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Home » Clarion » 2019 » April 2019 » Labor can back a Green New Deal

Labor can back a Green New Deal


It’s now well known that planet Earth must completely transition from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 and we must achieve most of that in the next 12 years or face a level of disaster unknown to our species. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Fourth National Climate Assessment and a World Bank Report on climate change all agree. The good news is that a new, energized youth movement with supporters in Congress and on the streets in every part of our nation is pushing for that transition, calling it the Green New Deal. The danger and the hope stand before us. Which one will we choose?


Mirroring the despair and fear of the 1930s and the New Deal that transformed American life, the Green New Deal (GND) has a similar scope and purpose. As of now it is a resolution in Congress – sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey – made powerful by a movement on the ground. It proposes drafting legislation to transform our energy system to be 100 percent renewable, ending the destructive fossil fuel regime. The broad-strokes plan advances a giant 10-year mobilization that changes how we fuel our economy and transforms our society.

The US Senate has blocked the bill for now, but it will be back.

The deal calls for:

  • A massive growth in new and renewable technology;
  • Overhaul of old infrastructure and expansion of renewable energy infrastructure;
  • A jobs program that would guarantee a job to everyone who wants one;
  • A just transition for workers in fossil fuel-related industries, including retraining, early retirement and new occupations;
  • The right to organize and prioritize unions, with racial and gender equity in all hiring;
  • Community-defined projects and strategies and participation in deciding the location of new energy and manufacturing facilities and removing toxic ones;
  • Workplace health and safety;
  • Overhaul of transportation, emphasizing public transportation;
  • The right to clean air, water, healthy food, and many more positive features.

The Sunrise Movement, the Climate Justice Alliance and other environmental groups such as, Food & Water Watch, and the Sierra Club can be important entry points for our students (and us) to engage in the fight for their futures.


And what about labor? The GND provides a general roadmap to labor prosperity, to sharply decrease poverty and provide good jobs to a wide swath of people often left behind. It enables those new jobs to be union jobs. But unions need to jump in, support the GND – even with some criticisms – lift up the rights of workers and make sure we organize.

Some unions are getting on board, but others like unions representing the 6.4 million workers in the fossil fuel and related industries are digging in their heels, protecting jobs in the very short term rather than pushing for organized labor to have as strong and united voice as possible in the conversation about how to build a longer-term, just transition for their members. Their members – and future members – will need stable, good-paying jobs in new industries, jobs with good benefits, union membership and safe working conditions.

We can protect and expand good-paying jobs within the context of the existential threat that climate change presents. Labor has the opportunity to lead again, to build hope and opportunity for the future of a healthy planet and a more just society. If labor retreats to an unimaginative, fear-driven and tragically short-sighted defense of the fossil fuel industries, labor will have missed our chance, yet again, to lead a progressive movement to transform our economy and government into one that serves the vast majority of our people instead of just those making obscene profits from the present and ultimate misery of many.

In such an outcome, we would be making our members even more dependent on dying industries that do not have working people’s welfare at heart. Organizations such as the national Labor Network for Sustainability are joining with frontline communities to push for an equity-based GND.
The PSC and AFT can play a pivotal role in that effort, too.

Nancy Romer is a professor emerita of psychology at Brooklyn College. She is a member of the PSC Environmental Justice Committee.

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