The AFL-CIO and Keystone XL Pipeline

On Tuesday, the AFL-CIO gave tacit support for building the Keystone XL Pipeline, a very disappointing development for many involved in the climate movement, as well for some of the federation’s constituent unions that had fought the building trades over whether labor should support it. The Transit Workers’ Union took a particularly leading role on this issues, with the Laborers, IBEW, and Teamsters the unions most pushing for building it. I have more on this at LaborOnline. An excerpt:

I understand the tough situation that Keystone creates for organized labor. A union’s job is to protect the interests of its members, including keeping them employed, all too rare today. But in the early 21st century, with organized labor in deep decline, does it make sense to promote short-term job growth at the cost of telling the thousands of people who care deeply about a variety of progressive causes, including climate change, that organized labor is not an ally?

Let’s also remember that climate change is the greatest issue faced by humans in the 21st century. Events like Hurricane Sandy, the drought parching half the United States, and the massive forest fires in the West that are changing the ecology of states like New Mexico will almost certainly become far more common. Climate change will disproportionately affect the poor. Lack of air conditioning will cause higher death rates from heat exhaustion. Warmer weather will lead to higher cockroach populations that cause elevated asthma rates among urban dwellers. The poor in low-elevation nations like Bangladesh will suffer tremendously, not to mention those living in floodplains in the United States. Climate change is absolutely a working-class issue. Organized labor needs to play a leading role in conversations on how to fight this menace. Building a massive pipeline that makes the problem worse is counterproductive.

So I understand why LIUNA and the building trades are behind the pipeline. I won’t criticize them too harshly for a stance that will create jobs. But if organized labor wants to remain relevant within the 21st century progressive movement, it can’t support policies that intensify climate change. Endorsing more petroleum pipelines may create a few jobs in the short-term, but has starkly negative long-term consequences, both for the planet and for labor’s ability to make much-needed alliances with other organizations.

From my perspective, it just comes down to whether it makes more sense to get a few jobs now or be relevant in the movement to make a world a better place. Labor is getting crushed left and right and part of the reason is that it by and large has not made itself available to be part of the social movements trying to change this country for the better. It’s come around on immigration, much to its credit. Environmental issues are just as hard, but parts of organized labor are excellent on these issues and others are at least willing to have conversation. Some unions though, they just don’t care. Meanwhile, the climate is changing more every day.

80 comments on this post.
  1. JL:

    It’s come around on immigration, much to its credit.

    It’s also coming around on LGBTQ issues. When I was at Creating Change there were a few labor-related panels, and also a Labor Caucus. At this city’s pride parade last year, UNITE-HERE was marching.

    But yeah, it is disappointing that they would support Keystone XL.

    I was recently at the Tennessee Gas Pipeline extension blockade in northeastern Pennsylvania. I was impressed at the emphasis on outreach and non-hostility to the workers (including a couple of local-to-the-area eco-activists who are themselves in the building trades taking cigarettes and snacks and water to the workers when they walked onto tree-cutting sites to stall them, and also documentations of worker safety violations by company bosses).

  2. Decrease Mather:

    The significance of “a few jobs now” depends on whether those jobs are for you.

    I also suspect that there’s a feeling that others in this country aren’t sacrificing for the long term good, why should workers bear the brunt?

  3. Erik Loomis:

    That’s fine. The question at hand is whether the AFL-CIO as a whole should support such a project. The answer to that question is no.

  4. Cody:

    I’m surprised Union workers are going to be hired for pipeline construction.

    My money is they would immediately hire non-union workers if given the chance, and we know they want the chance.

    But it’s okay. Unions are constantly working hard to lose support of liberals.

  5. Brien Jackson:

    I’m not even sure it’s really a short-term gain. I mean, yeah, it is in the micro sense of creating some more specific jobs, but in the macro sense, how does labor gain by pissing off one of the bigger (and likely soon-to-be-biggest) constituency in the progressive coalition?

  6. Erik Loomis:

    It’s actually quite unclear that very many union workers will be hired at all. That’s part of the subtext of these conversations within the AFL-CIO–is this actually going to lead to union jobs? That’s far from clear.

  7. Erik Loomis:

    As much as I’d like to say that the climate movement is going to be the biggest in the progressive coalition, I don’t think it will be. Will actually have more on this point in a post soon.

    But on the major point, I completely agree that this is a negative net decision.

  8. Incontinentia Buttocks:

    You’d think everyone would have learned the lessons from the deep rift between organized labor and the (New) Left during the ’60s and ’70s.

  9. Brien Jackson:

    Maybe I’m basing that assumption too much on my own experience within my own cohort, but roughly speaking: for liberals/Democrats my age, as far as I can tell, there’s basically universal agreement that climate change is a huge problem we have to deal with. So maybe the movement won’t be that powerful as an institutional force, but the issue will, I think, be a pretty universal bond of the American left.

  10. Brien Jackson:

    You’d think that labor would at least want to be mindful of reinforcing the impression that they’re otherwise anti-liberal.

  11. Speak Truth:

    Apparently, they didn’t get your memo…

  12. Chatham:

    It seems like climate hawks have been focusing too much on the Keystone XL pipeline. Not that it’s unimportant, but a carbon tax is much more important. James Hansen says that the carbon reduction caused by such a tax would be more than ten times the amount of carbon that’d be carried through the pipeline.

    Perhaps climate hawks are too weak politically to work on much else (I don’t think that’s the case), and perhaps Keystone XL is useful as a galvanizing issue (which I do think is the case). But there are much bigger issues we need to be spending more time on.

    In terms of jobs – from what I’ve read, the pipeline would only create some 2 – 4 thousand jobs at most over it’s entire lifetime. By contrast, the US added 157 thousand jobs alone this past January. According to Krugman, if government jobs had continued to grow at the rate they did under Bush, we’d have 1.5 million more government jobs right now. So hey, we only need to build 700 Keystone XL pipelines to makeup for austerity!

  13. david mizner:

    I didn’t think there was much chance of President Obama blocking the pipepline but in case there was, this provides him all the cover he needs not to.

  14. Dilan Esper:

    That’s fine. The question at hand is whether the AFL-CIO as a whole should support such a project. The answer to that question is no.

    The AFL-CIO is a labor organization. Their job is to represent the interests of their constituent unions. In this case, one of their constituent unions represents workers who would benefit from the pipeline. Thus, because their job is to support the interests of their constituent unions, this is actually a no brainer for them.

    This case represents the flip side of the post I made in the earlier thread about how unions aren’t always right. We WANT unions to represent the interests of their workers, full stop. That is their fiduciary duty. If they do not do so, the workers should decertify them and form different unions. And if the AFL-CIO ceases to support the causes of member unions, those unions should leave the AFL-CIO and form another umbrella organization.

    It isn’t the job of collective bargaining units to worry about social justice or to be a good partner with other organizations on the left. To the extent that they can do so while conferring benefits on their members, fine. But it’s not their job. And their actual job is really, really important.

    Guess what. There’s sometimes a conflict between the interests of workers and the environment. That conflict can’t be papered over. It exists.

  15. Dilan Esper:

    It seems like climate hawks have been focusing too much on the Keystone XL pipeline. Not that it’s unimportant, but a carbon tax is much more important.

    This. Indeed, since this thread is about the pathologies of the labor movement, I might throw in that one of the pathologies of the environmental movement is way too much focus on projects that they feel despoil the AESTHETIC qualities of the earth (this, drilling in ANWR, etc.) and not enough focus on things that threaten human habitation of it (like untaxed carbon).

  16. joe from Lowell:

    When I was in a graduate students union represented by the UAW (umwut?), they came out against John Kerry’s bill to increase CAFE standards.

    Because building those big SUVs was going to be the auto worker’s meal ticket as far as the eye can see.

  17. Erik Loomis:

    And it is the interest of other constituent unions to not have this built. It’s not so black and white.

  18. Erik Loomis:

    They did focus on the carbon tax and the bill completely failed in 2009 and 2010.

    The focus on Keystone is a grassroots movement. The focus on the climate bill is a big enviro organization goal. There’s room for both. One failed, the other might fail too but at least it is galvanizing people.

  19. Marek:

    Both a carbon tax and stopping the XL Pipeline are important. However, there is no way to impose a carbon tax given the current Congress. By contrast, the XL Pipeline can be stopped.

    Also, I think you underestimate the impact of burning all the carbon in the Canadian tar sands.

  20. MacGyver:

    Someone talk to me like I’m stupid. If the pipeline wasn’t built won’t that oil still be pumped out of the ground, shipped to customers (China?), and then used? I have a faint memory the pipeline was to be built near a fragile ecosystem or aquifer, perhaps in Nebraska, but I’m not sure if I’m remembering correctly. Is that the more immediate concern for the environmental community? Any insight is welcomed.

  21. witless chum:

    Hasn’t he been blocking it, though? And he was apparently willing to take the heat on it through his reelection campaign. I don’t know that it lost him a lot of votes, as the states most affected are all Republican bastions.

  22. Cody:

    Well that’s downright depressing. I just assumed something had been locked up that I didn’t know about.

    Why would you come out supporting something – just for the chance of jobs?

    I have a bridge to possibly sell these Unions, all they need to do is back my campaign for Governor!

  23. JL:

    It isn’t the job of collective bargaining units to worry about social justice or to be a good partner with other organizations on the left.

    If they expect to have allies in significant enough numbers to strengthen the cause of labor (which, you may have noticed, has been bleeding political power for quite some time), it is at least sometimes their job.

    I know too many young social-issue liberals who assume that labor is regressive about everything but labor, and therefore, even though they think it’s bad that labor is being stripped of rights in various states, they’re not moved to help in any way, or even put it up very high on their scale of caring, because they figure that labor would oppose the causes that they prioritize, or at best not lift a finger to help. I used to more or less be one of those people until I educated myself. Stuff like this plays right into that assumption.

  24. Brien Jackson:

    Ayup. In the near term, the best thing labor can do to further it’s interest is more fully integrate itself into the liberal coalition. In terms of actions, however, I fear labor may be a long way off from being able to be a team player.

  25. david mizner:

    He’s been stalling. The real decision will probably come in June I think.

  26. divadab:

    This is the same dynamic we are facing as the companies mining Powder River basin coal seek outlets on the West coast for shipping to China. In NW Washington (Whatcom COunty), a syndicate comprised of Warren Buffet’s BNSF railway, Goldman Sachs, and SSA MArine is working to develop a 50 million ton per year coal port at Cherry Point. They’ve co-opted the local unions, who support the project because it will generate a couple hundred union jobs.

    This in the face of high local opposition – the project will result in an additional 20 2-mile long trains per day passing through the County, with all attendant noise (trains must blow their horns passing through every town) and disruption, and add to already very busy Puget Sound shipping the largest bulk carriers ever built.

    The proponents have packed public meetings with PAID commenters, subverting the public process in a corrupt and mendacious way.

    But I sympathise with the Unions and those they represent – it’s hard to say to an unemployed man with a family to feed that this project, which would provide him with a $35/hour job, should not proceed because some university professor will have to wait an extra 10 minutes at a level crossing, or because it’s wrong to sell coal to the Chinese.

  27. divadab:

    It’s for tar sands oil from Alberta, which does not have an outlet without a pipeline. The plan (as I understand it) is to use the Keystone pipeline to transport heated, pressurised bitumen (which is solid at room temperature) to refineries on the Gulf Coast for shipping to foreign parts, probably China, but it is a global market.

    Fracked oil from ND, SD, WY, and MN will also be carried.

    If we want to achieve North AMerican oil independence without significantly reducing oil use, it’s essential.

    I think they;ll keep the oil going as long as they can because without it the foundation of our industrial economy (and the basis for the power of the global oil oligopoly and the governments it controls) will collapse.

  28. Brien Jackson:

    Word. And while we’re at it, can you fucking believe American feminists? I mean holy fuck, don’t they know what goes on in Moooooslum countries? Why the fuck are they so upset about their rights in ‘Murika and not fighting for the real oppressed wimmin folk?

  29. Linnaeus:

    In terms of actions, however, I fear labor may be a long way off from being able to be a team player.

    Based on my experience (and I know that this can vary from place to place and from union to union), labor is more often than not a team player, particularly in the work labor organizations do during elections to help get (more) progressive politicians elected, who often end up supporting generally liberal causes and positions (at least relative to their peers). This stuff doesn’t get the headlines, sadly, but it’s been crucial.

    Sometimes I think (but I am not accusing you of this) that young social liberals’ view that labor is not progressive is in part based on class prejudice.

  30. daveNYC:

    If the pipeline springs a leak and trashes the local aquafer, it’s going to threated a big chunk of human habitation.

  31. Erik Loomis:

    In many ways, labor is the ultimate team player since it does the hard unglamorous work that a lot of people don’t want to do. Where organized labor tends to struggle sometimes in with broader and frequently not well-defined progressive coalitions that aren’t directly working on job-related issues.

    And I do definitely think the class bias of a lot of young progressives is very strong. Even when they might be Occupy-friendly, organized labor brings to mind a class of people they don’t want to be associated with. Regardless of the reality of what unions do and who they represent.

  32. Erik Loomis:

    Not to mention the threat of that whole climate change thing.

  33. Linnaeus:

    Because building those big SUVs was going to be the auto worker’s meal ticket as far as the eye can see.

    My father, an auto worker for 36 years, was actually pretty supportive of such things as increased CAFE standards, and didn’t like the SUVs he helped make. At the same time, he knew there was a perception among many of his fellow workers that SUV production kept them working.

  34. JL:

    I agree with you that labor does a lot of useful liberal work that doesn’t make the headlines, and that a lot of the young social liberals that I refer to have no idea about.

    The “If you want an ally, be an ally” thing works both ways, and social issue liberals also need to be allies to labor if they want labor to be allies to them, but I focused on the labor side of things here because of the nature of the OP.

    Sometimes I think (but I am not accusing you of this) that young social liberals’ view that labor is not progressive is in part based on class prejudice.

    I think this is pretty accurate. Young social-issue-oriented liberals can be impressively classist, especially when class and geography interact (e.g. trash-talking about poor white Southerners).

    I think, however, that it’s also that a lot of young social-issue liberals, who often didn’t have unionized parents or neighbors growing up, have practically no exposure to labor other than teachers’ unions (who they may be okay with or may blame for everything they didn’t like about grade school). So their mental image of labor comes from cultural tropes about unions, which have tended to be pretty negative in recent decades.

  35. Dilan Esper:

    And it is the interest of other constituent unions to not have this built. It’s not so black and white.

    Name one worker who will be fired or see his or her pay decrease or his or her working conditions get worse because the pipeline is built.

    That’s their job– not serving the interests of the broader left. This whole conversation about unions and the left gets things totally wrong. Not only are unions legally required not to care about whether or not their actions benefit the left (there’s that pesky fiduciary duty again!), but we actually need collective bargaining units who can freely act to better the interests of their members, and the way they can be most effective at that is by bargaining for their members’ interests, not subordinating them to broader left-wing goals.

  36. Dilan Esper:

    I don’t know about class bias. I do know that the reason we have labor unions (and should do more to encourage them to form, such as card check) is because the function of collective bargaining on behalf of the interests of workers is truly important.

    The people who actually don’t care about workers are the people who just like unions because they can be co-opted for their own ends, such as by depriving work to people in the fossil fuels extraction industries.

  37. Erik Loomis:

    First of all, I flat out do not believe in what you call fiduciary duty. Second, making money for their members is absolutely not all of what unions are about. Third, you completely ignore the fact that there are several unions within the AFL-CIO that oppose the pipeline. Do they not count? Fourth, the AFL-CIO is not “labor,” it’s an organization of constituent labor groups that coordinates labor policy. It is making a choice here to support one group of workers over another. Fifth, climate change and ecological disaster are already causing people jobs–see the article on the historic Texas drought destroying the Plainview economy in today’s Times.

  38. UserGoogol:

    Does it really matter if they’re union jobs per se? If there are more jobs in an industry in general, that makes workers in that industry in general more valuable, and thus benefits unions even if union workers are not themselves hired. (And vica versa: unions negotiating higher wages for themselves helps non-union workers by raising the prevailing wage.)

  39. Dilan Esper:

    Bad analogy. American feminists do care a lot about what goes on in Muslim countries, but their work on behalf of American women has a huge positive impact on those women’s lives.

    In contrast, not building the Keystone Pipeline won’t improve human welfare one bit. (The fossil fuels will still be burned and transported.) Environmentalists just don’t like pipelines.

  40. Dilan Esper:

    How will not building the pipeline prevent any fossil fuels from being burned and any carbon being belched into the atmosphere.

    And as for pipelines bursting, other forms of transport can also despoil the environment too. Ask Alaska wildlife about the Exxon Valdez.

    No, greens just don’t like pipelines very much, period.

  41. Erik Loomis:

    Shorter Esper, “Burn it all!”

  42. Dilan Esper:

    The focus on Keystone is a grassroots movement.

    No doubt. But it also (1) doesn’t do any real good and (2) is motivated by some things (such as NIMBYism) that are actually counterproductive to environmental progress.

  43. Dilan Esper:

    How will stopping this pipeline stop the production of fuel from the tar sands? There are other means of transport, you know.

  44. Dilan Esper:

    Shorter Loomis: “I don’t care if what I advocate actually has any impact on environmental progress or not. Nor do I care that I am going to cost unionized pipeline workers their jobs. It’s grassroots and sounds green, and that’s all that matters!”

  45. Dilan Esper:

    I flat out do not believe in what you call fiduciary duty.

    Well, it is the legal basis for collective bargaining units, and unions can be sued, prosecuted, or decertified for violating it. So your “lack of belief” in it is at about the same level as me not putting money in a parking meter and saying “I don’t believe in paying for parking”.

    But you should also reconsider your lack of belief. Unions exist because workers get the shaft in nonunionized workplaces. So we need collective bargaining. But if the leaders of unions have no responsibility to advocate the interests of their workers and have the authority to advocate whatever they think is in the public interest, you have a recipe for Chinese-style unions that don’t actually protect their workers (or old-style Mob controlled unions).

    This fiduciary duty stuff is pretty basic. I’m sorry if it means that some causes that you care about might not get labor backing. That’s the breaks. But unions are a creation of law designed to solve a very specific problem, not be generalized engines of social justice.

    The only other thing I think I need to say to you on this is about climate change costing people jobs. That’s basically true long term. But you can use that argument to justify unions doing anything. Suppose a union leader decides to support Republicans because tax cuts for the rich will reduce unemployment. I’d say that would be a breach of fiduciary duty.

  46. Brien Jackson:

    “The “If you want an ally, be an ally” thing works both ways, and social issue liberals also need to be allies to labor if they want labor to be allies to them…”

    I’m trying to think of ways in which “social issue liberals” are hostile to labor interests as a matter of course, and I’m coming up with basically nothing. I mean, unless you count opinions on crime policy at odds with police/prison guard unions or environmental issues that might be bad for coal mining or something, but that’s a pretty complex thing that’s most certainly not being hostile to labor itself.

  47. Brien Jackson:

    I don’t see how that makes it a bad analogy. Using your standard, it’s only a bad analogy if you’re asserting that environmental activists don’t care about carbon pricing. Otherwise it’s a typical “you can’t care about X because Y is worse” argument.

  48. Brien Jackson:

    So your presumption is that there’s no such thing as local environmental issues?

  49. witless chum:

    I agree with all of this. There’s only one organization I’m aware of that puts John Kerry bumper stickers on the pickup trucks of people who self-identify as rednecks.

  50. witless chum:

    Brien, remember the Chicago teacher’s strike?

    And, hell, how about all the liberals willing to buy cars not built by the UAW? Every Subaru in the liberal parking lot is hostility to labor interests.

  51. Brien Jackson:

    My perspective might be skewed based on growing up in the Midwest, but I don’t really get the sense that the young progressives I know have any real hostility or disdain towards unions at all. In fact, I think they more or less support them when it comes to taking labor issues in isolation. But that’s a different thing than building Labor into a broader liberal coalition that people are more consciously aware of. Which is to say that I really think those young liberals don’t view labor issues as “liberal issues” like gay rights, women’s rights, climate change, etc.

  52. Brien Jackson:

    Erm…really?

  53. witless chum:

    Presumably, the other means of transport are more expensive or something, hence their desire to use this one. And, environmentalists winning a political battle over the energy industry, even a symbolic one, is worth something the next time.

  54. daveNYC:

    Hell, PATCO backed Reagan. It’s not just management who makes stupid decsions.

  55. Ed:

    You’d think that alleged liberals would want to be mindful of reinforcing the impression that they are anti-working class and their approval is something that the lower orders have to earn.

  56. Sherm:

    Every Subaru in the liberal parking lot is hostility to labor interests.

    I’d say their willingness to patronize Whole Foods is an even better example since a vehicle is such a large purchase. Its pretty easy to get organic food without supporting the union busting libertarian asshole who owns Whole Foods. But its not so easy to get the motor vehicle that best suits you. When I bought a new family truckster last year, I really wanted to get a UAW vehicle and was contemplating a Ford. But I ultimately got a Prius because the environment was more important to me.

  57. Ed:

    I don’t recall that Obama got a lot of heat on it during the campaign?? Environmentalists backed off and supported him. It was generally understood that he was postponing the Keystone decision until he was safely back in the White House.

  58. Marek:

    Nothing in any duty a union owes to those it represents requires backing any particular project, particularly an environmentally disastrous project.

  59. Marek:

    This. The other route is through the Rockies. Not gonna happen.

  60. Chatham:

    Well, it was Hanson that said that a carbon tax would prevent more than ten times the carbon release that the Keystone expansion would. He’s usually not one to whitewash these things, and was arrested protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. As I said, “not that it’s unimportant, but a carbon tax is much more important.” If you think the impact of putting that carbon into the atmosphere is bad, imagine the impact of ten times that.

    And stopping the Keystone XL isn’t going to stop the oil production from the tar sands; that’s already happening, and is expanding. It would be good to slow things down, but seriously – if we continue at this rate in fighting carbon emissions, we’re screwed.

  61. Marek:

    Isn’t there a contradiction between your reference to “North American oil independence” and your acknowledgement that there is a global market for the stuff?

  62. Marek:

    Except that those aren’t the main reasons for opposing the mining, transport, and burning of coal.

  63. Brien Jackson:

    As someone who’s never owned a non-Chevy, I think it’s a real stretch to attach the sort of car you buy to your opinion on labor rights because a) there are a lot of factors that go into picking such a major purchase and b) cars cost a lot of fucking money, so a lot of people probably have somewhat limited options when they want to buy one. For one thing: you can toss everyone who buys a used car out of the sample straight from the start.

  64. Marek:

    So if Hanson, who is a real hero in this struggle, was arrested opposing the Keystone XL, how on earth can anyone who agrees that Hanson knows what he is talking about say that opposing the Keystone isn’t worthwhile?

  65. Brien Jackson:

    By not supporting environmentally ruinous policy that threaten our well being and survival as a species? Um…i could probably live with that, actually.

  66. Chatham:

    As I said, galvanizing people is great, as are whatever victories we can get. It also helps that it keeps the issue in the publics mind. But if we don’t do more, we have no chance.

    Yes, a national carbon tax effort failed. But we can’t afford to wait another decade before one is passed. We might have to work on the local level, and get a cap and trade system like California has. We might need to pressure our local members of congress to speak up on this, or find challengers that will. But this isn’t something we can wait for.

  67. Chatham:

    Did you bother to read my post? Here, I’ll quote myself again: “not that it’s unimportant, but a carbon tax is much more important.” If you read that as “opposing the Keystone isn’t worthwhile,” well, I can’t help you.

  68. Brien Jackson:

    Of course, the point being that your attempt to flip the accusation makes no sense in so much as we have an actual policy disagreement here, not a mere class/cultural conflict. It’s just meaningless invective.

  69. Marek:

    I read your post. You said that we’re spending too much time on Keystone XL, and not enough time on a carbon tax. We’re also not spending enough time on carbon-reducing unicorns, because they are just as likely to help this year as a carbon tax.

    I really don’t think we disagree that much. My point is that Hansen doesn’t think we’re spending “too much” time on the Keystone XL.

  70. Chatham:

    Not only that – even if every single worker was a AFL-CIO member, we’re talking about 2,000 to 4,000 jobs out of an AFL-CIO membership of 11.5 million.

  71. Chatham:

    Hey, apparently unicorns exist. I’m not sure if you’re involved with any environmental groups, but there’s been a pretty strong focus on Keystone for the past year and a half or so with the ones I’m connected to (and websites – look at how much Keystone gets talked about vs. California’s cap and trade). I’ve marched against Keystone and I’ll march against it again, but I do think that it’d be useful if certain groups and writers expanded their focus.

  72. Erik Loomis:

    Oh I agree that we need to work on another bill. I’m just saying that there’s many paths and they all need to be explored by the people who want to do the work on it. I don’t think saying that THIS is the answer and then marginalizing the others is a very good strategy.

  73. Bill Murray:

    I’m trying to think of ways in which “social issue liberals” are hostile to labor interests as a matter of course, and I’m coming up with basically nothing. I mean, unless you count opinions on crime policy at odds with police/prison guard unions or environmental issues that might be bad for coal mining or something, but that’s a pretty complex thing that’s most certainly not being hostile to labor itself.

    I’d go with acceptance of neo-classical economic dogma as a big area where social liberals part ways with labor unions

  74. joe from Lowell:

    Reminder, everyone: the decision we’re waiting on isn’t made by the President, but by the Secretary of State. Remember those stories about Hillary Clinton and the Dread Susan Rice’s connections with the oil industry?

    Since then, Barack Obama has appointed a new Secretary of State, a man that Al Gore called “the best environmentalist in the Senate.”

  75. Chatham:

    Certainly, and I don’t think we should marginalize anyone that’s working to make things better. It’s just that there’s been a lot of focus on the Keystone XL at protests, in environmental groups, and on blogs, to the point where it starts to feel like it’s the preeminent battle to stop global warming.

  76. Brien Jackson:

    Well that’s a mighty big generalization there.

  77. UserGoogol:

    Well, local issues are by definition a very small percentage of things, so they’re a relatively minor concern.

  78. Linnaeus:

    My perspective might be skewed based on growing up in the Midwest, but I don’t really get the sense that the young progressives I know have any real hostility or disdain towards unions at all.

    I grew up in the Midwest, too, (in a family with multiple generations of union members, myself included) and I think this statement is a good reminder that my own perspective might be a bit skewed. I also have to be careful not to overgeneralize; whatever disputes about unions exist within the progressive coalition, they don’t even approach the hostility that the right shows toward labor.

    I’m drawing, in part, on my own experiences organizing two academic student employee unions. By and large, our unions did well in signing up new members. Every now and then, though, we’d get someone who was otherwise liberal, but indifferent toward labor or supported organized labor in the abstract, but wouldn’t go further in their own workplace, e.g., “I support unions, but they’re not appropriate for this workplace” or “I support unions, but not this union.” which was interesting given that many of those same people had concerns about their working conditions that our unions sought to remedy.

    Now, those could have been entirely sincerely-held opinions, but I always kept in mind that we were dealing with a population of people who probably had little to no experience with unions (per JL’s point) and who sometimes didn’t see, as you say, labor issues as being “liberal”. They are, though, and that’s where a lot of education needs to be done.

  79. Linnaeus:

    how does labor gain by pissing off one of the bigger (and likely soon-to-be-biggest) constituency in the progressive coalition?

    I suspect that labor (or, at least, some in labor) understand the downside of alienating potential allies by not coming out strongly against Keystone XL. But I think labor faces a different set of pressures that most environmental organizations do. First, labor’s right now in the fight for its life. Secondly, if labor takes a stand on something that might appear to be harming workers’ access to jobs (however few or many those jobs might be), unions will have answer for that to their members in a way environmentalists don’t have to. The question some unions will be tempted to ask is “What do we gain by a stronger anti-Keystone XL stance? Will allies be ready to go to mat for us when we need them to? And what will be the result?” Not saying I feel this way, just that I can understand why someone else might.

  80. Jordan:

    @Brien:

    There certainly are local environmental issues. But the trade-off between “our” local environmental issues and those elsewhere seems pretty important. If stopping Keystone leads to a real reduction in greenhouse gasses, great! If it just means we import more oil from Nigeria instead, with much worse local environmental problems …

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