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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Building Unity Between Green Dems and Labor

As one of the more enduring conflicts within the Democratic Party, environmentalists and unions have been mired in polarizing disagreements over the employment effects of proposed environmental reforms for decades. Timber workers, auto unions and oil industry employees, to name a few, have all butted heads with greens over environmental policy reforms, and sometimes the fallout has had negative political consequences for Democrats.
Jock Young has a post on “Labor and Climate Change” over at The Daily Kos, discussing some of the sources of the conflict in the 21st century and a possible approach for healing the brach. Says Young:

As an environmentalist, I am keenly aware of the need for making Common Cause with Labor, and with the attempts by business and free-market idealogues to drive a wedge between our groups with the “jobs vs. envirnoment” trade-off myth. At no time will the need to bridge this gap be greater than in the coming debate over climate change policy.
To start with a simple example, auto workers (and the Michigan politicians they elect) are convinvced that raising fuel-economy standards will cost jobs. On the surface it seems ridiculous that building better cars that more people want to buy should require fewer jobs. But apparently the assumption is that raising CAFE standards will increase the price of cars and people will buy fewer of them, even though there seems to be little evidence for either part of that equation. Nevertheless, we can’t just wave off such concerns and claim everything will be fine. We need to work through the problem together and work out policies to mitigate any costs that do actually turn up.
…A more fundamental, economy-wide concern is that reducing carbon emissions will require reducing energy use, and this will translate directly into lower economic productivity in all sectors. This is a much more complex concern to address, and may require some careful framing along with thorough research and information sharing. We need to really sell the fact that if we “do it smart” through increased energy efficiency and the use of only the most cost-effective renewable energy sources, the long-term effect will be a streamlined economy and increased competitiveness. Renew the faith in American Ingenuity, and the fact that American Ingenuity requires American jobs.
…The more we can sit down with Labor groups and go through specific calculations showing the expected net result on job creation from these policies, the faster we can build a strong coalition. Even better if Labor is included in the coalitions writing up these policy packages in the first place.

Young rolls out some basic principles of environmental reform he feels can win Labor’s support, and quotes from Eban Goodstein’s book, The Trade-Off Myth: Fact and Fiction About Jobs and the Environment about the importance of guaranteeing job security as a prerequisite for meaningful environmental reforms. All well and good to know that environmental reforms produce net job creation. But it is critically important that workers know that their employment will be secure when reforms kick in.

2 comments on “Building Unity Between Green Dems and Labor

  1. aml on

    i like to say that you can’t have green without blue as a shorthand that effective environmental protection must have a well-though out labor component. the apollo alliance is a good example of what can happen.
    more substantively, there is a huge area of common-interests that can be exploited if one the two sides would make the necessary internal compromises to make them move forward. for example, “smart growth” is a natural arena and in fact has been advanced substantially, but there are still no-growthers who use the rhetoric of environmental concerns to stop smart projects that will ultimately protect the environment while supporting good union construction jobs. similarly, you have some building trades unions supporting environmentally destructive road-building and sprawling development for the sake of a few temporary jobs while creating the conditions that foster de-unionization in the industry.
    all that being said, the potential is too great and the stakes are too high to ingnore this alliance. it’d be great to see it advance

  2. Albert Whited on

    Democrats should explore the other side of the coin, looking for “sticky”, “Green Labor” issues, instead of just combating the Jobs v. Environment wedge one.
    One that comes to mind is an insistence on green manufacturing. In addition to improving CAFE standards, Congress should mandate stricter manufacturing processes. It should penalize those corporations that manufacture an end-product by processes that don’t meet those standards–at home and abroad.
    Since a ton of CO2 has the same atmospheric effect whether released in the US or China, the net carbon footprint for a manufacturing process by a US corporation should be regulated globally. Non-compliance penalties should take the form of duties on imported parts or products that have been produced below US standards abroad. To the corporations that argue that they are held to lower standards abroad, then they should be encouraged to bring those jobs back home–or continue to face penalties. The benefits are dual: improve environmental quality while stimulating home job growth.
    A similar tariff could be levied on foreign products that have been produced by workers at sub-standard wages. I.e., if a corporation will rob its workers of the marginal value of their labor abroad, then that margin will be recouped in tariffs at home. Again, such legislation would stimulate job growth at home.
    Ultimately though, the inevitable whining and propaganda of the corporate sector and its shills must be ignored. Greens and Labor must find comity. Both jobs and the environment are at stake.


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