By Wendy Thompson | Tue, 12/22/2009
As a member of Autoworkers’ Caravan, I was happy to see One Million Climate Jobs Now, a pamphlet from union members in Britain. It shows very plainly and simply how to create the new jobs that are needed if we are going to avoid disastrous climate change—that is, global warming.
The results from the United Nations summit last week in Copenhagen are disappointing, but that conference has brought the issue of climate change more into public discussion. The Autoworkers’ Caravan went to Washington, D.C., last December to influence the debate on the auto industry in Congress. We were pushing the idea of converting auto plants into factories that would make electric cars, buses, light rail, high speed trains, and alternative energy such as wind turbines. We organized a rally with the same ideas at the International Auto Show in Detroit last January.
This year we are going to rally again at the International Auto Show on press day, January 11 (across the street from Cobo Hall, 10:30 am–12 pm). During the last year many auto plants have been slated for closing, making the need for converting plants to socially necessary products even more relevant. The issue of health care for all will also be highlighted at the rally because of the likelihood of a problematic health care bill passing that will enshrine the profits of insurance companies.
Plus, on January 23, 2010, there will be a conference for active and retired auto workers from the Big Three and parts plants. Many auto workers were encouraged when Ford workers voted down the latest round of concessions and want to make a difference in stopping the downward trend for all workers.
Jobs that Protect the Planet
Autoworkers Caravan is trying to show there is no need for a division between the union movement and the environmental movement—something the “One Million Climate Jobs Now” pamphlet makes clear. Anti-union forces have been saying unionists are uninterested in climate issues in order to demonize us with the public. Fighting to save jobs and to protect the planet is the same fight, since it will create more jobs, not less.
The pamphlet from the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group gets very concrete about electric cars, mini-buses instead of big ones that run empty, mass transit that doesn’t have to be overcrowded. The pamphlet even uses the model of World War II, just as we have, to say how easily factories can be changed over if there is a will to do so.
The authors of the pamphlet, who come from different unions in Britain, differentiate what they want from the term “green jobs.” They say, “Green jobs can mean anything-- …national parks, landscaping, bird sanctuaries, pollution control…All these jobs are necessary. But they do not affect global warming….Climate jobs are jobs that cut down the amount of greenhouse gases we put in the air and thus slow down climate change.” They argue for the government, local or national, to employ a million workers in new climate jobs, not just “old jobs with new names,” putting “green” in the job title.
They propose a National Climate Service that would directly employ workers for jobs like running wind farms and building wind turbines, photovoltaic cells, and solar heating. They point out that the direct government jobs would create other jobs, since wind turbines and wind turbine workers need steel, wood, aluminum, brooms, and tea!
This is different from the government giving tax breaks to companies or homeowners to encourage them to invest in renewable energy or to weatherize their homes. Profit as the final determinant will not get done the work that needs to be done to save the planet—or to create the good-paying jobs that are needed in manufacturing and construction.
We have a precedent in this country with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the last Depression, when the government spent $7 billion to hire millions of people to build roads and public buildings, such as libraries. They even hired artists to paint murals and teachers to teach literacy.
The advantage of having the government create the jobs instead of relying on the market, they say, is, “That way we can be sure it is done. Given what the scientists are telling us, we need to be sure.” If anyone still needs convincing, they go into the details of just how serious the climate change question is. And they propose where the money could come from (taxing the rich is one part)—pointing out that when the government really wants to do something, it finds the money.
Of course, some workers do have jobs in industries that are bad for the environment and for humanity, like war production, nuclear, oil, and gas. But if those who lose their jobs in these industries were guaranteed new good-paying jobs in the new industries, this would solve the problem.
Environmentalists and workers have been pitted against each other in the past. Today we all need to be environmentalists. The fact that protecting the planet would create new jobs makes that easy.
Wendy Thompson retired as president of United Auto Workers Local 235 in Detroit.