American Federation of Teachers endorses Green New Deal
The AFT becomes the fourth national union backing the GND which has grassroots support across the country. | AP

At its recent National Convention, the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT) passed a sweeping resolution in support of the Green New Deal. With this action, the AFT becomes the fourth national union in the U.S. to take this step. So far the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the flight attendants (AFA-CWA) and the National Nurses United (NNU) have signed on in support.

The resolution includes powerful language showing consciousness of the long-term effects that climate change and current budget priorities are projected to have on the lives of workers and their families. It resulted from a months-long process that saw the union’s Executive Council, responding to the broad sentiment in the union, appoint a Climate Task Force which got input from several AFT locals and composed the resolution that was brought to the Convention.

The resolution calls for cutting the Pentagon budget and for raising taxes on upper income Americans and corporations to help pay for the GND. It also cites the need to support workers and communities impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a press release, “More than a piece of legislation, the Green New Deal is a blueprint into a better future for us all. It creates the conditions for a more just economy by prioritizing real people over corporate profits….”

The GND resolution was actually one of several progressive resolutions which the delegates passed at this convention, the union’s first ever to be held virtually. These included resolutions calling for the continued protection of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in the US), the institution of a universal affordable healthcare system by 2025, and a resolution opposing police brutality and demanding police accountability. The health care resolution emphasized that “the current system is fiscally unsustainable and leaves tens of millions of Americans behind.”

The AFT is one of the largest unions in the country representing school employees at all levels of K-12 education as well as university faculty members.  It has shown a consciousness of the importance of healthy well-funded public schools for diverse communities across the US. Its leaders and members have been willing to “walk the walk” participating in demonstrations and facing arrest and jailing when school districts have faced devastating cuts. The union’s stand on the GND is a big step for labor.

It takes on added significance as the issues of climate change, health care policy and economic crisis confront the broader labor movement. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey introduced the GND 18 months ago, it got a wide response from organized labor and others.

It is true that the response was not all positive. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka acknowledged the need to address environmental issues quickly, but stopped short of endorsing the GND. Also, the presidents of ten national unions in the energy sector went on record in opposition to the legislation as it was then written. But when we consider that Cortez (AOC), a first term Congresswoman with no seniority in the House, gets serious mail from ten national union presidents, it should be clear that her words and proposals are resonating outside the beltway.

Other union members have been more positive. AFT members and many others see the possibility of numerous new job openings (or put another way, the enormous number of workers who will be needed) including in the building trades and the energy sector, should the GND actually become the law of the land.

The AFT convention also considered resolutions submitted by locals calling specifically for cutting the military budget. The resolution that was passed in committee but referred to the Executive Committee for further action, as the convention ran out of time, called for a nearly 50 percent cut.


CONTRIBUTOR

Ben Sears
Ben Sears

Ben Sears is a retired teacher and AFT member in Philadelphia. He is the author, as John Bennett Sears, of the book "The Electrical Unions and the Cold War" (International Publishers 2019).

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