Tactics in the fight for the Green New Deal
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaks at the final event for the Road to the Green New Deal Tour at Howard University in Washington, Monday, May 13, 2019. | Cliff Owen / AP

Labor is not united behind the Green New Deal, and that is a big problem for supporters of this important piece of progressive legislation. The fact is, the GND is unlikely to pass without the support of organized labor.

Many unions have justifiable fears the GND will undermine the jobs, economic security, and well-being of thousands of their members, including coal miners, pipe mill, and oil refinery workers, as well as laborers who build pipelines. From bitter experience, they know they cannot rely on retraining for jobs that do not yet exist, and older workers are not likely to uproot their families and move to distant states where wind and solar farms may be located.

The GND must be accompanied by legislation to guarantee the economic security of these potentially displaced workers.

Furthermore, labor faces other serious challenges, which are not appreciated by many supporters of the GND. Plants, like the GM assembly works in Lordstown, Ohio, are continuing to close due to government policies that encourage the export of capital to low wage countries, so-called “right to work” laws, and obstacles to union organizing. The AFL-CIO is focused on these issues and must get support from all progressive allies before it can embrace the issues around the GND.

The progressive movement must learn from previous mistakes if it is gain the unity needed to win the GND.

Twenty-five years ago, when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was enacted under the Clinton Administration, many progressives worked hard to pass the Martinez Jobs Bill, which would have revived the massive public works programs that existed during the New Deal.   The AFL-CIO correctly saw that NAFTA would lead to a mass exodus of U. S. companies seeking low wages, inferior working conditions, and low or no taxes as they produced goods in Mexico and shipped them tariff-free into the United States.

That immediate threat, which ultimately cost one million jobs and devastated communities across the country, was labor’s focus and meant it could not afford to put resources behind the Martinez Bill. Without labor support, the bill went nowhere, despite outstanding efforts by progressive groups throughout the country.

We now confront the same challenge.

The Trump administration has cancelled NAFTA but negotiated a new U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement to replace it, with enormous loopholes that would allow the massive hemorrhaging of jobs and plant closings to continue unabated. The AFL-CIO is united in working to close those loopholes and, so far, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Congressional representatives are standing with labor and preventing ratification of the deal.  The demand to “Fix the New NAFTA” needs the support of all who seek labor’s support for the GND.

In addition, the AFL-CIO is seeking passage of a major effort to reform our country’s backward labor laws. This is the Protect the Right to Organize, or PRO-Act, that would abolish all state “right-to-work” laws and thereby deny workers protected by union contracts the ability to freeload and avoid paying union dues. It would also enact the provisions of the Employee Free Choice Act, allowing workers to form unions without employer interference and guarantee enforcement of first contracts. Passage of this bill would be a game-changer in U.S. politics, since polls show the majority of workers would join a union, if free to do so.

This would greatly increase the political power of organized labor, restore its declining membership, and put it in a position to play a decisive role in winning all kinds of progressive legislation, including worker protections in a GND. It would turn the GND into a “Blue-Green New Deal.” It would open the door for passage of bills to protect retirement security, immigrant rights, voting rights, and equality for women and the LBGTQ community. It would severely weaken corporate power and right-wing extremism.

In other words, labor’s concerns must not be ignored. Those committed to the GND must also join with labor and conduct an all-out fight to fix the new NAFTA and pass the PRO-Act.


Rick Nagin
Rick Nagin

Rick Nagin has written for People's World and its predecessors since 1970. He has been active for many years in Cleveland politics and the labor movement.