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Sierra Club

Earth Day, Labor, and Me

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 21, 2021

The approach of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 provides us an opportunity to reflect on the “long, strange trip” shared by the environmental movement and the labor movement over four decades here on Spaceship Earth.

A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world. But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!”

Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO. Walter Ruther, President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2000 to help kick the effort off ““ to be followed by much more. Hayes recalls:

“The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial. It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars. Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence. And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut.”

Some people may be surprised to learn that a labor union played such a significant role in the emergence of the modern environmental movement. When they think of organized labor, they think of things like support for coal and nuclear power plants and opposition to auto emissions standards.

When it comes to the environment, organized labor has two hearts beating within a single breast. On the one hand, the millions of union members are people and citizens like everybody else, threatened by air and water pollution, dependent of fossil fuels, and threatened by the devastating consequences of climate change. On the other hand, unions are responsible for protecting the jobs of their members, and efforts to protect the environment sometimes may threaten workers’ jobs. First as a working class kid and then as a labor official, I’ve been dealing with the two sides of this question my whole life.

Sierra Club green recovery plan calls for “ironclad labor and equity standards”

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, April 19, 2021

The Sierra Club U.S. report How to Build Back Better: A 10-year Plan for Economic Renewal is a blueprint for economic renewal – in which the environmental advocacy group continues to demonstrate clear support for the needs of workers. Released in March, this report includes a call for public investments which “must come with ironclad labor and equity standards to curb racial, economic, and gender inequity instead of reinforcing the unjust status quo.” To support the job quality theme, the Sierra Club also released a 1-pager titled Cross-cutting environmental, labor and equity standards and a 3-page summary titled Why Standards Matter, an overview of job quality issues .

Briefly, the Sierra Club recommends a pandemic recovery plan which would create over 15 million good jobs, based on public investment of $1 trillion per year for ten years. Investments would go to many sectors including infrastructure and clean manufacturing, but also the care sector and the public sector. In addition to job creation, the plan addresses systemic racism, supports public health, and cuts climate pollution nearly in half by 2030. The economic renewal plan is based on the THRIVE Agenda, which is itself based on job projections and modelling by academics at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), led by Robert Pollin. Their latest analysis was published by PERI as Employment Impacts of Proposed U.S. Economic Stimulus Programs (March 2021). Sierra Club released a 3-page summary of job projections; an interactive Jobs Calculator ; and Fact Sheets for each of the sectors considered: regenerative agriculture, clean energy, care and public sector, transportation, manufacturing, buildings, and clean water for all, and pollution-free communities. All these accompanying documents, along with the full report, are available here.

THRIVE stands for “Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy” and is summarized in the Sierra Club press release of March 25. The coalition has grown out of the Green New Deal Network, itself a coalition of 15 U.S. organizations that are focused on combating social inequity and environmental destruction through political action. 

A Santa Cruz Green New Deal: Yes to Social Justice! No to Green Capitalism!

By Ecosocialist Working Group - Santa Cruz Left, March 6, 2021

Proposed as a green jobs and justice program for the next ten years, the Green New Deal is both a social movement to unite diverse social justice struggles and a comprehensive platform for addressing climate change. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced it in Congress in 2019, where it failed to gain traction in the Republican-controlled senate. But endorsed by organizations including the Sunrise Movement, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Climate Mobilization, Bernie’s Our Revolution, and DSA, the GND remains a powerful vision to organize around for a world worth living in.

Warning of an unfolding climate holocaust, massive loss of life, suffering, and financial devastation, AOC and Markey’s GND resolution notably joins decarbonization to social justice and equity. It proposes infrastructural renewal, economic investment for the wellbeing of all, and guaranteeing clean air, water, and land, in ways that repair the “historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.” In 2019, AOC narrated an amazing short video (brilliantly animated by Molly Crabapple) that pictures what a GND-inspired future might look like.

DSA’s Ecosocialists (national) have added their own priorities, including democratizing control over major energy systems and resources; centering the multiracial working class in the just transition to an economy of societal and ecological care; demilitarizing, decolonizing, and striving for a future of international solidarity and cooperation; and decommodifying survival by guaranteeing living wages, healthcare, and affordable housing for all. As such, they join Indigenous and environmental, and racial justice social movements that stress the need for a bottom-up, inclusive, and democratized approach, rather than top-down governmental policy directives.

Joining the GND to the decolonial Red Deal, as proposed by The Red Nation, also makes compelling sense. As Nick Estes argues in Jacobin, “The GND has the potential to connect every social justice struggle—free housing, free health care, free education, green jobs—to climate change. Likewise, the Red Deal places anti-capitalism and decolonization as central to each social justice struggle as well as climate change. The necessity of such a program is grounded in both the history and future of this land, and it entails the radical transformation of all social relations between humans and the earth.” And while such a program must not only be intersectionalist but also global in scope, it’s less clear what the GND would mean on a local level and how it might offer a useful instrument to connect diverse regional struggles. But it’s on the local scale that we can most meaningfully engage with this all-encompassing struggle, in support of its national and international horizons.

How to “Build Back Better”

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2021

Anyone interested in how to address the concerns of both labor and environmentalists in upcoming legislation should take a look at the new Sierra Club report “How to Build Back Better: A 10-year Plan for Economic Renewal.” Although the Sierra Club is an environmental organization – in fact, the country’s largest–this “blueprint for economic renewal” has been designed with the needs of workers and discriminated-against groups front and center.

The plan is based on the THRIVE Agenda, which has been endorsed by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, American Federation of Teachers, American Postal Workers Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, Communications Workers of America, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America and Service Employees International Union.

  • By investing $1 trillion per year, an economic renewal plan based on the THRIVE Agenda would create over 15 million good jobs–enough to end the unemployment crisis–while countering systemic racism, supporting public health, and cutting climate pollution nearly in half by 2030.
  • These investments must come with ironclad labor and equity standards to curb racial, economic, and gender inequity instead of reinforcing the unjust status quo.

How to Build Back Better: A 10-Year Plan for Economic Renewal

By Ben Beachy, et. al. - Sierra Club, February 2021

Over 10 million people are out of work, another six million people are underemployed, and yet another seven million people who want a job have given up trying to find one. Unemployment among low-income households is hovering around Great Depression levels. Job losses have been particularly acute for women, and the unemployment rate for Black and Latinx workers remains more than 50 percent higher than for white workers. Due to economic hardship, more than one in three families with children cannot afford adequate food, one in five households could not pay last month’s rent, and over half of all households are having difficulty covering expenses.

To tackle this economic crisis, we cannot simply reopen the economy and hope things return to “normal.” “Normal” was fundamentally unjust, unhealthy, and unstable. Thanks to decades of “normal” conditions, millions of people — particularly in Black and Latinx communities — breathe in air pollution that increases the risks of COVID-19, earn as much in one year as Jeff Bezos makes in 20 seconds, and are forced to grapple with increasing climate-related storms, droughts, and fires.
We have to do better than “normal.”

We need to put millions of people back to work building a healthier, more equitable, clean energy economy that leaves no one behind. The THRIVE Agenda outlines a plan to do just that. Backed by over 100 members of Congress and hundreds of union, racial justice, climate, and other grassroots groups, the THRIVE Agenda offers Congress an eight-pillar blueprint for economy-wide investments. To “build back better” instead of reverting to the unjust status quo, Congress needs to pass a THRIVE-aligned economic renewal plan that is as comprehensive as the crises we face.

Read the text (PDF).

A Worker's Green New Deal

By Paul Prescod, Lara Skinner, and Zakia Elliot - Science for the People, October 16, 2020

Science for the People's second teach-in on a Worker's Green New Deal. This is the seventh, and final, of our series of virtual teach-ins on A People's Green New Deal. For more information visit this page.

Related magazine article: "Dignity Over Dumping: The Fight for Climate Justice and a Just Transition for Sanitation Workers" by Zakia Elliott, Alison Kenner, and Morgan Sarao. This panel is focused on how to broadly conceptualize and implement a "Worker's Green New Deal." We would like to bring in topics of environmental justice that include workplace issues.

These could include workplace exposure to chemical, biological and other hazards, lack of public and worker education on these topics, inadequate PPEs to protect workers and other such issues. We would like the discussion to address questions like: What would a Green New Deal look like that is centered on workers' rights and is carried out in collaboration with unions and other workers' organizations? How does support for union jobs and the growth of unions, especially in the public sector, lay a strong foundation for protecting our environment and communities?

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Job Creation Estimates Through Proposed Economic Stimulus Measures

By Robert Pollin and Shouvik Chakraborty - The Prying Mantis, September 2020

In a Sierra Club commissioned report, PERI's Robert Pollin and Shouvik Chakraborty estimate the employment impacts of a $6 trillion, 10-year economic stimulus program designed by the Sierra Club and other civil society organizations. Pollin and Chakraborty estimate that spending at about $600 billion per year for 10 years would generate about 4.6 million jobs annually to upgrade American infrastructure, and another 4.5 million jobs annually to transition the country to a clean energy economy.

The report assumes the public investment in clean energy would be matched equally by another $300 billion per year in private sector clean energy investments. This would generate another 4.5 million jobs per year for 10 years.

Read the text (PDF).

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