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Jobs vs. environment (yet again!)
By Kim Scipes, 13 December 1997
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 "advanced capitalist 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 changes.
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 <email@example.com>, 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 cuts-unions