Bill Knight | Climate change is a job-killer

BILL KNIGHT

BILL KNIGHT

Last month, actor Rainn Wilson (from “The Office”) tweeted, “I love the idea of a Green New Deal but Fox News said the plan includes the mandatory sucking of farts out of camels, solar-panel skull implants, Al Gore face tattoos for all and prison time for Ford F-250 owners. So [it] must be true. Suck it, AOC!”

After initial news stories, much coverage (in the mainstream press as well as Fox) has been inadequate, focused not on saving the planet, but on how Democrats’ unity would be affected, how the Senate’s GOP majority makes reforms dead on arrival, on the financial cost of a 12-page general concept with no specifics on which to hang price tags, and featuring the occasional McCarthy Era claims like that it’s a “Trojan horse” for “socializing the economy,” as a USA Today column from the right-wing Cato Institute said.

Of all the misrepresentation and lies, the biggest, according to Sara Nelson – an up-and-coming leader in the AFL-CIO and president of the Flight Attendants Union – is that the Green New Deal proposes specific policies or requirements, which it doesn’t. Some claim “every plane will stay on the ground in 10 years,” said Nelson, adding, “That’s simply not true.”

As for organized labor generally: it’s not opposed to the Green New Deal, although it’s divided (as are Democrats). There’s a split in labor despite language in the outline that clearly calls for “high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages” and “protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation and harassment.” Regardless, the AFL-CIO Energy Committee (including the Mine Workers and Electrical Workers) in March sent a letter to the Green New Deal’s co-sponsors – U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., – criticizing the initiative as threatening “members’ jobs and families.”

The Green New Deal is a framework with four keys: an economic bill of rights, financial reform, a just transition for displaced workers, and a functioning democracy. Indeed, why do Congressional Republicans and feckless Democrats oppose it when 81 percent of U.S. registered voters support it according to a Yale poll, which noted that almost two-thirds of Republicans backed it?

Unions have been under siege for decades (which isn’t an excuse but an explanation, so sometimes ideas are seen as threats – especially if unionists didn’t feel involved from the start).

However, some union workers realize that climate change and economic inequality aren’t isolated but intertwined. But too often, the divisive trap – a familiar one – is “jobs vs. the environment,” a false choice.

The question for reluctant unionists: If climate change continues, where will jobs be? Climate change is a job-killer.

Fortunately, there’s hope. Local union support comes from the likes of labor councils in San Diego and Los Angeles, two huge Service Employees locals, Maine’s AFL-CIO (which became the first state federation to support a state-level Green New Deal), and a growing rank-and-file movement coordinated by the Labor Network for Sustainability. That group lists a dozen reasons why organized labor should back the Green New Deal, including winning wide popular support for a labor-friendly program, challenging corporate dominance of the Democratic Party; expanding union apprenticeship and training; and establishing a standard for those who claim to be labor’s friends.

Too often, Democrats call on labor to provide campaign contributions, Get-Out-The-Vote efforts, canvassing and phone-banking, then do next to nothing after elections. To more than a few, it seems like unions are Charlie Brown and the Democratic Party is Lucy holding that football.

But real alliances and partnerships are possible if they’re built on empathy with different interests, not judgments. The Blue-Green Alliance has involved the Steelworkers and Communications Workers as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club.

In Washington, the new “Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s (LIFT) America Act,” introduced by U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and Frank Pallone, D-N.J., started hearings last month. It would provide billions of dollars for clean energy, updating the power grid, retrofitting buildings and ensuring Americans have safe drinking water; and nine unions support the measure, including the Steelworkers, whose president,

Leo Gerard, conceded, “I am fomenting revolution – industrial revolution, specifically a 21st century burgeoning of green manufacturing.”

In Springfield, the Illinois Senate has a bill, the Clean Energy Jobs Act (initially co-sponsored by area Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, and 20 others) introduced in February and sent to the assignments committee in March, after which it gained six more co-sponsors.

Lastly, Amalgamated Transit Workers vice president Bruce Hoffman in May urged labor to revive the notion of a general strike to avert environmental disaster, engaging unions and community allies in an effort like the months-long protests by European students.

This year – the 100th anniversary of general strikes in Seattle and Winnipeg – it’s more obvious than ever that the market-driven energy sector won’t voluntarily change, and as labor knows from collective bargaining, persuasion is far less effective in achieving change than power.

Change can be intimidating – unless there’s no real choice.

Bill Knight



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