You are here

labor and environment

Towards a Greener Economy: The Social Dimensions

By International Institute for Labour Studies - International Labour Organization, November 16, 2011

The European Commission and the International Labour Organization have combined efforts in reaction to the deep crisis that hit the global economy in 2008. The aim of this joint project is to examine policies that will lead not only to a quicker recovery but also to a more sustainable, environmentally friendly and equitable global economy. This is particularly relevant given the uneven and fragile nature of the recovery process across and within countries. These efforts have culminated in the publication of two Synthesis Reports. The first report examines the origins of the crisis and provides an overview of immediate policy responses across both developed and developing economies; the second discusses green policies and labour market issues related to this necessary long-term economic transformation. Both reports are based on a series of technical discussion papers.

This second report aims to promote a clearer understanding of the nature of the green economy and its implications for labour markets, especially the reallocation of jobs from high- to low-polluting sectors. It shows that a double dividend in terms of increased decent work opportunities and a greener economy is possible, provided that complementarities between environmental, economic and social policies are adequately exploited. The report discusses the green policy measures that EU countries are currently undertaking, with a view to identifying any gaps in the policy mix. It also presents model estimates on the likely transmission mechanisms arising from these measures.

Read the report (Link).

Pipe dreams? Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of Keystone XL a report by Cornell University Global Labor Institute

By Ian Goodman and Brigid Rowan - Cornell University Global Labor Institute, September 2011

The purpose of this briefing paper is to examine claims made by TransCanada Corporation and the American Petroleum Institute that, if constructed, TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline will generate enough employment to kick-start important sections of the US economy through the creation of tens of thousands—perhaps even hundreds of thousands—of good, well-paying jobs for American workers.

This briefing paper raises a number of questions regarding the jobs claims promoted by the industry, questions that are serious enough to generate a high level of skepticism regarding the value of KXL as an important source of American jobs. With national unemployment levels presently (September 2011) around 9%, and the real unemployment figures considerably higher, jobs are desperately needed both to sustain families and to help the broader economy. However, it is our assessment—based on the publicly available data—that the construction of KXL will create far fewer jobs in the US than its proponents have claimed and may actually destroy more jobs than it generates.

The results presented below should also cast doubt on the recent claim made by American Petroleum Institute that the oil industry could create more than a million jobs over the next decade—if the US government would open public lands, beaches, oceans, to unlimited oil drilling. If the industry’s jobs estimates made in the context of KXL are any indication, then this broader claim should be scrutinized very carefully indeed.

Read the report (PDF).

Tar Sands: Rejecting False Conflict Between Trade Unions and Environment

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 23, 2011

Sometimes a decision forces you to think deeply about what you believe in and how you act on those beliefs. It was like that when the climate protection leader Bill McKibben asked me to sign a letter calling for civil disobedience to block the building of a pipeline designed to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. Opposing the pipeline might strain ties with unions that I’ve worked with and been part of for my whole adult life. And yet the pipeline might be a tipping point that could hurtle us into ever more desperate acceleration of climate change.  Amid these conflicting pulls, what should I do? Having lived at the confluence of trade unionism and environmentalism, what’s the right course of action – what has my life’s work meant?

I was born into a union family. My dad worked in the steel mills in Lorain, Ohio and was a founder of the Steelworkers Union. My mom had been an organizer in the Clothing Workers Union in Cincinnati. I grew up near Cleveland and I walked the picket line with my dad during the 1959 steel strike.

My own trade union life began the day I walked through the factory doors at Capital Products Aluminum Corporation in Mechanicsburg, PA. I was 17 years old, and I joined the United Steelworkers of America. That summer I engaged in my first strike. The following year Hurricane Agnes pounded the mid-Atlantic states; Central Pennsylvania was devastated, and the mill was flooded out. So I joined the Laborer’s Union and went to work on construction.

That’s where I first learned something about working on pipelines. I worked building the Texas-Eastern pipeline as it wound its way through the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania. Small teams of operating engineers, pipefitters, and laborers traveled across the state doing work we enjoyed and that we understood to be useful and important. (We didn’t know then what we know now.) It was a great job and I was a member of a great union, Laborer’s Local 158. We formed friendships and shared a solidarity that touched us all deeply.

On another job building a railroad bridge across the Susquehanna river, a buddy of mine got fired by a hubris-filled college kid. (The kid’s dad owned the construction company so the kid had been made chief foreman over all laborers.) We struck and shut the job down. The operating engineers, carpenters and ironworkers supported us. Without that support we would have lost, but we won and my brother laborer was hired back.

These jobs helped me pay my way through college. They also taught me a lot about solidarity and trade unionism, and helped launch me on a life-long pursuit of workers rights and jobs with justice, first as a local leader and eventually as an official with the AFL-CIO.

I grew up along the banks of Lake Erie and I learned at a tender age about the possibility of human threats to the environment. I was there when they posted the signs telling us to stop swimming in the lake and stop eating the fish. I’d already eaten hundreds of Lake Erie Yellow Perch and swallowed more of that lake water than I care to think about.

I also learned early about the potential conflict between protecting labor and protecting the environment. In the 1970s I worked on the concrete crew during the construction of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, and my local union put out a bumper sticker that read “Hungry and Out of Work? Eat an Environmentalist.”

Since then I’ve devoted much of my life trying to bridge the gap between labor and environmental movements. I’ve argued that both share a common interest in combining economic and social sustainability with environmental sustainability. I’ve argued that “jobs vs. the environment” is a false choice.

Can Trade Unions Become Environmental Innovators?

By Nora Räthzel, David Uzzell, and Dave Elliott - Soundings, December 2010

Learning from the Lucas Aerospace Workers

The attempt by workers at Lucas Aerospace in the 1970s to develop a plan to convert production in their company from weapons to socially useful goods has recently been invoked in debates on creating low-carbon societies.[1] As Hilary Wainwright and Andy Bowman have argued, a renewed Green New Deal that involved a similar level of painstaking attention to grass-roots participation ‘would be a worthy successor indeed’.[2] We agree with this view, and we would like to make the additional argument that the Lucas example is particularly helpful for international trade union debates on climate change.

The Lucas workers were way ahead of their time in recognising the need for sustainable development - even if such a concept did not exist at that time. But their project also demanded a radical revision of the ways in which society determined its priorities. In today’s terms, their argument was for a ‘Just Transition’. In other words, in adapting production for different needs, it was important to make sure that any new strategies would take workers’ interests into account. And it is this notion that is important in trade union debates today.[3]

Trade unions are not commonly regarded as being on the frontline of the climate change battle. Many people (including not a few trade unionists) see unions as being on the side of climate sceptics, or as being a constituency for whom other concerns are more important. But many national and international unions are currently seeking to develop policies through which their industries can help to mitigate the causes and effects of climate change; and unions do have a long history of struggling for environmental issues - even if this history is not given so much attention today. For example, in the early years of industrialisation trade unionists fought against air and river pollution in their communities. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that safe workplaces - an issue where the history of trade union involvement is more familiar - are also an environmental issue. One reason why the trade union record is often overlooked is that environmental issues have often been raised by environmental movements, which have paid little attention to social and work issues. Equally, trade unionists often reject environmental arguments, for example claiming that it is more important to preserve and create jobs than to ‘save a few trees’ - as was the kind of dismissive remark sometimes made in the course of our interviews. However, things are changing dramatically and fast.

Transport Workers and Climate Change: Towards Sustainable, Low-Carbon Mobility

By ITF Climate Change Working Group - International Transport Workers’ Federation, August 4, 2010

This report, now more than a decade old, was remarkably forward-thinking for its time (except for the uncritically positive assessment of Carbon Capture and Storage and Cap-and-Trade, positions the authors would likely now no longer hold. It also, interestingly, includes in an appendix, the delegate of one union affiliate, Robert Scardelletti, President of the Transportation Communications International Union (TCU), an affiliate of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), from the US, who dissented from this report's conclusions, because it's green unionist orientation would "destroy jobs", a position held by the most conservative unions in the AFL-CIO.

From the introduction:

Climate change is the biggest single challenge ever faced by human civilization. Human economic activity has put so much carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) into the atmosphere that serious global warming is already happening. As a society, we have no choice but to reduce these emissions drastically in order to stand a good chance of avoiding potentially catastrophic changes in our climate. Moreover, emissions from transport are rising faster than emissions from any other sector and in some cases the increase in transport emissions is counteracting emissions reductions achieved in other sectors. Lowering transport emissions presents a series of unique and formidable challenges.

The good news for transport workers is that a serious approach to emissions reductions will create new opportunities for quality employment, particularly in public transport, railways (both passenger and freight), transport infrastructure, road repair, and in developing clean transport technologies. But failure to act on climate change will have the opposite effect.

Read the text (PDF).

Making the Transition: Helping Workers and Communities Retool for the Clean Energy Economy

By Elena Foshay, et. al. - Apollo Alliance and Cornell Global Labor Institute, August 11, 2020

We stand at a critical moment in American history. We face a choice: do we continue with business as usual, ignoring the climate implications of current energy, environmental, and economic policy? Or do we move forward with a new set of priorities aimed at promoting climate stability, energy security, and economic prosperity?

Striking Kaiser Employees Say Hurwitz is the Real Problem

Don Kegley, Mike McIntyre, Carol Ford, and Stan White, interviewed by Mikal Jakubal - River and Range, Winter 1999

Mikal Jakubal: In 1988, Charles Hurwitz's MAXXAM Corporation gained control of Kaiser Aluminum, a few years after his similar takeover of Pacific Lumber. On September 30 of last year, 3,100 members of the United Steel Workers of America walked out of five Kaiser Aluminum plants in Washington state, Ohio and Louisiana. They claim the company was unwilling to bargain in good faith on such issues as fair labor practices, outsourcing jobs to lower wage contractors, pensions, and wage and benefit parity with Kaiser's main competitors, Alcoa and Reynolds.

Ever since, employees at both Kaiser and Pacific Lumber --though in different industries several states apart--have been on an intertwining course: PALCO employees are replacing striking workers, or "scabbing," at Kaiser plants; Steelworkers have vowed to unionize PALCO and have marched in Scotia; and forest activists and Steelworkers have begun a loose alliance.

The Steelworkers consider Hurwitz and MAXXAM the problem--not Kaiser as they once knew it. The Steelworkers first encountered forest activists and issues from Humboldt County through the Jail Hurwitz web site. Soon they began working with environmentalists, who blame MAXXAM for the brutal changes in PALCO's forest management, to fight a common foe.

My connection with the Steelworkers began in late October, in the fifth week of the strike, when I went up and hired in to Kaiser's Tacoma, Washington smelter as a spy for USWA Local 7945. After a week, I revealed what I was doing and quit. Despite wide publicity, I then managed to get a job at one of the Spokane plants and worked for two weeks before walking out the front gate to the picket line with a sign that read, "No More Scabbing for Hurwitz!"

USWA members, especially long-time employees who remember Kaiser before and after MAXXAM, vocally dislike Hurwitz and what he's done to Kaiser--"their" company. Like long-time PALCO workers, they remember a pre-MAXXAM company that cared for its employees and managed their business with recognition of its responsibility to their community and its future. Union workers spoke freely with me about the strike, working conditions, and their concerns for their future and their communities. As the Steelworkers told me stories in the Local 338 Hall, drivers honked their horns in support of the picket line out front. Every now and then a locomotive would come by on the railroad tracks doing the same. The solidarity is strong.

Kaiser severely underestimated the strength and spirit of the union. Less than two percent of union members have crossed the picket line, despite the economic hardships. Recently the union, at the request of local clergy, and concerned about the number of injuries suffered by inexperienced replacement workers, offered to come back to work unconditionally while negotiations took place. When Kaiser rejected that offer, the strike officially became a "lockout." The "lockout" designation also means that if the union prevails in the unfair labor practices case it has brought with the National Labor Relations Board, MAXXAM's Kaiser could be held liable for back wages since the time of the lockout. There are at press time no negotiations in progress and the strike continues.

Kaiser Infiltrated by One Sly Spy: Environmentalist Goes Undercover; Union Housed Secret Worker

By Hannelore Sudermann - Spokane and Coeur d'Alene Spokesman-Review, December 19, 1998

An environmentalist has been working undercover at Kaiser Aluminum plants until this week. Mikal Jakubul, said hes been a spy for the United Steelworkers during several weeks of the union's lengthy strike at Kaiser.

To the surprise of the security guards, Jakubul, 35, walked out of the Trentwood plant Thursday to great a waiting group of pickets.

This is the second time hes exposed himself as a spy at Kaiser.

Just a few weeks ago, after working at the Tacoma smelter, Jakubul said he walked out in the middle of a shift and told my supervisors and my co-workers what I had been doing there. He briefed the union on activities inside the plant, and gave news media interviews about inefficiencies he said he observed.

Then he came to Spokane. Jakubul, an environmental activist from Humboldt County, California, applied for work at both Mead and Trentwood. He took the job Trentwood offered, which had him working in a lab one week and on the aluminum slitter the next.

His application was identical to the one he filled out in Tacoma, he said. They're so disorganized, he said, I didn't lie about my name or anything. The union was aware of his activity and housed him while he worked at Trentwood.

But What About Jobs?

By Judi Bari, Fall 1996

When Redwood National Park was created in the 1970's, the loggers and millworkers in this region still had unions to represent them. Those unions negotiated an agreement in which displaced timber workers were paid two thirds of their wages for the next six years, to give them a chance to re-train or re-locate and find a new job.

Since then, the unions have been busted, and the only ones pretending to speak for the workers are MAXXAM management and their captive congressman Frank Riggs (a Republican). For all their talk about jobs, none of their proposals have included one iota of compensation for displaced workers, although all of their proposals have included oodles of compensation for corporate criminal Charles Hurwitz.

Back in 1993, when Dan Hamburg (a Democrat at the time) had just been elected to Congress and environmentalists were drafting the Headwaters Acquisition Bill, I got a chance to look at this problem in detail. I was in charge of the committee assigned to write a worker's clause for the bill.

In order to do this, I convened a group of displaced and currently employed loggers and millworkers from MAXXAM, Simpson, and L-P, who met with a small group of hand-picked Earth First!ers. We asked the timber workers what to do about the loss of jobs that would come from saving Headwaters. Printed below is the proposal we came up with. This proposal should be part of any plan to save Headwaters.

An answer to the jobs-environment conflict?

By Tony Mazzochi - Green Left - September 8, 1993

Our first concern is to protect the jobs, incomes and working conditions of our members. On the other hand, people who work in hazardous industries, as many union members do, want safe jobs and a healthy environment. We must do everything we can to provide a workplace and environment free from recognised hazards.

The only way out of the jobs versus environment dilemma is to make provision for the workers who lose their jobs in the wake of the country's drastically needed environmental clean-up, or who are displaced or otherwise injured by economic restructuring, or military cutbacks and shifts of manufacturing overseas.

It will take an ambitious, imaginative program of support and re-education — going far beyond the inadequacies and deceptive "job retraining" programs that really mean a downward spiral to low-paying service jobs or subsistence level unemployment income.

The GI Bill after World War II, an innovative and successful program, is the precedent upon which the Superfund for Workers is based. The GI Bill helped more than 13 million ex-servicemen and women between 1945 and 1972 make the transition from military service to skilled employment in the private sector. This program had a formidable price tag, but the country overwhelmingly approved it as an investment in the future. Education became the key to national economic recovery. Education remains just as powerful a force today and is the basis of a concept supported by OCAW called "The Superfund for Workers".

OCAW members are concerned with the environment — our record over the years demonstrates this very fundamental fact. However, our members also are concerned about their jobs. It is small comfort to know that the environment is improving, but our jobs no longer exist.

There is, obviously, a major contradiction to be overcome. We want jobs and a clean environment. Environmental organisations representing millions demand a clean-up of toxics and a halt to the continuing toxification of the environment. However, they lack a clear idea of how to accomplish that desirable goal without a loss in jobs or a mass movement into jobs that pay only the minimum wage.

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.