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Jeremy Brecher

The Strategy of the Green New Deal from Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 16, 2024

The Green New Deal from Below pursues strategic objectives that implement Green New Deal programs, expand the Green New Deal’s support, and shift the balance between pro- and anti-Green New Deal forces. Not every action is likely to accomplish all of these objectives, but most actions aim to accomplish more than one of them at the same time.

The first set of objectives aim to make concrete changes that accomplish the goals of the Green New Deal. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an objective of many actions, ranging from insulating urban housing to shutting down mines and power plants. Reducing injustice and inequality is similarly a goal of actions ranging from ensuring access to climate jobs for those who have been excluded from them to putting low-emission transit in vehicle-polluted neighborhoods. Another objective is improving the position of workers through such means as incorporating labor rights in climate legislation, establishing training and job ladders for climate jobs, and actively supporting the right of workers to organize and exercise their power. Green New Deal projects usually aim to accomplish these purposes synergistically, for example by designing climate-protection policies that also reduce injustice and empower workers on the job.

Green New Deal projects generally embody another set of objectives: educating and inspiring people. This happens through direct educational efforts like workshops, community forums, webinars, educational materials, and making known what has been accomplished elsewhere. Many programs involve basic education on climate, justice, and labor issues.

Campaigns like those for the Washington and Illinois clean energy and jobs acts involved long and extensive educational campaigns. But much of the inspiration and education provided by the Green New Deals takes the form of expanding the limits of what is believed to be possible by showing the power of people when they organize — and by constructing exemplary projects that inspire people to believe that more is possible. These exemplary actions produce powerful evidence for the value and feasibility of the Green New Deal.

Green New Deal from Below initiatives also support a shift in power. They bring into being organized constituencies and coalitions that can serve as political building blocks for more extensive Green New Deal campaigns. Green New Deal projects also create institutional building blocks, ranging from energy systems to transportation networks, that can become part of the economic and social infrastructure of a national Green New Deal. They help overcome the divisions and contradictions that weaken popular forces by engaging them around projects that embody common interests and a common vision. And they reduce the power of the anti-Green New Deal forces by dividing them, disorienting them, undermining their pillars of support, and even at times converting them.

The fight for the Green New Deal is inevitably entwined with the fight for democracy. Green New Deal from Below initiatives provide models for — and show the benefits of — popular democracy. Green New Deal from Below projects show that through collective action people can make concrete gains that benefit their real lives. They thereby contribute to building a base to protect and extend governance of, by, and for the people at every level. They represent a local embodiment of participatory democracy. And they create bastions for reinforcing representative democracy against fascism in the national arena.

The program of the Green New Deal, beneficial as it may be, is not in itself adequate to solve the deeper structural problems of an unjust and self-destructive world order. One of its strategic objectives, therefore, must be to open the way to wider, more radical forms of change.

Student Gaza Protesters Are Enforcing the Law

Strategic Perspectives of the Green New Deal from Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 30, 2024

The Green New Deal from Below represents a unique formation which therefore requires – and has developed — a unique strategy. It is not the same as an electoral campaign, a civil disobedience struggle, a neighborhood organization, a union recognition or contract campaign, an issue campaign, or other familiar forms of social action, though it may have similarities to all of them. It is necessary to recognize this uniqueness to avoid being caught up in familiar but inappropriate tactics.

If power were distributed equally in American society there might well be Green New Deals by now in a majority of American cities and states. But in reality, power is concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority – far smaller even than the notorious “1 percent.” Under normal circumstances the rest of the people have little influence over the basic decisions that determine our lives. The right to vote is precious, but it confers only limited influence over governments and even less over the corporations that shape economic decisions and in practice largely shape the policies of governments.

Yet ultimately the power of the powerful depends on the rest of us accepting and even enabling them. The withdrawal of our acquiescence and cooperation can render them powerless – as the old labor anthem goes, “Without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.”

The problem of Green New Deal strategy is in essence how to organize and mobilize the potential power of the people. One way is to use the power that we have within existing institutional structures. But in a grossly unequal system, voting and other institutionalized forms of action are likely to have only limited impact. From its start, the Green New Deal has combined action within the political system with direct popular action in the streets – and, uninvited, in the halls of power.

Popular Enforcement of International Law from Vietnam to Gaza

How the Green New Deal from Below Integrates Diverse Constituencies

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2, 2024

Green New Deal initiatives at local, state, regional, and civil society levels around the country have drawn together diverse, sometimes isolated, or even conflicted constituencies around common programs for climate, jobs, and justice. How have they done so?

Transcript Follows:

What Workers Want Is a Function of What They Think They Can Get

By Benjamin Fong and Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 30, 2023

Workers in the Great Depression were beaten down but desperate for change. When a militant new labor federation, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, raised their sense of political possibility, they seized the opportunity and unionized en masse.

The following is an interview conducted for Organize the Unorganized: The Rise of the CIO, a Jacobin podcast series produced in collaboration with the Center for Work and Democracy.

Jeremy Brecher on How Labor and Climate Movements Build Power from Below

By Bob Buzzcanco, Scott Parkin, and Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 14, 2023

In the latest Green and Red Podcast, Bob and Scott talk with author, labor historian and activist Jeremy Brecher who’s been engaged at the intersection of labor, the environment, and the climate for decades. Over 50 years ago, Jeremy authored “Strike,” a labor history classic. And then more recently he’s worked at the intersection of the labor and climate movements. We talk with Jeremy about strikes, unions, and union leadership since he first published “Strike;” the recent “Hot Labor Summer” of 2023; the labor-climate movements and much more.

Jeremy Brecher is a writer, historian, and activist who is the author of more than a dozen books on labor and social movements. His works include the labor history classic “Strike” and “Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual.” Jeremy is also a Senior Advisor for the Labor Network for Sustainability.

How Green New Deal from Below Programs Integrate Climate, Jobs, and Justice

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 3, 2024

The appeal of the Green New Deal lies in its drawing together the varied needs of diverse constituencies into a common program that realizes them all. Here’s how that works at the sub-national level.

The Green New Deal and the Politics of the Possible

Just Transition for Auto Workers: The Answer to Auto’s Race to the Bottom

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 6, 2023

Organized labor and the climate movement, often portrayed as opponents, have made an auspicious start toward cooperation in the autoworkers strike. The UAW, eschewing Trumpian blandishments to attack the transition to electrical vehicles (EVs), have instead endorsed the transition to climate-safe cars and trucks. One hundred climate organizations, rejecting the blandishments of auto industry allies that low wages in the non-union South will make EVs cheaper and therefore help fight global warming, have instead signed a letter of solidarity with UAW workers and are organizing to support union picket lines.[1] The purpose of this Commentary is to explain the context of this convergence and to indicate the elements of a “just transition” for the auto industry that can provide a joint program for the labor and climate movements.


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