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One More Reason Trade Unionists are Dubious About Their Place in a ‘Just Transition’

September 24, 2019

By Joe Maniscalco

Banner seen at last Friday’s Global Climate Strike action at Foley Square.

New York, NY – Concern that a “just transition” to a new green economy could translate into lost work or reduced wages and benefits for trade unionists working in sectors linked to the fossil fuel industry is a big reason why many aren’t joining their union brothers and sisters in Global Climate Strike actions in New York City and other cities across the U.S. — but it isn’t the only one. 

To more fully understand the trepidation, you also have to look at the failure of too many labor leaders to make the case for immediate radical action in face of global climate catastrophe — you also have to look at the way New York State has behaved attempting to enact its own package of green-themed legislation. 

With stronger labor language baked into its core, the Climate and Community Protection Act brought close to fruition this past spring, included significant labor protections and standards — including a safety net for displaced fossil fuel workers and apprenticeship training. Over the course of its hard-fought history, the Climate and Community Protection Act was even viewed as a sort of blueprint for a national Green New Deal. 

In April, Alliance for a Greater New York Executive Director Maritza Silva-Farrell said, “While there are other proposals on the table to address some parts of the climate crisis, none of them take into account the need for good labor standards for the workers who are building the transition.”

That legislation did not come to pass, however. Instead, what New York State got, courtesy of Governor Andrew Cuomo, is the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act — a piece of legislation that ignore’s the 2030 deadline set by climate scientists to quit fossil fuels, fails to completely eliminate New York State’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — and guts the vital labor provisions contained in the original Climate and Community Protection Act. 

Felling sold out as a result, many trade unionists already doubtful about a “just transition” to a green economy, remain dubious about their place in a Green New Deal.

Just prior to last Friday’s Global Climate Strike action at Foley Square, Tafadar Sourov, a card-carrying trade unionist and millennial with Laborers Local 79, lamented the failure of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act to include strong provisions for labor. Sourov had just returned from North Carolina where he contended with the effects of global climate change in very tangible and immediate way — lending aid to victims of Hurricane Dorian as part of the union’s volunteer rapid response team. Back home on the job, Sourov was, nevertheless, planning on attending last Friday’s Global Climate Strike action at Foley Square. 

At the end the day, considering all of the challenges, this child’s homemade banner says it all.

“There’s a lot of room for progressives to carve out policies from government and the trade union movement in how we’re going to deal with [climate change],” Sourov told LaborPress. “Labor has to get ahead of this. Unfortunately, in New York, in the climate bill, they wrote the labor language out. We’re already invested in fossil fuels — a new generation of trade unionists is going to have to change that. That means we’re gong to need cooperation from the political class — by not writing out labor friendly language.”

Climate change activists in Europe who’ve blocked transportation and super-glued themselves to buildings in the pursuit of a green economy, have already come to understand that cooperation from the political class won’t be forthcoming without sustained pressure from below. 

And Nick Braña, founder of Movement for a People’s Party [MPP], said that he sees the same thing happening in the United States, as well. 

 “A kind of rise of civil disobedience tactics borne out of a recognition that protesting and all of these ways we’re told that change is supposed to happen —protesting, writing your member of Congress, doing office visits, calling them — has not made a dent a change in the progress of the climate crisis across the decades,” Braña recently told LaborPress. “And that applied to both Republican and Democratic administrations.”

MPP helped plan and coordinate Monday morning’s Global Climate Strike actions in Washington, D.C. where climate change activists, including some trade unionists, blocked several key intersections around the nation’s capital.   

“The trajectory you’ve seen in Europe for nonviolent civil disobedience movements around climate change is one that you can expect to see here in the U.S. as well,” Braña added. “I see it following the same kind of trajectory, just at an earlier stage.” 

September 24, 2019

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