Blue Collar Workers: Let's Support the Green New Deal

Sheet Metal Workers Belt Buckle | credit: coolbuckles.com
Sheet Metal Workers Belt Buckle | credit: coolbuckles.com
Steve Morse | System Change Not Climate Change | June 13, 2019

An article in the June 6, 2019 edition of Politico (“Labor anger over Green New Deal greets 2020 contenders in California”) alleges that Blue Collar workers in California reject the Green New Deal (GND).  I am a blue-collar worker - a retired member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, which represents workers throughout Northern and Central California. The union leaders quoted in that article certainly don’t speak for me, nor for tens of thousands of other building trades workers.

I live on a fairly decent union pension and Social Security.  I don’t have to worry about being retrained, but I am quite aware that my pension depends on contributions from members of my union working under a collective bargaining agreement.   I am concerned about my family’s well-being and the general welfare of humans and our planet.  I see no contradiction among these. We can have growth of well-paying union jobs in a Green economy, and my grandson can thrive in a just and sustainable world. 

The GND is a strategy to achieve both objectives.  If you haven’t read the text of the GND, please do – it’s not long!  This is a Congressional resolution, not legislation. It defines a framework and establishes values and objectives for legislation that is yet to be written.  Sections 4E - K address many of Labor’s issues: high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages; vocational training; wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition; family-sustaining wages; retirement security; the right of all workers to organize; workplace health and safety; anti-discrimination; and more.  All these provisions are intended to ensure that the transition to a sustainable energy system is just, and that working people and frontline communities do not bear a disproportionate share of the social cost.

It’s not at all about exporting jobs - quite the opposite! And elites against the working class Democrats’ – please!  There is no member of Congress more working class than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the House co-author (with Ed Markey in the Senate) of the Green New Deal.   The misrepresentations and distortions of that opinion piece are worthy of the current White House occupant.

Brian D’Arcy of the IBEW (the Electrical union) – are you just reporting the manipulation of workers that others are doing, or are you part of it too?  You must know that union electricians stand to gain a lot as electrification generated by renewables gets a huge boost under a GND.  This article should have reported about the Zero Net Energy Center, the union office and training center built by IBEW Local 595 in the East Bay.  That’s a building trades local leading the way!  Academic studies have shown that a greater number of high quality jobs would be created by a just transition to renewable energy than by investing the same amount of funds in the fossil-fueled status quo.

To win the GND, it’s going to take a broad, deep and diverse political alliance.  Workers need a strong voice in this alliance, and by being a part of that, we can speak up for our issues.  The centrality of work issues in our lives may be under-recognized by some in the climate movement.  Some surely are little aware of the short and long periods of unemployment that we have faced.  We can educate others about these issues, even as we have a lot to learn from those who have been working deeply on climate justice issues for a long time.  But we have to be part of the alliance, on the right side of the climate justice issue, on the right side of history - helping to shape the future rather than resisting it.

The retraining of workers for the Green economy is no small task; however, much is in place already.  Many unions, including my local, pride themselves on their commitment to their training programs, not only the apprenticeship but also training throughout our working lives.   In 1983, I was among 50 members of Local 104 (out of 700 members total in San Francisco at that time) who for a year went to a weekly three-hour class, to learn energy-efficient retrofitting of buildings.   It was quite new for most of us.  It wasn’t easy to stay alert and focused after doing construction work all day.  Yet we stayed with it for the promise of union work in this opening field where we could make both a good living and a social contribution.

Then the Reagan Administration sabotaged energy conservation and efficiency (removing the solar panels from the White House was a telling symbol) and the promise of those jobs disappeared.  This is the same Reagan Administration that attacked workers up one side and down the other, starting with the Air Traffic Controllers, and who oversaw huge exporting of jobs, the gutting of factories and factory towns, favored the 1% and aggravated inequality that has reached obscene levels today.

That government, the current corrupt corporate regime, the oil mega-corporations, their bought politicians, Wall Street – none of these have been or are our friends.  All of them have attacked our unions and come after our Social Security and Medicare benefits.  Fellow workers in the trades and other blue collar workers, do not front for them!  If we do their dirty work, who will support us when they attack us even more directly?

Our training in 1983 that never developed into jobs is an example among manyof environmental initiatives our society should have started 35 years ago but didn’t.  The need is still there more than ever. My union, for example, can have lots of well-paid work promoting energy-efficient building retrofitting under a GND. 

At present, blue-collar workers will continue performing fossil fuel-based work, but we and our unions should not promote that work; instead, we should advocate for a just transition through the Green New Deal. We can protect union members while also protecting society, humanity and our children’s and grandchildren’s future. 

Steve Morse is a retired sheet metal worker living in Oakland, California.