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The New AFL-CIO Stand on Climate Change

By Jeremy Brecher - Common Dreams, November 3, 2017

At its Quadrennial Convention in late October, the AFL-CIO unanimously adopted a resolution on “Climate Change, Energy, and Union Jobs.” [https://aflcio.org/resolutions/resolution-55-climate-change-energy-and-union-jobs] The resolution says that the fastest and most equitable way to address climate change is for “labor to be at the center of creating solutions that reduce emissions while investing in our communities, maintaining and creating high-wage union jobs, and reducing poverty.”

If acted on, the resolution will bring about significant changes in organized labor and will bring American trade unions into far closer alignment with allies in the climate protection movement.

The resolution starts with the facts of global warming. It acknowledges “the overwhelming scientific consensus” that climate warming is “due to human activities” and that higher global temperatures will trigger “irreversible changes in our climate,” causing “a rise in sea levels and storm surges, an increase in droughts and extreme weather events, a substantial threat of increased extinctions, decreased food security in some regions, and an increase in heat-induced health problems.”

The resolution turns next to the social justice dimensions of climate change. “Workers, communities of color and low-income Americans suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation and climate change” through “polluted air, water and land,” and from “drought and extreme weather events.” It cites Pope Francis and other religious leaders on the “moral imperative to address both climate change and poverty.”

The resolution notes that tens of thousands of union members work in industries that rely on fossil fuels or live in regions where fossil fuels are “the primary economic driver in their communities.” Like all workers, they have a right to “a strong, viable economic future” including good jobs at union wages and benefits. It cites the Paris Agreement on “the imperative of a just transition” of the workforce and “decent work and quality jobs” when addressing climate change. It resolves to fight politically and legislatively “to secure and maintain employment, pensions and health care” for workers affected by changes in the energy market.

Unions, Trade and Nationalism

By Tom Crofton - CounterPunch, October 31, 2017

A recent statement from the AFL-CIO regarding a rejection of NAFTA and other corporate/globalist trade agreements unfortunately only skims the surface of the issues working people face.

As the dominate union leadership in America, the AFL-CIO and its member unions need to take a deeper look at their historical behavior, and their role in enabling the evolution of the corporate state with its current right wing/anti labor swing.

American unions never were interested in taking responsibility for production. American unions developed to confront management but not to replace it. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was the only organization that tried to organize horizontally across all sectors to create a “new world in the shell of the old”. The vision of workers building a society where prosperity was available to all and artificial class barriers would dissolve was never a popular theme in American labor. We have always felt that we needed the owners, agreeing at least subliminally that capital has more power than basic human needs; that human weakness, pettiness, and laziness would wreck any sort of money-free effort to exchange services; that hierarchies of wages and benefits were natural and that those at the bottom were there due to their own fault.

The evolution of trade unions cemented in place these hierarchies, leaving the least skilled workers unorganized until the CIO attempted to fill the need while organizing mine workers and African Americans during the Great depression. The following era of war-induced prosperity, and the ongoing economic expansion during the Cold War, created a phony, unsustainable sense of American prosperity for a growing middle class, where 5% of the world’s population consumed 80% of its resources. The AFL-CIO was active in this period wrecking third world union organizing attempts as a front for a CIA run, right-wing sponsored, American style Imperialism. On the home front, a rising middle class of workers were happy to build low quality products, for good wages, as the disposable society offered an endless supply of the “latest” consumer goods. Conspicuous consumption and keeping up with the Jones’s did not include the working poor or the third world.

AFL-CIO Convention adopts Climate Change resolution

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 27, 2017

The 2017 Convention of the AFL-CIO   took place in St. Louis from October 22 to 25.  In a breakthrough, Resolution 55 on Climate Change, Energy and Union Jobs  was adopted, putting the AFL-CIO “on the  record” as  recognizing the threat of  climate change and acknowledging the need to move to a sustainable alternative energy system.  The resolution also calls for workers impacted by the energy transition to be protected.  The floor debate is available on YouTube , showing supportive speeches by members of  the Utility Workers, IBEW, LIUNA, USW, the Boilermakers, CWA,  AFA, the Montana AFL-CIO and the Southeast Minnesota Area Labor Council.  Speaking strongly against the resolution was the General President of the UA, which represents workers in the plumbing and pipefitting trades, including pipeline and energy industry workers. He objected to the exclusion of the UA in the process of drafting the resolution. Resolution 55 was, in fact, a compromise version arrived at by the Executive Council from several resolutions submitted.

From the text of Resolution 55 :  “ THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will fight politically and legislatively to secure and maintain employment, pensions and health care for workers affected by changes in the energy market; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO supports incentives and robust funding for research programs to bring new energy technologies to market, including renewables, carbon capture and advanced nuclear technologies; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will support the passage of key energy and environmental policies with a focus on ensuring high labor standards, the creation of union jobs and environmental sustainability; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED,  that the AFL-CIO will continue to urge the United States to remain in the Paris Agreement and to work to ensure that all nations make progress on emissions reductions; and BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO believes that the United States Congress should enact comprehensive energy and climate legislation that creates good jobs and addresses the threat of climate change.”

The full list of Adopted Resolutions from the 2017 AFL CIO Convention is here. The Labor Network for Sustainability has archived past resolutions by U.S. labour unions to their own conventions here.

Filling Gaps Left By Trump, Nurses and Labor Unions Join Puerto Rico Relief Efforts

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, October 8, 2017

As President Donald Trump continues to come under fire for failing to deliver sufficient help to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—which killed dozens and left millions without power and running water—nurses, doctors, engineers, and other workers affiliated with various unions including National Nurses United (NNU) and the AFL-CIO have teamed up to assist with relief and recovery efforts.

"I put out the call for help, and who listened? The unions," said Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital. 

Workers representing more than 20 unions boarded a flight to San Juan late last week "in response to the urgent need to get highly skilled workers to Puerto Rico to help people seeking medical and humanitarian assistance, as well as to help with the rebuilding effort," according to the AFL-CIO's Kenneth Quinnell.

"The nurses, doctors, electricians, engineers, carpenters and truck drivers on the flight will engage in various efforts, including helping clear road blockages, caring for hospital patients, delivering emergency supplies, and restoring power and communications," Quinnell added.

"When our union sisters and brothers see a need in our national or international community, we don't ask if we should act, we ask how," said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. "We are united in lifting up our fellow Americans."

NNU, for its part, sent a delegation of 50 volunteer registered nurses from throughout the U.S. to help provide urgent medical assistance to those in need.

"As nurses whenever there's a call and there's an ask, we go," said NNU vice president Cathy Kennedy, RN. "From the reports I've heard especially the elderly that have been without oxygen, without food or water, are at risk, everyone's at risk but particularly the children and the elderly."

In total, more than 300 union members are taking part in the joint response effort, which could be seen taking shape on social media over the weekend. 

"We use the word 'solidarity' a lot in the labor movement. The idea that when we come together, we are stronger," wrote Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. "On this relief mission, it was solidarity in the truest sense of the word. Working people united around a common purpose — to provide help for those in need."

The response of union workers to the crisis sparked by Hurricane Maria also garnered the attention of NBC News, which ran a segment Saturday that focused on the dire circumstances affecting millions and the efforts of volunteers to provide help that has not been delivered by the U.S. government.

Alameda County Central Labor Council resolution on climate for the AFL-CIO convention

Submitted for consideration at the September meeting of the Alameda Labor Council and referral to the AFL-CIO Convention by Michael Eisenscher, Delegate, Peralta Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1603 - Adopted unanimously by the Alameda Labor Council, September 11, 2017

WHEREAS, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that the climate warming trend over the past century is due to human activities, primarily due to our reliance on carbon-based fuels and deforestation that have caused a dramatic increase in the global level of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases; and

WHEREAS, burning most of the known fossil fuel reserves will cause global warming to reach catastrophic proportions resulting in sea level rise that will inundate major coastal cities, more severe prolonged droughts, frequent intense wildfires, destructive hurricanes, tornadoes and other “superstorms”, frequent destructive floods, reduced agricultural productivity resulting in food shortages and famine, the spread of vector-born and other diseases, and ever greater numbers of climate migrants and refugees; and

WHEREAS, the Trump Administration has promoted climate change denial, and has stated that the U.S. will “tear up” the Paris Climate Agreement and not implement the Obama Administration’s National Commitment to reduce emissions submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), making it the only nation to withdraw among nearly two hundred that signed on; and

WHEREAS, the AFL-CIO opposes the Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, on grounds that, “Pulling out of the Paris climate agreement is a decision to abandon a cleaner future powered by good jobs,” and has affirmed that, “The U.S. labor movement will continue to urge the United States to stay in the agreement so we can achieve the best outcomes for America’s workers”; and

WHEREAS, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) was successful in ensuring that “just transition of the workforce” was addressed in the preface to the Paris Agreement, which recognizes that the burden of climate-protecting policies and the transition to a sustainable energy economy should not be borne by workers and communities; and

WHEREAS, moving rapidly toward a sustainable economy and society, can—with the right policies in place—also be the source of large numbers of new, well-paid union jobs that will also reinvigorate local economies; and

WHEREAS, proliferation of fracking and the transportation of shale oil and gas have inflicted serious harm on the health and quality of life of communities located close to blasting and drilling sites, “petcoke” piles and other toxic residues and pollutants, particularly First Nations whose sovereignty rights have been routinely violated, and other communities of color, low-income and other working class communities historically dependent on and exposed to the impacts of fossil fuel extraction; and

WHEREAS, we will solve the climate crisis and the inequality crisis only when we put unions and working people at the center of the movements for economic justice and climate justice; and

WHEREAS, the market will not produce the transformation to renewable energy in a short enough time period to prevent the catastrophic effects of global warming and climate change; and

WHEREAS, the chaotic state of liberalized for-profit energy markets has pitted utilities against renewable energy concerns, produced a situation that is unsustainable and untenable, and led to the loss of thousands of jobs in the power generation sector (particularly in coal) without provisions made to protect impacted workers and communities; and

WHEREAS, the scale of the energy transition that is needed requires an approach comparable to that pursued by the Rural Electrification Administration launched in1935 during the New Deal, where publicly-driven electrification generated jobs, public utilities, and distribution cooperatives on a mass scale; and

WHEREAS, public transit systems are under attack, public health services lack sufficient resources, and public infrastructure has been neglected and is in need of comprehensive upgrades, repairs and replacement; and

WHEREAS, a variety of policy tools should be available to move rapidly toward renewable energy while providing well-paid stable jobs, income protection, and retraining for workers and communities adversely affected; these policy tools should include but are not limited to:

  • (a) a progressive tax on carbon pollution with the revenue used to support the income, retraining, and provision of new jobs for workers and communities hurt by the transition and those that have historically borne the brunt of pollution from these facilities;
  • (b) policies referenced in the Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act, and the “100 By 50” Act which seeks to move towards 100% renewable energy by 2050 while providing for protection for workers and communities affected by the transition, and also providing for card check and first contract arbitration, lowering barriers that make it difficult to organize workers into unions;
  • (c) expansion of public and social ownership of and control over power generation, transmission and distribution;
  • THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO reaffirms its support for the Paris Agreement as an important, though non-binding contribution to driving a rapid and managed just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy that leaves most of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground; and

RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will continue to work with the ITUC and the international labor movement as a whole to raise the level of ambition of the National Contributions to the Paris Agreement, including the U.S. contribution, in order to be consistent with the temperature threshold target agreed in Paris of “well below 2 degrees Celsius”; and

RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will develop an energy transition policy that recognizes the imperative of a massive scale up of renewable power, upgrading grid systems, promoting energy conservation and efficiency, in a manner that is also consistent with “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and which provides a just transition for affected workers and communities; and

RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will publicly campaign to re-regulate and/or reclaim to the public the electricity sector in order both to facilitate the creation of good stable family wage jobs in the U.S., and to carry out the transition to renewable energy generation at the speed and scale required to at least achieve the Paris targets; and

RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will campaign for domestic content requirements for all commitments of public funds to renewable power generation, electricity grid upgrades, efficiency retrofits, and other elements of a transition to renewable energy; and

RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will support legislation that provides strong protection for workers and communities that are adversely affected by the transition away from fossil fuels, including such examples as the “Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act” and the “100 By 50 Act”; and

RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO supports the demands of frontline communities for environmental justice, including access to newly created jobs in the renewable energy sector; and

FINALLY RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will work to inform and mobilize union members and their families with other social forces in support of legislation that furthers these goals, and will support candidates for office who are committed to them.

Labor Must Embrace the Anti-Trump Resistance to Fight for the Working Class

By Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein - In These Times, March 2, 2017

The Trump presidency presents organized labor with a dilemma.

On the one hand, Trump’s advocacy for fossil fuel, infrastructure and military expansion promises to provide jobs for some union workers. His proposals to end trade deals and put tariffs on manufacturing imports align with long-standing labor opposition to pro-corporate globalization.

On the other hand, Trump and his Republican allies in Congress propose tax, budget and social welfare policies that would impoverish most workers. His Cabinet nominees are proven enemies of organized labor and the rights of workers. And his executive policies, legislative priorities and likely Supreme Court appointments point towards catastrophic restrictions on organized labor.

A portent of the future: Vice-President Mike Pence recently discussed with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker how to go national with Wisconsin’s restrictions on collective bargaining and union rights. Union membership has dropped some 40 percent in the state since Walker’s collective bargaining law passed in 2011. Only 8 percent of Wisconsin’s workers were in unions last year.

Some in organized labor, especially in the buildings trades, have met with Trump, provided photo ops, and advocated that unions try to work with him, particularly on trade, energy and infrastructure. They know that many union members voted for him. Others have called for resistance to the entire Trump agenda.

The effort to embrace and work with Trump is short-sighted at best, and it may be short-lived. The survival of the labor movement depends on denying Trump the power to implement his agenda. The Trump presidency is likely to be catastrophic even for those unions that are currently seeking his favor. If the power of organized labor and its allies is further diminished, governments and corporations will be free to create a “union-free environment” for the building trades as for everybody else.

Trump’s infrastructure proposals are based on tax credits to private investors, private equity, and low-cost construction. The result is likely to be the banning of prevailing-wage rules and union security provisions for construction workers. Case in point: The Republican-led Kentucky legislature recently passed not only “right-to-work” and “paycheck protection” laws, but repealed the state’s prevailing wage law—a crucial support for building trades unions.

The attack by Trump and his Republican allies comes at a time when organized labor is already weakened. Less than 11 percent of all wage and salary workers are in unions, compared to some 20 percent in 1983. Less than 7 percent of private sector workers are in unions. Close to 35 percent of public sector workers are union members, but they are already under attack that will intensify under Trump.

While Trump’s actions will be devastating for organized labor, they may also have a silver lining. The Trump era is seeing the emergence of what has been called “social self-defense,” a massive self-organization of millions of Americans to resist Trump’s agenda. It has been manifested by the millions who participated in the Women’s March, the spontaneous actions against Trump’s Muslim ban, the mass demonstrations and community meetings in cities around the country, the millions of calls that have tied up politicians’ phone lines and myriad other forms of resistance.

The term “social self-defense” is borrowed from the struggle against the authoritarian regime in Poland 40 years ago. In the midst of harsh repression, Polish activists formed a loose network to provide financial, legal, medical and other help to people persecuted by police or unjustly dismissed from work. They organized free trade unions to defend the rights of workers and citizens, and nurtured many of the networks, strategies, and ideas that eventually helped topple the repressive regimes in Poland and other countries.

A healthy planet for our children to inherit, or destroying the earth for jobs? Join Thousands of Workers in Saying: We Will No Longer Accept This Choice!

By Labor for Standing Rock - Labor for Standing Rock, February 2017

Dear Fellow Workers:

We are the people whose blood, sweat and tears built this country’s infrastructure. Our hard work keeps our families fed—and it should also protect the world our children will live in tomorrow.

We play a critical role in making America what it is, and what it will become. Now we have united as thousands of workers across the country to ask a tough question: “What kind of world are we building?”

President Trump recently cleared a path for the completion of the controversial Dakota Access (DAPL) and Keystone X-L (KXL) Pipelines, despite massive global protest against these projects. In violation of the right of all people to clean water, air and land - and in violation of Indigenous peoples’ Treaty Rights - the corporations behind these pipelines continue to dangle the promise of good paying jobs in front of people like us, who need work. In doing so, they force us to trade temporary pay—for the future health of everyone we care about.

As working people, of course we demand decent, well-paid jobs. There is no question about that. But we also demand long-term health and safety for our children and grandchildren. Corporations have been lying in order to profit off our lives and the healthy lives of future generations. They tell us pipelines are safe and that they do not fail, which is demonstrably not true. That leaves working people with a choice between one or the other: a job today or a livable planet tomorrow. We will no longer accept this choice.

Brothers and Sisters, It’s Time to Fight

By Kevin Norton - Labor Notes, February 15, 2017

The speed of events since Trump’s inauguration has made my head spin. The administration’s absolute onslaught against women, environmentalists, Muslims, immigrants, and the government itself began on day one. So I was a little shocked to see some of the building trades union leadership meet so happily with our nation’s first orange president.

“We have a common bond with the president,” Building Trades President Sean McGarvey said. “We come from the same industry. He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.” McGarvey also commented that President Obama had never met with the trades.

Some enthusiastic Trump supporters have lit up my Facebook page with stories about how he is going to “Make America Great Again.” One wrote, “I was told Trump was anti-union... Being an informed voter, I knew it was hogwash... here’s the proof.” He left a link to an article about the new president’s meeting with the union leaders.

Fawning over Trump Shuts Out Our Movement’s Future

By Len Shindel - Labor Notes, February 15, 2017

Surrounded by key union leaders, Trump was relaxed and smooth. He thanked the Sheet Metal Workers for their work on his hotel down the street—even as an electrical contractor was suing his company after allegedly getting stiffed on the job.

Union leaders clapped when Trump announced he was trashing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump said their members would soon be needed to complete a load of new projects as he terminated the “disastrous” trade policies that had sent jobs out of the country.

He assured them they would be building new Ford plants and pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities for companies like Johnson and Johnson. The union leaders said they also asked Trump to move ahead, despite widespread protests, on the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Pandering to the Predator: Labor and Energy Under Trump

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, February 3, 2017

Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20th 2017 saw unions and activist groups from numerous social movements take to the streets and declare an all-out war of resistance to both his presidency and his agenda.  

As is now clear, some union officials have not only dodged the draft, but have actually joined the opposition. Trump has made it clear that he intends to give full-on support for the further development of fossil fuels. He plans to revive coal, and get behind fracking for shale oil and shale gas. He also plans to approve major infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. This just happens to be a big part of labor’s agenda also, and agenda that has been largely shaped by the North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU).

A Trump-Trades Confederacy?

Leaders of NABTU have not only openly embraced Trump’s energy agenda, they  quickly warmed up to Trump himself—and some of his proposed appointees. In a pre-inauguration statement, NABTU praised Trump for nominating former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillermen to be Secretary of State. NABTU said, “We believe he will be a tremendous success,” and praised Tillermen’s “resilient and dynamic grasp of both global and domestic policy issues, and a deep and unyielding sense of patriotism for our great nation.” Of this writing, even prominent Republicans are uncomfortable having someone with a pension plan worth $70 million and who owns $218 million’s worth of company stock become the country’s top diplomat.

In another sign of approval for Trump, the Laborer’s union (LiUNA) criticized the outgoing Administration’s decision to remove offshore areas for future leasing. In one of his final acts as president, Obama thwarted oil and gas industry plans to explore and drill in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. Attacking Obama, the union stated, “LIUNA looks forward to working with the Trump Administration to reverse this and other regressive energy policies enacted by the outgoing President.”  This from a union that just a few years ago was on the cutting edge of the “green jobs” agenda, an active partner in the Blue-Green Alliance, and one of the first US unions to call on the Obama administration to adopt the science-based emissions reductions targets proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Also significant was Trump’s post-inauguration White House meeting with labor leaders on Jan 23rd.  Participants included NABTU President Sean McGarvey, LiUNA President Terry O’Sullivan, Sheet Metal workers’ union President Joseph Sellers, Carpenters President Doug McCarron and Mark McManus, president of the Plumbers and Pipefitters. Progressive unions were, it seems, not invited. McGarvey told the New York Times “We have a common bond with the president…We come from the same industry. He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.”

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