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Unions and Environmentalists


Jane McAlevey has a great piece on the problems unions and environmentalists have faced for the past thirty years bridging the gap between them to fight together for better work and cleaner nature. Using the union divide over whether to support the Keystone XL Pipeline as a jumping off point, McAlevey points out that while both labor and environmentalists sort of know that they have common enemies, neither can really overcome their political narrowness and cultural divides to create long-lasting alliances. Labor thinks its only job is to build unions, regardless of the cost while environmentalists are mostly middle and upper-class and aren’t comfortable talking to or about working-class people.

As I show in my theoretically forthcoming book, the International Woodworkers of America in fact did do a ton of work to create alliances with the Pacific Northwest’s environmental community, in part by sacrificing some logging and supporting wilderness areas and in part by centering on environmental justice at the workplace. In fact, it is on issues of environmental justice that labor and environmentalists have the most potential to create mutual change. These struggles are almost by definition extremely local so scaling up these alliances could be difficult, but it would be great to see both unions and environmentalists fight for vigorous enforcement and expansion of OSHA and EPA regulations.

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