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The Green New Deal is Only a Beginning

By WobblyBall - Open Letter, Summer 2019

A lot of friends are having conversations about the environmental movement (like XR) and environmental justice, especially focused around colonialism and environmental racism. Another aspect to it is the movement's relationship to the working class and to organized labor (and we need to understand, in this, that the makeup working class is heavily influenced by race and racism).

The environmental movement is increasingly pushing for a Green New Deal, and expecting (understandably) the labor movement to get behind this, especially the Trades. I'm a Trades worker who's a straight up anticapitalist, but who would be critically supportive of most forms of "Green New Deal" as a very partial step towards averting the climate crisis. Of course, environmentalists pushing for this need to understand that the new industries are largely non-union, and the unions (some of which don't aggressively organize) are unlikely to get behind the decline of unionized industries and the growth of non-union ones. Getting labor on board would take also building up a more aggressive, organizing current in the unions.

Then, there's a broader issue of having a Just Transition for the entire working class- not only for workers in construction or extraction, but for workers in all industries. A lot of the major protests we're seeing, such as in France, Haiti, or the Netherlands, are against attempts to make the working class pay more for fuel- a favorite solution to technocrats who figure a little Pigouvian tax on gas can internalize those external costs and knit up the climate problem neatly. For most working people, the biggest costs in our lives are food, housing, and transportation-- all areas where there needs to be transitions towards sustainability in ways that don't hit the poorest hardest.

The environmental movement could make alliances with transport workers and riders around demands for more and free public transit. Workers forced out to the fringes of the city have to make long commutes in and pay for all that gas.  If the movement fights for rail, it should also make an absolute push against reduction in train crew sizes, for the safety of everyone.
Even better than more public transit, more affordable housing near where people work. More walkability of neighborhoods and less compulsory transportation--and don't let the call for walkability be a cover for displacement of the working class into the suburbs (again, the commutes!).

The environmental movement already needs to take a strong interest in the reshaping of cities that are designed around needing a car, and that cluster polluting industries in poor (especially black) neighborhoods. Of course, be aware that all new construction, including of "green" housing, has environmental costs. Look into also supporting more funding for things like WAP conservation funding (where I work), which upgrades existing housing stock to be more energy efficient. Though be aware that this is mostly non-union, like most of residential construction, in part because of the suppression of undocumented workers.

While we're talking about urban geography, let's talk food justice from a working class perspective. Now, a lot of environmentalists try to court small farmers--and as someone from a small farming family, I'm not going to go into all the reasons that the decline of family farms can't be reversed by conscientious consumerism. My main concern is supporting farm workers and healthy food access.  Let's talk about sustainable changes in farming that are focused on changing how the food the majority of people buy and eat is grown, instead of creating a specialty expensive market. Let's take a look at the idea of co-ops not as health food stores for that niche market, but as a way to bring produce at a low price into food deserts. Let's not only support community garden space in working class neighborhoods, but also fight for a strong labor movement, living wages, and access to childcare so people living in those neighborhoods have time to do things like use a community garden. Also, when talking about urban farming, it's often good to look not just at flashy new hydroponics and vertical farms, also at the populations already doing that work, like Hmong families in St Paul.

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