green new deal

Labor Fires Warning Shot on Green New Deal

AOC and the AFL-CIO’s Rich Trumka are coming at the Green New Deal from different directions. Photo: Getty Images

In the intramural debate over the Green New Deal, the Democratic Party has been loosely divided into three groups: enthusiastic supporters (encompassing what is generally considered to be the “Democratic left,” along with a goodly number of environmental activists and presidential candidates); “moderates” unwilling to embrace the proposal (e.g., John Hickenlooper, John Delaney, and the ideologically eccentric Tulsi Gabbard); and then those who praise the GND’s goals without necessarily endorsing its specifics (e.g., Amy Klobuchar, who co-sponsored the original GND resolution but called it “aspirational.”). Republicans, of course, have been universally and violently opposed, with many mendaciously arguing it would mean the end of air travel and hamburgers.

A whole new source of potential trouble for the GND formally emerged today with a letter from a committee of the AFL-CIO advising original co-sponsors Edward Markey and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that the initiative is “far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members and the critical sectors of the economy” and “makes promises that are not achievable or realistic.” The letter calls for consultations with labor to improve the GND, but doesn’t mince words in warning that “[w]e will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families.”

Republicans immediately cheered this statement. They avoided, however, mentioning that the letter conveyed the position not of the entire AFL-CIO, but of its “Energy Committee,” predictably dominated by unions in industries involved in the production or consumption of fossil fuels (the letter was signed by the presidents of the United Mine Workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers). Last week AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka made more temperate remarks:

“Look, we need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly,” he said. “But we need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind. So we’ll be working to make sure that we do two things: That by fixing one thing we don’t create a problem somewhere else.”

So all in all, it would seem that the labor movement is firing a warning shot across the bow of Green New Deal proponents (who have included economic provisions in their package precisely in order to appeal to economically minded people) before taking — potentially — a more confrontational stand. And to the extent that said proponents are self-conscious advocates for working people (as the democratic socialists among them certainly see themselves), they should probably listen up. It’s not like labor folks can be dismissed as timid moderates or shills for the capitalist despoilers of the Earth. And you can bet the 2020 presidential candidates are paying very close attention.

Labor Fires Warning Shot on Green New Deal