US labour launches Centre for Green Jobs
The American Labour Federation, AFL-CIO, stepped up its green economic recovery campaign by launching a national Centre for Green Jobs, accompanied by a green reps training qualification at a national conference in Washington DC on 5 February. The launch took place at the largest-ever labour-green movement conference, Good Jobs, Green Jobs, organised by the Blue-Green Alliance from 4 to 6th February 2009. It drew 2,700 delegates into the capital, energised by the Obama Presidency. Delegates were out on Capital Hill lobbying the US Senate for a strong green jobs package in the new President’s economic stimulus programme.
The $1million green jobs centre, supported by union and State funding, aims to strengthen union voice in the public policy debate on economic recovery. At a packed press conference, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said that the centre would “articulate a vision of a high road, sustainable economy.” These are twin priorities for the TUC too: green and decent jobs. Sweeney said the centre will be a Think-Do tank, providing hard economic analysis, and a centre to exchange best practice.
Simultaneously, the US National Labour College announced a new Green Workplace Representative Certificate Programme, offering union activists the knowledge, expertise and leadership in the field of climate change response and green workplace auditing. “Green Workplace Representatives will advance sustainability values and practices in workplaces that meet the mutual interests of workers and managers, and enhance the competitiveness of American firms”. The centre aimed to draw of best practice from the EU, UK and other trade union experience.
A tough question voiced at the launch of the Centre for Green Jobs challenged the “wide variation in labour conditions” in some new green industries. Evidence of low pay and anti-union practices in the recycling industry was published by the Good Jobs First coalition, which also revealed below average wages and cases of union busting among wind and solar employers. There was good practice, too, but the study advocates attaching strong labour standards to subsidies handed out to the new green industries; and best value factors in local and state recycling, energy and other green contracts.
The urgency of the green jobs project was emphasised by the loss of a further 600,000 jobs in the US last month. The Good Jobs conference picked up on this issue, with workshops and debates supporting a Buy America arm to recovery programmes. Apparently this is already in law in many public procurement sectors like highways and train manufacture. Fears of further job losses if the US adopts tough climate change policies are slowing the pace of policy change in the labour movement and the Senate. Any further loss of competitiveness is seen as a price not worth paying at this stage of the recovery.
EU experience to date highlights the need to look carefully at the hard evidence on how the carbon market works. While the present link between carbon pricing and job losses is weak or non-existant in energy intensive industries like steel, the fear is there, both in the US and EU, that it could do real harm to jobs. So this is clearly a key time to exchange views and experience on both sides of the Atlantic. US labour is taking some groundbreaking steps in supporting green jobs. We can learn from that, too