Friday, September 2, 2011

Workers and Sustainability

American Labor: A Sustainable Path by Joe Uehlein

This Labor Day, as union membership falls to a mere seven percent of private sector workers and bargaining and political clout shrink to match, two roads diverge for American labor. One is to attempt to find a niche within an economic-political system that is ever more shaped by short-term greed and is therefore ever more unsustainable economically, socially, and environmentally. The other is to align with the long-term interest of workers in transforming that system to provide for a sustainable future for the planet and its people. Organized labor will have a better future if it chooses the second road.

To have a future itself, organized labor needs to reorient itself around the objective of providing a sustainable future for all working people and the world we inhabit. That means putting millions of people to work creating a sustainable economy, society, and environment.

Nothing is more threatening to our long-term sustainability than climate change. It is affecting American workers here and now through forest fires, dust storms, rising sea levels, and extreme weather events like floods, droughts, tornados, blizzards and hurricanes. So far this year there have been an unprecedented eight weather-related disasters that have each done more than a billion dollars worth of damage to states from Texas to Maine.

The Great Recession represented the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Even during the so-called recovery, American workers continued to face unemployment rates unprecedented since the Great Depression. Now as that recovery falters, the private sector appears to have little to offer besides more unemployment, more insecurity, more wage cuts, and more misery.

It will take the labor of millions of people to reconstruct our economy on a climate safe basis. The solution for labor, as for America and indeed for the world, lies in a Green New Deal to mobilize our unused human resources to meet our increasingly desperate needs. rest of article at

Joe Uehlein is the former secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Department and former director of the AFL-CIO Center for Strategic Campaigns. Joe is the Executive Director of Voices for a Sustainable Future. He spent over 30 years doing organizing, bargaining, and strategic campaign work in the labor movement. He also performs regularly with his roots-rock revival band The U-Liners.
[He is also on the Advisory Board of the National Jobs for All Coalition.--jz]

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