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Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)

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.

An Ecosocialist Green New Deal: Guiding Principles

By the DSA Ecosocialist Working Group - Democratic Socialists of America - February 28, 2019

The IWW has not endorsed this document; however, individual members of the IWW EUC have helped shape it.

Humankind has reached a moment of existential crisis. Human activity is causing disastrous climate disruption and Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, triggering critical losses of biodiversity. We are already locked in for global warming that will have catastrophic effects, and we are on a slippery path to our own extinction. The 2018 Special Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns unequivocally that “without societal transformation and rapid implementation of ambitious greenhouse gas reduction measures, pathways to limiting warming to 1.5°C and achieving sustainable development will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.”

Yet, the crisis we face exceeds ecological breakdown. Deepening inequality, suppressed democracy, precarious jobs, racial and gendered violence, border hostility, and endless wars make up the terrain on which climate destabilization will be unleashed. The most vulnerable members of society will be hit hardest, first, and suffer most.

We must solve the climate crisis and the inequality crisis together. Climate remedies in the context of austerity will produce a popular backlash, as we see in the yellow vest protests against a fuel tax. Corporations profiting from fossil extraction have long worked to turn workers against environmentalists, claiming that clean energy would be a job killer. But working class and poor people’s quality of life, gravely threatened by climate disruption, would greatly improve in a just transition. Because corporate capitalism rewards extraction to concentrate wealth, it must be replaced by a sustainable economy. A Green New Deal can begin the transition from exploitative capitalism to democratic ecological socialism.

The urgency and scale of the crisis we face demand solutions that meet the magnitude of this moment. The ineffectual gradualism and corporate obedience demonstrated by the U.S. government’s climate response has proven to be a dead-end for humanity. We need rapid, systemic transformation that heals the stratification of wealth and power while putting decarbonization and justice at the forefront.

We need a Green New Deal. We demand a Green New Deal, and we demand that it serve people and planet—not profit.

Read the report (PDF).

A Green New Deal vs. Revolutionary Ecosocialism

By Wayne Price - Anarkismo, January 2, 2019

Ecosocialism: reformist or revolutionary, statist or libertarian?

The idea of a "Green New Deal" has been raised in response to the threat of climate and ecological catastrophe. Two such proposals are analyzed here and counterposed to the program of revolutionary libertarian ecosocialism.

According to the climate scientists, industrial civilization has at most a dozen years until global warming is irreversible. This will cause (and is already causing) extremes of weather, accelerating extermination of species, droughts and floods, loss of useable water, vast storms, rising sea levels which will destroy islands and coastal cities, raging wildfires, loss of crops, and, overall, environmental conditions in which neither humans nor other organisms evolved to exist. The economic, political, and social results will be horrifying.

The scientists write that humans have the technological knowledge to avoid the worst results. But this would take enormous efforts to drastically reduce the output of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses. The recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change writes that this “would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban, and infrastructure (including transport and buildings) and industrial systems…unprecedented in terms of scale.” (quoted in Smith 2018) At the least this means a rapid transition to shutting down fossil-fuel producing industries, leaving most oil, coal, and natural gas in the ground and rationing what is currently available. It means replacing them with conservation and renewable energy sources. It means drastic changes in the carbon-based-fuel using industries, from construction to manufacturing. It means providing alternate jobs and services for all those put out of work by these changes.

To the scientists’ warnings, there have been rumblings of concern from some financial investors, businesspeople (in non-oil-producing industries), and local politicians. But overall, the response of conventional politicians has been business-as-usual. The main proposals for limiting climate change has been to place some sort of taxes on carbon emissions. From liberals to conservatives, this has been lauded as a”pro-market” reform. But, as Richard Smith (2018) has explained, these are inadequate, and even fraudulent, proposals. “If the tax is too light, it fails to suppress fossil fuels enough to help the climate. But…no government will set a price high enough to spur truly deep reductions in carbon emissions because they all understand that this would force companies out of business, throw workers out of work, and possibly precipitate recession or worse.

In the U.S., one of the two major parties outright denies the scientific evidence as a “hoax.” As if declaring, “After us, the deluge,” its policies have been to increase as much as possible the production of greenhouse-gas emissions and other attacks on the environment. The other party accepts in words the reality of global warming but only advocates inadequate and limited steps to deal with it. It too has promoted increased drilling, fracking, and carbon-fuels burning. These Republicans, Democrats, and their corporate sponsors are enemies of humanity and nature, worse than war criminals.

On the Left, there have been serious efforts to take up the scientists’ challenge. Various ecosocialists and other radicals have advocated a massive effort to change the path of industrial society. This is sometimes called a “Green New Deal.” This approach is modeled on the U.S.’s New Deal of F. D. Roosevelt in the Great Depression. Its advocates also usually model their programs on the World War II industrial mobilization which followed the New Deal. (For examples, see Aronoff 2018; Ocasio-Cortez 2018; Rugh 2018; Simpson 2018; Smith 2018; Wikipedia.)

There does need to be a massive social effort to change our current technological course. A drastic transformation of industrial civilization is needed if we are (in Richard Smith’s phrase) to “save the humans,” as well as our fellow animals and plants. Nothing less than a revolution is needed. Yet I think that there are serious weaknesses in this specific approach, not least in modeling itself on the New Deal and the World War II mobilization—which were not revolutions, however romanticized. The proponents of a Green New Deal are almost all reformists—by which I do not mean advocates of reforms, but those who think that a series of reforms will be enough. They are state-socialists who primarily rely on the state to intervene in the economy and even take it over; in practice this program creates not socialism but state capitalism.

Winning the Green New Deal We Need

By Zachary Alexis - Socialist Worker, December 12, 2018

A NEW proposal for a Green New Deal is breathing life into the climate justice movement.

Incoming Democratic Rep. and Democratic Socialist of America member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is pushing for a large-scale, government-led transformation of U.S. energy systems away from fossil fuels by 2030, with a plan intended to benefit the working class and communities of color in the U.S.

In tandem, activists for climate justice have kick-started a new wave of protest. Hundreds of activists from the Sunrise Movement are taking action this week in Washington, D.C., to support Ocasio Cortez’s proposal.

These protests are aimed squarely at the top leadership of the Democratic Party, which so far has rebuffed efforts to get the party to refuse donations from the fossil fuel industry and sign on to the Green New Deal plan.

Sunrise activists made a media splash last month when 200 of them occupied future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s congressional offices — an action whose profile was boosted when both Ocasio-Cortez and fellow incoming democratic socialist Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who has a record of fighting for climate justice against the Koch Brothers in Detroit — showed up to support it.

This week’s Sunrise actions are the latest in a surge of protest in the U.S. and elsewhere as activists push forward with a new sense of urgency driven by a landslide of sobering news about climate change.

This year has seen a series of alarming and deadly disasters fueled by climate change, including the summer’s deadly heat wave and wildfires in Europe, a brutal season of typhoons in the Pacific, Atlantic Hurricanes Florence and Michael and the recent wildfires in California.

Several mainstream institutions have issued recent dire warnings on climate, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) SR15 report, Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment and the Global Carbon Project’s release of new data showing that global emissions increased again in 2018 — led by emissions growth in China, India and the U.S.

In Britain, activists have kicked off a new campaign called Extinction Rebellion, which, like Sunrise, relies on high-visibility sit-ins and civil disobedience. Meanwhile, thousands of protesters in Poland took to the streets as global elites gathered for the COP24 climate meetings — the latest UN-led effort to unite world governments to address the climate crisis.

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