Date: Fri, 12 Dec 1997 23:56:35 -0600
Reply-To: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Kim Scipes <sscipe1@ICARUS.CC.UIC.EDU>
Subject: Jobs vs. environment (yet again!)
I received the below-copied message a couple of days ago, and have
been doing some thinking about this. While I don’t have any
answers, I have some thoughts, and I want to bring it to the
List’s attention, and urge people that we need to think about
this—and to figure out what solutions we have to offer. I see
great problems if we allow the
debate to continue as it is.
Basically, the issue, as claimed by a number of major trade union
organizations (notably in the so-called
countries) is that global efforts to curtail greenhouse gas
emissions could cost millions of jobs. In other words, the unions
don’t want workers to bear an unfair hit from the necessary
The problem I see is that, while the second part is important, it is
being framed according to the first. In other words, either we can
cut greenhouse gasses and kill millions of jobs, or we can oppose
efforts to cut greenhouse gasses (and hope like hell our capitalist
allies won’t kill the jobs anyway).
As I see it, if the unions put it in a
jobs or environment
framework, the unions will get killed—a recent poll in the US
before Kyoto showed that 65% of Americans would prefer steps to stop
the build-up of greenhouse gases, even if the US had to go on its own
to do it. (Now, the reality is that the US uses twice the energy of
any other so-called
developed country, and Americans don’t
seem to be pushing strong environmental changes, but the poll suggests
to me that there is a strong feeling out there to protect the
environment in ways much more radical than being considered in our
joke of a [electoral] political environment.)
At the same time, I see no comparable support for unions. Even the support around the UPS struggle, while important, didn’t seem this strong—and I’d be willing to bet that the current turmoil around Carey and the Teamsters have undercut a considerable amount of support that the unions had re-built. (And yes, the right wing and even more mainstream media have been covering the shit out of this, undoubtedly to weaken this support. Still, I’m unwilling to excuse the impact of the corruption because anti-union forces have jumped on it.)
One notices that it was Rich Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO and former President—I believe he gave up his presidency to take the AFL-CIO position, although I’m not certain—of the United Mine Workers (UMW), who came out with a strong anti-greenhouse gas cutbacks statement. Trumka obviously was considering the impact on the Appalachian coal miners, which are the backbone of the UMW. I CAN understand him taking this position as a member of the UMW—but I do NOT think it’s a position Labor as a whole should take.
I think that Labor should unequivocally come out in STRONG support for drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Every worker is a human being, and continued pollution of the Earth will hurt everyone of us, the generations behind us, as well as nature and the larger environment. We all NEED these cutbacks for our very health—and for low lying areas around the world, for their very survival.
But—and we cannot forget this—we need jobs, too. I think
Labor needs to educate and mobilize its people in the streets to FORCE
capital and government to provide needed jobs in pollution-destroying
production companies and/or industries. But this cannot be done with
Labor’s standard disregard for its members—it must wage a
massive educational campaign, and then once mobilized, get those
workers to disrupt the
normal operating of the system until
replacement jobs are created, and at union wages. Labor simply CANNOT
depend on lobbying or buying off Democrats to solve this problem.
If Labor fights the greenhouse gas cutbacks, it will loose a lot of the support it has garnered over the years, and it will get TERRORIZED by the media for being so backward-looking.
Again, it seems that as long as Labor accepts the continued existence
of capitalism, it’s going to get hammered every time it gets
placed in one of these positions. (And this is why social democratic
solutions are so useless, because they suggest that Labor can
survive under capitalism, a position based on
faith rather than
any kind of rigorous analysis.) And yes, a strong anti-capitalist
effort will also be terrorized by the media, but at least we’ll
have something useful come out at the end of the struggle.
It seems to me that if we cannot develop some meaningful alternative to capitalism, that can win the support of most people in our respective societies (most importantly workers, but it must go far beyond them), and then use the unions as power bases to fight for making an alternative real, then we—and labor unions in general —are screwed. But—and this is the $64,000 question—how can we do it?
Like I said, I don’t have the answers—but I strongly feel
this is the
nut we have to crack. Would love to hear responses,
whether you agree or disagree with any or all of what I’ve said.
(I would much prefer these to be thoughtful responses rather that some
militant slogans or mindless blather, but even the latter is
preferable to no responses at all!) Incidentally, if you do respond,
would you please respond to LABOR-L AND to my personal address
<firstname.lastname@example.org>, as I will shortly be going
off-list until early next year, and I’d like not to miss any
responses/comments/suggestions/ideas, etc., that folks may have, while
I’d like to see thinking go out to the entire list and NOT just
be confined to me and/or a small group of us. I will return in early
January, and will respond to messages then.
Thanks for your consideration. Best wishes. In solidarity—Kim Scipes
Workers face high costs from emissions
Reuters, 9 December 1997, 01:46 a.m. Eastern
KYOTO, Japan, Dec 9 (Reuters)738212;The world’s trade unions issued a warning on Tuesday that global efforts at greenhouse gas emission cuts could cost millions of jobs.
It is our intention to see that working people aren’t made to
pay the price exclusively and fall through the cracks, said
Richard Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, a top U.S. trade
An agreement that shifts production and jobs out of the
industrialised world to the developing world without environmental
benefit is a trade treaty...not an environmental treaty, Trumka
told reporters at the U.N. global warming conference in Kyoto, western
Japan, on Tuesday.
Trumka said that while big labour groups supported measures aimed at protecting the environment, current plans to cut rich nations’ emissions of climate-changing gases and to transfer technology to the developing world would lead to a huge exodus of business and jobs from developed countries.
Over 160 nations have gathered in Kyoto to hammer out an accord for legally binding measures to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in the coming century.
Scientists have said such gases lead to global warming, thought to create dramatic shifts in weather patterns and a rising of sea levels.
While many are paying lip service to the wrenching economic impact
these measures, and even global warming will have, the debates are
really going on in a vacuum, said Stephen Pursey of the
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
We are extremely concerned that it is working people who will end
up bearing the cost, he said.
It is not much comfort to an Australian coal miner, who supports as
many as 10 people in extended family, to know that another job has
turned up across the world at minimum wage, said one member of an
Australian labour group.