mineworkers
(Jack Corn / US National Archives)

Rank-and-file environmentalism

The “jobs versus environment” debate is often seen as a fundamental division between labor and environmentalists, most recently emerging in the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline. Despite dire warnings from scientists about its potentially disastrous environmental impact, the pipeline was endorsed by the AFL-CIO, which justified its decision by citing “job creation.” Estimates range from 5,000-9,000 temporary positions — a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 794,000 unemployed construction workers in the US — and a mere 35 permanent jobs.

Is there any kind of environmental degradation, environmental activists might wonder, unions won’t endorse to secure a small handful of construction jobs?

Jeremy Brecher is right to point in a recent piece to the need for the labor and environmental movements to “evolve toward a common program and a common vision.” To do so, we’ll need to break down the false “jobs versus environment” dichotomy created by capital to obscure the fact that the exploitation of workers and the degradation of the environment go hand in hand.

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