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Sunrise Movement

For a Sustainable Future: The Centrality of Public Goods

By Nancy Holmstrom - Socialist Register, Spring 2020

The most recent report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it absolutely clear that ways of living in the twenty-first century must be premised on the existential threat to our survival posed by multiple ecological crises. Indeed it could all be over before the end of the century. If we do not radically suppress global CO2 emissions, global warming will rise to the point where it cannot be stopped. While not long ago the word ‘catastrophe’ seemed hyperbolic to many, today few could deny it is fitting. Melting glaciers, rising sea level, drought, fires, and flooding all over the world and the resulting migration are catastrophes for those who suffer them – and give us a taste of far worse catastrophes to come. Already the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 150,000 excess deaths per year due to climate change, likely to double by 2030.

After the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center we heard the word ‘security’ incessantly, almost always invoked as intentional threats to our safety and well-being, which of course means they are threats by people, whether they be individuals, groups, or nations. Global warming, on the other hand, is a threat from nature that is an unintended result of human action – not what is usually intended by a ‘security’ threat, and it does not grip our imagination and fears in any way proportional to its severity. But it is not only intentional acts that can threaten our safety and well-being. Once threats to our security are conceived more broadly, consider the greater dangers from unclean air and water and contagious diseases, whatever the mix of intentional and unintentional acts that created the problem.

Download (PDF).

No Worker Left Behind: Protecting Workers and Communities in the Green New Deal

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, December 2019

The Green New Deal Resolution submitted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, while it includes many protections and benefits for workers, does not include language that specifically addresses workers who might be adversely affected by the transition to a climate-safe economy. Such GND proposals were soon criticized as too vague to provide protections that workers and unions could count on. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, for example, told the Economic Club of Washington, DC, "We would want a whole lot of changes made so that workers and our jobs are protected in the process."

There are now several GND plans proposed by political figures, including Democratic presidential candidates, that spell out how protections for workers might be implemented. There are also a variety of GND proposals from individuals and groups that further spell out such protections.

In this briefing paper we lay out the basic elements that have been proposed to protect the well-being of workers and communities who may be adversely affected by aspects of the GND and the transition to a climate-safe economy. We summarize how each of the plans would go about protecting workers and communities whose jobs may be threatened. In the Appendix we provide partial texts from which these summaries are extracted.

The purpose of this compendium is not to evaluate which candidate or other proponent has the best plan. Rather, the purpose is to present the various strategies and programs from which future shapers of the GND can select and combine to forge the best possible program.

Read the report (PDF).

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).

What will it take to win a Green New Deal?

By David Camfield - New Socialist, June 10, 2019

The push for a Green New Deal (GND) that’s become a big topic of political discussion in the US has come north. At the beginning of May 2019, the Pact for a GND was launched publicly in Canada. It was endorsed by a range of organizations and prominent individuals. Behind the scenes, staff from a number of major NGOs including Greenpeace and Leadnow are playing key roles in the initiative.

The Pact calls the GND “a vision of rapid, inclusive and far-reaching transition, to slash emissions, protect critical biodiversity, meet the demands of the multiple crises we face, and create over a million jobs in the process. It would involve the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) including the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), dozens of other pieces of legislation, new programs and institutions, and a huge mobilization calling on the creativity and participation of all of us.”

The Pact sets out “two fundamental principles” for a GND: “1. It must meet the demands of Indigenous Knowledge and science and cut Canada’s emissions in half in 11 years while protecting cultural and biological diversity”, and “2. It must leave no one behind and build a better present and future for all of us.”

Over 100 town hall meetings have been held in cities, towns and smaller communities to discuss what should be in a GND, and more are planned. The results of the discussions are supposed to be reported back and used to develop a package of GND policies. It seems that the contents of the package will eventually be decided by some of the people, mostly NGO staff, doing the work of the Pact for a GND Coalition. The Coalition, however, will not be campaigning publicly between June 30th and the federal election due to election advertising regulations. The GND policy package will be launched after the federal election, with the Coalition talking internally about doing some kind of mass mobilization around it.

Internationalising the Green New Deal: Strategies for Pan-European Coordination

By Daniel Aldana Cohen, Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, and Thea Riofrancos - Common Wealth, 2019

Climate politics are today bursting to life like never before. For four decades, market fundamentalists in the United States and United Kingdom have blocked ambitious efforts to deal with the climate crisis. But now, the neoliberal hegemony is crumbling, while popular climate mobilisations grow stronger every month. There has never been a better moment to transform politics and attack the climate emergency.

When the climate crisis first emerged into public consciousness in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were consolidating a neoliberal doctrine that banished the most powerful tools to confront global heating— public investment and collective action.

Instead, neoliberals sought to free markets from democratically imposed constraints and the power of mass mobilisation. Thatcher insisted that there was no alternative to letting corporations run roughshod over people and planet alike in the name of profit. Soon, New Democrats and New Labour agreed. While the leaders of the third way spoke often of climate change, their actual policies let fossil capital keep drilling and burning. Afraid to intervene aggressively in markets, they did far too little to build a clean energy alternative.

Then the financial crisis of 2008 and the left revival that exploded in its wake laid bare the failures of the neoliberal project. An alternative political economic project is now emerging—and not a moment too soon. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it, keeping global warming below catastrophic levels will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” In other words: public investment and collective action.

Fortunately, movements on both sides of the Atlantic have been building strength to mount this kind of alternative to market fundamentalism. On the heels of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders’s 2016 Democratic primary campaign breathed new life into the American left and its electoral prospects. Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party, spurred by a vibrant grassroots mobilisation, gives those of us in the U.S. hope: if New Labour could give way to Corbynism, surely Clintonism can give way to the left wing of the Democratic party. In the U.K., drawing on tactics from the Sanders campaign, Momentum has developed a new model of mass mobilisation to transform a fossilised political party. It’s restoring the dream that formal politics can be a means for genuinely democratic political organising. In turn, U.S. leftists are learning from Momentum’s innovations.

The vision of the Green New Deal that has taken shape in the United States in the past few months is in many ways a culmination of the U.S. left’s revival. The Green New Deal’s modest ambition is to do all that this moment requires: decarbonise the economy as quickly as humanly possible by investing massively to electrify everything, while bringing prodigious amounts of renewable power online; all this would be done in a way that dismantles inequalities of race, class and gender. The Green New Deal would transform the energy and food systems and the broader political economy of which they are a part.

Read the report (PDF).

The Green New Deal: Realistic Proposal or Fantasy?

By Peter Hudis - New Politics, May 26, 2019

The Green New Deal (GND), drawn up by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, is the most ambitious and comprehensive program to deal with climate change ever made by political representatives to Congress and the U.S. public. It calls for making dramatic changes within the next ten years to end our reliance on fossil fuels that are warming the planet at an alarming rate. But it is not only about curbing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions: it is most of all a proposal to set us on a path of creating an ecologically sustainable society.

The GND lays out seven major proposals for ending U.S. society’s addiction to fossil fuels—the most destructive form of addiction known on this planet:

  • Dramatically expand existing renewable power sources and deploy new production capacity with the goal of meeting 100% of national power demand through renewable sources.
  • Building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid.
  • Upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety.
  • Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing, agricultural and other industries.
  • Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and other infrastructure, and upgrading water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water.
  • Funding massive investment in the draw-down of greenhouse gases.
  • Making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries bringing about a global Green New Deal.[1]

These seven policy prescriptions are ambitious enough. Yet the GND goes further, by stipulating it “Shall recognize that a national, industrial, economic mobilization of this scope and scale is a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation.” It spells this out with eight specific proposals:

  • Provide all members of society the opportunity, training and education to be a full and equal participant in the transition, including through a job guarantee program to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one.
  • Diversify local and regional economies to ensure workers have the necessary tools, opportunities, and economic assistance to succeed during the energy transition.
  • Require strong enforcement of labor, workplace safety, and wage standards that recognize the rights of workers to organize and unionize free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment, and creation of meaningful, quality, career employment.
  • Ensure a “just transition” for all workers, low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, rural and urban communities and the front-line communities most affected by climate change, pollution and other environmental harm including by ensuring that local implementation of the transition is led from the community level.
  • Protect and enforce sovereign rights and land rights of tribal nations.
  • Mitigate deeply entrenched racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth (including, without limitation, ensuring that federal and other investment will be equitably distributed to historically impoverished, low income, de-industrialized or other marginalized communities).
  • Include measures such as basic income programs, universal health care programs and any others as the select committee may deem appropriate to promote economic security, labor market flexibility and entrepreneurship.
  • Deeply involve national and local labor unions to take a leadership role in the process of job training and worker deployment.

These eight proposals regarding full employment, universal health care, support for unions and marginalized communities, opposition to racial and gender-based discrimination, etc. may seem, on the surface, to have little to do with the GND’s central aim of radically reducing greenhouse has emissions within the next ten years. But in fact these eight proposals have a great deal to do with the seven that address ending reliance on fossil fuels. They are not some throw away meant to sneak a radical political agenda into an otherwise technical discussion of how to lower CO2 emissions. They are needed to wean U.S. society away from its addiction on fossil fuels.

Plan, Mood, Battlefield - Reflections on the Green New Deal

By Thea Riofrancos - Viewpoint Magazine, May 16, 2019

Climate scientists are beginning to sound like radicals.

The 2018 IPCC report concluded that “unprecedented changes across all aspects of society” would be needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In its devastating report on the dire state of the planet’s ecosystems, the UN’s panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services likewise called for, in the words of its chairperson, “fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

The first, and thus far only, U.S. policy initiative that addresses the severity of the crisis before us is the Green New Deal, introduced as a congressional joint resolution this past February. The resolution proposes, among other goals, decarbonizing the economy, investing in infrastructure, and creating dignified jobs for millions. And while this resolution is, from a planetary perspective, obviously limited by its domestic scale, transforming the U.S. along these lines would surely have global reverberations, for at least two reasons: the U.S. is a major impediment to global coöperation on climate, and political parties elsewhere in the world (e.g., the UK’s Labour Party and Spain’s Socialist Party) have already begun to adopt the Green New Deal as the frame for their own domestic policies.

After a few months of swirling discourse, we can begin to identify an emergent set of positions in the debate around the Green New Deal. The right-wing has resorted to classic red-baiting, decrying the nonbinding resolution as a “socialist monster,” a road to the serfdom of state planning, rationing, and compulsory veganism. The vanishing center is clinging tightly to its cozy attachment to a politics of triangulation: the Green New Deal is a childlike dream; serious adults know that the only option is to hew to the path of bipartisanship and incrementalism. The left, of course, knows that in the context of already-unfolding climate crisis, resurgent xenophobia, and the weakening hold on legitimacy of the neoliberal consensus, the real delusions are “market-driven” solutions and nostalgic paeans to American “norms and institutions.”

But on the left, too, there are criticisms, and outright rejections, of the Green New Deal (see here, here, here, and here). There is the charge that the Green New Deal, like the old New Deal, amounts to the state, qua executive committee of the bourgeoisie, rescuing capitalism from the planetary crisis it has created. In this rendering, rather than empowering “frontline and vulnerable” communities, as the resolution claims, the policy framework will amount to a corporate welfare windfall of investment opportunities lubricated with tax breaks and subsidies; public-private partnerships; infrastructure outlays that will stimulate real estate development; and, a jobs guarantee that will stimulate consumption—a win-win for the state and capital, but, by leaving the underlying, growth-addicted, model of accumulation untouched, a loss for the planet and the communities most vulnerable to climate crisis and eco-apartheid. There’s another twist. As sometimes the same analyses point out, this win-win-lose-lose scenario is itself based on a false understanding of contemporary capitalism. In a world of secular stagnation—declining profit rates, speculative bubbles, financialization, rentier-like behavior, and accumulation-by-upward-redistribution—the vampire-like quality of capital has never been more apparent. The notion that capital might, with a little inducement, suddenly overcome these tendencies and invest in productive activities is its own nostalgic fantasy.

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.”

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.

LNS Videoconference: The Green New Deal – What Does It Mean for Labor?

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2019

Sunrise Movement founders Varshini Prakash and William Lawrence speak and answer questions at a special LNS videoconference on labor and the Green New Deal. View it here »

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