Environmental Caucus Report to the Second Labor Fightback Conference
New Brunswick, NJ, May 15–17, 2015
Chair: Eduardo Rosario
The Environmental Caucus convened on Saturday, May 16, 2015, for the purpose of discussing the current realities regarding global warming and the obstacles within the labor movement on the question of climate change. The following points were arrived by consensus as recommendations for adoption by the Labor Fightback Conference 2015:
Education and Direct Action
Education and direct action was felt to be imperative in order to address a number of obstacles as well as misinformation regarding climate change and environmental sustainability within the labor movement and community at-large.
- The US labor movement needing to break with global capital’s market-driven green economy as well as breaking with all coalitions of convenience between labor and management, and the need to instead adopt a science-based climate change policy now in order to directly confront the global realities of global warming and its damaging affects upon the global economy. We need facts based on science and reality not corporate propaganda on the jobs vs. the environment polemic. On a whole, environmental regulation has had a slight positive affect on jobs, whereby global capital exhausting the natural resources of a region leave behind a devastated economy and ecosystem. The facts have proven environmental regulation cannot come close to the level jobs permanently lost and destroyed by the dictates of the neoliberal theory and globalization.
- Connecting the local with the global — The mobilizations of the 1990s against the passage of Fast Track Authority, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), were empowering for many rank-and-file union members as they began to realize the importance of labor’s partnership with the environmental movement. Workers understood that what was being played out on the local level — via outsourcing, privatization, the attacks on labor rights such as the right to organize and collective bargaining, the dilution of health and safety standards and environmental protections at work and in the community — was and still is linked to what is being played out on the global level. The ultimate goal of global capital is to use free trade agreements as the tool for moving nations closer towards global economic integration. The failed MAI sought to envelope the entire globe under one free trade agreement. But from NAFTA to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), global capital is spoonfeeding us the MAI, and eventually seek to link all regional free trade agreements under one umbrella.
- The lack of political will is a key obstacle in our adopting a science-based climate change policy. From NAFTA, to the TPP, labor and environmental rights in the eyes of global capital have always been viewed as barriers to trade, and is precisely why the labor and environmental side agreements in such free trade agreements are not worth the paper they are printed on for they are devoid of any mechanisms of enforcement. It was also the consensus that by virtue of the purposes and aims of all free trade agreements the record has been clear of it being misguided and illusory to give credence to a hope for labor and environmental provisions written directly in the main text of such free trade agreements would possess the required mechanisms of enforcement.
- The truth is labor has a rich but unfortunately forgotten history of engaging in the environmental justice movement. The historical case of the 1948 air pollution disaster of Donora, Pennsylvania, and the United Steelworkers, shows that the centrality of health is crucial to unions, the environmental justice movement, and community. This truth still holds strong today. It was the labor movement who lead the charge on environmental justice precisely because of the space it occupied and the resources it commanded. The environmental movement did not begin to command the resources comparable to the labor movement not until the late 1960s – early 1970s.
- Just Transition — At a minimum, it means having a green economy with well-paid, safe green jobs with benefits. It means a transition in which workers and unions and the environmental justice movement can advance the right to organize and bargain collectively, but not at the expense of communities and ecosystems. This type of just transition leads to economic sense for workers and community alike.
- The Keystone XL Pipeline and the Jobs vs. Environment polemic have been divisive. The promise of profit has fallen short of what has been expected. The environmental fallout and degradation of the Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada, is of catastrophic proportions and can be viewed from outer space. Pipeline spills and breaks are inevitable. The Keystone XL Pipeline runs over the Oglala aquifer that is eight states large. This aquifer is only a few feet below the topsoil in some places. The Oglala aquifer supplies most of the water for much of US agriculture. Unlike oil that floats in water, the bitumen transported in the Keystone Pipeline sinks and does not float making clean up virtually impossible while destroying the nation’s precious sustenance. Lastly, the number of permanent jobs produced by the Keystone XL pipeline demands we properly evaluate such purported benefits of the pipeline in comparison to the potential devastation to the nation and humanity as a whole.
- Long-Term Labor/Environmental Coalition Building — This is necessary for both labor and the environmental movement to organize in many communities in-need who lack the necessary infrastructure and resources. It is these communities that have traditionally been supportive of union organizing campaigns. In doing so, labor will demonstrate its willingness to organize in the community not just on labor issues but also on community issues, winning the needed credibility the labor movement has lost over the decades. Labor/Environmental Coalitions also known as Blue/Green coalitions or alliances are of great importance for workers in the workplace for workers are the front line for workplace environmental degradation. Environmental/Racial/Economic injustice cannot be separated. Labor/Environmental coalitions have been affective in combating environmental racism for communities of color have been some of the most vulnerable to toxic dumping from chemical plants. The workplace environment affects the general environment.
- Labor needs to rethink bargaining on health and safety issues due its direct connection with jobs and the community.
- Community control of our natural resources and energy policy is of utmost importance. For if we do not adopt a science-based climate change policy, and global warming is permitted to continue unchecked, and with environmental tipping points once set into motion, there is nothing humanly possible to undo or reverse, hence, placing the very existence of humanity as we know it on the chopping block.
- The need of establishing a “National Infrastructure Bank” to ensure communities in-need receive the needed resources to repair and maintain a crumbling infrastructure that have been and will be hard hit by extreme weather episodes that are occurring more frequently. This is of great importance especially when we are looking at a future with less water precisely because of global warming.
- Concern was raised over the recent accidents at the Indian Point Nuclear Reactor, and its proximity to the New York City metropolitan region. It was requested the conference take a more proactive approach of engagement concerning the risks associated with nuclear power and the waste produced by nuclear energy in light of the potential hazards to the region. Many working class communities would disproportionately bear the brunt in such fallout raising the question of supporting a proposal for the closure of the Indian Point Nuclear Reactor. It was noted legislatively this was already a proposal in the works before the City of Council of the City of New York.
- Educate rank and file members of the positive work and achievements of coalitions such as the “Blue/Green Alliance,” as well as those in the trade union movement engaged in the work of “Trade Unions for Energy Democracy,” and the positions held by many national and global federations of other nations in support of a science-based climate change policy.