For over three decades Big Business has worked hard to keep environmentalists and unions at odds with one another and that have succeeded to an unsettling degree. This antagonism must stop. Unions and environmentalists must band together to create a sustainable world with jobs for all.
Fear at Work systematically debunks many of the myths still present in today’s debates. “The Reagan administration and its allies have been capitalizing on today’s economic crisis to widen the split between labor and environmentalists over ‘jobs,’ while cynically attacking rights and protections that have been won by both movements. The assault on labor and environmental protections will intensify. As in the past, ‘jobs’ will be the rationalization for new antiworker, anti-environmental policies.” Progressives in 2012 would do well to make Fear at Work a sort of reference guide for how we respond to these tactics. Some of today’s greens might be enlightened by its discussion of why job security is such a fundamental issue for unionists—especially construction unions. Unlike in other unions, construction union leaders represent their members whether or not they are employed. And unemployed members retain all the rights of membership, including voting in union elections for—or against—those leaders.
Kazis, reflecting recently on how the situation has evolved since the publication of Fear at Work, said, “It’s the same picture. The issues are the same, the use of job blackmail is the same, the way over-inflated arguments about job creation potential are the same, wild misestimates of the cost of clean-ups is the same, all the tried and true divide-and-conquer techniques are the same, but what has changed is the relative political power and salience of both movements we were talking about.” Unions and environmentalists, in other words, have lost ground, while industry has triumphed.
Part of the problem is that, although many progressive environmentalists understand that unions are essential to taking on capitalism, most self-identified greens don’t really get the working class. …
Despite the amount of airtime given to “green jobs,” neither labor nor environmentalists have committed themselves to a meaningful green jobs agenda. Instead, environmentalists slap the word “job” onto anything they hope to win labor’s support for, and unions affix the word “green” with equally low standards. Uehlein says, “The green jobs issue is a red herring. It’s like unions doing what corporations do when they file sustainability reports; building a nuclear power plant can be called a green job by these standards. This dynamic in labor where we’ve never met a job we didn’t like has got to change.”