Labor must mobilize for the environment


The following presentation was given in the labor workshop at the April 20 conference at Barnard College in New York City sponsored by the Eco-Socialist Contingent. 

The conference was endorsed by 29 organizations, including Socialist Action, and brought together 240 participants in lively debate and discussion concerning an effective strategy to combat climate change.

When Hurricane Sandy hit New York on Oct. 29, transit workers were busy securing the city’s transit lifeline. Both the city and the Metropolitan Transit Authority were forced to acknowledge that the real story of the almost super-human, super-fast hurricane recovery of the nation’s biggest transit system belongs to transit workers. After the wreckage, just as it did in the aftermath of 9-11, transit workers pitched-in. Local 100 members joined Occupy Sandy in delivering aid and supplies to the Rockaways.

What a powerful social force transit workers can be! Think back to December 2005 when transit workers brought the ruling class—the Wall Street crooks—to its knees with its heroic strike. We were white, black, Hispanic and immigrant. We shut the city down tight!

Public transit workers, with the rest of the working class, are a mighty force for change. Transit work is Green Jobs. Yet, the nation’s 1% refuses to fund public transportation adequately. In Obama’s so-called stimulus package, public transportation spending by states averaged a scandalous 1.7%, according to a sample study by the very mainstream “Smart Growth America.” The study also noted that each dollar spent on public transportation was 75% more effective in putting people to work than highway projects.

Domination of the transportation discussion was sown years ago by the barons of the auto industry, in league with the petroleum industry, which demanded more roads for its gas hog autos. For decades, federal transportation aid has been about 80% for roads, with the rest for green public transportation. And even that meager aid is rigged to cheat transit workers of adequate pay.

It is no secret that mass transportation is identified in the minds of racists with Blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities; hence Obama’s cowardly flight from these issues—not to mention Obama’s failure to address the vast environmental racism endured by minorities in other sectors.

Obama’s new budget projects a minuscule $2 billion in research (not for actual production of alternate energy) over a 10-year period, to be funded by expanded oil drilling. Obama brags that under his watch drilling has expanded at a greater pace than ever—as the earth is being poisoned. Obama and the Democrats are no less the assassins of our planet than George Bush and the nuts of the Tea Party.

We must seize the moment to act against climate change. We must address mass unemployment and dread over climate change by demanding a federal Emergency Energy Reconversion Act tied to job creation in actually producing and installing alternate energy equipment that use wind, solar, and water turbines. Obviously, the rulers will react with fury to such measures, yet they are only the necessary first step toward achieving climate justice and saving our planet.

When the U.S. entered the war in December 1941, auto production ceased and only war materiel was made. The GDP doubled in three years, bringing the U.S. out of depression. Back then industry was mobilized to produce the machines of death; this time it will be to produce the tools for life!

The workers movement and its allies are the most potent force for achieving these goals. The moribund United Auto Workers was virtually smashed by the new Obama administration when half-pay for new workers and pension cuts were rammed down their throats. But these workers can play a key role in the environmental movement. They can lead marches; a massive jobs march on Washington is certainly overdue (also to stop cuts to Medicare and Social Security!).

And while demanding the nationalization of Big Auto, not far down the road they could also take over the factories and demand green production jobs! That would certainly be a welcome return to the glory days of their union.

That renewed militancy goes for other workers, like my TWU, who face zero contracts at the hands of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and millions of others who face similar layoffs and cuts.

How to get there? One way to begin would be to convene massive rank-and-file union congresses to democratically discuss and implement a class-struggle strategy. That would require, in most cases, the construction of rank-and-file movements that could ultimately overthrow the labor bureaucrats who remain tied hand and foot to the Democratic Party. It would entail breaking with the Democrats and the formation of a new class-struggle Labor Party, one that that would fight without compromise in the interests of the workers.

Let’s remember that this crisis is global. The planet faces massive environmental shifts in weather, coastal flooding, crop failure, and starvation—as well as capitalist war—as the corporate bloodsuckers attempt to extract every penny from the misery of workers and poor farmers around the world. The need for worker internationalism has never been greater!

In October, I traveled to Haiti and visited with sweatshop workers in Port au Prince organized by Batay Ouvriye (Workers Struggle). Haitian workers slave in international textile assembly plants for $3.50 a day. As Haiti’s U.S. puppet President Michael Martelly says,” Haiti is open for business!” Enforcing this hell on earth is a U.S.-led UN occupation that has killed without mercy and, as two scientific studies have proven, brought on a cholera epidemic by dumping human wastes into a much used river. The epidemic has killed more than 8000 Haitians.

In 2010, Obama cynically used the horrific earthquake to militarily re-occupy Haiti. Some of us protested right here in New York. One of the occupation’s many crimes—this one approaching genocide—is that it has ignored the fact that cholera is easily treatable; clean, available water is what’s needed as well as medical assistance, which only the Cubans have been consistent in providing.

On top of this, hurricane Sandy devastated Haiti once again, killing over 50. Despite the hoopla over international aid, 400,000 Haitians still live in flimsy post-quake shelters in Port au Prince.

In October, a new sweatshop park was opened in Haiti in the northern town of Caracol, with $124 million in U.S. tax subsidy. Bill and Hillary Clinton and Hollywood celebs were on hand for the ceremony. What went unsaid was that 300 peasants lost their land in what is considered a fertile, ecologically fragile region. The nearby port at Fort Liberté is Haiti’s only UN-designated ecologically “protected” area.

These horror stories are similar to others in the Third World. International links with worker and peasant organizations must be made, accompanied by active solidarity.

Building eco-socialist revolutionary parties worldwide is essential to our task. Revolutionary parties will encourage and develop mass movements of working people and the oppressed, as part of a transitional strategy toward socialist revolution. Struggle alone will save our planet. There is no hope under capitalism. Workers of the world, unite!

Photo: Haitian workers carry scarce food supplies over the Dominican Republic border.  By Tony Savino / Socialist Action

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[Editor’s note: We reprint this article by the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM). In 1989, the Bastille Appeal was launched, inviting popular movements throughout the world to unite in demanding the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the debt of the so-called developing countries. This crushing debt, along with neo-liberal macro-economic reforms imposed on the global South, has led to an explosion of worldwide inequality, mass poverty, flagrant injustice and the destruction of the environment.


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