Organized labor is again leading the defense of the nation’s dwindling middle class against monied power. As Michael Kanellos wrote here last week, the Wisconsin attack involves an attempt by vested fossil fuel interests to control the kind of generation Wisconsin builds and to sideline the state's renewable resources.
Leo Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers, answered some of GTM's questions about the longstanding and growing partnership between unionized workers and environmental and renewables advocates to protect the nation’s air, water and climate and grow the nation’s future economy.
GTM: How was the BlueGreen Alliance forged?
LG: The real foundation of the BlueGreen Alliance was built in the 1970s and discussions around the Clean Air Act. While many corporations, especially in heavy manufacturing, resisted efforts by the government to reduce emissions and install pollution control equipment, the USW found in those regulations an opportunity to create a safer, more stable industry through mandates that required employers to invest in our facilities. The steel companies, like U.S. Steel, which invested in upgrading plants and equipment to comply with the Clean Air Act, in many cases, are still here.
In 2000, the USW published a report that specifically addressed global climate change titled “Securing Our Children’s World,” which laid out the potential devastation of global warming in plain English for USW members. The BlueGreen Alliance was officially formed in the late spring/early summer of 2006 in the midst of two separate crises -- with unfair and illegal trade costing millions of American manufacturing jobs in steel, rubber, paper and other union-dense industries while our nation’s addiction to foreign oil and global climate change became household dinner-table discussion topics.
GTM: Is the bond between the renewable energy industries and the American worker intact?
LG: Joining forces with Carl Pope and the Sierra Club wasn’t just a common-sense choice -- it was our only choice. The jobs of the future depend on our ability to transition to a sustainable renewable energy economy. The research showed that this country stands to gain millions of good, family-supporting jobs by investing in clean renewable energy component manufacturing.
New research has backed up those initial estimates and we’ve already seen some green investments generating those jobs. We will not be lured into a false choice between a clean environment and good jobs -- because we cannot have good jobs without a clean environment and we can’t have a clean environment without good jobs. It truly is a question of both or neither.
Other trade unions and environmental organizations have joined over the the last five years.
GTM: What would a change from a Renewable Energy Standard to a Clean Energy Standard -- as suggested by the President’s call for 80% clean energy by 2035 -- mean to the BlueGreen Alliance and the USW?
LG: It is critical that our nation take the necessary steps to develop and deploy clean energy technologies. The USW has a history of supporting strong Renewable Energy Standards, and we look forward to working with the Administration and Congress to develop a well-crafted Clean Energy Standard that will create a stable market for all forms of clean energy. The 80% by 2035 goal is something that we should strive to achieve -- for our environment, for job creation, and to ensure that America can become more energy independent. There’s one thing for certain -- we can’t keep going down the road of importing a billion dollars a day in oil. Many oil producing nations are becoming more and more unstable. We should enact policies and make investments that promote homegrown, clean energy that will power our future and protect our national security.
LG: President Obama has laid out a bold budget that addresses research and ensures the EPA can do its job and enact well-crafted regulations on greenhouses gasses that protect the public and create jobs. Republicans need to get on board with sparking American innovation. We must work together to create the jobs we need now and lay down an economic foundation that will lead to prosperity for generations to come. We can’t win the future by letting the rest of the world innovate while we stand by. The American people don’t want that and our families can’t afford that.
GTM: With the overwhelming majority of the American public in favor of renewable energy, how has the green economy done at creating green jobs and union jobs?
LG: The Recovery Act's green investments committed through the end of 2010 created or saved nearly a million jobs, according to a report released by the Economic Policy Institute and the BlueGreen Alliance. That success clearly shows that we must make more of those kinds of investments.
GTM: Why would a public so in favor of renewable energy be hostile to the unions so essential to building it?
LG: The American public, according to Pew Research polling released last week, supports workers by a margin of 3-1, who said they were against legislation designed to take away the rights of state workers to organize and bargain collectively. Republican governors, legislators and their billionaire financiers view labor unions as the last remaining organized competition, and they’re not wrong. It’s why they’re willing to spend their money to defeat us. But that money is their only advantage. We are the multitudes who will tear their castles down to make our voices heard if necessary.