2015, only halfway over, has already been an extreme year for both labor and the climate: the Midwest and Texas are experiencing record rainfall while California is in a record-breaking drought, and 2015 is the hottest year on record so far (the standing record is from 2014), including a heatwave in India that left more than 2,300 people dead.
Dozens of social movement organizers recently gathered in Toronto at a meeting convened by the This Changes Everything team to envision a new economy centered on climate justice. With relentless extractions of labour and land harming all life on earth, cross-sectoral alliances are necessary.
Under banners proclaiming “Healthy Planet & Good Jobs,” thousands of trade unionists from 75 local and national unions, highly visible in their red, blue, green, and white union uniforms, joined the People’s Climate March in New York City last September—a quantum leap from labor’s previous participation in climate actions.
Yesterday afternoon, the United Steelworkers reached a tentative contract agreement with negotiators from Shell Oil Co., which has represented Chevron, ExxonMobil and other oil companies affected by the union’s now nearly six-week strike. Even as the strike continues in many workplaces, yesterday’s victory is the hard-won result of careful organizing and some promising collaboration.
We cannot develop an ecologically-responsible and just economy without considering the consequences for work and employment. But what is the meaning of 'green work' in capitalist societies of endless production and consumption for the purposes of profits? If we scale back on tar sands, fracking, and other dirty energy projects, as we must, workers who lose their jobs will need retraining, temporary income support, and a green energy infrastructure to work in. This will require a whole range of collective investments and decisions.
In their push to halt construction of the Keystone XL and other pipelines in recent years, environmentalists have often put a familiar question to labor: Which side are you on? More often than not, unions have ended up on the other side of the line in the tar sand, backing the oil and gas industry in its efforts to expand the pipeline and drilling projects that are poised to push us past the point of carbon no return.
When unionized oil workers at the Tesoro Golden Eagle plant in Martinez, California walked off the job on February 1 to demand safer working conditions, they received some unexpected company on the picket line. Since the beginning of the strike, which has expanded from nine to eleven refineries nationwide, environmental activists with Communities for a Better Environment have joined members of the United Steelworkers (USW) union for their daily protests outside the plant.