You are here

The AFL-CIO's Keystone Pipeline Dreams

By x344543, x356039, x362102, and x363464 - February 9, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The IWW maintains that we must not only abolish wage slavery, we must also, "live in harmony with the Earth". The same economic forces that subject the working class to wage slavery are those that are destroying the planet on which we all live. Logically, if the business unions are not fighting to abolish wage slavery, it follows that they will be unable to take a meaningful stand on environmental issues.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that the AFL-CIO President, Richard Trumka has officially declared his support for the Keystone XL Pipeline, specifically stating, “there’s no environmental reason that [the pipeline] can’t be done safely while at the same time creating jobs.”

He has further gone on to speak in favor of increasing natural gas exports, opining,

“Increasing the energy supply in the country is an important thing for us to be looking at…all facets of it ought to be up on the table and ought to be talked about. If we have the ability to export natural gas without increasing the price or disadvantaging American industry in the process, then we should carefully consider that and adopt policies to allow it to happen and help, because God only knows we do need help with our trade balance.”

Do we really need to elaborate on the foolishness in suggesting that Keystone XL is either good for the environment or creating jobs, because it most certainly is neither, and we can readily prove that.

To begin with, it’s not the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline itself that’s the primary issue, but what will inevitably be transported through it that is the bone of contention. Nobody disputes that it will transport oil extracted from Canadian tar sands mining, and such oil will be anything but green.

Cole Strangler's article in In These Times, Angering Environmentalists, AFL-CIO Pushes Fossil-Fuel Investment Labor’s Richard Trumka has gone on record praising the Keystone pipeline and natural gas export terminals, lays out a fairly strong case that Trumka’s claims are false, stating:

The anti-KXL camp has long argued that construction of the pipeline will facilitate the extraction of Alberta’s tar sands oil, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet. Many also oppose Keystone XL on the grounds that its route crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest underground sources of fresh water. “We invite President Trumka to come to Nebraska and visit with farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods are directly put at risk with the Keystone XL pipeline,” says Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, which has organized local opposition against the pipeline. “To say the pipeline will not harm our water is ignoring real-life tragedies witnessed by all of us with the BP explosion, the Enbridge burst pipe into the Kalamazoo River and tar sands flowing down the street in Mayflower, Arkansas.”

“Brendan Smith, co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability, a group that works with labor unions and environmental groups to fight climate change, took issue with Trumka’s argument that Keystone would create jobs.  “There is plenty of work that needs to done in this country, and we can create far more jobs fixing infrastructure and transitioning to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources,” says Smith. “Why build a pipeline that will significantly increase carbon emissions and will hurt our economy when there is a more robust and sustainable jobs agenda on the table?”

However, the author’s critique barely scratches the surface.

To her points, we would add:

(1) The government studies claiming that Keystone XL will not significantly impact the climate are flawed, because (a) they are based on the questionable assumption that further tar-sands development is inevitable, (b) they lack context, and (c) those conducting the studies have conflicts of interest. A Recent article by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reveals that senior officials at the US Department of Fish and Wildlife overrode the findings of their own scientific experts to produce a (falsely) favorable environmental review of Keystone XL.

Likewise, the claim that if Keystone XL weren't approved, the capitalists would simply transport the tar sands by rail instead is highly dubious (which is not to suggest that the current amount of tar sands being transported by rail is a good thing for workers or the environment; it isn't).

(2) Recently the atmospheric concentration of CO2 exceeded 400ppm and former NASA climatologist, James Hansen, called approval of Keystone XL "game over" for the climate.

That's because several credible studies suggest that Keystone XL will enable further investment ion tar sands and fracking (even though the latter is only indirectly related to Keystone XL). The mining of tar sands are anything but environmentally safe, as the following articles argue:

(3) Construction of the Pipeline will not only enable further Tar Sands mining, it feeds the same capitalist engine which is resulting in a natural gas fracking boom, and fracking is anything but environmentally benign in spite of what the Natural Gas elements within the capitalist class would have us believe, as the following articles demonstrate:

(4) The promise of jobs from Keystone XL is a false one as this study by Cornell University or this analysis by the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative explain.

(5) if renewable energy were fully developed in the US, even accounting for its ecological concerns (mining the raw materials to make the renewable energy equipment, siting, transportation, and wildlife mitigations), it would create far more permanent jobs than anything connected to fossil fuel extraction and transportation--enough jobs, in fact, to approach full employment.

(6) The building trades could see an increase of as many as 114,000 permanent jobs simply by the process of retrofitting and upgrading existing buildings to make them more energy efficient. Doing so would reduce overall energy consumption in the US by a whopping 58% further demonstrating that "energy independence" can be achieved without tar sands or fracking.

(7) If the AFL-CIO is serious about jobs, it should lobby for increased mass transit, transportation of bulk freight (but not tar sands or oil) by rail, in-sourcing of manufacturing jobs, and sustainable resource extraction (such as logging) rather than boom-and-bust, cut-and-run, liquidation of resources.

(8) As the Labor Network for sustainability has demonstrated, even if we merely focused on repairing and retrofitting existing pipelines (most of which are primarily water and sewage mains, not gas pipelines), it would create far more permanent jobs than Keystone XL. Fixing existing pipelines--even if they're used for transmission of conventional natural gas--would reduce GHG emissions, because existing natural gas transmission systems are releasing methane into the atmosphere.

(9) Fossil fuels are not the future, they are the past. There is growing opposition to them, and they're extracted, transported, and refined at great price to the earth as well as most workers, including union workers.

(10) The people living in the communities most effected by tar sands and fracking are not at all in consensus with the idea of having such things, including the Keystone XL pipeline, in their community as evidenced in this satirical video by Movement Generation, or this resolution by the Nebraska Farmers Union.

That is no doubt due to numerous coal, fracking, and tar sands related accidents, including (but scarcely limited to) Mayflower, Arkansas; Richmond, California; Danville, North Carolina; Kalamazoo, Michigan; West, Texas; Elk River, West Virginia; and Lac Magentic, Quebec.

Worse still, the employing class uses the (false) promise of "jobs" to divide and conquer communities that handle fossil fuels. (For example, the northeastern Bay Area communities of Benicia, Crockett, Hercules, Martinez, Pinole, Pittsburg, Richmond, Rodeo, and Vallejo—near where at least three of our members currently live.

If the AFL-CIO--whose strength is imperiled due to declining numbers of unionized workers--takes a position in opposition to a growing grassroots community movement, they run the risk of being further marginalized.

(11) There are many unions and union workers that oppose fracking, tar sands, and pipelines like Keystone XL. including:

(12) The long term economic promise of fossil fuel extraction is in great doubt. There are growing signs of an impending collapse of the fossil fuel market due to the " carbon bubble". Briefly explained, in order to avoid the worst case scenarios caused by climate change, approximately 80% of the known carbon reserves must remain in the ground, unextracted. However, investors are banking on 100% of them being extracted, and do not want to be left holding the bag when all but 20% of their assets are deemed "stranded". Therefore we are seeing the "boom" cycle (the rush to extract "extreme" energy) as quickly as possible before the "bust" (when the bubble bursts). When that happens, what few jobs are created by Keystone XL will be imperiled.

(13) Finally, it's not just a fight over the Keystone XL Pipeline. There are several other pipelines that are equally bad or worse that are under construction, however the construction of one pipeline will--in all likelihood--facilitate the construction of the others, making the problems inherent in one that much more.

None of this is necessary. The world still depend on fossil fuels, but we have the technology to transition away from them and as we’ve already shown, doing so would create far more jobs than anything imaginable by Keystone XL or any of the other pipelines…if you’ll pardon the expression…in the pipeline.

And if the AFL-CIO could unhitch it’s wagon from the suicidal capitalist train that threatens to crash headlong into oblivion (and spill tar sands oil everywhere imaginable, because dear old Richard won’t get off his duff and fight for five person crews--instead of a single, overworked engineer--on the damn thing), maybe he’d see that all of those workers could be union workers, in fact, green union workers.

Sadly, once again, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is on the wrong side of history, but this is to be expected. The IWW has long maintained that capitalism cannot be reformed, and by extension, capitalist oriented unions like the AFL-CIO cannot be reformed. Expecting Richard Trumka to take a stand against Keystone XL, a prize sought by the extreme energy capitalists would be like asking the proverbial scorpion not to sting. It's an exercise in futility.

The world needs the rank and file of labor to stand with the larger working class and together fight for a healthy and directly democratic world. These extreme energy corporations are attacking the health and safety of the workers which is inseparable from the attack on our planet. The corporations say that jobs are more important than our environment but this is a lie. We have the ability to rapidly transition the energy industry and reverse the effects of climate change while creating millions of jobs during that transition. Unfortunately, corporations know that this not profitable for them and will do whatever they can to repress this, even if it mean stripping us from our human rights. Because of this they are the enemies of working class and the planet we inhabit. Union organizers such as Jack Mundey and Judi Bari knew this and took a stand to unite the workers of the world to halt the exploitation of their labor and their land.

In Australia, the Builders Laborers Federation stood with the people and called Green Bans on projects that were unsafe and unsustainable. Developments that were not in the interest of the larger working class or their environment were picketed and eventually stopped. In California, the IWW local 1 unionized loggers and organized environmentalists to support their health and safety demands with solidarity pickets. They also sought to stop the practice of clear cutting forests because it was not only damaging to the land but also it was dangerous and unsustainable These moments were some of the greatest examples of solidarity the working class has ever had In these moments the motto "An injury to one is an injury to all." was not only spoken but lived.

Rank and file members in unions such as the SEIU, the UAW, the CWA, the IWW, the ATU, the NNU, the TWU, the CEP, and the RMT are bravely challenging Fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline because they know Oil and Gas are not apart of a healthy future. If Obama approves this pipeline, we will need the Rank and File workers to resist with those the 75,000 people who have pledged to use civil disobedience to stop the pipeline. We could revive the "Green Ban", form picket lines at the construction, and unite the working class to defend ourselves and the next generation against the corporations who seek to destroy us.