|Dave Foster speaking at AFL-CIO 2012 Cope Convention|
(photo by Alan Pogue)
Over the past year, both labor and environmental protections have undergone an assault, seemingly from all angles. What were once occasional rhetorical attacks from a few have now become an onslaught of attempts to weaken any and all protections for working Americans and protections for the environment.
Now more than ever, we must stand together against these attacks, because fighting for clean air and clean water creates jobs and improves working conditions, and fighting for good-paying, American jobs works for the environment. This Labor Day is a good reminder of that.
More than just a long holiday weekend and the unofficial end of summer, Labor Day is dedicated to recognizing the social and economic achievements of American workers: stronger occupational safety standards, health insurance for workers, paid vacation and sick days, collective bargaining rights and more. It's not only union members who have achieved these benefits for themselves; they've achieved them for a significant proportion of the working population regardless of union affiliation. Combining efforts of a broad coalition to achieve these goals brings them closer to reality.
Environmentalists are an important and necessary voice in the labor movement for many reasons. For example, decreasing our dependence on foreign oil by diversifying our domestic energy supply with renewable wind energy has over the years contributed to a surge in manufacturing and wind turbine construction, and creating good, union jobs. Raising fuel efficiency in vehicles to the highest levels in a generation is likewise reducing our dependence on foreign oil, at the same time raising production at facilities like that of the GM Lordstown Assembly Plant in Ohio.
Outside of cleaner energy or the auto sector, regulating and making dangerous chemicals safer and greener will spur innovation and revitalize the U.S. chemicals industry and streamlining the use of limited resources such as water is employing more people than ever.
There are innumerable benefits to a greener labor movement. No doubt that also the debates ahead demand both voices engage in these tough discussions.
The looming challenges ahead include improving transportation efficiency and accessibility, expanding sources of renewable energy, engaging in the national discussion about the impacts of climate change, and working to make our economy more efficient and competitive. Additionally, ongoing attacks against labor unions and environmental standards -- including attempts to weaken clean air and clean water standards -- pose a threat to all that we've achieved. They would be setbacks that threaten public health and safety, unnecessarily.
Despite the obstacles of these challenges, we continue to fight for a higher standard of living, higher environmental standards, more fair wages and better working conditions because there is no other way. There's no going back, only forward, together.
Dave Foster comes out of the United Steelworkers and is the Executive Director of the BlueGreen Alliance