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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Union Locals Build Support for the Green New Deal’s “Just Transition”

By Candice Bernd - Truthout, April 6, 2019

Undeterred by the Senate’s recent dismissal of the Green New Deal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) recently accepted Congressional Coal Caucus member Rep. Andy Barr’s (R-Kentucky) invitation to tour a coal mine in his district and meet with mine workers and voters in Appalachia to talk about how they could benefit from the resolution’s “just transition.”

That transition, as laid out in Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s plan, would include a federal jobs guarantee for U.S. workers. This includes former fossil fuel sector workers as they transition to build the infrastructure needed to shift the country to 100 percent renewable energy within 10 years.

Even as many of the resolution’s proponents are now turning their focus away from passing the Green New Deal on the heels of March’s procedural vote in the Senate, climate change legislation remains a priority for the Democratic Party. The resolution’s supporters are now looking at multiple bills in hopes of advancing standalone elements of the broader initiative as grassroots groups like the Sunrise Movement continue efforts to build support for the plan.

But what exactly would a Green New Deal or another piece of climate chance legislation focused on transitioning to renewables mean for the Kentucky coal workers Ocasio-Cortez is set to meet?

The plan backs union jobs and outlines commitments to “wage and benefit parity for workers” affected by the energy transition. The resolution also supports collective bargaining rights for workers while calling for “trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments” with strong labor protections.

Still, labor leaders like those on the AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee remain skeptical of the resolution’s call for a just transition. The Energy Committee sent an open letter to the resolution’s authors, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Ocasio-Cortez, blasting the resolution last month. “We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered,” wrote Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

The March 8 letter comes on the heels of a February letter sent to the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey), and its ranking member, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), outlining the “grave concerns about unrealistic solutions such as those advocated in the ‘Green New Deal,’” by seven unions representing workers in the building industry.

The strongest support for the plan has come from the joint executive board of the 163,000-member East Coast property service union, 32BJ SEIU, which passed its own resolution in February in support of the Green New Deal. Union President Héctor Figueroa recently condemned the Senate’s procedural vote to reject the plan, saying in a statement that, “Creating good jobs in this exciting new industry is as doable as it is necessary, but only if we work together in unity rather than giving into Washington’s divisive tactics.”

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.

Why Unions Must Bargain Over Climate Change

By Nato Green - In These Times, March 12, 2019

Union contract negotiations include mandatory and permissive subjects of bargaining. Employers are required by law to negotiate over mandatory subjects—wages, benefits and working conditions. Permissive subjects, such as decisions about which public services will be provided and how, have historically been the purview of management. We only negotiate over how managerial decisions affect members’ jobs. Employers may voluntarily agree to negotiate permissive subjects, but unions can’t legally strike over them.

In recent years, some unions have embraced “bargaining for the common good,” which use the union campaign to win broad, righteous public benefits. The best current example of this is the Los Angeles teachers’ strike, which opposed the underfunding, privatization and overcrowding of schools—all of which hurt students. Common good goals often bump against the constraints of what is legally bargainable. For instance, does a demand from teachers' unions that school districts use district-owned property to fund and build affordable housing for teachers affect working conditions? While shortages of affordable housing affect teachers very directly, how school districts use their land and invest their money is normally considered a managerial prerogative.

But last fall’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a game-changer. It concludes that humanity has 12 years to cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius—and avoid civilization-threatening consequences of climate change. There is a lot of space between projected best- and worst-case future scenarios. It’s the difference between bad and apocalyptic. That space represents hundreds of millions of people dying. Avoiding worst-case scenarios, in strictly scientific terms, requires everyone to do everything, immediately.

The looming timeline of the IPCC report means unions must have a right to bargain over climate change, especially in the public sector. What good is it to negotiate the assignment of overtime when the sky is on fire? Does a public employer really want to claim that its direct complicity in the potential collapse of civilization has no bearing on working conditions? Can government claim that abandoning its workforce to die or flee their homes doesn’t affect working conditions? If employers don’t accept that every choice made today affects the near future, they’re denying science. Local and state governments in Democratic strongholds may find it politically challenging to posture about resisting Republicanism nationally while denying the local implications of that stance.

Thanks to the Sunrise Movement and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Green New Deal provides a framework for us to declare our part in everyone doing everything immediately. The Green New Deal calls for a government-funded jobs program to carry out a just transition to a carbon-free economy at the rates called for by the IPCC report. This is a perfect common good framework for unions to respond to the most urgent challenge of our time, while simultaneously promoting a high-functioning public sector as antidote to neoliberalism’s degradation of public services.

A Green New Deal for American Labor?

By Saurav Sarkar - Labor Notes, February 15, 2019

The simple yellow protest signs were stenciled “Green Jobs for All.” Speaker after speaker stepped into the middle of the office floor, marked with a U.S. House of Representatives seal. Representative-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, fresh off her election win, gave the protesters high fives.

That was the scene in November when the youth climate justice organization Sunrise Movement held a sit-in at the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who was soon to be the Speaker of the House.

Most Americans had never heard of the “Green New Deal” at the time.

Now, it’s on the mainstream radar. The New York Times and the Washington Post ran multiple stories when Ocasio-Cortez introduced a resolution on February 7 to reduce carbon emissions through a massive good jobs program. The resolution has 67 House co-sponsors, while the Senate version has 12.

Even stronger than the original New Deal in the ’30s, her version of a Green New Deal would include a federal guarantee of living-wage employment—that is, anyone who wanted a job could get one at a salary that could support a family, with an emphasis on union jobs and protecting the right to organize.

The plan would also include public investments in clean energy infrastructure. But “there are millions of good, high-wage jobs that will be available through the Green New Deal, and they’re not just jobs that are in the manufacture of clean energy,” said security officer Judith Howell, a Service Employees 32BJ shop steward. For instance, she said, it will take work to clean up the environment where it’s already been damaged.

Howell has been an environmental activist since hearing Ray Charles sing “America the Beautiful” on Earth Day. Last year she helped push through a carbon tax in her hometown of Washington, D.C.

Activists like her are responding to the acute necessity to deal with climate change before the earth is drastically damaged.

It’s not too soon. Scientists now estimate that humanity has 12 years to cut carbon pollution by 45 percent to avert dramatic increases in droughts, flooding, heat, and poverty. Among the costs will be exposure to deadly heat illnesses for 350 million more people around the world by 2050 and $500 billion lost annually to the U.S. economy by 2100.

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.

We Have To Make Sure the “Green New Deal” Doesn’t Become Green Capitalism

Kali Akuno interviewed by Sarah Lazare - In These Times, December 12, 2018

Incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made waves in late November when she called for a Green New Deal (GND)—a plan to “transition” the U.S. economy to “become carbon neutral” over the course of 10 years. In a draft resolution, she proposes the formation of a Select Committee to develop a plan for massive public works programs, powered by a jobs guarantee and public banks, with the goal of “meeting 100 percent of national power demand through renewable sources.” According to Ocasio-Cortez, the plan aims to eliminate poverty, bring down greenhouse gas emissions, and “ensure a ‘just transition’ for all workers, low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, rural and urban communities and the front-line communities.”

The GND is still in its nascent phase, and concrete details haven’t yet been hashed out, but the proposal has received backing from the youth climate organization, the Sunrise Movement, which staged direct actions and protests to build political support for the framework. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is throwing his political weight behind the plan and 35 House members have endorsed it. Ocasio-Cortez—who identifies as a democratic socialist—is poised to lead the progressive conversation about climate change at the federal level.

Yet, some climate justice organizations are responding with more cautious support. The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), a network of front-line environmental justice organizations, including the Southwest Workers Union and Black Mesa Water Coalition, praised the GND as “a much-needed aggressive national pivot away from climate denialism to climate action.” But CJA said in a statement released earlier this week that “the proposal for the GND was made public at the grasstops [as opposed to grassroots] level. When we consulted with many of our own communities, they were neither aware of, nor had they been consulted about the launch of the GND.”

While the GND is in its developmental phase, the Climate Justice Alliance says it is critical for social movement groups to fight for the best possible version of the deal—and ensure that it does not include false solutions such as “carbon markets, offsets and emissions trading regimes or geoengineering technologies.” CJA says any jobs plan should restore and protect workers’ rights to organize and form unions, and it should be predicated on non-extractive policies that build “local community wealth that is democratically governed.” Any deal must ensure “free, prior and informed consent by Indigenous peoples,” CJA insists, and should be directed by those communities bearing the brunt of the “dig, burn, dump” economy.

In These Times spoke with Kali Akuno, director of the CJA-affiliated Cooperation Jackson, a Missisippi-based group that aims to build a “solidarity economy” that is “anchored by a network of cooperatives and worker-owned, democratically self-managed enterprises.” According to Akuno, movements must defend the best components of the GND, while challenging–and offering alternatives to–the capitalist logic embedded in some of its proposals. “While this is still in the drafting phase,” he argues, “let’s get it as near perfect as we possibly can.”

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.

An Ecosocialist Path to Limiting Global Temperature Rise to 1.5°C

By Richard Smith - System Change not Climate Change, November 26, 2018

I. The IPCC Report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” and the imperative to immediately suppress fossil fuel production

The much-awaited report from the U.N.’s top climate science panel describes the enormous gap between where we are and where we need to be to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. The 2015 Paris climate accord committed industrial nations to reduce their emissions sufficiently to keep global temperatures within a 2°C rise over pre-industrial levels. In the final accord, highly vulnerable island nations and faith communities represented at the UN pressed the authors to include the 1.5°C limit as an aspirational target in the final draft of the accord with 2°C as the backup target.

Soaring GHG emissions over the past five years, rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, ice-cap retreats, intensified storms, summer forest fires reaching even above the Arctic circle, and die-offs of the world’s coral reefs have all raised concerns about what even a little bit more warming would bring. Parts of the planet including the Arctic and many inland areas, have already warmed beyond 1.5°C. California is on fire most of the year. The worst hurricanes are twice as severe (more precipitation, slower passage, greater wind speeds) as they used to be. This is just a short start. Climate breakdown occurring much more quickly than expected is one reason why climate scientists now think that the goal just five years ago of limiting warming to 2°C  “increasingly seems disastrous in this context.”[2] The Paris pledges were never sufficient even to keep warming below 3°C let alone 2°C. Few of the signatories have even managed to meet the low bars they set for themselves and he world’s largest countries including China, the U.S., and Canada have us on track to a 4-5°C warming. As CO2 concentrations continue growing, preventing runaway warming is going to require ever deeper, truly draconian cuts in emissions, which will mean greater economic disruption. IPCC estimates already show us needing to achieve a near vertical drop in emissions in the early 2020s. Every day we delay getting off of fossil fuels increases the probability that we won’t be able to save ourselves.

The 2018 IPCC special report painted a stark portrait of how quickly the planet is heating up and called on governments to take immediate steps to suppress emissions:

If emissions continue at current rate, atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7° Fahrenheit, or 1.5° Celsius, above preindustrial levels by between 2030 and 2052. Further, warming is more extreme further inland of large water bodies. [To keep temperatures from rising beyond 1.5° degrees] anthropogenic CO2 emissions [must] decline by about 45% worldwide from 2010 levels by 2030 . . . [This] would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. . . . These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale . . . and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upswing in those options.[3]

Preventing ecological collapse requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that “has no documented historic precedent.”[4] What would this take? Myles Allen, Oxford University climate scientist and an author of the report said, “It’s telling us we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime.” To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming greenhouse emission must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and by 100 percent by 2050. Use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from 40 percent today to 1-7 percent by 2050.[5] Drew Shindell of Duke University, another author of the report said: “It would be an enormous challenge to keep warming below a threshold” of 1.5 degrees . . . What might that look like? In part, it would include things such as no more gas-powered vehicles, a phaseout of coal-fired power plants and airplanes running on biofuels,” he said. “It’s a drastic change,” he said. “These are huge, huge shifts . . . This would really be an unprecedented rate and magnitude of change.”[6] In response to the report, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned world leaders to “Do what the science demands before it’s too late.[7]

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