Abe Breehey – a tribute
Last Thursday, April 14, I learnt that our friend and comrade Abe Breehey, a leading progressive voice in the American labour movement on the challenges of energy and climate change, had passed away.
As Legislative Director of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, and Special Assistant to the International President, Abe was widely respected for his passion, intellect, and ability to build consensus across ideological and political lines. The AFL-CIO and Members of the United States Congress honoured Abe, as the American flag was lowered over the U.S. Capitol, and tributes were read into the Congressional Record.
I first met Abe in Bali in December 2007. He joined and helped build the first U.S. labor delegation to the UN climate talks there, the year of the Stern review on the economics of climate change. He played a key role in building unity within the wider global union delegation as American labour joined around 100 trade unionists, North and South. In Bali, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) came to reach a consensus around support for a fair, ambitious and binding climate change treaty. He played a fundamental role in that shift, speaking there of the impact of climate change on the global economy, and of the massive employment opportunities that would come from a progressive engagement. To a sometimes hesitant US labour movement, he argued that it was vital to work together to address the climate crisis.
Abe traveled with us to the UN meetings in Poland and Denmark. In Posnan, at the first ever US-EU workshop on climate change and industry policy, he was a leader among those who wanted to find out how Europe’s carbon pricing and emissions trading schemes were working, and how the lessons learnt could be transferred to the US. Ever mindful of the interests of his boilermakers’ union interests, he argued that at a time of industrial change, with huge losses in industries like shipbuilding, clean energy policy would bring jobs and new opportunities, for example, in building clean power plants. The ITUC at this time spoke of the “transformational involvement” of US unions, of which Abe, with his natural warmth and strength of principle, was a key part,
He was a friend, too, of the Cornell Global Labor Institute, where he helped the Labor Leaders Climate Forum get underway, and for playing a key role in its work. Sean Sweeney, GLI Director, wrote this of Abe:
“Words cannot remotely describe our sense of loss. In Abe we saw the qualities that the labor movement needs in this time of crisis – principles, compassion, and determination. Losing Abe has made our job harder, but the enduring memory of his cheerfulness and intelligence will inspire us to find the mental resources and spiritual resolve to carry on no matter what obstacles we find in our path.”
He is survived by his wife Sonya, young daughter Abigail, sister Rachel, and his parents Ray and Carol.