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Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)

This Is What the Beginning of a Climate-Labor Alliance Looks Like: The PRO Act is emerging as the left’s answer to a classic political tension

By Kate Aronoff - New Republic, March 10, 2021

Tuesday night, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act passed the House by 225–205 votes. If it passes the Senate and becomes law, it will peel back over half a century of anti-union policies, including core provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. It would override state-level right-to-work protections—the darlings of the Koch brothers machine—and create harsher penalties for employers who interfere with employees’ organizing efforts. But in myriad ways, the act might also do something unexpected: set the stage for sweeping climate policy.

A coalition led by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, or IUPAT, and the Communication Workers of America is mobilizing to push the PRO Act over the finish line in the Senate. The youth climate group Sunrise Movement was an early recruit, and the Democratic Socialists of America—including its ecosocialist working group, which is also pushing for a Green New Deal—will be deploying its members in key districts around the country to ensure it’s passed. After a kick-off call over the weekend featuring Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA head Sara Nelson, and Naomi Klein, DSA is holding trainings for its members throughout March as well as events around the country pushing key senators to back the bill in the lead-up to May Day. Sunrise last week launched a Good Jobs for All campaign, which is urging on a federal job guarantee introduced recently by Representative Ayanna Pressley. Over the next several weeks, Sunrise hubs will be working alongside progressive legislators and holding in-district protests to advance five priorities for upcoming infrastructure legislation, including the PRO Act. After its passage through the House last night, a press release from the groups praised the measure as a “core pillar of the Green New Deal.”

The alliances forming around the PRO Act buck long-held wisdom in Washington about what it would take to get labor unions and environmentalists to work together. James Williams Jr., IUPAT’s vice president at large, has been frustrated by years of seeing the two talk past one another. Construction unions, in particular, have come to loggerheads with climate hawks over infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. “I would blame labor a lot of the time for this,” he says, “but there have to be deeper conversations about the fact that labor is going to lose jobs that have been really good jobs for a really long time.” 

Workers and the Green New Deal Today

On Green Socialism and Working Class Politics

By Staff - Pittsburgh Green Left, February 8, 2021

Green Socialism is inspired partly by traditional worker-oriented socialist views, but attempts to transcend class struggle by organizing popular struggle for true democracy, ecology, and freedom.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, ecological and social crisis exist simultaneously in multiple forms within the US and across the world. Global neoliberal capitalism has captured the world’s economic and political structures, and we feel the growing pressures of poverty and climate change under the threat of a pervasive police state.

These deteriorating conditions imply that historical socialist revolutionary movements have largely failed to produce the widespread change they described in their visions. There’s an increasing feeling, particularly by the youth, that the “old ways” are insufficient to confront 21st century capitalism and win — particularly with the climate change clock running out — and that a new form of social movement and politics is necessary to directly confront capitalism and broader ecological and social issues.

I believe the new model for the 21st century must be Green Politics, or what I will call “Green Socialism” here to distinguish from other tendencies that lay claim to the more broad term “eco-socialism”. Green Politics is today largely associated with the Green Party, however anyone can practice Green Politics in or outside of the Green Party.

A simplistic description of Green Politics might be to list the 4 pillars — grassroots democracy, peace, social justice, and ecological wisdom — and the 10 Key Values of the movement, but to create a deeper discussion of what Green Politics and Green Socialism really means, a good place to start might be to address some complaints and criticisms of the Green Party and Green Socialism that you have no doubt already heard, particularly from other socialists.

Left Voice for example ran an opinion piece by author Ezra Brain making “a socialist case against” the Green Party and Howie Hawkins, the party’s 2020 presidential candidate, which echoes a number of common leftist complaints against Green Politics. 

However these complaints often ring hollow, either as grave misunderstandings of the Green platform that betray a lack of deeper research and knowledge about the subject — ironically often appropriating bourgeois neoliberal talking points against Green Politics — or as legitimate complaints that have a feel of “stones thrown from glass houses” as those same complaints often apply to other socialist and leftist organizations in the US and simply illustrate the challenge of organizing against global neoliberal capitalism in the 21st century.

Response to Greg Butler's critique of the Green New Deal and the Rank-and-File Strategy

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, February 7, 2021

As stated in our standard disclaimer (at the end of this editorial), the opinions expressed in this text are those of the author alone and do not represent the official position of the IWW or the IWW Environmental Union Caucus. This piece includes very strongly worded opinions, therefore the author deemed it best to emphasize that point.

There are certainly plenty of constructive, comradely criticisms of the Green New Deal, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Kim Moody's "Rank-and-File Strategy", The North American Building Trades Unions, and Jacobin (none of which are either mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive). Unfortunately, Greg Butler's The Green New Deal and the "Rank-and-File Strategy", published on December 17, 2020, by Organizing Work, is not a good example. In fact, Butler's piece is little more than a sectarian swipe at a number of targets which are only indirectly related to each other, and worse still, it's full of inaccuracies and unfounded claims that have no evidence to support them.

Building our Energy Future

Toward A Green New Future

By Thea Riofrancos and Daniel Aldana Cohen - Socialism 2020, July 26, 2020

Join Thea Riofrancos and Daniel Aldana Cohen for a discussion of the Green New Deal and the future we can build out of our crisis-ridden present. This event is part of the Socialism 2020 Virtual conference. See more at socialismconference.org.

How an Old-School Electricians Union Got Behind a Socialist Running on the Green New Deal

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, June 25, 2020

Nikil Saval is an unlike­ly Philadel­phia politi­cian. The social­ist, writer, orga­niz­er and for­mer edi­tor of left-wing mag­a­zine n+1beat long-time incum­bent Lar­ry Far­nese for state sen­ate in the First Dis­trict in a sur­prise upset. Although the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic threat­ened to derail his cam­paign, the issues Saval embraced — a Homes Guar­an­tee, Uni­ver­sal Fam­i­ly Care, and a Green New Deal — have grown more urgent as our econ­o­my has unrav­eled. And mak­ing him an even more unlike­ly can­di­date, he won the back­ing of a con­ser­v­a­tive elec­tri­cians union — a rare feat for a Green New Deal advo­cate. His plat­form, which was proven pop­u­lar enough to beat a fair­ly pro­gres­sive leg­is­la­tor, will be extreme­ly chal­leng­ing to imple­ment. In order to win life-chang­ing reforms like a Green New Deal, Saval and his allies will need to build a broad and pow­er­ful coali­tion — includ­ing with some strange bedfellows. 

Saval’s Green New Deal plat­form includes clean­ing up every tox­ic site in the city with the use of union labor; bas­ing all tax incen­tives, sub­si­dies and con­tracts on project labor stan­dards; retro­fitting schools, libraries and recre­ation cen­ters; and estab­lish­ing a Region­al Ener­gy Cen­ter, which would ​“unite the state’s util­i­ties around the goals of increased ener­gy effi­cien­cy through green build­ings retro­fits, and full elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of Pennsylvania’s build­ings by 2040.” Much like the fed­er­al Green New Deal leg­is­la­tion, many of Saval’s poten­tial poli­cies could mean the cre­ation of thou­sands of union jobs, as some­one will have to dri­ve the new South­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia Trans­porta­tion Author­i­ty (SEP­TA) busses, clean up brown­fields, and update build­ings with green tech­nol­o­gy. Saval also wants to elim­i­nate coal-gen­er­at­ed elec­tric­i­ty by 2025 and achieve 100% clean elec­tric­i­ty by 2030. These aspi­ra­tions would obvi­ous­ly mean that work­ers in extrac­tive indus­tries would lose their cur­rent jobs, which is why build­ing trades unions — and their pow­er­ful labor fed­er­a­tion, the AFL-CIO — have been wary of the Green New Deal nationally.

The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership

By John Treat, Sean Sweeney, and Irene HongPing Shen - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 15, 2019

On September 28, 2019, more than 150 trade union representatives, activists and policy allies from more than a dozen countries came together in New York City for a one-day international conference on “The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership.”

The conference took place against the backdrop of the massive “Global Climate Strike” actions led by young people in numerous countries around the world, coinciding with the UN “Climate Week” of talks in New York City. In the weeks before those actions, TUED organized a “Global Web Forum” on the #Strike4Climate, and subsequently compiled a list of union statements and actions in support of the strikes.

Framing and Meeting Highlights

The conference program was framed around a number of issues and concerns that have emerged out of recent union-led struggles to both defend and extend public ownership of energy in key countries and regions. Over the course of the day’s proceedings, a number of key themes and broadly shared conclusions emerged, including:

  • Investor-focused climate policy is not delivering the energy transition
  • Privatization of state-owned electricity utilities has failed—but alternatives exist
  • Defending public ownership of energy requires a reform agenda that can drive “de- marketization”
  • Confidence is rising to reverse electricity privatization where it has happened
  • Defending and reclaiming public energy requires building union power
  • The transition must take into account the real development needs of the global South, while contesting carbon- intensive “development as usual”
  • There is an urgent need for technical, programmatic work to make achieving the ambitious goals of the Green New Deal possible

Read the report (PDF).

Calling All Union Members

By Jonathan Guy - The Trouble, May 20, 2019

Teachers, construction workers, nurses, miners, frycooks—you have an indispensable role to play in the passage of the Green New Deal. Here are five concrete steps to take.

It’s no secret that the American labor establishment is ambivalent about the rising prospects for climate policy change. After battling environmental activists throughout the 2010s over a series of tar sands pipeline projects, unions from carbon-loving industries are balking at the prospect of a Green New Deal, even as the resolution bends over backwards to address their concerns. The AFL-CIO’s energy committee decried the flexible resolution as “unrealistic” and threatening “immediate harm to millions of our members and their families.”  Construction union LiUNA had even harsher words, calling the GND “the sails of fantasy” and its backers’ approach to inclusive coalition-building “exactly how not to enact a progressive agenda to address our nation’s dangerous income inequality”.  In the fossil fuel sector, unions like Mine Workers of America cheer the demise of even modest climate regulations such as the Clean Power Plan, insisting beyond all evidence that carbon capture and storage technology is a viable alternative to renewable energy. Given these union leaders’ stunning obstinacy, even as the climate left dangles gigantic carrots in front of their faces—full severance pay, a job guarantee, project labor agreements, unionization mandates—it would be easy to write them off as inevitable foes.

Such a dismissal, of course, would be gravely mistaken. While the electoral and lobbying influence of unions has waned, they still play a key veto role inside the Democratic Party, and have enjoyed a revival over the past two years as public sector workers found their voice against the devastating Supreme Court decision Janus and endless austerity enacted at the state level in places such as West Virginia and Oklahoma. More to the point, labor unions represent our best hope for organizing the emerging majority-minority working class who must play the central role in a political realignment around a new, low-carbon social compact which emphasizes social equality and economic fairness. Any movement which does not address the concerns of labor—particularly the building trades—is surely doomed.

This article, however, is not yet another paean to the importance of centering a just transition. That genre is well-established. Lord knows that staffers and strategists at 350.org and Sunrise and Ed Markey’s offices have internalized the previous paragraph, and are already tearing their hair out day and night over how to get labor on board. Outside groups like these can surely have some positive impact; see for example, the successful efforts towards a consensus recently won in Maine. But after years of neoliberal environmentalists betraying unions, a lot of distrust has built up which frankly will not be worked out within the short timeframe we have left to avert a two-degree plus warming scenario. In order to really move the needle, pressure on locals and internationals alike will have to be applied from within.

A Real Green New Deal Means Class Struggle

By Keith Brower Brown, Jeremy Gong, Matt Huber, and Jamie Munro - Jacobin, March 21, 2019

On the morning of November 13, 2018, the Twitter account of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-based organization demanding a Green New Deal (GND), posted the following message:

BREAKING: we’ve begun a sit in inside @NancyPelosi’s office because @HouseDemocrats have failed our generation time and time again. They offer us a death sentence. We demand a #GreenNewDeal.

Joined by the Congresswoman-elect from New York’s 14th District, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the crowd of young activists occupying Pelosi’s office catapulted the idea of a Green New Deal into mainstream discussion. Unfortunately, just before Christmas, Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi brushed aside the proposal for a GND select committee and replaced it with a hollowed-out and toothless substitute.

Not to be deterred Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey introduced in February a new resolution outlining more specific principles and goals for a GND. It has already gained seventy-six co-signers in Congress and has spurred another round of international media attention. Once again, the resolution was brushed off by Pelosi as a “green dream or whatever they call it.”

As four climate writers in Jacobin argued on the day it was unveiled, the resolution is quite good. While a few business-friendly elements of the plan don’t square with a socialist climate politics, it does commit to confronting the overwhelming challenge of climate change with massive federal programs that tackle head-on the country’s horrific economic and racial injustices in access to clean air, water, housing, transit, and many other basic needs.

The confrontational strategy used by both Sunrise and Ocasio-Cortez to promote the GND is a major step forward for climate politics. During the Obama administration, most environmental groups focused on cozying up to the Democratic political establishment, only to watch an ill-conceived “cap and trade” bill go down in flames amidst a lack of popular mobilization. In contrast, the recent GND campaign began in earnest with corporate-free electoral campaigns that challenged neoliberal politicians, and won startling victories. After the election, these forces chose a public showdown with Democratic elites and their fossil fuel industry donors. As the campaign sharply targeted these establishment obstacles to climate action, it popularized the vital demand for a GND across a mass audience.

This wave of confrontational activism has now catapulted the GND into mainstream attention. Unfortunately, a policy’s popular support is anything but a guarantee of its passage. Medicare for All, for example, enjoys 70 percent popular approval but elite opposition to it remains formidable. And while confrontations with elected elites are certainly a step in the right direction, they won’t be sufficient to win a GND on the scale — and at the pace — we so desperately need.

In the likely case we don’t completely end capitalism in the next decade, we need a plan for effectively dealing with climate change anyway. Winning a transformative GND will require massive leverage over the political and economic system. We need the ability to force these changes over the objection of broad sections of the capitalist class, who are fiercely unwilling to lose their profits. The confrontational tactics and electoral challenges of the growing GND movement are essential parts of the leverage we need, but we think history shows they won’t be enough. We will also need direct leverage against the capitalist class, right in the places where they make their money.

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