Brothers & sisters in the building trades: Time is running out for the planet

April 2019 Demolish houses (Douglas R. Clifford:AP)

New houses in Florida demolished by Hurricane Michael last October. Warming oceans are making hurricanes more severe. (Douglas R. Clifford / Tampa Bay Times / AP)

By A WORKING CARPENTER

I’ve been a carpenter my whole adult life. I worked nonunion before I joined the Carpenters’ Union—easily the smartest thing I’ve ever done. For a working-class person, a union is still the best anti-poverty program.

Recently, the heads of the Building Trades unions, alongside the leaders of the United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers (UMWA), spoke out against the proposed Green New Deal. They claim that the GND will “cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families.” Right-wing climate deniers immediately seized on union opposition to the GND as proof that proponents are out of touch with reality.

The science is irrefutable: Climate change is real. The energy companies spend millions of dollars trying to convince you that the science isn’t definitive. (Just like the tobacco companies tried to tell us that cigarettes are not a danger to your health.) Politicians crack jokes in the wintertime to downplay the seriousness of the situation.

The dangers are real. We’re already seeing the effects—melting ice caps and rising sea levels, extreme weather, flooding in the Midwest, more intense hurricanes, wildfires in the West, and refugee crises that will only become more dire. Famine is a real threat. Wars may be fought over water and arable land. Democracy could be threatened as a result of social unrest. If left unchecked, climate change could mean the end of life on Earth.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If corporate interests, and the richest 1%, are left in control of the economy and government, they will balance the cost of the climate crisis on our backs. The rich will stop at nothing to keep their wealth and power. This means playing working people against each other, inciting fear of immigrants, and fanning the flames of conspiracy theories about socialists wanting to take away your hamburgers.

The bosses want you to believe that environmental protections are bad for jobs. It’s a lie. Too often, our union leaders put the interests of the bosses ahead of the members, and the rank and file have little or no say in the decisions.

Are you willing to let the same union busters who have tried to shove right-to-work laws down our throats lead the way on climate crisis?

The current economic and political system, in which the rich get tax breaks and accumulate wealth while the rest of us get the scraps, is unworkable. The majority of the jobs created in the U.S. are low-wage with few benefits. The majority of U.S. workers have no pensions or retirement savings. Many new jobs are part-time. Millions in the U.S. lack access to affordable health care, and student debt threatens the future of younger generations. Worldwide, millions live without basic sanitation and clean water.

We can do better. The Green New Deal is just an initial step. We have to take emergency measures as a society to convert to sustainable, renewable sources of energy. We also have to re-imagine how work itself is organized. Do rich people need more luxury apartments, while thousands sleep in their cars or on sidewalks? How many strip malls do we need, when schools and infrastructure are in disrepair? Who decides?

The money and resources are there to create good jobs, decent housing, education, secure retirement, and health care for all. But the truth is that this money is squandered on handouts to the rich and endless wars overseas.

Critical infrastructure is needed to secure our coastlines against rising sea levels. Improved and expanded mass transit must be built to reduce our dependence on cars. Working people have the skills. We can democratically plan and run the economy in the interests of working people. We can make the decisions necessary to save the planet. For humanity to survive, we have to get beyond the idea of growth for the sake of growth. We can put a stop to climate change, wars, and poverty.

Solidarity and democracy are key. We can’t let the bosses and their politicians, in both major parties, turn us against each other. The solutions the bosses offer will surely preserve their wealth and privilege at our expense.

Ask yourselves, what sort of planet do we leave behind for our kids and grandkids?