Thursday, January 3, 2008

Everyone Wins with "Green Jobs"

Will Tanzman has a fine essay online at AlterNet about the late great Tony Mazzocchi, who was a leader in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union and the movement to make industrial production less harmful to workers and the natural environment. Below is an exceprt:

In the last 10 years, labor-environmental alliances have experienced an upswing. In 1999, thousands of union members and environmentalists came together to fight the World Trade Organization on the streets of Seattle. A coalition of labor unions and environmentalists created the Apollo Alliance in 2004 in order to promote a national program of "green-collar jobs" that will protect the environment and decrease the United States' reliance on imported oil. The Apollo Alliance was joined in early 2007 by the Union Sportsman's Alliance, a coalition of conservationists and unions with members who hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors. In addition to these national efforts, a number of local organizations, coalitions and government agencies have kicked off "green jobs" programs of various sorts.

The work of these alliances is important because it addresses one of the most penetrating criticisms of the environmental movement: the charge that environmentalists ignore human needs. According to this critique, environmentalists are willing to throw thousands of workers out of jobs in order to save an owl that doesn't particularly matter in the grand scheme of things. The fact that many working-class Americans believe that environmental protection is not in their self-interest is a major obstacle for successful environmental regulation. Fortunately for both the environmental movement and workers, economic justice and environmental protection don't have to be mutually exclusive. Every worker deserves a good job, but there is no reason that job shouldn't be in the field of building renewable energy infrastructure, improving energy efficiency in houses and offices or running public transportation. The strength of the green jobs movement is that it is committed to promoting economic justice by creating precisely that set of jobs and ensuring that these jobs provide living wages and decent benefits.

Because of significant clashes between labor and environmental groups in the 1980s and '90s around logging, industrial emissions and auto-efficiency standards, many people are unaware of the long history of labor-environmental partnerships. Fortunately, a book was published last month that reminds us of some important moments in that history. The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: the Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi, by Les Leopold, is the inspiring story of a union leader who was a pioneer in labor-environmental coalition-building.

During more than five decades in the labor movement from the 1950s until his death in 2003, Mazzocchi was a key leader in the movement to make industrial production less harmful to workers, residents of the communities surrounding factories and the natural environment. [read more]

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