Why unionists marched for climate, jobs, justice

WASHINGTON (PAI) — Common-sense in science, fear of leaving a dying and polluted planet to their children and grandchildren and hostility to Republican President Donald Trump’s anti-green policies drove thousands of unionists to D.C. on April 29 for the march for climate, jobs and justice.

The busloads of unionists — 35 buses from one AFSCME district council in New York alone—joined up to 200,000 other people in parading down Pennsylvania Ave from the Capitol to and around the White House, determined to protect the planet and oppose Trump.

Whether Trump even paid attention is doubtful. That same day, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, now headed by Scott Pruitt, a rabid foe of the Clean Air Act, environmental rules and the agency’s mission, took down its combating climate change page from its website.

Unionists at the march, including Communications Workers Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens and Government Employees (AFGE) District 14 Vice President Eric Bunn, split their comments and their speeches between the dire impact Trump’s policies would have on the planet and the future of their kids and grandkids.

“We are nurses. We look out for public health, and that means the health of our planet, too. If our planet is on life support, we’re here,” National Nurses United Co-President Jean Ross, a Minnesotan, told Press Associates Union News Service. Ross led a contingent of at least 110 NNU members from New York and dozens from other states to the march.

The one building trades union that marched, the 60 members of Electrical Workers Local 3 from New York and Long Island, also emphasized jobs—green jobs that construction workers could fill in retrofitting buildings and erecting new energy-efficient structures.

“We need a president who acknowledges that climate change exists. And we want to see skilled trades jobs in building for climate change,” said Local 3 member John Schaefer.

But those aren’t the only jobs the unionists covered in their march.

“We have a lot of RAs (research assistants) at Columbia who are on climate change studies. Not only is common-sense science in jeopardy, but so are their jobs. I’m happy to be here to get into somebody’s face and shake them into some sense,” said Mike Cinquina of UAW Local 2110 in New York. His local sent two buses with about 100 members combined.

“He (Trump) is trying to disassemble the EPA. I’m here for something to protect, not for me, but for my kids and grandkids,” Bunn said before his speech. “The president wants to cut programs that protect public health and safety. It’ll then be turned back to cash-strapped state and local governments – so in turn it’ll be passed on to you,” he later warned the crowd.

“I asked my oldest daughter, who is 10, the other day, about what she’s learning in school,” Steffens told the union crowd. “She said she’s learning there will be a better world because of inventions and technology and a worse world because of climate change.

“My girls are in elementary school and have no problem understanding climate change. We should send some of our politicians back to first grade to learn about it….The same corporations that ruined our economy and stole our democracy now want to poison our climate. We’re here to say ‘Enough is enough’ and to fight back.”

Fred Solowey of the Service Employees said: “The false division between saving the planet and saving our jobs needs to be exposed. We need an industrial policy that promotes green jobs, which is what we lack. Shame on the environmental movement for not stressing that and shame on the labor movement for not putting it out.”

And Sandra Cohen of Communications Workers Local 1036 told the crowd that “I’m a 30-year union member and shop steward. The same powers that deny workers’ rights are trying to roll back the regulations that protect our air, water and safety on the job. But we know better. They’re trying to divide the building trades from us, but we know that stopping climate change will produce good union jobs.”

Many more unionists marched for the future.

“I’m a mother and a grandmother. I’d like to have a planet for my children and grandchildren,” said one of four SEIU 1199NE members, all of them health care workers, who came to the march from Southern Maryland. “We’re all here for the same reason. We all believe we need a healthy planet. We can’t keep on the path we’re on now. We know the patients we take care of are in an unhealthy environment,” added another of the four.

The unionists’ chants and their signs, especially the home-made ones, made the same point, with more-charged criticism of Trump. One favorite chant: “Tell Donald Trump what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.” The signs included:

  • “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then we will realize that one cannot eat money,” said a sign carried by an AFGE member who works at EPA.
  • A comet coming towards earth, headed towards a dinosaur with Trump’s head on it: “The dinosaurs thought they were tough, too.”
  • “Fossil fools threaten our planet.”
  • A sign with an hourglass and the Earth dribbling through it: “We don’t have four years – act now!”
  • “Trump: Your ignorance, our peril. That’s a fact.”

Besides National Nurses United, CWA, SEIU, IBEW Local 3, the Government Employees and UAW Locals 2110 and 6950, other unions in the D.C. march were AFSCME, the Postal Workers, both teachers unions (AFT and NEA), their joint New York State United Teachers affiliate, and Unite Here.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.