AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka Joins Labor With Environmentalists in BlueGreen Alliance

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Key segments from the speech

By Glynn Wilson

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 17) — The head of the largest and most powerful coalition of unions in America voiced his unequivocal support for the growing alliance between organized labor and the environmental community under the umbrella of the BlueGreen Alliance, a 15 million member national organization represented by environmentalists and union members in the nation’s capital this week at a “Good Jobs, Green Jobs” conference.

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In the closing session, the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka acknowledged climate change due to global warming is a serious problem backed up by science, and agreed to join hands with national environmental groups like the Sierra Club in the fight to create high paying, green jobs for American workers.

“For the record, I want to make it crystal clear that we firmly believe in and trust a science based approach to regulating our environment and we know that climate change is real,” Trumka said. “We also know that responding to climate change will give America a competitive economic advantage in the global marketplace.”

Trumka also rejected the notion of a “zero-sum game” where “if one of us has to win, the other has to lose,” that cleaning and greening our environment means the destruction of jobs.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” he said. “I’m here to tell you it can’t be that way anymore, because it tears us apart and we need to be together. We’re stronger together. We can’t ever allow ourselves to be divided.”

Working people in poor communities can’t bear the cost of tackling climate change alone, he said. “It would be wrong to ask us to bear that burden, and quite frankly, politically it won’t work. The reality is that we need each other. We have to be able to rely on each other. We have to be able to both know what it means to walk in each other’s shoes and to tell each other the truth.”

He indicated he understands the desperation of the scientific community faced with the prospect of “runaway global warming.”

“But the only path to success lies in the scientific and environmental community having a similar understanding of the desperation of unemployed construction workers and laid off manufacturing workers,” he said. “When we understand both the climate crisis and the jobs crisis, together we can set our sites on more projects.”

While expressing optimism about the growing alliance, however, Trumka also acknowledged that the groups don’t always agree.

“Right now, to be completely frank with you, our alliance is too often too fragile in too many places,” he said. “We shouldn’t be letting the things that we disagree with divide us. We should be bringing the thousands and thousands of things that unite us together and focus on them.”

“We must get past this,” he said, “for the good of every human inhabitant on this planet.”

If you look around at the fault lines in American politics, Trumka said, you’ll see that the institutions that safeguard America’s environment are under serious attack. And if you look around you’ll understand that working people are under serious attack.

“The anti-regulation crowd is out to destroy job safety and labor rights protections just as much as it wants to tear apart environmental protections,” he said. “We can all duck down into a defensive crouch. Or we can step up … and stand together. Instead of talking your issues or my issues, we ought to be talking about our issues.”

The climate situation can only be solved, he said, “if we retool our world.” That means factories, power plants, homes, offices, rail lines, vehicles, planes, hospitals and schools. “They must all be modernized, upgraded, renovated and replaced with something cleaner, more efficient and less wasteful. We have to fix the leaks and the seeps in America’s oil and gas pipelines. And we have to keep developing green technology.”

That transformation can mean jobs, he said. “It means opportunities for economic growth (and) building a path for a healthier world and a healthier world economy, one less dependent on volatile energy prices.”

“That’s how America can retake our position as the world leader in innovation, by stepping forward to meet the challenges,” he said.

To do it, he said it would take a comprehensive energy and jobs strategy “that all of us can get behind.” He said it can’t be done “piecemeal.”

“It must be done big,” he said, and advocated a bill on reaching the presidents desk this year.

He commended the leadership of the United Steel Workers Union and the United Association of plumbers and pipefitters union as well as the Sierra Club for their work building the alliance.

While pipelines and coal mines might divide people sometimes, he said, “what we share is a thousand fold greater than any issue we might quibble with. When it comes down to it, the BlueGreen coalition is joined at the hip, whether we like it or we don’t. The more we acknowledge that and build on it, the better off both of us will be. The better off working families will be, and the better off the environment we all share will be.”

While labor and environmental groups don’t always agree on how to address climate change and other issues sometimes, he said, “what is important is about the BlueGreen Alliance is the idea of the labor movement and the environmental movement working together to build on our common values and interests.”

He said at the heart of it all is “a shared belief that human beings and the planet that we share with all creation must be treated with having a value and a dignity far beyond the profits that can be wrung out of them.”

“So what do you say we get together and change things in Washington,” he charged. “Let’s unite in a way that makes the pundits’ heads spin. I think we can do it. I want to do it. I think you want to do it as well. Let’s get together and show those pundits what we can really do.”

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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