Green New Deal – a work in progress
Mary Altaffer/AP

We all owe Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a tremendous debt of gratitude. Her introduction of Green New Deal in Congress provides a framework to fight for real changes that can deal with the crisis our nation and world are in.

Saying that, GND is only a set of aspirations and goals; it is by no means a finished product. While the “Green” part, dealing with the crisis of climate change, is at its center, the “New Deal” part, which addresses the very real concerns of workers, their families, and communities, is actually where the rubber meets the road. It is this section that will determine the GND’s success or failure; it is this aspect that urgently requires the input of regular people and activists.

Local committees of community leaders, unions, faith, youth, and retirees need to be in charge of implementing GND, assuring that income, healthcare, and pensions are maintained for impacted local workers until they get equivalent new jobs and training. GND should not be seen as a government program, but rather as a campaign led by workers, families, and community leaders.

Implementing the “New Deal” side of GND will require that workers and their organizationsunionscome up with clear “boilerplate” language providing for affected workers to be paid with all benefits kept in place during the whole process of retooling our infrastructure.

We’ve heard it all before

After all, steel and auto workers, other industrial workers, we’ve heard it all. They were going to “cover” us, “take care of folks,” etc. But then the corporate media told us there were “winners and losers” whenever there are changes. It was just that the billionaire owners always won, we always lost. Vague promises will be greeted with laughs and disgust if they aren’t backed up by real guarantees.

We have to work with these folks in the threatened industries. We have to work honestly and patiently, involve them and work out ways for their stories to be told, in their way, and we must have real protections written into GND, progress to make it a deal they will identify with and that they’ll fight for.

Who will pay?

Money to pay for this program needs to come from those who have become fabulously wealthy from workers’ labor over the past decades. The riches accumulated by these industries off our backs must be used to pay for social progress. Targeted taxes and ending the tax cuts and subsidies that go only to the wealthy are a good starting point. The GND is far more affordable than Trump’s massive tax giveaways to the wealthy and the myriad other ways our current tax policy funnels workers’ money to the wealthiest in our society.

Our bloated military budget is a source of corruption and imperial wars. It is larger than the military spending of the next 20 nations combined. Cutting military spending will also free up our nation’s resources for the GND.

GND needs to take special steps to support African-American and other communities of color and areas of high unemployment. We need to show that these programs help all workers and communities. We need to assure, legislatively, these are union jobs, with solid benefits that can support families.

The original New Deal was also about jobs

The idea of the Green New Deal was inspired by the New Deal of the 1930s. That New Deal was also an aspiration and a set of principles. It was put forward by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to massive movements for justice and fair treatment of workers in the wake of the poverty resulting from the Great Depression. The New Deal of the 30s laid the basis for specific legislation that followed. That New Deal led to a period of massive gains for working people. It created Social Security, unemployment comp, and jobs programs that put millions to work building our nation’s infrastructure. The legislation legalizing unions was an integral part of that New Deal. It laid the basis for the good-paying union jobs created through massive organizing campaigns of the 30s and 40s.

The two-headed crisis of job loss and environmental disaster is here now in 2019. There is no negotiating with this crisis. We can either face it waist-deep in water, without jobs or hope, or we can deal with it together, strengthened by legislation that supports us, our families, and communities.

The Trump anti-environment, anti-worker agenda

We can’t lose sight of the fact that our enemies are entrenched in the old fossil fuel industries and they clearly understand the stakes in this fight. Speaking last month at the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, Vice President Mike Pence made the Trump administration’s priorities clear: “We approved the Keystone and Dakota pipelines, withdrew the United States from the job-killing Paris Climate Accord, eliminated the hydraulic fracking rule, rolled back methane regulations. We’re ending the Clean Power Plan, scrapped the steam protection rule, and now, under President Trump, the war on coal is over.”

This is the ground we will fight this out on. This administration, with a base in old fossil fuel industries, will defend its profits and will use every weapon, starting with racism, to divide working people.

Like the environmental crises, America’s jobs crisis is man-made, in this case, corporate-made. The retooling of steel and auto industries resulted in record corporate profits accompanied by huge job loss. Headlines read: “US Steel Corporate Profits Hit Record.” While production of steel in the U.S. has actually increased in the last 50 years, two-thirds of the half-million steelworker jobs of 1980 have been eliminated. Benefits of new technology and productivity have gone solely to the corporations. It now takes only 1.4 hours of work on average to produce a ton of steel. In 1980, that number was several times higher: 10.1 hours. But none of those productivity gains went to the steelworkers or the American people.

As staggering as those numbers are, the wholesale destruction of working-class communities is even worse: overburdened social services; plunging tax bases; epidemics of crime; mental health issues; drugs; disease; and unemployment.

This nightmare was not created by immigrants. It was not created by imports from foreign countries. It was the work of our homegrown U.S. corporations as they eliminated and combined jobs, cut workers’ benefits, stole our pensions, shipped work to low-wage areas, and busted our unions.

The resulting horrible conditions in working-class communities have been worsened by corporate-backed right-wing politicians who have passed sweeping tax abatements and tax cuts relieving those same corporations of any tax burden, shifting it to working families. Those same corporate politicians have gutted retirement security, helping their corporate buddies dump pensions, steal workers’ savings, and attack retiree benefits. Finally, the public services that working families then have to turn to have also been vilified and slashed by conservative legislators. This is all a mess the wealthy created and profited from massively.

The truth about coal

Coal was once our nation’s main source of fuel, a fuel stolen from Appalachian people while they were forced to work in horrible and dangerous conditions. Now that times have changed, they are cast aside by the corporations. Trump won many votes in coal country because he promised to “bring back coal,” something he has not done and cannot do. GND needs to work with people to understand their needs, work with them to develop real language to actually address them and their issues.

General promises just won’t do. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent trip to meet with people in Eastern Kentucky sets a great example.

While corporate conservatives want to make this a “jobs vs. green energy” debate, facts show just the opposite. Jobs in coal are being wiped out, not by green energy but, as in steel and auto, by coal companies combining and eliminating jobs. In 1980, it took 52 miners to produce a ton of coal; today it takes only 16. While Trump stumps on protecting coal jobs, it is renewable energy that is producing jobs of the present and future. Coal is only 2% of the present-day economy of West Virginia, and it is not growing.

Meanwhile, the rapidly growing solar and other green energy industries comprised over 700,000 U.S. jobs in 2016. Renewable energy jobs will far outstrip old fossil fuel jobs in the coming period; they are integral parts of the nation’s basic industries.

Workers in the rapidly growing green energy sectors must be guaranteed the same level of compensation and union representation as those fought for and won over many years in the highly unionized fossil fuel industries. We need real labor law changes. We need to legislatively support working people’s right to organize and stand up for themselves by joining unions.

Unions, which at their height represented 35% of the non-public workforce, now represents only 6% of workers in that area. Without action to facilitate the organization of workers in new green energy sectors, that number will go down.

The narrative cannot be ‘jobs vs. green energy’

Trump, fossil fuel industries, the finance capital billionaires they’ve created and other corporate backers will do everything they can to split us up, distract, and misdirect the American people. Their goal is to make the narrative one of “jobs vs. green energy.” They’ll tell us that it’s impossible, they’ll tell us it will bankrupt our nation. In all this, they’ll fit racism to divide us and take our eyes off the prize.

In many areas, working people have been beaten down, demoralized, confused, in some cases distracted by racism and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim prejudice. Above all, they are angry, frustrated, and afraid for their families and communities. They are not going to be won over by TV ads or by rallies of folks who already support GND but don’t seem to understand the workers’ legitimate concerns. We have to work with allies, with unions, community groups, and faith groups to create the narrative that shows the only way to protect jobs is to embrace an economy built on saving the planet. The actual fate of our working class and people, the entire human race, depends on it.

The job of the people’s movement is to embed this movement among working people. We need to hold meetings, forums, hearings, go to workers’ homes, talk with local leaders, retirees. Our message needs to be that government can work for us when we make it. To do this we need to develop the GND so it goes well beyond the “just transition” now present. We have to think beyond the old tactics. We must show how the transition to green energy supports workers, their families, and communities.

To do so, the wealthy, corporations, those who gained from this crisis, must pay to save us from disaster. The corporations danced, on our dime, while they created our misery. It’s now time for them to pay the piper!

We cannot win this New Deal without the working class! We have to work to make the entire environmental movement become the strongest advocates of the rights of workers caught in the transition.

The Labor Network for Sustainability has been developed, coming out of the labor movement, it is an important new player in this campaign.

Hopefully, this article can provide ammunition for discussion around what the Green New Deal is and must be, how to fund it, and most importantly, how to mobilize workers’ communities to support it.


Bruce Bostick
Bruce Bostick

Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and leader in Ohio Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees.