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.

The Australian bushfire disaster: what does it mean for firefighters and workers?

There are many themes amid the story of the horrifying Australian bushfires of 2019/20:  destruction of habitat and homes, the reality of climate change, and the resilience and self-sacrifice of Australians, exemplified in their unique tradition of community volunteer firefighters, or “firies”.   The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) recognized their contribution in a statement which includes: “Workers in the emergency services and volunteers in their own communities are on the front lines of defending people, their homes and community infrastructure. We thank them profusely for their efforts and their courage. They are working heroes.”

australia firefightersAustralia’s Volunteer Firefighters Find It Hard to Pause, Even for Christmas in the New York Times (Dec. 24 2019) describes the self-sacrifice displayed by these volunteers, but it also questions how sustainable such a system can be in such a long-running and widespread disaster. Exhaustion is one constraint; financial necessity to earn money is another.  Only under public pressure did the government finally announce compensation for the volunteers  in December.  The Sydney Morning Herald offers a detailed “Explainer: How the Bushfire Compensation Scheme works”  (Jan. 12), which notes that some union leaders “have called for amendments to the Fair Work Act to ensure workers have the right to paid emergency services leave as part of the National Employment Standards.”  This idea is taken up in “Unions and employers join forces to demand increased bushfire relief for workers and firies”, also in the Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 12), which highlights the “fine print” limitations for firefighters’ :

“The federal government and some state governments have said they will provide eligible volunteer firefighters with up to $300 per day capped at a total of $6000 as compensation for time off work to fight bushfires, but firies can only claim from day 11 and the hours spent on patrol must align with their normal working hours…This means if a volunteer firefighter normally works from 9am to 5pm, but is out fighting blazes from midday to midnight, they can only claim five hours’ pay.”

Occupational health and safety concerns:

The Australian Council of Trade Unions issued a December call for change in “Laws must adapt to keep workers safe in changing climate” , focussed on the occupational health and safety issues of extreme heat and smoke for all workers.  Their call for change was accompanied by two Fact Sheets:  Smoke Haze – Bushfires and Air Quality  and Working in Heat . Another important occupational health issue, the emotional and psychological toll of such disasters, is described in “Black Saturday firefighters want you to listen to them, not call them ‘heroes‘” from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation  (Jan. 3).

On January 7, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released  this statement and call for government action :

  “No workers should ever be required to work in dangerous environments. Smoke levels are well beyond the hazardous range in huge areas of the country. Any workers, especially those who work outside, who have concerns about their safety should contact their union.

Workers should be aware that the NES provides for unpaid leave for the full period of time that workers are engaged in volunteer firefighting or other emergency service work. Union negotiated Enterprise Bargaining Agreements will also often provide additional paid leave provisions.

In some circumstances, workers will also be able to access personal leave if they are unable to return to work due to being evacuated or having nowhere to live, for instance if they or a family member have suffered mental or physical injury as a result of the fires.

Under no circumstances can a worker or their employer already dealing with this devastating crisis face the added insult of being left without an income or a bill they cannot pay for a service they have not used or received.

To make sure this happens, the Federal Government’s response needs to make it clear that everyone impacted by this crisis is entitled to support and assistance and should not be left worse off.  This should include ensuring that there is comprehensive relief from debt repayments, mortgages and utility bills while families get back on their feet.

Any worker who faces issues with their bank, other lending institutions or who is fired from their job due to the fallout from these fires should immediately contact their union.”

The ACTU has established a Bushfire Relief Fund here , where donations can be made to support union members who may need more than the government support, and another campaign, here, for Australians to volunteer their skills and time in the rebuilding effort.   The National Construction Division of the CFMEU also announced their own $100,000 donation to the bushfire recovery effort in a press release .

australia nasa smokeA few other recommended articles about the Australian Bushfires :  from The Guardian, “We are seeing the very worst of our scientific predictions come to pass in these bushfires” (Jan. 3); “Australia’s fires have pumped out more emissions than 100 nations combined” (MIT Technology Review, Jan. 10) ; “Terror, hope, anger, kindness: the complexity of life as we face the new normal”  (Jan. 11, The Guardian);    “In Australia, the air poses a threat; people are rushing to hospitals in cities choked by smoke (Washington Post, Jan. 12); “Australia’s bushfires offer heated view into longstanding misinformation on climate change” (National Observer, Jan. 7); “Bushfire emergency leads thousands to protest against PM and climate change policies “( Australian Broadcasting Corp.,Jan. 10) , and the latest political development: “Scott Morrison to take proposal for bushfire royal commission to Cabinetreported on January 12 by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, also reported as  “Australia’s Leader Calls for Inquiry Into Government Response to Fires” in the New York Times (Jan. 12).  

Unifor’s campaign to defend Northern Pulp mill jobs in Nova Scotia

northern pulp view

A January 8 general news release, “Nova Scotian forestry workers already struggling as Northern Pulp prepares to close ” summarizes the union’s position in a quote from Atlantic Region Director Linda MacNeil: ““We all agreed Boat Harbour had to close. That closure did not have to come at the cost of thousands of rural jobs ­­– there was a solution for the mill to coexist, but there was no political will from McNeil to make it happen …. Our members and other forestry workers are not the ones responsible for any wrong-doing here. … They deserve better than to be blamed and sacrificed due to the government’s lack of leadership, consultation or clear regulatory expectations.”

The context:

The “years of controversy” over the Northern Pulp mill is summarized in a Backgrounder  in the Halifax Chronicle Herald on December 10 2019, published just before the government of Nova Scotia announced that it would enforce a 2015 law which would require the mill to stop pumping effluent in Boat Harbour.  Paper Excellence Canada , the owner of the Northern Pulp mill,  stated almost immediately  that it would close the mill, but apparently the years of controversy are not over yet.  As reported on January 9 in “NS effluent dumping mill to move ahead with environmental process” in the National Observer , Paper Excellence has issued a new statement: “Our team is currently focused on supporting our employees, developing plans for a safe and environmentally responsible hibernation, and working with the government of Nova Scotia and stakeholders to determine next steps.”

Unifor’s role in the controversy: 

Unifor represents approximately 230 workers at the  mill and has been actively engaged in advocating to protect its members’ jobs by allowing the mill owners, Excellence Paper, to improve the environmental performance of the mill by building a new effluent treatment plant. Unifor’s Save Northern Pulp Jobs campaign  includes “Why Mill Jobs Matter” as a summary;  in early 2019, the union commissioned  a detailed economic impact study by consultants Gardner Pinfold which makes the case for the “keystone” importance of the mill in the region, profiling major businesses from the supply chain of  1,379 companies associated with the mill operation,  and estimating that the mill accounts for approximately 2,679 full-time equivalent jobs, earning approximately $128 million annually.  (Note that Gardner Pinfold completed an earlier economic impact study  for the industry group, Forest Nova Scotia, in 2016).

An ongoing series of Updates chronicle how Unifor has participated in the provincial environmental assessment process and in direct advocacy for their membership.  The January 3 update  reports to members on interactions with government, stating: “the best course of action for a viable and continued forest industry in the province is with Northern Pulp continuing to operate. We reiterated that the $50 million should be used to assist all workers in the industry through a temporary shutdown of the mill to facilitate the construction of Northern Pulp’s new effluent treatment facility (ETF)…. We also suggested the idea of a third-party expert who could serve as intermediary between government regulators and the company to establish a firm and fair process and timelines for the necessary approvals to take place for construction of the ETF.”

The update also states:  “Premier McNeil announced a $50 million transition fund for forestry workers that was of particular interest during the meeting, especially since the fund was never mentioned to the union, or anyone else, prior to his December 20 decision.”

Work and Climate Change Report has summarized the $50 million  Forestry Transition Fund here.

Further documentation: The March 2019 submission of Unifor Atlantic Region to the provincial Environmental Assessment process is here , included in a compilation of all submissions ; comments by Unifor’s National Office to the environmental assessment process in October 2019 appears here (around page 14).

 

northern pulp view

Unions, tech workers, and even some employers set to Climate Strike in September

Greta ThurnbergThe wave of support for the youth-led Global Climate Strike has become an ocean. The strike has focal points: on September 20 in the U.S. and most of the world, where iconic climate activist Greta Thunberg will participate outside the United Nations headquarters in New York; on September 27, Greta will participate the strike in Montreal . Indicative of the enthusiasm: the New York City School District announced  that its 1.1 million students will be free to leave school on September 20, with parental consent.   The Toronto District School Board also  posted a policy statement on September 16,  allowing students in Toronto with parental permission to be absent on September 27 without academic penalty. Schools and universities in Montreal (excluding McGill University) are also cancelling classes, as reported by CBC.

And as organizers emphasize, “everyone is welcome and everyone is needed”. Parents, teachers, and the general public are all invited to participate in one of the hundreds of strikes around the world.  For information and news about Canadian strikes, check  #Fridays for Future Canada  or #Climate Strike Canada Twitter feeds.

Climate Strike in Canada, September 27:

According to the on-going list being maintained by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy Canadian unions supporting the climate strike include Unifor, The Toronto Labour Council, and the British Columbia Teachers Federation.  Some others are listed below.

unifor-climate-strike sept2019Unifor approved a resolution supporting the Global Climate Week of Action at their constitutional convention in August, and according to TUED,  Unifor’s National President sent a letter to the union’s members on September 10, encouraging them to to “take part in these important events.” Their press release to members is here.

The Toronto Labour Council has posted a statement on the Climate Emergency on their website, calling on Labour Councils across Canada to be involved in local and national efforts on climate action,  including on September 27th. The statement carries on with the initiatives outlined in their 2016 action plan, Greenprint for Greater Toronto: Working Together for Climate Action .  The Toronto Labour Council is part of the S27 coalition of Toronto activists in support of the strike: their list of demands includes “no worker left behind.” The list of members is here .   

The B.C. Teachers Federation Resolution in support of the strike is here  , along with links to teaching resources related to the climate strike.  The Vancouver Secondary Teachers Association also supports the strike and has posted a detailed position to guide teachers on their responsibilities .

The Confederation Syndicats Nationaux in Quebec are planning to coordinate union support across the province, according to their Convention document from June 2019, La Planete s’invite au travail  (in French only).

The Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo has announced their support, and the University’s administration is expected to follow.

Climate Strikes in the United States and other countries: September 20

The Labor Network for Sustainability is working hard to support the Climate Strikes, including publishing a  Climate Strike Special Issue of their newsletter  on September 12.  LNS highlights climate strike initiatives by: Service Employees International Union; Amazon Employees for Climate Action ; American Federation of Teachers; Alameda Labor Council; Labor Rise; and international initiatives, including support from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Also included in the LNS Newsletter: links to resources, including social media tools, for anyone who wants to support the student climate strikers.

An on-going  list of international union  initatives  is maintained by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.

The International Trade Union Confederation statement regarding the global week of climate action is here , and a video statement  by Sharan Barrow was released on September 11, calling the climate strike as a “gamechanger” and stating that “our 200 million members around the world are totally behind you” .

An  OpEd by Rosa Pavanelli,  General Secretary of the global federation, Public Services International  appeared in Common Dreams on September 12, titled “Unions: We must back the climate strike”, stating “Under sustained attacks from the right across the world, we were forced to fight to preserve our achievements rather than expand social justice, … The climate strike provides an opportunity to break out of our constraints, to reinvigorate our movement, to learn from young people on the front lines, and to redefine what is possible.”  Another Common Dreams article, “We Must Be Bolder Than Ever’: Labor Federation Representing 30 Million Workers Calls on All Unions to Join Global Climate Strike” describes the support from PSI and other unions.

 

The September/October issue of the Greener Jobs Alliance newsletter  reports on similar sentiments amongst unions in the United Kingdom. From the GJA: “Unions will be backing the Youth Climate Strike on 20 September. The plan, agreed at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) annual conference in Brighton (September 10th), is for ‘30-minute workday campaigns’ across the UK. As Jo Grady, University and College Union, told the conference, ‘The Youth Climate Strikes movement is one of the most impressive forms of mass action in recent years.’ The education union’s general secretary asked, ‘How will young people forgive us if we let them down, whilst they are building a movement at this pivotal moment for the world’s climate?’ Or, as Unite’s Steve Turner put it, ‘Unions will back the school strikes on September 20th. If we don’t, we will be seen as irrelevant.’  Support for the climate strike was part of the  composite motion,  Climate Crisis and a Just Transition .

In Australia, government employees of Victoria have been given formal permission to ask for leave or flexible hours on September 20 to attend the climate strike, and the Australian Education Union, representing teachers,  has endorsed the rally.

Technology workers take a stand with a Digital Strike:  

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice  have established themselves in the past with a shareholder’s resolution urging climate action and an Open Letter to their boss, Jeff Bezos. Now they are also supporting the September 20 climate strike: here is their press release  , here is an article in Wired   , and here is an interview by CNBC with one of the strikers.

Other tech workers are joining in support of the climate strike, including Google Workers for Climate Action , Facebook Employees for Climate Action , and Microsoft Workers for Action .

Not only the workers, but some tech companies are joining in, according to a report from Common Dreams  September 16). A planned “digital strike” is being organized  with many of the largest websites in the world participating, including  Imgur, Tumblr, and WordPress, as well as the websites of the Sunrise Movement, Greenpeace, Burton, and many others. An organizational website offers free coding so that these companies can use their social media platforms to spread the climate strike message by donating ad space, or putting climate change banners on their websites which, on September 20th, will expand to  fullscreen so that the website will effectively be “on strike”.

 

U.K. updates on Just Transition: Statement, Resolutions from the Trades Union Congress, and a training module from Greener Jobs Alliance

tuc 2019 just transitionThe Trades Union Congress (TUC), the labour union central in the United Kingdom,  published  A just transition to a greener, fairer economy­ in July. According to the accompanying press release , the document sets out principles “to take the whole trade union family towards that new economy.”  (This seems to be a reference to the divisive nature of the Just Transition debate during the 2018 TUC Congress, reported by the WCR here ).

These excerpts from A just transition to a greener, fairer economy­ summarize the main demands:

“Companies and organisations moving to a lower carbon model should put in place Transition Agreements – agreed with unions – that cover a range of issues, including the overall number of jobs or workers employed, pay and conditions, job security, working time, job descriptions, duties assigned to job roles, training and skills, apprenticeships, retirement policy, monitoring and surveillance, performance management, health and safety implications and equal opportunities. Companies should also work with unions to identify and deliver best environmental practice at a workplace level.”

….”we’re calling for a cross-party commission on long term energy strategy, involving affected workers, unions, industries and consumers, to set out the path towards clean, affordable and reliable energy. The commission should study the social impacts of the transition, its regional impacts and necessary mitigation measures. Investment – in infrastructure, in new skills for workers, and in services such as public transport – is vital.”

…“Government has a key role in making this happen, as a funder and procurer of new energy and broader infrastructure. When government invests in new infrastructure it should use its procurement powers to ensure that jobs generated benefit workers in the local community and throughout the supply chain. It must also insist that jobs created provide workers with trade union recognition, and that employers have fair recruitment, industrial relations and pay policies for all workers. Companies winning government contracts must adhere to agreed standards of corporate behaviour; for example, contracts should not go to companies based in tax havens and companies must be registered in and pay tax in the UK.”

Trades Union Congress passes resolutions on Just Transition, endorses Student Strike on Sept. 20

The 151st Congress of the Trades Union Congress  was held from September 8 to 11, 2019 .  Understandably, debate about Brexit loomed large over the meetings, but there were several motions related to climate change, most notably Composite Motion 02 Climate crisis and a Just Transition, which was approved on September 10, and resolves: “that the TUC calls for a 30-minute workday campaign action to coincide with the global school strike on 20 September. 2. to campaign for national and regional Just Transition Commissions including full union and education representation to develop, monitor and implement the process.”  An article in The Guardian  also summarizes the Congress vote; the TUC press release on student strikes is herethe University and Colleges Union position on the student climate strike is here

Other climate change related motions at the TUC Congress: “Buses and a green transport system” moved by ASLEF ; “Public ownership of energy” moved by Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union ; and  Securing Green UK Jobs, moved by GMB.

New training module on Just Transition available

Discussions and panels were held at the Fringe Meetings , most notably by the Greener Jobs Alliance , which used the occasion to launch their new, free, online Just Transition Training Module  . Other Fringe sessions included: How Can We Grow The UK’s Aviation Sector whilst Meeting Climate Change Targets?; Action on the Climate Emergency: How Should Trade Unions Respond?; sponsored by the Campaign Against Climate Change, Trade Unionists And Climate Strikes: Responding to the Climate Emergency.