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Ryan Pollock

The Case for an Ecosocialist Rank & File Strategy in the Building Trades

By Ryan Pollock - The Trouble, November 28, 2019

The building trades have often been one of the more reactionary elements of organized labor in the United States. Even as a tradesman myself—an inside wireman with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)—I had my own doubts about how much support for the Green New Deal (GND) could be garnered from the building trades. 

My recent experience at the 60th Annual Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention shattered that understanding. Not only were many of my fellow trades siblings—plenty of whom work in the fossil fuel industry or represent fossil fuel workers—strongly in favor of the GND at the start of the convention, but the political struggle to get most everyone else on board required minimal effort. In the end, our state AFL-CIO passed a GND-style resolution. This victory is a powerful model for conventions across the country; it shows how resolutions like this one can become a standard labor demand.

In March of this year, shortly after the release of the GND resolution in Congress, the AFL-CIO Energy Committee released a memo harshly criticizing the resolution. Surprised by the response of an organization that I felt the resolution intended to strengthen, I set out to identify their reasons for opposition. In the process, I discovered a pro-GND resolution passed by the Alameda, California Central Labor Council (CLC), a confederation  of union-delegates that make recommendations on local and statewide labor and political issues. 

After reading the Alameda resolution, I wondered if I could pass something similar in my own CLC (Austin, TX), to which I’m a delegate. After tweaking the language of the Alameda resolution to make its references to the crisis in California more relevant to Texans, I submitted the resolution at the July meeting of the Austin CLC. After some explanation and discussion, the resolution passed unanimously.

The next step was the state level—a week after the Austin CLC meeting, the 60th Annual Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention took place, and I was appointed by my union local to attend. 

Soon after the meeting agenda went public, I received a call from my friend Jeff Rotkoff, the Campaign Director for Texas AFL-CIO, letting me know that leadership at Texas AFL-CIO loved my resolution, but that it was also already causing a stir. While they applauded my efforts, they didn’t expect it to get very far. I didn’t blame them at all for their pessimism. I didn’t expect much progress myself. Over the next few days, entire districts of building trades threatened to walk out of the convention if my resolution even made it to the floor. I came ready to fall flat on my face.

When I arrived at the stakeholder meeting that had been set up to discuss my resolution, however, my expectations quickly brightened. I was immediately introduced to Lee Medley, President of a Gulf Coast United Steelworkers (USW) local, who, instead of writing me off as I had expected, showed both good faith and a genuine interest. He asked me if I was familiar with the concept of just transition. As I informed him that the trades defining our own terms for a just transition was exactly what I was trying to accomplish with this resolution, I understood that we were going to be making some serious progress that weekend.

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