unifor’s Energy Council met in June, as summarized here , to discuss the new pattern bargaining and the union’s new promotional campaign for the sector, anchored around a YouTube video  produced by Unifor.

Pact for a Green New Deal gathers input across Canada

Canada’s Pact for a Green New Deal has issued a new blog titled,  What we heard” , summarizing the input from 150  town hall events held since it launched in May 2019.   “…All told, with groups ranging in size from four in Iqaluit to more than 300 in Edmonton, the town halls have attracted more than 7,000 participants, each representing environmental groups, labour unions, faith groups, political parties, city councils, community and neighbourhood associations, Indigenous organizations, women’s organizations, the Fight for $15 and Fairness, student unions, [and] local media.”

The report is organized according to twelve “Green Line” themes (topics which participants want to see included in a Green New Deal).  Most frequently raised amongst “Green Lines”: Economy and Government, Green Infrastructure, Social Justice, and Indigenous Sovereignty (others included Nature, Agriculture,  Democracy, Plastics, Climate Science, Decent Work, Climate Debt, and Rights) . Workplace issues appear in the recommendations under “Economy and Government”, including:  “Creating millions of good, high-wage jobs through a green jobs plan, ensuring fossil fuel industry workers and directly affected community members are guaranteed good, dignified work with the training and support needed to succeed. ….Increasing unionization and implementing workers’ rights, including at least a $15 minimum wage, pay equity, paid emergency leave, job security, protections for migrant workers, and the right to organize and unionize.”

The  highlighted Red Lines (or themes which are negatives) the fossil fuel industry, extraction and pollution, plastics, and a failing democracy.

Under “Next Steps”, the report states: “The communities and organizations represented by people who attended town halls did reach beyond the “green bubble” that typically exists within mainstream environmental events and campaigns. That being said, there is much room for improvement in reaching out to the labour movement, social justice movements, Indigenous peoples, and those who are marginalized or who have been most impacted by the current and historical harms a Green New Deal must address.” More town hall meetings are promised.

Activists are mobilizing to push for a Canadian Green New Deal in the 2019 elections

The push for a Canadian Green New Deal is a rising tide with strong public support, and a number of different activist groups are gathering in different coalitions to push our politicians to action. “Canadian Coalitions’ Election Platforms Call For Faster Action On Climate” (May 7) in The Energy Mix summarizes three prominent initiatives that launched in early May. Here are a few more details:

SUZUKI green new dealThe Pact for a Green New Deal  launched on May 6 with a very high profile campaign in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. An Executive summary called 10 Questions  states: “it is a non-partisan, grassroots initiative supported by individuals, scientists, unions, Indigenous and civil society organizations and youth from across the country.” It  has been endorsed by over 67 organizations, including many of Canada’s largest environmental advocacy groups, and the following  labour unions:  CUPE Ontario, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec, London and District Labour Council, and Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation.  Amongst youth, endorsers include: Climate Strike Canada, PowerShift: Young and Rising, ENvironnement JEUnesse (ENJEU), iMatter Halifax, and Students for Direct Action.  It also includes a number of influential celebrities, including David Suzuki, Naomi Klein, Stephen Lewis, Michelle Landsberg,  and dozens of musicians and artists – even  K.D. Laing, but not Margaret Atwood!  The full list of endorsers is here.

The 10 Questions document also states that the The Pact for a Green New Deal (P4GND) is NOT a copy of the U.S. campaign so widely identified with  the Sunrise Movement and Alexandria Ocacio Cortez. This Canadian initiative was inspired by Le Pacte  that was started in Quebec in November 2018 by Dominic Champagne (who endorses this new initiative).  The Pacte has attracted over  270,000 signatories who pledge to make personal lifestyle changes to address the climate emergency, including citizen engagement, and who endorse a definite list of priorities.  In contrast,  The Pact for a Green New Deal is a visionary process, as set out in a 3-page statement:

“We Invite All Sectors of Society to Launch The Year of The Green New Deal:  We call on workers, Indigenous communities, students, trade unions, migrants, community organizations and people across the country to gather, define and design a plan for a safe future and more prosperous present. The conversation about a Green New Deal for Canada must be led from the ground up. We call on all politicians and political parties to respond to the demands of the people with a Green New Deal that rests on two fundamental principles: 1. It must meet the demands of Indigenous knowledge and science and cut Canada’s emissions in half in 11 years while protecting cultural and biological diversity. 2. It must leave no one behind and build a better present and future for all of us.”

An interactive map here shows all the planned locations for the Pact for a Green New Deal cross-country tour, starting in Toronto in May.

Environmental Asks for the October 2019 Election: Many of the endorsers of the Pact for a Green New Deal are also endorsing another initiative, announced  on May 7, presenting 20 “asks” for Party Platforms .  “These platform recommendations represent the collective priorities of all of the organizations listed below and will form the basis of joint-venture communication concerning each political parties’ commitments in the lead-up to the 2019 Federal election.”  The group will also evaluate and compare the party platforms once they are announced. There are 14 groups involved are:  Canadian Environmental Law Association, CPAWS, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, ecojustice, équiterre, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace, Nature Canada, Pembina Institute, Sierra Club Canada Foundation, West Coast Environmental Law Association, Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, and WWF-Canada. In addition, the United Steelworkers have announced their support via an article in the Toronto Star,Labour a key partner in a Green New Deal” (May 6 ) , also issued as a USW press release.

Younger Canadians launched their own political initiative to fight for a Green New Deal on April 17. The group, Our Time, states its goal   is “to organize and mobilize a generational alliance of young and millennial voters that’s big enough and bold enough to push politicians to support a Green New Deal in the lead up to the 2019 election.”

And without using the tern “Green New Deal”, the youth organization Climate Strike Canada, inspired by the Fridays for Future movement, has set out a list of political demands in an Open Letter and online petition :

“We, as citizens, therefore call upon all political parties and politicians to create and commit to a science-based and human rights focused Emergency Plan for Climate Justice that limits global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

We, as citizens, pledge to vote only for political parties and politicians that include the following demands in their Emergency Plan for Climate Justice.

  • Bold Emissions Reductions Targets
  • Separation of Oil and State
  • A Just Transition
  • Environmental rights
  • Indigenous rights
  • Conservation of Biodiversity
  • Protection for Vulnerable Groups

Canadian youth continue climate strikes and join the political push for a Canadian Green New Deal

fridays may 3Students in approximately 95 towns and cities across Canada went on strike from school on May 3, continuing their Fridays for Future campaign .  As was the case after the huge March 15 demonstrations ,  mainstream press coverage was limited, but included a front-page story in the Sudbury Star . Other coverage:  Corner Brook Newfoundland ; Regina Saskatchewan , Edmonton , and Vancouver, where an article in The Straight (May 3) summarizes the strike in Vancouver and notes others across Canada and the world.  In Halifax, CBC News reported that 400 students marched, despite threats of suspension from at least one high school .  In “Thousands march for action on climate change in Montreal as city braces for flooding”, the CBC reports that intergenerational demonstrations were held in Quebec on April 27, and states “Quebec’s largest unions took part in similar marches in Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Rimouski, Rouyn-Noranda, Alma, Gaspé, Mont-Laurier and Ottawa.”

Youth are driven by fear:  The National Observer has launched a new series on Youth, Parents and the Climate Crisis with “Climate strikes and the youth mental health crisis” (May 2).  Similarly,  “Meet the millennials grieving for the future of planet Earth” describes ecological grief circles in Montreal .  The words of a sampling of youth leaders are revealing in the interviews from  “Canadian Teens Told Us Why They’re Striking Over Climate Change” (May 2) in  Vice . 

What’s Next?  The Federal Election and a Green New Deal: Students say they will continue their school strikes, and in addition, some are now joining the political fight, despite being too young to vote in many cases.   Climate Strike Canada has posted an Open Letter and online petition which lists their demands:

“We, as citizens, therefore call upon all political parties and politicians to create and commit to a science-based and human rights focused Emergency Plan for Climate Justice that limits global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

We, as citizens, pledge to vote only for political parties and politicians that include the following demands in their Emergency Plan for Climate Justice.

  • Bold Emissions Reductions Targets
  • Separation of Oil and State
  • A Just Transition
  • Environmental rights
  • Indigenous rights
  • Conservation of Biodiversity
  • Protection for Vulnerable Groups

SUZUKI green new dealSeveral youth organizations are among the 67 groups who announced for a Green New Deal for Canada  on May 6, launching another political movement to fight for  climate change action in the coming election.  The Energy Mix provides a summary of these new political campaigns  in “Canadian Coalitions’ Election Platforms Call For Faster Action On Climate” (May 7).  Common Dreams also describes the new group in “‘The Pact for a Green New Deal’: Visionary Roadmap From Canadian Coalition Launched”  (May 6).