New York, NY – In the fight to head-off climate catastrophe, Green New Deal advocates determined to confront the fossil fuel industry are hitting the streets, occupying the space and agitating our elected officials. But enlisting a united House of Labor in that all-out-fight remains a daunting task.
Last week, on April 30, Annika Rosenvinge sat in the entranceway of Senator Chuck Schumer’s 3rd Avenue offices awaiting arrest as she talked about how global warming helped kill commercial fishing in Washington State for her late father.
“I saw, over many years, countless warnings that the way of life was unsustainable and that we were doing damage to the ecosystem,” she said. “I also saw a lot of people who didn’t have any option to find other employment…they were stuck hurting the natural world that they cared about so much.”
The NYPD ultimately arrested seven Green New Deal advocates with the Sunrise Movement, including Rosenvinge, who went to 780 Third Avenue hoping to convince Schumer to get behind the pending congressional resolution.
Demonstrators, however, never even made into the lobby before being barred.
“[The fossil fuel industry] is poisoning communities, but what we have a chance to do right now is fight for renewable jobs,” Lee Ziesche told the rest of her fellow activists relegated to the sidewalk. “We can own our energy — and that scares the shit out of the fossil fuel industry. We don’t need them anymore. We can do this with solar, and this is going to bring good jobs that don’t poison people.”
The 14-page Green New Deal resolution that Congress Member [D-14th District] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey [D-MA] introduced earlier this year, specifically talks about “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.”
Nevertheless, many union leaders across the county still hear talk about a “just transition” to a green economy and immediately call “bullshit” —fearing a loss of jobs or the emergence of new jobs that just don’t pay as well as those that already exist.
Green New Deal advocates insist building relationships and having conversations with labor skeptics can change that attitude.
“Sunrise is actively working with labor in trying to get them all on board by having those conversations that are really necessary,” Digital Media Manager Aracely Jimenez, told LaborPress outside Schumer’s offices. “We are slowly but surely racking up support among labor. It is a lot slower than we would like because, clearly, we have a timeline. This does need to happen fast, but we’re trying not to sacrifice moving quickly with leaving people behind.”
On Saturday, May 11, Christopher Erikson, IBEW Local 3 business manager, Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, NYS Nurses Association president, and Bruce Hamilton, Amalgamated Transit Union vice-president, will be among a slate of scheduled speakers participating in an NYU forum called “Taking the Lead: Labor and Global Warming: Our History, Activism and Challenges.”
Later in the day, the 8th Annual Workers Unite! Film Festival will also be looking at the intersection of environmentalism and labor through a series of works presented at Cinema Village, 22 E.12th Street.
And just ahead of that, on Friday, May 10, the Metro NY Labor Communications Council will host a special panel discussion dubbed “Climate Chaos: Labor’s Duty” during the organization’s 44th Annual Convention held at IBT Local 237 HQ on W. 14th Street.
Each of these local events epitomize the grassroots efforts being undertaken to help facilitate the conversations and relationships Green New Deal activists say need to happen .
Author and historian Donn Mitchell told LaborPress that organized labor actually has a strong tradition of linking good union jobs with “green” issues, and that such giants as Walter Reuther and Cesar Chavez can serve as sources of inspiration.
“FDR, of course, who was very much a jobs creator, was also very much a conservationist,” Mitchell told LaborPress. “The Civilian Conservation Core was one of the great success stories. It did a lot of great work and created jobs at the same time.”
Concurrently, Mitchell says environmentalists, themselves, are becoming “more adept” at pointing out the ways in which green activism can “create jobs, or maybe, even enhance existing jobs.”
“Our biggest opportunity to get people on board is to have conversations with each other and actually sit down and talk about what labor needs, what indigenous communities need, what frontline communities of color need,” Jimenez continued. “We need to address all of these wants and needs because we know we can’t have a just transition if workers and labor aren’t included.”
Green New Deal advocates and those inside the Labor Movement who question it — do, indeed, share important common ground: both fear for the future.
“We need to change our way of life,” Rosenvinge said before being hauled off in handcuffs. “It’s hard, but we need to change our way of life. I trusted a lot of our elected officials to see the science and do the right thing, but they’re not. I’m afraid for the future.”