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Jeremy Brecher

The Biden Climate Plan: Part 2: An Arena of Struggle

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, December 8, 2020

The climate plan released by Joe Biden in August presents a wide-ranging program for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The previous commentary, “The Biden Climate Plan: What it Proposes–Part 1” summarizes that plan. This commentary identifies the points of conflict on climate policy and related social policies that are likely to emerge within a Biden administration. It concludes by assessing how advocates of a Green New Deal can take advantage of the Biden program to fight for a climate-safe, worker-friendly, socially-just outcome. To read this commentary, please visit: this page.

The Biden Climate Plan: Part 1: What It Proposes

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, December 1, 2020

This commentary by Jeremy Brecher analyzes Joe Biden’s “Plan for Climate Change and Environmental Justice” released in August. The following commentary, “The Biden Climate Plan: Part 2: An Arena of Struggle,” will consider the struggles that are likely to emerge over what parts of the plan can and should be implemented. To read this commentary, please visit: this page.

People Power in the Coronavirus Depression

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, November 4, 2020

As we enter an era of constitutional crisis, contested government, intensifying pandemic, and mass economic disruption, the future of democracy will depend on popular mobilization. The earlier commentary “Fighting the Great Depression – From Below” described the grassroots unemployed, self-help, labor, and other movements of the early years of the Great Depression. “The Unemployed vs. the Coronavirus Depression,” “Self-Help in the Coronavirus Depression,” “Striking in the Coronavirus Depression,” and “Workers vs. the Coronavirus Depression” described the recent stirrings of grassroots action for health and economic protections in the coronavirus era. This commentary examines the grassroots response to the coronavirus as a whole. An upcoming commentary will examine the role of people power in the period of turmoil that lies ahead. The latest from Jeremy Brecher. To read this commentary, please visit this page.

Workers vs. the Coronavirus Depression

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network For Sustainability, September 17, 2020

The COVID-19 era has confronted workers with unique threats and problems – and they have turned to unique strategies to counter them. The previous commentary, “Striking in the Coronavirus Depression,” described how workers in hundreds of workplaces conducted strikes and other forms of on-the-job action to demand safer working conditions and hazard pay in the pandemic. These were primarily self-organized wildcat strikes with little or no union backing. This commentary describes two “mini-revolts”–the Strike for Black Lives and the recent strikes and strike threats by teachers–that also show new forms of organization and action, often with union support.

Self-Help in the Coronavirus Depression

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 11, 2020

The second in a series of Mass Action in the Coronavirus Depression, LNS Research and Policy Director offers this: "Self-Help in the Coronavirus Depression." In the early years of the Great Depression of the 1930s, unemployed and impoverished workers turned to dramatic forms of self-help to survive. Anti-eviction “riots” led by organizations of the unemployed made it possible to protect hundreds of thousands of families from being evicted from their homes and ultimately forced government in many cities to halt evictions. And the unemployed in hundreds of communities formed mutual aid organizations through which they exchanged food, services, and labor outside the cash economy. These efforts are described in the commentary “Fighting the Great Depression – From Below. This commentary tells how those affected by today’s Coronavirus Depression are using self-help techniques like rent strikes and mutual aid exchange to survive depression conditions.

Jeremy Brecher Webinar on Using Our Power to Stop Climate Disaster and Create a Just World

By Jeremy Brecher - System Change not Climate Change - July 26, 2020

Labor organizer, climate activist, and historian Jeremy Brecher speaks about the role of the strike weapon in fighting the deepening and intertwined crises we face.

Strike! Audio Commentary by Jeremy Brecher. Fighting the Great Depression from Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network For Sustainability - July 14, 2020

The United States has entered the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. This commentary describes the grassroots movements of the early years of the Great Depression in order to learn something about the dynamics of popular response to depression conditions. These early unemployed, self-help, labor, and other movements helped lay the groundwork for the New Deal and the massive labor struggles of the later 1930s. The next commentaries in this series will portray the grassroots movements of the Coronavirus Depression and ask what they might contribute to the emergence of a Green New Deal and a new labor movement. Subsequent commentaries will compare local and state actions in the early years of the Great Depression to such activities today. These commentaries are part of a series on the Emergency Green New Deal.

First U.S. Union-Authorized Climate Strike?

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2020; images by SEIU Local 26

Above: Thousands of Minneapolis cleaning workers walked off their jobs and struck their downtown commercial high-rises. Among their key demands was that their employers take action on climate change. Quite possibly the first union sanctioned strike in the U.S. for climate protection demands. Credit: SEIU Local 26.

It isn’t easy for unions to strike to protect the climate. U.S. labor law doesn’t make it easy to strike over anything except wages, hours, and working conditions – even over things like climate change that profoundly affect workers and their future. So it was important news when Minneapolis commercial janitors held an Unfair Labor Practices strike this week to protest employer stalling – including on demands that their employers help fight climate change. This is the third in a series of commentaries on The Future of Climate Strikes. For the entire series see here.

On Thursday February 27 thousands of Minneapolis cleaning workers walked off their jobs and struck their downtown commercial high-rises. Among their key demands was that their employers take action on climate change. It was one of the first—as far as I have been able to discover, the very first—union sanctioned strike in the U.S. for climate protection demands.

The janitors are members of Service Employees International Union Local 26. They are employed by over a dozen different subcontractors like ABM & Marsden to clean corporate buildings like IDS, Capella Tower, EcoLab, U.S Bank, Wells Fargo, United Health Group, Ameriprise and many more across the Twin Cities.[1] The workers are overwhelmingly immigrants and people of color. One observer described the meeting authorizing the strike as “a rainbow coalition of immigrants from all over the world and people from every race and religion in the state.” The union provided simultaneous interpretation into Spanish, Somali, Vietnamese, Amharic, and Nepalese.[2]

I wanted to know something about the background to the strike, so I called Steve Payne, who wrote an excellent article about plans for the strike in Labor Notes.[3] He spent years as an organizer for Local 26 and now works for the North Star chapter of the Sierra Club. Much of this commentary is informed by my discussion with him.

An Emergency Jobs Program for an Emergency Green New Deal

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2020

This is the second of a series of commentaries proposing an Emergency Green New Deal. The first, “As Workers Fight Coronavirus, They Are Laying the Basis for an Emergency Green New Deal,” describes the need for emergency employment to meet the coronavirus crisis and the economic devastation it is bringing to American workers; tells how worker action on the job, in the community, and in the political arena is already addressing that need; and explains how their action can be the start of an Emergency Green New Deal. This commentary lays out a practical plan for a Green New Deal Work Program that can start right now addressing the emergency needs of the coronavirus era and can develop into a program to provide jobs for all who want them helping fix the damage done by the coronavirus and creating a just transition to a climate-safe economy.

On March 19, New York activist and student Erik Forman wrote, “I spent some of today doing deliveries with a volunteer crew of unemployed Uber drivers, mostly to elderly people living in public housing developments.” He asked for a small amount of funds to continue this work and scale it up, and “build momentum for emergency funds to pay for home delivery of meals as a public utility in the crisis.”[1]

That is a microcosm of what we as a society need to do in the face of the coronavirus pandemic – and the economic pandemic that is following hard on its heels. We need to apply the central premise of the Green New Deal – put people to work doing the things we as a society need. It is time to start an emergency jobs program based on that principle. Such a program is necessary to protect against the coronavirus. It is necessary to meet the wave of layoffs that has already begun. And it is necessary to solve the deep crises of climate change and inequality that will still face us when the coronavirus wave eventually subsides.

The coronavirus layoffs have started. According to an NPR/Marist poll, 18% of households have already reported someone being laid off or having hours reduced because of the epidemic. It was 25 percent for those earning less than $50,000.[2] In New Jersey, 15,000 people applied for unemployment benefits on a single day, a twelvefold increase over normal levels; in Rhode Island applications went from 10 one week to 6,282 the next. The U.S. Travel Association projects 4.6 million jobs lost this year in the travel industry alone.[3] Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin warned Republican Senators behind closed doors that without emergency government action the unemployment rate could reach 20% — more like the Great Depression of the 1930s than anything we’ve known since.[4]

In less than a week our government has allocate ed $1.5 trillion to save Wall Street and is proposing another trillion or more for a bailout that will leave most people with nothing except possibly a week’s wages ($1000 per family in Trump’s current proposal) in their pockets. So far the big bucks – trillions of them – are going to protect Wall Street. Programs for fossil fuel and airline industries appear to be on the way. While coronavirus legislation is pending, its main provision to help regular people – sick leave – turns out to exclude 80 percent of workers. Proposals are being made for extended unemployment compensation, healthcare for all, and sending checks to all American families. So far, however, there have been few proposals to deal with the mass joblessness that will follow the pandemic.

When the coronavirus is finally defeated we will face economic devastation that is likely to take years to repair. And we will still face the unrepaired damage of decades of climate crisis, growing inequality, and racial injustice.

In Coronavirus Fight, Workers Are Forging an Emergency Green New Deal

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2020

This is the first of a series of commentaries on the Green New Deal. It argues that in the face of government and employer failure, workers and communities must take the lead to protect ourselves and each other from the coronavirus and its economic and social impacts. It proposes an emergency program to do just that. Funny – it looks a whole lot like a do-it-yourself Green New Deal.

The coronavirus pandemic threatens all of us. People are scared, and rightly so. But when we look to our government officials and employers, whose responsibility it is to provide protection in an emergency, what do we find? In the words of the National Nurses United – a union whose members are risking their lives every day on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic — “Federal, state, local, and employer efforts to fight the coronavirus” are “outrageous” and “ineffective.”

At least until those in authority get their act together, we need to start protecting ourselves and each other – not only as individuals, but collectively. Call it a “do-it-yourself Green New Deal.”

The core idea of the Green New Deal is to put people to work meeting our needs. So far the GND has been aimed primarily at challenging climate destruction and inequality. But our most urgent need right now is to protect against COVID-19 and the devastating impacts it will have on our communities and our jobs. The government isn’t doing it. Our employers aren’t doing it. So, if it is going to be done the people have to do it ourselves. We can take the core idea of the GND and start applying it right now. That means an “Emergency People’s Green New Deal.”

Let’s start by looking at the emergency needs that have to be met. Then we can look at the human resources we have to meet them. Finally, we’ll look at the social and political process we need to make it happen.

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