On the eve of the annual AFL-CIO 2013 convention, over 60 environmental justice groups wrote a letter to the Labor Movement about climate change. Its a sort of tough-love letter from the Climate Justice Alliance, with sharp analyses of our shared crisis, opportunities for collaboration, and identification of the historic divisions between Labor and the Environment, ultimately calling for a movement that transcends traditional “issue fights” and sectors. Alliances between traditional labor unions and climate groups have been percolating for years, but our crisis demands a deep shift in how we all organize – now. Naomi Klein emphasized this recently at the founding convention of UNIFOR, a new mega union created by the Canadian Autoworkers and the Canadian Energy and Paper Workers Union – stating “our movements need each other”.
There is a movement growing across the country and around the world–a movement to fight climate change and build a sustainable future for the planet and its people. This movement will define the 21st Century in the same way that seven great social movements defined the best of the 20th Century: labor, civil rights, environment, LGBTQ equality, women’s, migrant rights, and peace & freedom.
But at the current time, Labor in the United States is not a central participant in the movement for climate justice. This is unfortunate because we believe that Labor must play a key role in this movement if it is to continue to represent the aspirations of working people, both on the job and beyond. At the same time, the environmental justice movement cannot halt climate change without organized labor. We need each other to win. Right now, none of us are winning.
We write to you today, on the eve of the AFL-CIO 2013 Convention, to implore Labor to join us in the fight against climate change. We represent grassroots social, economic and environmental justice organizations and networks based in and allied with Indigenous, African American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, and working class white communities, working for a just transition away from climate polluting industries, towards healthy, community-based economies that can weather the storm. We thank you for your tireless efforts in protecting our rights as working people. We understand that unions are under attack like never before, and we offer our solidarity. We also believe we presently face a historic opportunity to build a movement together – to protect the planet, and in the process, re-shape our economy to ensure it no longer benefits the few at the expense of the many.
The crisis is real and now. As President Trumka recently explained to the UN Investor Summit on Climate Risk, “Scientists tell us we are headed ever more swiftly toward irreversible climate change – with catastrophic consequences for human civilization.” And far from being a threat in a distant future, “Climate change is happening now.” As CO2 levels and temperatures rise, we are seeing unprecedented hurricanes, floods, heat waves, wildfires, droughts, crop failures, rising food prices, forced migration, cancer and asthma, and loss of biological and cultural diversity.