Why Trade Unionists Should March for a Clean Energy Revolution

By: Joe Uehlein, Founding President and Executive Director, Labor Network for Sustainability.

joe-uehleinLabor Network for Sustainability is calling on trade unionists to go to Philadelphia to march for a Clean Energy Revolution on Sunday, July 24. Why?

We face the reality of climate change around the world as we digest shocking new data gathered by climate scientists in just the past six months. Climate chaos is upon us and it’s far worse than anyone ever thought.

It is not evident that we, as a society, will meet this challenge.  It’s even less clear that the labor movement will rise to this challenge.  However, the transition is still happeningthe clean energy train left the station a decade ago and many are working to keep it moving.

It is time for those of us in the labor movement to rise to the challenge and become a central player in the movement to build a sustainable future for the planet and its people – not only for the survival and well-being of all but also for organized labor’s own self-interest.

Workers need jobs. The Labor Network for Sustainability’s (LNS) report “The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs, Saving Money” outlines a path to 80% greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions by 2050 while creating a lot of high quality jobs in construction and manufacturing at no new costs. It is part of our new Climate, Jobs, and Justice Project. We consider the Clean Energy Future plan a baseline.  If we are willing to spend more money, we can achieve a lot more.

In fact, organized labor needs to develop its own, worker-friendly plan to protect the climate. Ron Blackwell, former Chief Economist at the AFL-CIO joined with Jeremy Brecher and myself to outline such a plan: If Not Now, When? A Labor Movement Plan to Address Climate Change. It calls for a massive national program- on the scale of economic mobilization for World War II- to address income inequality and climate change.

Of course, naysayers are fond of repeating that jobs dedicated to fixing the climate aren’t “real jobs,” or good jobs with security, family-supporting wages and benefits. They also like to point out that if these jobs are real, they are mostly non-union. And this is true. We — the labor movement — really need to get busy with strategies to make climate-fixing jobs unionized and part of that is working hard to make them real.

We also need to make sure that no worker is left behind in the Clean Energy Revolution. Organized labor needs to develop and insist on its own plan to ensure that the transition to unionized climate-fixing jobs is a just transition. A superfund for workers should be a crucial part.

Workers are organizing in dozens of unions to make the labor movement a champion of the Clean Energy Revolution. In January, LNS brought together leaders and activists from more than a dozen unions for the first-ever Labor Convergence on Climate to forge a collaborative movement within the house of labor for a labor-friendly transition to climate-safe energy.

The Philadelphia March for a Clean Energy Revolution is being held on the eve of the Democratic National Convention on Sunday, July 24, when it will get maximal media and political attention, providing a great opportunity to provide visibility for our concerns and elevate our demands on the national agenda. At a time when labor is often being portrayed as an enemy of climate protection, trade unionists need to be there as visible advocates for a worker-friendly Clean Energy Revolution. At noon we will convene at City Hall where an interfaith service will be held. Around 1:00 pm the march will begin and continue for about a mile toward Independence Hall. Around 3:00 pm there will be a rally concluding at 4:00 pm.

I will be on a panel with Rev. Lennox Yearwood on July 23, the day before the march, at the Summit for a Clean Energy Revolution from 9am – 6:30pm at the Friends Center, 1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia.  This panel will provoke an in-depth discussion of a “Visionary Ambitious Transition Plan.” I’m told this panel will close an exciting full day of conversations!

Leave a Reply