by Bill Onasch
All Roads Start From Paris
The recently concluded COP21 climate summit in Paris was supposed to be transformational. In some ways perhaps it was. Not a single government any longer denies that global warming is real–and they acknowledge how humans produce, consume, and destroy is mainly responsible for this palpable threat to civilization.
But as reported in the last WIR, and in postings this week on Labor Advocate, this recognition didn’t produce meaningful action. While they endorsed “1.5 to stay alive”–capping global warming at 1.5C over preindustrial levels—they collectively submitted emission goals that will actually increase greenhouse discharge in the short term and put warming on a long run disastrous course of 3C or more. Nevertheless, the Parties to the Conference hailed the fruits of their fortnight of deliberations as the biggest thing since bagels were first sliced to accommodate lox.
So have many traditional environmental groups, seemingly blessed with the patience of Job. Unfortunately, neither they nor we have been granted the longevity of Methuselah who is said to have stuck around nearly a millennium to prepare his grandson Noah to save all species from extinction during the Great Flood.
But even some who preach such scriptural accounts are more measured than the secular pale greens in their response to the Paris deal. Radio Vatican began a report,
“World leaders have hailed the climate change agreement they struck in Paris at the weekend as historic, while some environmentalists have warned the deal does not go far enough to curb the effects of global warming on our planet.”
Pope Francis is among those who believe COP21 didn’t go far enough. But even with the help of fact-supported arguments by Naomi Klein, the Holy Father hasn’t had much luck in getting Church bodies to even agree to divest their extensive holdings of fossil fuel stocks.
I have no suggestions for the Bishop of Rome for how to get his flock of one billion on board for climate justice. My faith is in the diverse corporal legion who do the world’s work for wages. An encouraging development on the Road Through Paris is uneven progress by the global trade union movement in confronting climate reality.
My friend Traven in Vermont reminded me of a past AFL-CIO statement that concluded,
“The AFL-CIO Executive Council therefore calls upon the President to refrain from signing the proposed Kyoto Protocol to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.” – AFL-CIO Executive Council statement, January 30, 1998.
Whether they were the motivation is questionable, but they got what they asked for. Even though the U.S. representative in Kyoto, then Vice-President Al Gore, largely shaped the Milquetoast first global climate agreement, President Clinton never signed on to send it to Congress.
Last Tuesday the White House Choir at the House of Labor sang a different tune about Paris–“The AFL-CIO applauds the U.N. Paris climate change agreement as a landmark achievement in international cooperation that is both sensible and achievable.”
They still don’t have it completely right but they did at least include–
“Workers must be at the center of any successful effort to address climate change. Workers in certain sectors will bear the brunt of transitional job and income loss. For this reason, the agreement appropriately recognizes ‘…the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs….’”
Unlike eighteen years ago, this opens up new space in the labor movement to advance the fight for class and climate justice.
Some are already boldly stepping in. Outside the official COP21 gathering, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy scheduled a number of well-received events in Paris. TUED is made up of 47 union bodies in 17 countries. Affiliates in the USA include the National Education Association, United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers, New York State Nurses Association, and the Labor Network for Sustainability. They have had considerable impact in Britain where they now have the enthusiastic support of Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labor Party Shadow Prime Minister.
Just what do they mean by Energy Democracy? This excellent video explains all. I’ve seen no better popular presentation of what we mean by Class & Climate Justice. We should be showing this at union meetings and community forums at every opportunity.
And this is a class perspective we need to take in to the developing global climate action movement. The next big advance on the Road Through Paris was announced this week by 350.org and others. They say,
“After the Climate Summit in Paris we need to redouble efforts to end the use of destructive fossil fuels and choose a clean and just energy future. This May we hope to see more people than ever commit to joining actions that disrupt the industry’s power by targeting the world’s most dangerous and unnecessary fossil fuel projects, and supporting the most ambitious climate solutions.”
You can find out more about these May 7-15 actions, and sign up to support them, here.
The road to Paris led to a dead end. But coming out of Paris we can get back on course.
Leave the Coal in the Ground—Not the Miners
Hating what coal is doing to our planet in no way diminishes our respect for and solidarity with those who dig and process it. The bosses and politicians who love coal are just the opposite.
This past week a talented labor investigative writer, Mike Elk posted on the Media Workers Unite site a copy of an article he had written for Politico–but had been censored back in August. An updated introduction datelined December 17 begins,
“Yesterday, a bill died on the Senate floor, which would have protected the 90,000 beneficiaries of the United Mine Workers Multiemployer Pension and Retiree Fund. Despite, the bill having wide bipartisan support in both houses, the bill died because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote as part of a $1.1 trillion dollar spending bill. ‘It is simply immoral’ said United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts about the decision. In August, I wrote a story for POLITICO about how a certain Super PAC donor, billionaire non-union coal magnate Joe Craft, was stopping McConnell from supporting a pension bailout bill that would negatively affect tens of thousands of Kentuckians and enjoyed wide support on both sides of the aisle.”
I recommend you read the whole story here.
* Most readers will recall a few weeks ago a strike by University of Missouri football players—honored by their coaching staff—secured a stunning victory for protests in support of Black students facing discrimination and bullying. The University System president, and the Chancellor of the main campus in Columbia were forced to resign. The ALEC-dominated Missouri legislature hopes to make this a teachable moment. Under new legislation to be introduced in the next session, student athletes refusing to play or practice would be kicked off the team–and lose their scholarships. Coaches showing solidarity would get the boot as well.
* 2000 UAW Kohler workers in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin are back to work after a 32-day strike. The union failed to eliminate the two-tier wage structure though the gap between the tiers was lessened considerably with Tier B getting 4.70 an hour in raises over four years. Most Tier A workers will get 2.00 raises. Most of the company’s take-back demands in their final pre-strike offer were dropped. Though Wisconsin is an open-shop state only 22 scabs crossed the line.
* In a breakthrough for “gig workers” the Seattle City Council adopted an ordinance providing a path to collective bargaining for Uber and Lyft drivers–generally falsely categorized as “independent contractors.” Big battles by traditional taxi drivers against Uber are also raging in Toronto.
Year-End Fiscal Report
As regular readers know, KC Labor never charges for content, and doesn’t accept grants or paid advertising. That assures our independence.
But it doesn’t pay our bills—server and domain fees; high speed Internet service from unionized AT&T; our fifth desktop computer since going online in 2000; security software with file backup; pricey subscriptions to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and hardly worth the price, the Kansas City Star; and recently resuming use of iContact e-mail service.
Our sole source of income is voluntary support from readers. 2015 has been the best year in a long time. Thanks to a generous monthly pledge from a California reader, and a number of smaller one time contributions, donations have been more than enough to pay regular expenses without excessive digging in to my far from deep personal pockets.
But as you have probably guessed by now, I’m not about to tell you I don’t need more money. Some worthwhile expenses are irregular. On April 1, a couple of thousand or so labor activists from across the country—and world—will attend the Labor Notes Conference in Chicago. The plenaries and workshops will warrant reporting. I attend the transit worker caucus. For the last few of these biennial events KC Labor has had a visible presence with a literature and button table. A lot of names are collected for our e-mail list. Always I get to meet both new folks and regular readers. It’s well worth doing.
But this too takes money—above and beyond our normal expenses. There’s a fee for the table as well as a registration charge. Union printers have to be paid for literature and buttons. The hotel isn’t cheap. And, of course, train fare. It adds up to more than I can comfortably personally handle.
So I’m rattling the can and if you have anything to spare after seasonal gifts and other worthy causes your help would be greatly appreciated.
Just About a Wrap
Unless there is some unforeseen historic event, this will be the last WIR for 2015. As is my custom, I’m taking a couple of weeks off during the year-end holiday season. There will also be no new updates on our companion Labor Advocate news blog until January 4. However you mark the holidays–best to you and yours.
That’s all for this year.
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