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The Green New Deal is Revolutionary – It Needs Revolutionary Supporters in Labor

October 16, 2019

By Joe Maniscalco

Organized labor in the house: union members gather at Foley Square for Global Climate Strike actions held in New York City last month.

Brooklyn, NY – At the same time that hundreds of scientists worldwide are publicly supporting nonviolent acts of civil disobedience aimed at breaking the fossil fuel industry’s death grip on the planet, many labor leaders who also fully understand the irreversible effects of pumping more carbon into the atmosphere, nevertheless, continue to advocate for the status quo. So, what could possibly be driving this course of action? 

You bet, it’s all about jobs. Labor leaders who dismiss the Green New Deal, either partially or out of hand, fear that a “just transition” to renewable energy will ultimately result in job losses and reduced wages and benefits for their members. They argue, too, that “bridge fuels” must still be exploited before we can even get to a net zero carbon economy. 

Both the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk and the Long Island Federation of Labor, for example, have joined the pro-business chorus urging New York State to get behind construction of a new 23-mile long off-shore gas pipeline from New Jersey to Rockaway, Queens, even though the Empire State has established a goal of cutting carbon emissions by 80 percent over the next 30 years.

That goal still falls far short of what scientists say must happen over the next decade in order to avert runaway climate change. 

In a declaration of support for nonviolent direct actions against government inaction in the face of that emergency — more than 700 international scientists have affixed their signatures to a statement saying, in part, “The scientific community has already tried all conventional methods to draw attention to the crisis. We believe that the continued governmental inaction over the climate and ecological crisis now justifies peaceful and nonviolent protest and direct action, even if this goes beyond the bounds of the current law. We therefore support those who are rising up peacefully against governments around the world that are failing to act proportionately to the scale of the crisis.” 

The Green New Deal advanced by Senator Bernie Sanders, Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive elected officials, seeks to accomplish the radical changes necessary to address the scale of the existing crisis while outlining strong union protections and guarantees in the process. 

And yet, despite some very good work on the part of many inside the environmental community, as well as those in the labor movement to address doubts about a “just transition” under a Green New Deal — a state of virtual paralysis continues to persist that can’t be explained away by either myopic self-interest or a disconnect from reality. 

When proponents of a Green New Deal say, “there are no good jobs on a dead planet” — people get it. But they might also understand something else — that the union protections and guarantees outlined in a Green New cannot and will not be possible in an existing economy where private industry holds all the cards.  

That’s why panelists participating in a couple of labor and climate change discussions held  this past May in New York City, insisted that the market-driven energy sector will never voluntarily make the changes climate scientists maintain are necessary to save the planet from overheating, and, instead, called for public ownership and democratic control of the energy sector. 

That’s a revolution — and union leaders wary about a “just transition” to a Green New Deal  and demanding a seat at the table — understand all too well the magnitude of change that’s actually being proposed. 

The only question remaining then is, how bad do things have to get for them to fight for it? Maybe they never will.   

October 16, 2019

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