The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) was in part founded on the belief that the corporate “jobs vs. environment” frame succeeds because it fits into our silo approach to politics: labor can focus on jobs, and leave the environment to the environmental movement. This “blue-green” silo approach is outdated and will continue to fall short in terms of building the movement needed to achieve a sustainable future for the planet and its people. The LNS vision is of a future for the planet grounded in full-spectrum sustainability (environmental, social, and economic). We were founded in 2009 based on an understanding that long-term sustainability cannot be achieved without combining three elements: 1) environmental protection, and in particular addressing climate change; 2) economic fairness, in particular addressing income inequality and jobs; and 3) social justice, in particular eliminating prejudice and defending human and civil rights and democracy. We believe that workers and environmentalists must be engaged together in order for our society to address the dual deepening crises of both climate and income inequality. We further believe that the environmental movement should have a jobs program of its own, and should not leave the jobs piece up to labor. We believe that the labor movement should become a part of the solution to climate crisis, and have a climate program of its own, because it is in their core self interest, rather than leaving climate protection up to the environmental movement. In other words, we believe both movements need to move beyond simply trying to understand and even honor each other’s core missions and begin to internalize how their missions are truly intertwined.
LNS Executive Director Talking About the Origins of LNS
Making A Living On A Living Planet
Over the past year LNS has launched a new project, Making a Living on a Living Planet, dedicated to strengthening the relationship between the labor and environmental movements by developing policies necessary for an economy that is both just and environmentally sustainable, and a political strategy for realizing them. In collaboration with Kalmanovitz Initiative at Georgetown University, we have hosted three convenings dedicated to addressing this challenge. The first brought together high-level participants from labor and environmental movements and allies in the US with a partner project in Canada called Work in a Warming World to confront the “jobs vs. environment” frame, focus on climate change as the real job killer, and have a frank conversation about the difficult times faced by ordinary workers and the dire environmental prospects we all face. The second, Toward a More Just and Sustainable Economy, focused on solutions. Meeting participants ended that session by finding unity in a joint statement that outlines a framework for broader consensus between the two movements. Twenty-seven labor and environmental advocates and experts signed on. This spring, we hosted a third convening of 50 labor, environmental, and democracy leaders, to begin thinking together in earnest about how to craft a set of strategies and solutions that will address both the ecological and the economic crises we face.
Two Crises, One Set of Solutions
The “jobs vs. environment” frame continues to be used by the fossil fuel industry in its ongoing battles with climate protection campaigns and just transition projects of of all kinds, from campaigns targeting climate-destroying projects, to renewed efforts at state and federal climate-protecting public policies, to strategies for converting to new forms of ownership for renewable power generation.
Given the gravity of the climate crisis, alongside deepening income inequality, we cannot afford to let this “job killing” frame slow progress toward a real just transition. Climate campaigns and income inequality campaigns both need a frame that challenges the false choice between “jobs” and “the environment”. Labor and workers need to address climate in their own self interest, and environmentalists need to address income inequality, jobs and a sustainable economy in their own self interest. As one participant of a recent LNS organizing meeting put it, we need to move past the current silo based “tossed salad politics” to a “smoothie politics” by which together workers and environmentalists address both the income inequality crisis and the climate crisis by the same set of solutions.
A common thread running through all of our work is the belief that workers are key to building a robust and effective climate protection movement. LNS’s strategy requires that we are able to help the labor and climate movements engage together to build a sustainable future, and one of the most important things about organizing with labor is going to the right union members and leaders at the right time with the right frame. We have been able to support that strategy in part because when LNS began we conducted the first-ever power structure analysis of the labor movement, including a self-interest analysis, a decision-maker analysis, and a historical analysis of how labor changes on important social issues. That analysis has been widely used. Because the shape of the labor movement, and the context within which it makes decisions and acts, will continue to shift rapidly, that analysis needs to stay current, so we have just completed an update, expanding what we are now referring to as the labor landscape analysis from 24 unions and profiles of the top 500 movers and shakers, to 42 unions and labor organizations and 1,000 movers and shakers. Our strategy is four-fold:
1) undermine the potency of the right wing’s “jobs vs. environment” framing by exposing it as a false choice for workers (e.g. Climate Change: A Dagger Pointed at Your Job and replacing it with a just transition narrative;
2) work with the environmental movement, at both the state and national levels, to incorporate just transition programs into their campaigns in order to gain the support of, as opposed to alienating, impacted workers, unions and communities (e.g. Keystone Opponents Need a Jobs Program;
3) organize and develop messages based in a just transition frame that resonate with the 88.7% of workers unrepresented by labor unions(e.g. Coming to a Job Near You: Why Climate Change Matters for California Workers; and
4) leverage our robust network of “movers and shakers” in the labor movement to support cutting edge and controversial climate campaigns, including the EPA’s new initiatives.
LNS is doing the work to educate, build relationships, and organize toward this goal, and the good news is that we are making headway. As awareness of the need for just transition strategies grows, our opportunities to advance projects that engage labor and communities and environmentalists together grows as well. In every case, our work includes building job creation strategies into environmental campaigns, and integrating an understanding of the impact of climate into economic justice work.
LNS’s recent report The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy, co-authored with EcoTrust, directly challenges the “Jobs vs. Environment” frame by laying out an alternative job creation strategy in the five states crossed by the proposed KXL pipeline route. This report, released in November 2013, is designed to demonstrate that workers and communities do not have to choose between job creation and environmental protection, and instead can build jobs as part of a just transition. Our goal of reframing the debate by showing that we can create more and better jobs by fixing water and gas infrastructure continues to resonate with a wide range of both worker and environmental constituencies, including the AFL-CIO, indigenous anti-KXL activists, and Washington insiders. The report is now being used by local activists along the pipeline route, including by indigenous communities in both the US and Canada, and it continues to show up in the online media dialogue on climate and extreme energy.
In Connecticut we helped create a Connecticut Roundtable that is advocating for just transition strategies that address both climate protection and jobs.
In Maryland, we just published a new report on the impact of climate change on work and working people in MD, and are laying the groundwork for a Sustainable Maryland Roundtable that will engage labor, faith, environmental and community leaders. Labor-environmental relationships are frayed across the country, but are particularly bad in Maryland. This “futures roundtable” will require that participants leave their disputes at the door and agree to meet several times over the next nine months to define what a sustainable Maryland looks like. We believe this document will be inspiring and full of solid policy proposals, but more importantly, we believe this process will repair damaged relationships and build new relationships.
Since our beginnings, we have been working with groups in Kentucky, in particular Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, on building just transition strategies that engage workers, environmentalists, and communities together in building “New Power” – an economic future for Appalachia with jobs based on creating new sustainable energy sources. We have also put in place a strategy to build relationships with KFTC and organized labor in Kentucky.
Our Jobs Beyond Coal manual continues to help Sierra Club coal retirement campaign organizers and other climate campaigners engage affected workers and communities in just transition strategies that include building jobs programs into their campaigns.