Progressives On Climate: Unions should ‘catch up with the rest of the world.’

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Progressives are not happy that organized labor has effectively squashed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal.

When freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced her Green New Deal in February, it was immediately (and expectedly) lampooned by the political right.

However, it was also (and rather unexpectedly) criticized by some on the political left, most notably Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and, as well, the powerful AFL-CIO.

In March, the nation’s largest federation of unions wrote that the Green New Deal is “not achievable or realistic.”

“We welcome the call for labor rights and dialogue with labor, but the Green New Deal resolution is far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members and the critical sections of our economy,” the AFL-CIO’s energy committee wrote in a letter to Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. “We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go [sic] unanswered.”

“The proposal would make sweeping changes and expand the government’s reach into the economy,” noted the Washington Post last month, “and it almost certainly would require tax increases or large-scale deficit spending.”

Now, however, progressives are pushing back at the unions.

In a lengthy article in the American Prospect, climate-change activist Basav Sen—himself a former UFCW corporate campaign manager—chastises union leaders by stating “some unions appear more concerned about preserving fossil fuel jobs than with preventing a global calamity.”

“This is a fundamentally shortsighted choice—for workers, for organized labor, and for the planet,” Sen writes.

“Transitioning out of our current extractive, dirty economy could mean real pain for fossil fuel–dependent workers and communities,” the American Prospect’s writer acknowledge. “People may lose their jobs, and entire extraction-dependent communities could lose a sizable portion of their local economy and tax base.”

“If U.S. unions sit back and complain about the decline of fossil fuels, or fight to continue business as usual, they’ll become deeply unpopular with precisely those sectors that should be their natural allies—and eventually they’ll take much of the planet down with them. The sooner labor leaders embrace a just transition away from our extractive economy, the better. It’s time for the U.S. labor movement to catch up with the rest of the world.”

Like many progressives, it seems that Sen fails to understand that a union’s primary job is to represent its members’ jobs and the Green New Deal puts many of those jobs in jeopardy.


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