How to engage your union in the fight for a Green New Deal

The January 2020 issue of  the Labor Network for Sustainability newsletter refers to a recent article, “A Green New Deal can win even among Building Trades Unions”, which appeared in The Jacobin (Jan 30 2019). It is written by an IBEW tradesman who led a successful effort to pass a Green New Deal resolution at the 60th Annual Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention.  The author describes how he was inspired by a resolution from the Alameda California Central Labor Council, and how he moved his own resolution from that model to the one which passed in Texas. He outlines a process of internal discussion and education which created a broader resolution, and one which had to compromise by replacing the highly emotive term “Green New Deal” with “Federal Environmental Policy”.

The article concludes:

“What does the labor-focused segment of the climate justice movement need to do next? First, we must repeatedly engage labor, from the local level on up to the national/international level, in as many places as we can — both through defined democratic processes like the one I experienced, as well in the rank-and-file space of our locals. The goal is not to simply push resolutions through, but to educate and build a base of support in the process….In order for the Green New Deal to move forward, it must become a standard demand from organized labor. The task for us now is to replicate this kind of effort at each and every one of our locals .”

The article is one of the latest written by unionists to instruct and inspire direct action. To cite a few: “Calling All Union Members” , in The Trouble  (May 2019), which begins: “Teachers, construction workers, nurses, miners, frycooks—you have an indispensable role to play in the passage of the Green New Deal. Here are five concrete steps to take.”  An earlier U.S. article by Nato Green “Why Unions Must Bargain Over Climate Change” appeared in In these Times (March 2019).

Labor Network for Sustainability maintains an ongoing compilation of GND resolutions by U.S. unions, and has written numerous articles.  The WCR has written  previously about union actions for a Green New Deal in both the U.S. and Canada,  here. 

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.

Redefining green jobs to include healthcare and educational workers in the Green New Deal

green new deal public housingA thoughtful new contribution to the “green jobs” debate comes in Re-defining Green Jobs for a Sustainable Economy ,  released by The Century Foundation, in cooperation with Data for Progress, on December 2.  Co-author Greg Carlock is currently Senior Fellow and Research Director for Climate at Data for Progress, and was one of the authors of the original visioning document A Green New Deal  , published in 2018 and leading to the current U.S. movement launched by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  Data for Progress continues to monitor public opinion and publish important contributions to the Green New Deal debate – in November, exploring the issue of a Green New Deal for Public Housing.

Re-defining Green Jobs for a Sustainable Economy outlines an interesting  history of the  “green jobs” definition and measurement in the U.S., but the  main purpose of the report is to propose an expanded definition and framework of green jobs which would encompass the principles of equity and sustainability. Ultimately, the report recommends how an expanded definition can be integrated into U.S. public policy.

Perhaps most importantly,  Re-defining Green Jobs for a Sustainable Economy focuses in detail on demonstrating  why health care and educational workers should be considered as part of the green workforce,  stating that including them in the green workforce definition  “would go a long way toward gender and racial equity, and toward ensuring all workers green, family-sustaining jobs.”

An expanded definition of a green job, from the report:

“A green job should refer to any position that is part of the sustainability workforce: a job that contributes to preserving or enhancing the well-being, culture, and governance of both current and future generations, as well as regenerating the natural resources and ecosystems upon which they rely. And in order for green jobs themselves to be sustainable, they need to be good, living-wage jobs…. These green job occupations stand in contrast to work—even decent-paying work—in industries that result in the depletion or degradation of ecological systems and the social, cultural, and political institutions that support them.”

 

 

Green New Deal for Public Housing Act provides concrete proposals and benefits

sanders cortezOn November 14, Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez led a press conference to announce the introduction of the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act in the United States Senate, under Sanders’ sponsorship. The Bill would eliminate carbon emissions from federal housing, invest approximately $180 billion over ten years in retrofitting and repairs, and create nearly 250,000 decent-paying union jobs per year, according to the many summaries which appeared: for example, in Common Dreams . Bernie Sanders’ press release is here, linking to the legislation, summaries, and a list of  the 50 organizational supporters.  Co-sponsors named are Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

As stated in a press release,  progressive think tank Data for Progress “conducted policy and public opinion research to support this pathbreaking progressive legislation, which advances housing, racial, economic, environmental and climate justice together.” The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act can stand up to Scrutiny  reports the results of the political polling done by Data for Progress.  A related article, “Why Bernie Sanders and AOC are targeting public housing in the first Green New Deal bill” in Vox contends  “By starting with housing, the legislators appear to be trying to make inroads with a broad political base and avoid some of the more contentious aspects of the Green New Deal, like the transition away from fossil fuels. That issue in particular has divided labor unions because it would lead to the end of mining and drilling jobs.”

Data for Progress also conducted economic research which  “shows that a ten-year mobilization of up to $172 billion would retrofit over 1 million public housing units, vastly improving the living conditions of nearly 2 million residents, and creating over 240,000 jobs per year across the United States. These green retrofits would cut 5.6 million tons of annual carbon emissions—the equivalent of taking 1.2 million cars off the road. Retrofits and jobs would benefit communities on the frontlines of climate change, poverty and pollution and the country as a whole. Our analysis shows the legislation would create 32,552 jobs per year in New York City alone. A large portion of the jobs nationally—up to 87,000 a year—will be high-quality construction jobs on site at public housing developments.”  A Green New Deal for New York Housing Authority (NYHCA) Communities report is now available, and  a National report is forthcoming- until then, data is available here  .

International conference highlights union initiatives for public ownership and democratic control of energy

TUED 2019 conferenceAn international conference, “The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership“, brought together more than 150 trade unionists, activists and policy allies in New York City on September 28, 2019. In November, a 50-page summary of the conference was released by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), with summaries of presentations (including many links to related documents), as well as links to video of some sessions.

TUED Coordinator Sean Sweeney described the context of the conference:  “The world is completely off-track to avoid catastrophic climate change, and we can’t wait any longer. Fortunately, unions and their allies around the world increasingly recognize that only comprehensive public ownership and democratic control of energy gives us a chance to achieve the scale of change needed in the time available.” Speakers from the U.K., South Africa, South Korea, Zimbabwe, the U.S., among others, addressed the key themes through their own experiences, including:  “Privatization of State-Owned Electricity Utilities Has Failed, But Alternatives Exist”; “Defending and Reclaiming Public Energy Requires Building Union Power”; “The Transition Must Take into Account the Development Needs of the Global South”. As for next steps, Peter Knowlton, outgoing President of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), proposed a specific mobilization for 2020: “to bring millions of workers into the streets for Earth Day on April 22, 2020. But we need to have a continuous series of actions, … A week of activity between the “bookends” of Earth Day and May Day could be a wonderful opportunity to bring the labor and environmental movements together in a way we haven’t seen before.”

The conference was organized by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), with support from Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (New York Office) and the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Labor and Urban Studies, in partnership with unions – from Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). Local 32BJ SEIU  hosted a two-day retreat in advance of the full gathering.