Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Blue-Green is not actually Green

The stalemate in Wisconsin appears over, with the Governor and the Republican State Senate adopting a tactical legislative maneuver around the quorum requirement that Senate Democrats had used to block the Governor's attempt to strip public sector unions (other than the firefighter and police unions that had supported the Governor's campaign) of their collective bargaining rights. Putatively, it was about Wisconsin's budget woes ("we're broke," was the Governor's often-used line), but it was really about clawing back benefits that public worker unions had won from the State when things were different.

Shahla Werner, director of the Sierra Club's Badger State chapter, wrote to Wisconsin's Sierra Club members that "[w]e need to stand together to support the people who work every day to ensure that the air we breathe and the water we drink is safe." [see NYT story] This is the way that environmental groups have traditionally aligned themselves, on the other side of The Man -- as one of the downtrodden against the powerful. The Blue-Green Alliance is a coalition of labor and environmental groups, purporting to advocate for "good jobs, green jobs." But this is just a modern message repackaging of a traditional suspicion of economic growth as a policy driver.

I am not so sure that this is the right future for environmental groups. The problem with aligning with labor groups is that it is lining up with the wrong kind of capital for strong environmental protection. The future of environmental protection lies with those that have high human capital, those that have moved away from jobs that actually require a labor union to protect job security. I don't believe, like some environmentalists do, that most labor groups are really interested in anything more than a marriage of political convenience when it comes to lining up with environmental interests. Autoworkers, mine workers, and workers in various manufacturing sectors, would indeed sooner protect their employing industries, even if as the circle of environmental harms from their employing industries grows wider and wider and becomes more and more apparent.
Are these folks environmentalists?

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