Bridging the labor and climate movements is a year-round focus for the Labor Network for Sustainability–hence why we hold in such high regard the 10-day period from April 22 (Earth Day) through May 1 (May Day, International Workers’ Day). Heading into the 51st Earth Day this year, we reflect on how the occasion originated. Right before the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, LNS President and Founder Joe Uehlein wrote:
“A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world. But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, ‘Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!’
Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO. Walter Reuther, (then) President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2,000 to help kick the effort off, ‘to be followed by much more.’ Hayes recalls:
‘The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial. It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars. Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence. And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut.’
Some people may be surprised to learn that a labor union played such a significant role in the emergence of the modern environmental movement. When they think of organized labor, they think of things like support for coal and nuclear power plants and opposition to auto emissions standards.
When it comes to the environment, organized labor has two hearts beating within a single breast. On the one hand, the millions of union members are people and citizens like everybody else, threatened by air and water pollution, dependent on fossil fuels, and threatened by the devastating consequences of climate change. On the other hand, unions are responsible for protecting the jobs of their members, and efforts to protect the environment sometimes may threaten workers’ jobs.”
– From “Earth Day, Labor and Me”
Happening This Year
This Earth Day to May Day, LNS will lead digital actions reflecting several key areas the organization focuses on when ensuring its mission of helping workers and their allies build a society that is ecologically sustainable and economically just. We also encourage you to view or participate in actions hosted by our allies.
Thursday, April 22 (Earth Day)
- Leaders Summit on Climate: Biden Administration
Starts at 8 a.m. Eastern
- Fossil Fuels, Equity and a Global Just Transition
Side event to Leaders Summit on Climate during U.S. Climate Week
- Earth Day Live
Watch three days of action that started on 4/20 with the Global Youth Summit and Hip Hop Caucus
- #PS21ActionDay | Live event streamed on Facebook
Starts at 2 p.m. Central; part of the Power Shift Network Virtual Convergence
Friday, April 23
- Fire Drill Friday with Jane Fonda
Following the Earth Day Leadership Summit on Climate, Jane is joined by Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan and Senior Campaigner at Oil Change Collin Rees
Monday, April 26
- Transit Equity: Amplifying Research and Findings of the Community Hearing
Led by LNS and the Transit Equity Network
Tuesday, April 27
- Just Transition: Amplifying “Workers and Communities in Transitions”
Led by LNS and the Just Transition Listening Project Organizing Committee
Wednesday, April 28
- Workers Memorial Day / In Memoriam
In solidarity with labor unions honoring their fallen heroes
- Constructing a New Social Compact: A Public Forum on Empowering the Post-Pandemic Working Class
Hosted by Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz
Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor (featuring LNS Board Director Sarita Gupta). Event lasts through May 1. Register now!
Thursday, April 29
- Launch of Young Worker Listening Project Survey
Led by LNS and the Young Worker Project
- An Economy for People & Planet: What Would it Take?
Plenary session of Constructing a New Social Compact: A Public Forum on Empowering the Post-Pandemic Working Class. Moderated by LNS Organizing Director Lauren Burke. Register now!
- Introduction of the THRIVE Agenda
Led by the Green New Deal Network
Saturday, May 1
Other Actions You Can Take
- Urge your Senators to Pass the PRO Act (Sunrise Movement)
- Sign on to the “We Shall Breathe” Demands (Hip Hop Caucus)
- Did you coordinate an action as part of the Power Shift Convergence 2021? Complete this form to tell them about it.
Enjoy the Songs of Earth Day to May Day
- Produced last year by Leo Blain, these videos feature songs of sustainability, solidarity and peace. Mostly performed by LNS President and lead vocalist and guitarist of the The U-Liners Joe Uehlein and his daughter Anna Grace Uehlein plus performances from LNS staff and allies. Watch and enjoy.
More details will follow throughout Earth Day to May Day. Please visit labor4sustainability.org and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.