Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Blue and Green

My friend Sarah over at Solar One linked me to this pretty recent blog entry, Labor and Green Jobs of the Future, from lawyer/ consultant/globalization critic Brendan Smith. Smith rehashed a lot of what's been written in the past 4 years - propelled by the work surrounding the creation of the Apollo Alliance - about the intersection of the labor and environmental movements around job creation. He cites the UAW strikes of fall 07 to hammer home the need for greater environmental policy change at the international (read: national) level. What strikes me as most compelling is that Smith doesn't end with this prescription alone; he highlights the progress achieved already among the rank-and-file body of the American labor movement. He suggests that it is indeed ripe to follow the achievements of the Steelworkers. From experience back east I cannot say I have seen many indicators reflecting Good Jobs First's statistics among the membership. This very well supports the notion that environmental change should be encouraged from the top-down. This was my direct experience in New York, but I do not discount the merits of the organic rank-and-file activity reflected in the GJF stats. I have noticed plenty of nalgenes and Sierra clubs bumper stickers on the cars of members here in California, though I happen to represent doctors with a particularly "hippy" profile. As a union member myself (CWA staff union!!) I can say that I have regressed since starting my west coast job. My footprint has Shreked now that I live in a big apartment, fly a lot more (for work) and drive a car (for work). I would like to see some small changes at the workplace: a reduction in printer paper use, a policy of not serving bottled water at the various functions. Larger changes affecting union staff, such as the use of fuel-efficient work cars, are issues that would have to be bargained over between the employer and our staff union. This of course highlights the central challenge of the blue/green discussion. Adopting pro-environmental practices is something that unions should be thinking about, its just a matter of incorporating them into the organization's agenda. The reality is that a union is ultimately accountable to its membership. This is not mutually exclusive to the fact that making responsible choices about the environment altogether benefits everyone. In the case of the labor movement, it just requires a well-thought out combination of motivation from the top with participation from the rank-and-file.

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