What do labor and environmental
activists have in common?
achieve mutually progressive goals.
the urging of Kendall Hale, a Canary Coalition board member, I attended a
labor rally in Asheville on Sunday, July 17 and felt completely at home with
the spirit of solidarity and community that ran as a continuous thread of
urgency through the words of each speaker, the nodding and sometimes verbal
agreement of those listening and the general air of involvement that
permeated the air at Pack Square.
labor movement is at its roots the source of all social progress achieved in
our country. It is working women and men using their collective
personal power to achieve a better standard of living, descent wages, health
care coverage, better educational standards, equal opportunities, more fair
distribution of the wealth in our nation.
activists employed by and volunteering for grassroots, non-profit
organizations are working people as well, often serving the community with
minimal salaries and little or no job benefits. As with those who
organize for labor, the work of the environmental activist benefits
something greater than himself or herself as an individual.
Environmental justice, better health, cleaner air and water, and a generally
safer environment are goals that improve the lives of all working people.
is no conflict between a healthy environment and a thriving economy that
provides living wage jobs, universal health care, high quality education and
social justice. It is becoming increasingly clear that the process of
improving our environment will involve the emergence of a new industrial
revolution that promises an abundance of steady, sustainable employment for
skilled and unskilled workers in the fields of clean, safe, renewable
energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, sustainable agriculture,
progressive education, progressive health care, progressive economics,
advanced economical housing, the development of new environmentally
sustainable building and industrial materials, fuels, and systems. The
list of changes for the betterment of our environment, and the jobs these
changes will bring, is almost limitless.
with the need to organize to achieve the policy changes that will improve
our environment and bring about this new industrial revolution there will
also be the need to organize and ensure the sustained economic parity of
Americas working women and men. The new industrial revolution needs to
be accompanied by a new age for the labor movement, a re-awakening in which
union membership grows to near universality and working people once more
gain the voice and power they deserve, having the ability to negotiate for
fair wages, secure pensions, adequate health care coverage and family leave
for labor and advocates for the environment face the same adversaries who
disproportionately influence government policies to the detriment of the
public interest for the purpose of ever higher profits for the few.
The same corporate money and influence distorts legislative agendas,
hindering labor from organizing and marginalizing environmental concerns.
makes sense for members of the environmental community to join labor in
demanding collective bargaining rights for state employees so they can
achieve a quality of life that sets a standard for the private sector.
It also makes sense for labor to join environmental advocates in the demand
for state energy policy to be geared toward furthering energy efficiency,
renewable energy transformation, public transportation development, better
building code standards and better enforcement of environmental regulations.
These issues and many others bring common benefit to all, including good
jobs and better job security, better health and a cleaner, safer
The voice of labor first gained prominence in American politics by building “links on the chain.” In other words, different factions were brought together to form a powerful coalition. In recent decades some of those links have eroded and fragmented this vital chain. It’s time to start assembling a new, more current and resilient chain that addresses the issues of our fast evolving economy and environment. Labor and environment need each other and should go hand-in-hand in mutual support as links on this new chain.
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