The Green New Deal and Labour – updated with March 8 letter by AFL-CIO Energy Committee

LNS at 2017 Washington Climate MarchThe Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S.  published a new Discussion Paper written by Jeremy Brecher in late February.   18  Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make the Climate Mobilization Work  states that initial discussion of the Green New Deal resolution was rightly focussed on values and goals, but this Discussion paper moves on to the “how”- in 18 specific proposals which are itemized individually, but are intended to work together. The paper explains and consolidates many of the goals and strategies which have been proposed before by  LNS, including: protect low-income energy consumers and empower communities; mobilize labour and leave no worker behind; ensure worker rights and good union jobs, and yes, provide a “job guarantee.”  The 18 Strategies Discussion paper is summarized as “The Green New Deal can work: Here’s How”, which appeared in Commons Dreams on February 25  and was re-posted in  Resilience on Feb. 26.  In the article, Jermey Brecher states: “A GND will not pit workers against workers and discourage the growth of climate-protecting industries and jobs abroad. It will oppose both escalating trade wars and the free trade utopia of neoliberalism.”

The Labor Network for Sustainability has worked to build solidarity behind the Green New Deal, and on February 26,  published a Special  Issue of their newsletter, which profiles the GND endorsements and initiatives of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council in California, SEIU Locals 32BJ in New York, SIEU Local  1021 in San Francisco, and the Business Manager of IBEW Local 103 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, along with other examples and resources.  The LNS  website also hosts a new blog by Todd Vachon,  Green New Deal is a Good Deal for New Jersey workers , in which he argues for the GND and cites some of his research  which shows that union members are more likely than the general population to support environmental action.

Sean Sweeney, the Director of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, has published  “The Green New Deal’s Magical Realism” in New Labor Forum,  which rejects the “far-fetched” label that many have used for the GND, and argues that “the magnitude of the climate crisis makes the half-measures and failed ‘market mechanisms’ of the mainstream in fact more unrealistic than the bold plans put forward by the Green New Deal.”  He further argues that the GND deserves to be defended by the Left,  not least because it  does not call for carbon pricing. “If it can be sustained, this exclusion will amount to a massive policy breakthrough, because it flies in the face of almost 30 years of investor-focused climate policy.”

Another voice for consensus:  David Roberts, the climate change journalist at Vox, who wrote “This is an emergency, damn it: Green New Deal critics are missing the bigger picture  (Feb. 23).  Roberts  states: “….. So that’s the context here: a world tipping over into catastrophe, a political system under siege by reactionary plutocrats, a rare wave of well-organized grassroots enthusiasm, and a guiding document that does nothing but articulate goals that any climate-informed progressive ought to share. Given all that, for those who acknowledge the importance of decarbonizing the economy and recognize how cosmically difficult it is going to be, maybe nitpicking and scolding isn’t the way to go. Maybe the moment calls for a constructive and additive spirit.”

On the other hand, Naomi Klein attacks Republicans, but also unions, in her article  “The Battle lines have been drawn on the Green New Deal” , which appeared in The Intercept (Feb. 13) . Klein praises the Canadian Union of Postal Workers for their climate change vision in Delivering Community Power , but singles out “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.” Calling LiUNA “a fossil fuel astroturf group disguised as a trade union, or at best a company union”, Klein states: “The time has come for the rest of the labor movement to confront and isolate them before they can do more damage. That could take the form of LIUNA members, confident that the Green New Deal will not leave them behind, voting out their pro-boss leaders. Or it could end with LIUNA being tossed out of the AFL-CIO for planetary malpractice.”

The LiUNA official response to the Green New Deal was posted on February 7, and states: “It is exactly how not to successfully enact desperately needed infrastructure investment. It is exactly how not to enact a progressive agenda to address our nation’s dangerous income inequality. And it is exactly how not to win support for critical measures to curb climate change…. threatens to destroy workers’ livelihoods, increase divisions and inequality, and undermine the very goals it seeks to reach. In short, it is a bad deal.”

UPDATE:   On March 8, the Energy Committee of the AFL-CIO released a letter they sent to Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, opposing the Green New Deal.   The Washington Post reported:  AFL-CIO criticizes Green New Deal, calling it ‘not achievable or realistic’” (March 12)  and  in a follow-up piece , “Labor opposition to Green New Deal could be a big obstacle” ( March 14).   More details are here, along with a link to a policy paper submitted by IBEW, United Mine Workers of America and others to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in February 2019.

For all those who are still wandering through the mountains of Green New Deal articles and opinions:  Canada’s  National Observer published a very brief summary in  “What is the Green New Deal and how would it benefit society?   (reprinted from The Guardian in the U.K. ).  A more detailed explanation appears in The Green New Deal: Mobilizing for a Just, Prosperous and Sustainable Economy , a 14-page paper written by the originators of the concept, Rhianna Gunn-Wright and Robert Hockett at New Consensus, or their 2-page summary  . And here is the text of the GND Resolution tabled in the House of Representatives on February 7 2019: Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal  .

Union conference focus: fighting climate change with innovative campaigns

LNS convergence meetingLabour and climate activists gathered to exchange experiences and plan for future action at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate event, held on September 23-24, under the banner “Building Worker Power to Confront Climate Change.”  The meeting was hosted by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), which  recently released a report on the meetings  summarizing the impressive initiatives and projects,  including:  the Canadian Postal Workers Union proposal Delivering Community Power,  which envisions expansion and re-purposing of the postal station network to provide electric vehicle charging stations, farm-to-table food delivery, and  community banking ; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters described the San Francisco Zero Waste program that now diverts 80% of municipal waste from landfills into recycling and composting and provides union jobs; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199  described their environmental and climate justice programs, resulting from the impact of disasters  like Superstorm Sandy;  worker training programs at the Net-Zero Energy training facility built by the  International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 in partnership with the Northern California National Electrical Contractors Association; the United Food and Commercial Workers described their experience with the  Good Food Purchasing Policy as a tool for protecting and enhancing labor standards for workers in the food industry and advancing climate justice; and the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen profiled their successful Green Diesel campaign to win cleaner fuel engines and a visionary strategy called  “Solutionary Rail” ,  profiled in “How we can turn railroads into a climate solution”  in Grist (March 2017) and in “ Electric Trains everywhere – A Solution to crumbling roads and climate crisis”  in  YES Magazine (May 2017).

Participants at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate included over 130 people –  labour union leaders, organizers, and rank and file activists from 17 unions, 3 state federations/central labor councils and 6 labor support organizations,  as well as environmental and economic justice activists.

AFL-CIO Convention adopts historic Climate Change resolution

afl cio sealThe 2017 Convention of the AFL-CIO   took place in St. Louis from October 22 to 25.  In a breakthrough, Resolution 55 on Climate Change, Energy and Union Jobs  was adopted, putting the AFL-CIO “on the  record” as  recognizing the threat of  climate change and acknowledging the need to move to a sustainable alternative energy system.  The resolution also calls for workers impacted by the energy transition to be protected.  The floor debate is available on YouTube , showing supportive speeches by members of  the Utility Workers, IBEW, LIUNA, USW, the Boilermakers, CWA,  AFA, the Montana AFL-CIO and the Southeast Minnesota Area Labor Council.  Speaking strongly against the resolution was the General President of the UA, which represents workers in the plumbing and pipefitting trades, including pipeline and energy industry workers. He objected to the exclusion of the UA in the process of drafting the resolution. Resolution 55 was, in fact, a compromise version arrived at by the Executive Council from several resolutions submitted.

From the text of Resolution 55 :  “ THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will fight politically and legislatively to secure and maintain employment, pensions and health care for workers affected by changes in the energy market; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO supports incentives and robust funding for research programs to bring new energy technologies to market, including renewables, carbon capture and advanced nuclear technologies; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will support the passage of key energy and environmental policies with a focus on ensuring high labor standards, the creation of union jobs and environmental sustainability; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED,  that the AFL-CIO will continue to urge the United States to remain in the Paris Agreement and to work to ensure that all nations make progress on emissions reductions; and BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO believes that the United States Congress should enact comprehensive energy and climate legislation that creates good jobs and addresses the threat of climate change.”

The full list of Adopted Resolutions from the 2017 AFL CIO Convention is here. The Labor Network for Sustainability has archived past resolutions by U.S. labour unions to their own conventions here .  LNS President Joe Uehlein stated: “The resolution certainly could have gone further to support climate protection but it is an important and historic step for the U.S. labor movement” .  And from the full statement of reaction by LNS,   The New AFL-CIO Stand on Climate Change: What Does It Mean for Labor and for the Climate?  , which concludes: “Overall, this resolution represents a powerful statement of labor’s stake in protecting the climate.  However, it retains many of the assumptions and approaches that have often put unions at loggerheads with concrete climate protection efforts. Whether it actually represents a new beginning or just old wine in new bottles will largely depend on the growing sector of the labor movement that is committed to putting labor “at the center of creating solutions that reduce emissions while investing in our communities, maintaining and creating high-wage union jobs, and reducing poverty.”

Labour and Environmentalists in the U.S. – Recent Developments

On the eve of the AFL-CIO 2013 Convention in September, the Climate Justice Alliance sent an open letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, to “implore Labor to join us in the fight against climate change.” (See http://www.ourpowercampaign.org/an-open-letter-to-the-afl-cio/).

Appealing for collaboration, the letter acknowledges the debt of all working people to the labour movement, and credits it for its skills in grassroots activism. Thus, “the environmental justice movement cannot halt climate change without organized labor. We need each other to win.” The letter concludes, “We request a meeting with the AFL-CIO leadership to discuss the Federation’s response to climate change and how to strengthen our collective struggles.” The AFL-CIO Convention website is at: http://www.aflcio.org/About/Exec-Council/Conventions/2013; their most recent Executive Council Statement on Energy and Jobs (Feb. 26, 2013) is at: http://www.aflcio.org/About/Exec-Council/EC-Statements/Statement-on-Energy-and-Jobs, with context and analysis about that statement by the Labor Network for Sustainability at: http://www.labor4sustainability.org/articles/labor-climate-and-the-kxl-interpreting-the-new-afl-cio-statement-on-energy-and-jobs/.

For more context, see “Will closer Partnership between Labor and Greens Help Build Both Movements?” at the Sierra Club website at: http://sierraclub.typepad.com/compass/2013/09/will-closer-partnership-between-labor-and-greens-help-build-both-movements.html, and also “When Fighting for Coal Plants is absolutely the Right Thing to Do”, at the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy website at: http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/when-fighting-to-save-a-coal-plant-is-absolutely-the-right-thing-to-do/