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Filling Gaps Left By Trump, Nurses and Labor Unions Join Puerto Rico Relief Efforts

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, October 8, 2017

As President Donald Trump continues to come under fire for failing to deliver sufficient help to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—which killed dozens and left millions without power and running water—nurses, doctors, engineers, and other workers affiliated with various unions including National Nurses United (NNU) and the AFL-CIO have teamed up to assist with relief and recovery efforts.

"I put out the call for help, and who listened? The unions," said Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital. 

Workers representing more than 20 unions boarded a flight to San Juan late last week "in response to the urgent need to get highly skilled workers to Puerto Rico to help people seeking medical and humanitarian assistance, as well as to help with the rebuilding effort," according to the AFL-CIO's Kenneth Quinnell.

"The nurses, doctors, electricians, engineers, carpenters and truck drivers on the flight will engage in various efforts, including helping clear road blockages, caring for hospital patients, delivering emergency supplies, and restoring power and communications," Quinnell added.

"When our union sisters and brothers see a need in our national or international community, we don't ask if we should act, we ask how," said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. "We are united in lifting up our fellow Americans."

NNU, for its part, sent a delegation of 50 volunteer registered nurses from throughout the U.S. to help provide urgent medical assistance to those in need.

"As nurses whenever there's a call and there's an ask, we go," said NNU vice president Cathy Kennedy, RN. "From the reports I've heard especially the elderly that have been without oxygen, without food or water, are at risk, everyone's at risk but particularly the children and the elderly."

In total, more than 300 union members are taking part in the joint response effort, which could be seen taking shape on social media over the weekend. 

"We use the word 'solidarity' a lot in the labor movement. The idea that when we come together, we are stronger," wrote Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. "On this relief mission, it was solidarity in the truest sense of the word. Working people united around a common purpose — to provide help for those in need."

The response of union workers to the crisis sparked by Hurricane Maria also garnered the attention of NBC News, which ran a segment Saturday that focused on the dire circumstances affecting millions and the efforts of volunteers to provide help that has not been delivered by the U.S. government.

Railroad Workers and Our Allies Must Unite in Support of AMTRAK

By Ron Kaminkow - Teamsters for a Democratic Union, April 25, 2017

On March 16th, President Trump released a blueprint budget that proposes to slash funding for the Department of Transportation by $2.4 billion, including funding for all Amtrak “long distance” trains, along with funding for dozens of transit expansion projects nationwide. In recent months, Trump has voiced support for massive investment in the nation’s infra-structure. Yet ironically, his first proposed budget not only fails to deliver, it guts funding for existing infrastructure.

The blueprint budget proposes the elimination of most Amtrak routes across the country. If we are to save the national passenger rail system, railroad workers and their unions must unite with passenger advocacy groups, environmental organizations, and communities across the country. The vast majority of Americans want more - not less - passenger trains. In this fight, just like in others, railroad workers have lots of potential allies.

All railroaders – freight, as well as transit and passenger – should be alarmed and concerned by this proposal. Should Amtrak be defunded and dismembered, it is near certain that nothing would replace it. Privately run passenger trains fail to turn a profit – the reason that the rail carriers abandoned such service in the 1960's. And it is highly unlikely that private vendors – even if there were any – who wished to enter such a market would even be allowed by most – if not all – carriers access to their railroads. Amtrak is barely tolerated by the host railroads as it is, and then only because the act which created the entity in 1970 mandates that it be entitled to operate passenger trains on the nation’s railroads.

Thankfully, the President’s blueprint budget is not the last word on the question. We have the potential to save Amtrak – and transit funding too – over the course of the coming weeks and months, as Congress fashions what will be ultimately be the final budget. We have been down this road before of course, when George Bush was President. We will need to mobilize now like we did then. Because if Amtrak is defunded, thousands of fellow rails will lose their jobs, and as a result, we will all potentially suffer as the income for Railroad Retirement is dramatically diminished.

Ironically, as it turns out, Amtrak is one of the most efficient passenger railroads in the world, covering 94% of its operating costs at the fare box! Adjusted revenue of $2.15 billion was the most ever for a fiscal year (2016). Amtrak set an all-time ridership record despite record low gasoline prices inducing travelers to drive rather than seek public transportation. Demand for trains is out there! Considering that all forms of transportation – including airline, inland waterway, as well as automobile, bus and anything else that goes down the highway – are heavily subsidized by the states and federal government, far more than Amtrak, we are getting a great deal with the limited subsidy that Amtrak receives to keep the trains running. And in some cases – especially in rural areas – the train is the only form of public transportation available!

And trains are the safest form of transportation known to humanity. Railroad transport utilizes less land and space to transport an equivalent number of passengers in any other mode. And trains emit less pollutants than other forms, and can make use of alternative and renewable energy. As the nation’s highways and airports become ever more congested, we should be expanding passenger train options, not reducing them! As fossil fuel shipments decline, and demand for public transportation continues to grow, passenger trains could fill the void and excess track capacity in certain lanes. And in select mid-range corridors of 400 miles or less; e.g. Chicago to St. Louis, Chicago to Twin Cities; Bay Area to L.A., Houston to Dallas; Jacksonville to Miami; L.A. to Las Vegas, there is great potential to develop and expand multi-train departures on faster and more reliable schedules.

But to save Amtrak and expand the use of passenger rail – thereby increasing union rail employment, and ensuring the future of Railroad Retirement – will take a gallant effort. Rail unions cannot do this themselves, passenger advocacy groups cannot, neither can environmental organizations nor municipalities, all of whom are supporters of passenger rail. Therefore, we need a “Grand Alliance” of all of these forces to win the day. While all of us may have a specific agenda and focus, we have far more in common with one another than we have differences, there is far more that unites us than divides us. It is high time that our labor unions reach out, network, and build the necessary alliances with these forces, not just for a one-time lobbying effort for a specific narrow goal, as important as it may be. Rather, we need to build a strategic long-term alliance – despite our differences - with these forces, where we come to see one another as natural coalition partners for the long run.

Governments around the world are investing heavily in passenger rail. They understand that it is the safest, most convenient, environmentally sensitive, and often fastest way to get around. We can do it here too. But it will take the political will power and the formation of a lasting progressive coalition to bring it about. What better time than now to get started!

A healthy planet for our children to inherit, or destroying the earth for jobs? Join Thousands of Workers in Saying: We Will No Longer Accept This Choice!

By Labor for Standing Rock - Labor for Standing Rock, February 2017

Dear Fellow Workers:

We are the people whose blood, sweat and tears built this country’s infrastructure. Our hard work keeps our families fed—and it should also protect the world our children will live in tomorrow.

We play a critical role in making America what it is, and what it will become. Now we have united as thousands of workers across the country to ask a tough question: “What kind of world are we building?”

President Trump recently cleared a path for the completion of the controversial Dakota Access (DAPL) and Keystone X-L (KXL) Pipelines, despite massive global protest against these projects. In violation of the right of all people to clean water, air and land - and in violation of Indigenous peoples’ Treaty Rights - the corporations behind these pipelines continue to dangle the promise of good paying jobs in front of people like us, who need work. In doing so, they force us to trade temporary pay—for the future health of everyone we care about.

As working people, of course we demand decent, well-paid jobs. There is no question about that. But we also demand long-term health and safety for our children and grandchildren. Corporations have been lying in order to profit off our lives and the healthy lives of future generations. They tell us pipelines are safe and that they do not fail, which is demonstrably not true. That leaves working people with a choice between one or the other: a job today or a livable planet tomorrow. We will no longer accept this choice.

Why has the Dakota Access Pipeline become a divisive issue for U.S. Labour?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 7, 2016

Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota are continuing, according to Democracy Now on October 7.  On October 5, three U.S. federal judges heard arguments  over whether to stop the construction, but they are not expected to make a ruling for three or four months.  Meanwhile, Jeremy Brecher of the Labor Network for Sustainability released a new post , Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor,  which asks “Why has this become a divisive issue within labor, and can it have a silver lining for a troubled labor movement?”  The article discusses the AFL-CIO’s  statement  in support of the pipeline, and points to the growing influence of the North America’s Building Trades Unions’ within the AFL-CIO through their campaign of “stealth disaffiliation”.  It also cites an “ unprecedented decision” by the Labor Coalition for Community Action,  an official constituency group of the AFL-CIO , to issue their own statement in support of the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in direct opposition to the main AFL-CIO position. The Climate Justice Alliance, an environmental justice group of 40 organizations, has also written to the AFL-CIO in an attempt to begin discussions.  Brecher’s article concludes that the allies and activist members of the AFL-CIO are exerting increasing pressure, and asks “Isn’t it time?” for a dialogue which will shift direction and build a new fossil-free infrastructure which  will also create jobs in the U.S.    For unions interested in supporting the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a sample resolution for local unions is available from the Climate Workers website.

AFL-CIO Backs Dakota Access Pipeline and the “Family Supporting Jobs” It Provides

By Kate Aronoff - In These Times, September 17, 2016

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) came out this week in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the construction of which was delayed last week by an order from the Obama administration—a decision that itself stemmed from months of protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux.

In a statement, Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, said, “We believe that community involvement in decisions about constructing and locating pipelines is important and necessary, particularly in sensitive situations like those involving places of significance to Native Americas.”

But it “is fundamentally unfair,” he added, “to hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay. The Dakota Access Pipeline is providing over 4,500 high-quality, family supporting jobs.

“(Trying) to make climate policy by attacking individual construction projects is neither effective nor fair to the workers involved. The AFL-CIO calls on the Obama Administration to allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue.”

It’s an open secret in labor that North America’s Building Trades Unions—including many that represent pipeline workers—have an at-times dominating presence within the federation’s 56-union membership. Pipeline jobs are well-paying union construction gigs, and workers on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) can make some $37 an hour plus benefits. As one DAPL worker and Laborers International Union member told The Des Moines Register, "You’ve got to make that money when you can make it.”

But an old blue-green mantra says, “there are no jobs on a dead planet.” The parts of organized labor that have taken that phrase to heart are far from unified around Trumka’s DAPL backing—even within the AFL-CIO. National Nurses United (NNU) has had members on the ground at Standing Rock protests and others around the country have participated in a national day of action.

"Nurses understand the need for quality jobs while also taking strong action to address the climate crisis and respecting the sovereign rights of First Nation people,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, NNU’s executive director and a national vice president of the AFL-CIO.

In response to the federation’s endorsement, DeMoro cited the work of economist Robert Pollin, who found that spending on renewable energy creates approximately three times as many jobs as the same spending on maintaining the fossil fuel sector.

NNU isn’t alone. As protests swelled this month, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) released a statement in support of the Standing Rock Sioux, stating that “CWA stands with all working people as they struggle for dignity, respect and justice in the workplace and in their communities.”

Unions like the Amalgamated Transit Union and the United Electrical Workers have each issued similar statements supporting protests against the pipeline, and calling on the Obama administration to step in and block the project permanently.

For those who follow labor and the environment, however, the above unions might be familiar names. Many were vocal advocates for a stronger climate deal in Paris, and sent members to COP21 at the end of last year. They were also those most vehemently opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline, and all supported Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. While friendly to progressives, these unions have tended to have a relatively limited impact on bigger unions, like the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

According to Sean Sweeney, though, this small group of unions might now be gaining strength. “Progressive unions are becoming a more coherent force,” he told In These Times.

Sweeney helped found a project called Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, which works with unions around the world on climate change and the transition away from fossil fuels, including the National Education Association and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ in the United States. He also runs the International Program for Labor, Climate and the Environment at City University of New York’s Murphy Institute.

“It could be said that it’s just the same old gang making the same old noise, but for health unions and transport unions to go up against the building trades and their powerful message and equally powerful determination to win ... that was a bit of a cultural shift in the labor movement,” he said, referencing the fights against the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. “That suggests that it's going to continue.”

Sweeney mentioned, too, that it wasn’t until much later in the fight around Keystone XL that even progressive unions came out against it. “A lot of these unions,” he added, “know a lot more about energy and pollution and climate change than they did before.”

Between Trumka’s DAPL endorsement and the Fraternal Order of Police’s endorsement of Donald Trump for president, this week has shown a stark divide between parts of American labor and today’s social movements. Progressive unions face an uphill battle on many issues, within and outside of organized labor. The question now—on the Dakota Access Pipeline—is whether today’s “Keystone moment” can break new ground in the jobs versus environment debate.

Dakota Access opens rift in AFL-CIO and debate within labor movement

By Paul Roland - KBOO, September 28, 2016

Audio File

After AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a statement on September 15 (link below) harshly criticizing Native Americans and others opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline DAPL), a growing number of progressive unions and labor organizations--many of them AFL-CIO affiliates--stepped forward to stand with the Standing Rock and other Native Nations and their allies.

While a similar conflict surfaced during the KXL pipeline controversy, it remained less openly contentious because the section that would have passed through the Dakotas was ultimately cancelled by President Obama. Now, with DAPL construction massively underway and hundreds of Native Nations uniting against the pipeline and gathered in an encampment of thousands, the battle lines are being more clearly drawn.  Perhaps Native troubadours there are singing the old United Mine Workers song from the 1930's, "Which Side Are You On?" 

Among the unions and organizations opposing the pipeline are Oregon's SEIU 503, the Pacific Coast Pensions Association--ILWU, the Labor Coalition for Community Action (which includes the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the labor council for Latin American Advancement, and Pride at Work), National Nurses United, ATU transit workers, California Faculty Association, Communication Workers of America, IWW Environmental unionism Caucus, National Writers Union UAW Local 1981, UE ( United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America) and others.

Today's guests are Gregory Cendana, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, an AFL-CIO member organization (http://www.apalanet.org/national-staff.html); Roben White, enrolled Oglala Lakota of Pine Ridge and long-time local union activist;  Laura John, Blackfeet/Seneca and member-activist of SEIU Local 503 who pushed her local to adopt a statement in support of the Standing Rock and against the DAPL, and Rob Sisk, President of SEIU Local 503.

Work Week Radio: AFL-CIO and Opposition To Pipeline and Brazilian Workers Strike

By Steve Zeltser - Work Week Radio KPFA, September 27, 2016

WorkWeek looks at the growing conflict in the labor movement over the Dakota Access Pipeline project and the protests by Standing Rock Sioux Native Americans and other tribes and supporters against the pipeline. LIUNA, the Teamsters, Operating Engineers and Richard Trumpka of the AFL-CIO have supported the pipeline. Additional LIUNA, IBT, Pipefitters and Operating Engineers have also called for calling in the National Guard to protect the pipeline workers from protest.

Unions including the National Nurses Union NNU, Amalgamated Transit Union ATU, Communication Workers Of America CWA and American Postal Workers Union have opposed the pipeline and supported the protesting Native American tribes.

WorkWeek interviews NNU Director of Director of Environmental Health and Climate Justice for National Nurses United (NNU) Fernando Losada. We also interview Jeremy Brecher who is a labor writer and with Labor For Sustainability.

They discuss the split in labor, what is behind it and also the labor management partnership between the building union leadership and the oil and fossil fuel corporations.

Next WorkWeek looks at the upcoming strike in Brazil of auto and metal workers along with bank and public workers with Fabio Bosco who is with the Sao Paulo Metro workers union and Conlutas a labor federation which is supporting the strike.

Big Labor has an identity crisis, and its name is Dakota Access

By Aura Bogado - Grist, September 28, 2016

A growing rift has split the country’s biggest union federation, the AFL-CIO. Many labor activists and union members are outraged that Richard Trumka, the federation’s president, threw the AFL-CIO’s support behind the Dakota Access pipeline project earlier this month.

The AFL-CIO’s statement backing the pipeline was announced a week after the Obama administration put construction on hold. Trumka acknowledged “places of significance to Native Americans” but argued that the more than “4,500 high-quality, family supporting jobs” attached to the pipeline trumped environmental and other considerations.

That move rankled many in the AFL-CIO’s more progressive wing, highlighting strains within the federation of 56 unions representing 12 million workers. Recent tensions within the AFL-CIO have deepened a long-running divide between a more conservative, largely white, jobs-first faction and progressive union members who are friendly to environmental concerns and count more people of color among their ranks.

Grist interviewed five staffers at the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the press. Trumka’s public support for the pipeline caught these senior-level and mid-level staffers by surprise, they told Grist — especially because he had recently taken progressive positions on Black Lives Matter, immigration, and criminal justice.

A call to Trumka’s office was not returned. The federation’s policy director, Damon Silvers, who is said to have helped write the statement, also did not respond to an interview request.

Union opponents of the pipeline project and their advocates quickly responded on social media with satire. One post on Twitter likened Trumka’s position to helping the wrong side in Star Wars.

Other frustrated union members and staffers placed calls to Climate Workers, an organization of union workers focused on climate justice, to vent. Brooke Anderson, an organizer at the group, says she fielded dozens of calls from members upset about the AFL-CIO’s position.

Indigenous Resistance Deserves Workers' Solidarity

By Roger Butterfield - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 26, 2016

September 15th’s announcement that the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) supports the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) hardly came as a surprise to me, but it definitely didn’t lift my spirits about the present state of organized labor in the US. At a time when solidarity and support is needed for one of the most vibrant and powerful indigenous liberation movements of the decade, the federation asked itself “Which side are you on?”, and spoke its answer plainly: with business and its owners. Any organization committed to an egalitarian society (or the general survival of the human species, for that matter) would condemn the pipeline company’s attacks on indigenous protesters. Any genuine and s trong w orkers’ organization should call on the construction workers to withhold their labor, offer legal support to those that do, and provide what resources it could offer to supporting resistance to scabs and jail support for the protesters.

But the AFL-CIO is not a genuine workers’ organization, nor has it ever committed itself to egalitarianism. It has a long history of excluding workers from its unions (people of color, women, communists, unskilled laborers, and immigrants), only removing these barriers when the culture surrounding and internal to it faced sufficient challenge from workers and the courts. In recent times the federation supported construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, another environmental catastrophe that would cut through not only swathes of indigenous land, but provide very few long-term jobs for construction workers.

The organization’s behavior seems to be driven by a political orientation to securing better day to day working conditions for its already existing union members, without regard for a broader and long-term, liberatory social vision. “Social blindness” (IWW member Helen Keller’s phrase) to the devastation of both environment and persons is the only way federation president Richard Trumka can conceivably justify backing the construction of a pipeline. Opposition to the construction of a climate bomb being built over the graves of protestors’ ancestors is characterized as “hold[ing] union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay”.

When the federation does release documents detailing a strategy or a vision, they read like Democratic Party talking points. The AFL-CIO has attached itself to and merged with the center of the Democratic Party, becoming an appendage of an ever rightward-shifting parliamentary politics, hoping that electoral action in the form of legislation (eliminating Taft-Hartley, securing anti-discrimination protections for joining a union) will somehow stop or alleviate unions’ declining membership and create a labor rebirth. Or they believe that politicians like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will fight neoliberal cuts to public services and attacks on union rights, when their “opposition” mainly consists of an alternative public relations strategy for pursuing the policies that best serve business owners. This is more than a failed strategy for workers: it’s a reactionary one that abandons the workplace as a site of struggle and appeals to a more benevolent-sounding wing of the capitalist state.

In fact, the AFL-CIO is acting on the right wing of Obama: thanks to the pressure placed on the federal government to react to the indigenous coalition’s direct actions, the Obama administration has halted all construction on federal land (pending a review of environmental impacts), invited native leaders to formal talks to have a voice in modifying existing laws, and called on the pipeline company to pause construction. Federation President Richard Trumka is calling on the federal government to reverse that decision, and “allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue.”

In other words, the labor establishment wants to reject the state’s management strategy for public dissent, and instead opt for a more naked form of exploitation of dispossessed people and their environment. This is not “pushing politicians” to adopt policies more beneficial to workers; it’s abandoning any meaningful commitment to the idea that “an injury to one is an injury to all”, and doing the work of business owners for them. As my friend Nick Walter helpfully commented, “This is because at the end of the day the mainstream unions really do believe that the source of wealth is business and commerce rather than the labour of working people.”

The North American working class, particularly the embattled indigenous resistance in North Dakota, deserves better than the bureaucratic and conservative AFL-CIO. It deserves a labor movement inclusive of all workers and exclusive of capitalists and their state’s security forces, one led by the workers themselves and willing to fight for day-to-day changes on the job and to build long-term revolutionary changes in society at large. It deserves a class unionism across all ethnic, racial, gendered, and national lines, ultimately seeking to abolish class society itself.

The IWW joins with prominent labor organizations (National Nurses United, New York State Nurses Association, Communication Workers of America, Amalgamated Transit Union, United Electrical Workers, ILWU Local 19, Oregon Public Employees Union/SEIU Local 503, California Faculty Association, Labor Coalition for Community Action, and National Writers Association/UAW Local 1891) in supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s efforts to oppose the pipeline. As rank and file workers, we must reject any business, union, or labor federation that calls for collusion with the interests of business and action against dispossessed indigenous people.

Beyond Rhetoric – What Does the “Just Transition” Mean for DAPL?

By Emily Llyn Williams - Climate Justice Project, September 20, 2016

Rob sat across the fire at Sacred Stone Camp from me, hands deep in his pockets against the deepening chill of the night. He was recounting the difficulties he had faced in his home state of North Dakota as an environmentalist while all his neighbors baulked at the term. Rob, you see, had come to Standing Rock, North Dakota, to support the local Sioux tribes in opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). As I pressed him more for what it was like where he was from and what people thought about the pipeline in the heavily oil-reliant North Dakotan economy, he finally professed that he wasn’t the best one to ask – his neighbors were reluctant to talk to him because he himself opposed the pipelines.

The idea was for DAPL to connect the newly burgeoning oil fields of North Dakota to an existing framework of pipelines in Illinois. Faced with the choice to truck it, transport it by train, or build a pipeline, Energy Transfer Partner decided the latter would be the most economical and, moreover, they claim, the most “environmental.” However, the term “environmental” has often been co-opted by companies and used to greenwash more dangerous practices. Indeed, environmentalists, farmers who live downstream, and the Sioux people at Standing Rock (just to name a few) insist that all pipelines break and the threat to the water of the Missouri river is too great to risk such a project.

To understand why such a project would be pursued, we need to think for a moment about the economy of North Dakota and, more specifically, about Rob’s neighbors. In 2006, the Bakken oil formation was discovered in North Dakota and capitalized upon. These reserves had remained untapped up to that moment; what changed was the invention of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or fracking). When the process of fracking was created, in conjunction with a greater desire to become as a country more energy independent, the Bakken formation turned to gold. The area was quickly spun into production and produced job after job – so many in fact that during the Great Recession, unemployment remained low in North Dakota [1]. However, in 2012, the oil boom peaked and turned to the downward end of the boom-and-bust cycle. With the global price of oil plummeting, the fields have become much less profitable and, in an economy so heavily reliant on the production of those oil fields, people have been hit hard financially [2]. While it won’t have any significant impact on the global price of oil, the DAPL pipeline represents for many North Dakotans a step towards bolstering the oil industry and, therefore, jobs. Energy Transfer Partners have been very good at selling this pipeline to the people of North Dakota as a glimmer of hope in an economy whose gold plating has been scraped off. Why should Rob’s neighbors care about water quality downstream or the impending doom of climate change to be faced by their grandchildren when they can’t find a job to put food on the table?

The cruel irony is that the pipeline is set to run through native lands—both on the Standing Rock reservation and off of it where the peoples’ ancestral and burial sites are found. Standing Rock has one of the highest poverty rates of any reservation in the continental United States. However, while the people of North Dakota who work in the oil fields are sold the dream that DAPL would bring economic success to them and their families, the people of Standing Rock have nothing to win from the construction of the pipeline. The Sioux were never consulted in the planning of DAPL, and would receive no economic benefit; moreover, their water source and lands that hold great cultural significance to them are threatened and would surely become degraded. These are not just probabilities, since some are already realities – in early September, the company bulldozed a huge Sioux burial site in preparation for laying pipe [3].

Naomi Klein’s term for lands and experiences such as these is “sacrifice zones” – zones in which the people and ecosystems are sacrificed and hidden away for the profit of others, or areas which bear the external costs of others’ practices. What the Sioux are making is an understandable plea – to protect the water and their homes. They call themselves “water protectors” and peacefully march and non-violently chain themselves to bulldozers with the eloquent message that “water is life.” In the midst of extreme poverty, loss of traditions across generations, and generally tough living conditions on the reservation, they remind others that you need water and can drink water, but you cannot drink oil.

Nonetheless, even as obvious as it is that water, not oil, is essential to life and therefore must be protected, we cannot ignore Rob’s neighbors’ concerns about their jobs. Water is life, but the oil workers of North Dakota are trying to support their lives too as best they can. Too often in conversations about climate justice and calls to keep fossil fuels in the ground, as activists we forget (or conveniently ignore) what it means for those whose livelihoods and sometimes family traditions are so bound up in maintaining the status quo. When we talk about the transition to a 100% renewable energy economy, we need to think about all those who stand to lose while the desired transition unfolds. The fossil fuel industry and climate change don’t care about peoples’ lives or the health of ecosystems; the climate justice movement, however, has a responsibility to do better and ensure that the transition is a just one and includes everyone.

An economy so heavily reliant on the extraction and transportation of oil is an unstable economy; witness the relentless boom-and-bust cycles of so many American towns. Rather than plummeting these economies into a permanent bust and expecting the workers to train themselves up for a new job in renewable energy 1000 miles away, we need to think about how to plan a transition with these workers at the decision-making table, right alongside the indigenous folks who are on the ground fighting the pipeline. Planning ahead for diverse and varied economic activities to take the place of an oil-driven economy, working on job training programs, and asking the workers what they need before the tap is shut off are just a few ways to ensure that they come along willingly and have a stake in what replaces a way of life that can no longer be sustained if humanity is to have a future.

The transition to a 100% renewable economy is already underway and is going to happen whether or not everyone is on board. The only questions are how quickly it happens, and whether it can be done in a way that brings Rob’s neighbors to the table instead of the self-appointed few that got us into this mess in the first place. 

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