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May 2019, Week 4

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 		 [ “There are not going to be any good union jobs if we have a
dead planet.”] [https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE LABOR 

 NEW CALLS FOR A GENERAL STRIKE IN THE FACE OF COMING CLIMATE
CATASTROPHE   [https://portside.org/node/20092] 

 

 Joe Maniscalco 
 May 13, 2019
Labor Press
[http://laborpress.org/new-calls-for-a-general-strike-in-the-face-of-coming-climate-catastrophe/]


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 _ “There are not going to be any good union jobs if we have a dead
planet.” _ 

 Hurricane Maria’s devastating impact on Puerto Rico further
underscored the urgent need to confront climate change., 

 

New York,, NY – _Shut. It. Down_. Amalgamated Transit Union VP
Bruce Hamilton, this weekend, urged U.S. trade unionists to “learn
from our past” and start building towards a general strike in a last
ditch effort to avert climate disaster. 

“What we need to understand is that climate struggle is class
struggle,” Hamilton told the NY Labor History Association’s Annual
Spring Conference at NYU on Saturday. “Workers really do want to
engage in radical action with a clear chance of making their lives
better.”

Convinced that the market-driven energy sector will never voluntarily
make the changes climate scientists insist are necessary to save the
planet from overheating — panelists participating in a pair of labor
and climate change discussions held over the last few days, instead,
called for public ownership and democratic control of the energy
sector.

ATU Vice-President Bruce Hamilton talks about the need for a general
strike to avert climate disaster.

Hamilton called the Military Industrial Complex [MIC] the biggest
polluter out there, and said that dates should actually be set when
“production is going to stop” and then proceed with “a series of
escalating strikes” from there. 

“A tool that working people have used in the past that has been, at
least temporarily successful, is a general strike,” Hamilton told
LaborPress. “It’s something we should never take off the table.”

A general strike, however, requires a level of unity around the
question of climate change and the Green New Deal that presently does
not exist inside organized labor.

U.S. trade unionists and their leadership remain split on Green New
Deal legislation from Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 
[D-14th District] and Senator Ed Markey [D-MA]  — despite language
in the proposed resolution that clearly calls for “high-quality
union jobs that pay prevailing wages” and “protecting the
right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain
free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment.” 

As Todd Vachon, a sociologist with the Labor Network for
Sustainability told the Metro NY Labor Communications Council’s
Annual Convention on Friday, when talk of a “just transition” to
100-percent renewable energy arises — many union workers “just
want to punch you in the face.” 

UWUA Local 1-2 President James Slevin (right) with Sean Sweeney, CUNY
School of Labor and Urban Studies (left).

“I’m dragging them behind kicking and screaming,” Erikson said.
“Some are better than others.”Chris Erikson, head of IBEW Local 3,
meanwhile, joked that he's been branded the "communist" of the
Building Trades for advocating a "balanced transition from
carbon-based fuels."

UWUA Local 1-2 President James Slevin said that utility workers
“started waking up” to the need for change after experiencing
Hurricane Sandy’s harrowing devastation in 2012.  

“There’s not going to be any good union jobs if we have a dead
planet,” Slevin said. “We’re not going to have a place for
people to work.”

Since Hurricane Sandy, Slevin said that utility workers have
endeavored to “get to the forefront” of changes in the energy
sector.

“We’re ready for the next transition to wind and solar,” Slevin
continued. “Workers are excited — but we want to make sure we’re
a player at the table.”

Jon Forster, co-chair and founder of DC37’s Climate Justice
Committee, talked about the need to clarify the meaning of a “just
transition” and to build an “exciting vision that people can
coalesce around.”

“I think the Green New Deal may be our last best effort [to confront
climate catastrophe],” Forster added. 

NYS Senator Jessica Ramos, seated next to sociologist Todd Vachon,
talks about the need to include black and brown communities in the
conversation about climate change actions.

Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, president of the New York State Nurses
Association [NYSNA], also said that Hurricane Sandy pulled her union
into the movement to combat climate change, while also decrying the
“false dichotomy” that pits good union jobs against the need to
shift to 100-percent renewable energy. 

“Consistent messages and slogans are important,” she said.
“Climate change is a healthcare emergency.”

Irene HongPing Shen, an activist with both the CUNY School of Labor
and Urban Studies’ International Program for Labor, Climate and
Environment, and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, said workers are
being put into an impossible situation — but that “We can have
solutions that embrace workers and workers can be empowered.”

Vachon called the Green New Deal “one of the best organizing
opportunities I’ve seen in a long time” and said there has,
indeed, been “a shift” in organized labor’s attitude about the
resolution .

“Is it a sea change? No. But is it a change? Yes,” he said. “We
should [also] look at the mirror and say, what is labor doing? We can
organize and push our unions to support a Green New Deal at the local
level.”

Sheridan-Gonzalez said pushing new legislation and attending
demonstrations will be important, but that it is also “sometimes
necessary to have direct action and civil disobedience.”

“Technology in private hands has proven to never be a good thing,”
she said. “Public ownership of energy is a necessity.”

The U.S. has a history of general strikes erupting in cities across
the country, including Seattle, San Francisco and Minneapolis. 

Forster said public sector workers are “yearning to take that kind
of action” again.  

“Show the working class a well-planned way forward and a chance that
they can believe in of winning…and you’ll see that supposed
‘conservatism’ [inside organized labor] disappear in a
heartbeat,” Hamilton said. “The number one priority of climate
change activists and unions should be to affect that change.”

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