A Jobs-Led Strategy
The recent progress with unions in New York on the issue of climate change is the fruit of years of patient and constructive organizing work. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, unions in the state got together to develop a serious plan to address climate change that would center working people.
Climate Jobs NY was formed as the coalition vehicle to move this program forward. A deliberate approach was taken to ensure that workers who would be impacted by an energy transition were the ones that crafted the agenda, even if that meant leaving out environmental groups in the beginning.
Lara Skinner, executive director of the Worker Institute at Cornell, explained, “Climate change impacts working people. There are some major opportunities here for labor if we can get ahead of this thing. What we’ve done is a very investment-led strategy, a very jobs-led strategy.”
Their approach was to focus on the projects that both labor unions and environmentalists could get behind. “The labor movement and environmental community agree on probably 90% of things, so we shouldn’t focus on the things that are going to destroy goodwill,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.
The policy platform of Climate Jobs NY reflects this vision of pursuing goals that create good union jobs and benefit the broader public. Ambitious but practical, the platform includes the expansion of mass transit, construction of high speed rail, 7.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2025, and the retrofitting of all public schools.
It is clear that there is real worker buy-in on this agenda, and that local unions see renewable energy as a secure job source for the future. John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, declared, “Long Island should be a hub of offshore wind development. With our strategic location centered on the East Coast and advanced supply chain from the aerospace industry, the region is poised to lead.”
All concerned with climate change need to quickly learn the strategic lessons of the Climate Jobs NY approach. While centrist Democrats are wrong to blame their dismal down-ballot performances on policies like the Green New Deal, the Left should turn these policy visions into serious proposals that working people can understand and benefit from.
This can only be achieved through an approach that puts workers in the driver’s seat and builds maximum unity around concrete objectives. The Ørsted offshore wind project shows the vast possibilities that exist for workers to use their magnificent skills to transform the country.