Blue-Collar Workers: Let's All Support the Green New Deal

Green New Deal banners at rally

Blue collar workers have been wrongly portrayed as uniformly against the Green New Deal. Photo: Peg Hunter, CC-BY-NC-2.0, cropped.

A recent article in Politico ("Labor anger over Green New Deal greets 2020 contenders in California,” June 6) alleged that blue-collar workers in California reject the Green New Deal.

I am a blue-collar worker—a retired member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, which represents workers throughout northern and central California. The union leaders quoted in that article certainly don’t speak for me, nor for tens of thousands of other building trades workers.

I live on a fairly decent union pension and Social Security. I don’t have to worry about being retrained, but I am quite aware that my pension depends on contributions from working members of my union. I’m also concerned about my family’s well-being and the general welfare of humans and our planet.

I see no contradiction among these concerns. We can have growth of well-paying union jobs in a green economy, and my grandson can thrive in a just and sustainable world.

The Green New Deal is a strategy to achieve both objectives. If you haven’t read the text, please do—it’s not long! This is a Congressional resolution, not legislation. It defines a framework and establishes values and objectives for legislation that is yet to be written.

A GOOD JOBS PLAN

Sections 4G through K address many of labor’s issues: high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages; vocational training; wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition; family-sustaining wages; retirement security; the right of all workers to organize; workplace health and safety; anti-discrimination; and more.

All these provisions are intended to ensure that the transition to a sustainable energy system is just, and that working people and frontline communities do not bear a disproportionate share of the social cost.

It’s not at all about exporting jobs—quite the opposite! Academic studies have shown that a just transition to renewable energy would create a greater number of high-quality jobs than investing the same amount of funds in the fossil-fueled status quo. My union, for example, can have lots of well-paid work under a Green New Deal retrofitting buildings to be energy-efficient. And union electricians stand to gain a lot as electrification generated by renewables gets a huge boost.

The Politico article should have reported about the Zero Net Energy Center, the union office and training center built by Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 in the East Bay. That’s a building trades local leading the way!

LABOR’S VOICE IS NEEDED

To win the Green New Deal, it’s going to take a broad, diverse political alliance. Workers need a strong voice in this alliance, and by being part of it we can speak up on our concerns. Some in the climate movement surely are little aware of the short and long periods of unemployment that we have faced.

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We can educate others about these issues, even as we have a lot to learn from those who have been working on climate justice for a long time. But we have to be part of the alliance, on the right side of history—helping to shape the future, rather than resisting it.

Retraining for the green economy is no small task. However, much is in place already. Many unions, including my local, pride themselves on their commitment to training programs, not only the apprenticeship but also throughout our working lives.

In 1983, I was among 50 members of Local 104 (out of 700 members total in San Francisco at that time) who for a year went to a weekly three-hour class to learn energy-efficient retrofitting of buildings. It was quite new for most of us. It wasn’t easy to stay alert and focused after doing construction work all day. Yet we stayed with it for the promise of union work in this opening field where we could make both a good living and a social contribution.

Then the Reagan administration sabotaged energy conservation and efficiency (removing the solar panels from the White House was a telling symbol) and the promise of those jobs disappeared.

DON’T FRONT FOR THEM

This is the same Reagan administration that attacked workers up one side and down the other, starting with the air traffic controllers; that oversaw huge exporting of jobs and the gutting of factory towns; that favored the 1% and aggravated inequality that has reached obscene levels today.

That government, the current corrupt corporate regime, the oil mega-corporations, their bought politicians, Wall Street—none of these are our friends. They've all attacked our unions and come after our Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Fellow workers in the trades and other blue-collar workers, do not front for them! If we do their dirty work, who will support us when they attack us even more directly?

Our training in 1983, which never developed into jobs, is one of many examples of environmental initiatives that society should have started many years ago, but didn’t. The need is still there, more than ever.

At present, workers will continue performing fossil fuel-based work, but we and our unions should not promote that work. Instead, we should advocate for a just transition through the Green New Deal. We can protect union members while also protecting our children’s and grandchildren’s future.

Steve Morse is a retired member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, living in Oakland, California. Email him at steve_morse[at]mac[dot]com