America’s Green-Labor Alliance

Leaders in labor unions and environmental groups are beginning to realize that viewing each other as the opposition is futile. The real enemy is the Bush Administration, which has created energy policies that are a disaster for the environment and who oppose the trade unions on practically every level. The alliance between labor and environment is growing slowly as it becomes clear that the current administration supports industry over unions. In These Times columnist David Moberg looks at the history of the blue-green alliance, and explores the possibilities for the future. Although the larger unions have been slow to see environmental points of view, on a grass roots level important connections are being made.

The president of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney, has openly worked to create a “blue-green working group” of union and environmental leaders. However, the Mineworkers and other major unions have resisted even talking about common ground with environmentalists. They believe that pro-environment policies always equal less jobs. The alliances have been working to prove that this isn’t necessarily the case. “These ‘blue-green’ tensions,” David Moberg writes, “further undermine prospects for progressive political victories and for building a broad, popular movement that challenges the power of corporations.”

On a smaller, more grass roots level major progress has been made. “We in the labor movement are not going to make a choice between good jobs and a safe environment,” said UNITE (a union of apparel and textile workers) president Bruce Raynor, “We’re for both.” Recent studies have shown that it is possible to support both. In fact, over the past decade workers have consistently expressed strong support for environmental protection in polls, even when risking jobs.

Moberg says that union leaders are abandoning their own members by siding with the perspective of industry and Republicans who have no interest in the workers or preserving good domestic jobs if there is more money to be made somewhere else. “The choice between the environment and economic justice is a false one,” Moberg concludes: “Both are possible. Both are necessary. Both are threatened if the alliance of the labor and environmental movements fail.”
–Maria Opitz
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