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Owned Utilities;  Review the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) in order to determine whether it should be repealed in order to restore States’ power to make their own energy choices; Re-invent regulatory bodies for the power industry, establish mechanisms for meaningful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. “

Why U.S. unions supported the Washington March for Climate, Jobs and Justice

LNS at 2017 Washington Climate MarchThe May 5th Newsletter of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy provides an early assessment of  “Why U.S. unions marched for the climate” . The article lists some of the many unions who marched in Washington D.C. on April 29 in the March for Climate, Jobs and Justice, highlighting the unique perspective of the National Nurses Union and 1199 SEIU, who see the public health effects of climate change in their daily work.  TUED also mentions  a meeting convened by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis and hosted by the American Postal Workers Union, “bringing together roughly 30 labor, community and social movement activists and organizers, to reflect on possibilities for building on the Canadian Leap Manifesto framework to advance the struggle for energy democracy and just transition in the U.S. context.”

Finally, the TUED article credits the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) with much of the work in building participation in the March.  The latest LNS newsletter reports that over a dozen unions and more than 3000 members marched in Washington,  including 100 members from AFSCME’s local DC37 in New York. The newsletter also describes marches on the West Coast, where climate change was included in the May 1 messages. The LNS Facebook page has more details and photos. 

joint press release  (April 26)  includes brief statements from each of the members of the labour steering committee for the march:  Service Employees International Union  ( SEIU), Communications Workers of America (CWA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) (including the local from the EPA),  and BlueGreen Alliance.

How are U.S. Unions Working Toward a Climate-Safe Economy for All Workers?

Joe Uehlein, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), has written A Climate Protection Guide to Organized Labor, which summarizes the issues and arguments regarding the role of U.S. labour in the fight against climate change. Joe’s essay also introduces the Labor Landscape Analysis, a “set of tools” compiled by the LNS and consisting of several units. For climate activists not familiar with the labour movement, The Labor-Climate Landscape: A Guided Tour for Worker- and Climate-Protection Advocates explains decision-making in labour unions, relationships in the movement, and the climate change policies of 42 U.S. unions, as well as the role of more than 800 local, regional and national labour leaders. It updates and expands on Labor and Climate Change: A Briefing Paper for Activists (2010). In his introductory essay, Joe Uhelein states: “The threat of global warming requires a different concept of solidarity, one which recognizes the common interest of all workers in climate protection. That concept gives all unions a legitimate role in shaping labor’s climate policy. But it also gives them an obligation to protect the livelihoods and well-being of any workers who might be adversely affected by climate protection policies through a just transition to a climate-safe economy”.