To Save Our Planet, We Need Unions

The Cuyahoga River caught fire a total of 13 times dating back to 1868, including this blaze in 1952 which caused over $1.3 million in damages. Environmental catastrophes like this were the imputus for Earth Day and efforts to clean up the enviornment. Photo: Cleveland State University Library

Today is Earth Day. Created in the wake of toxic and industrial disasters in the in the decades leading up to the 1970s, this day has come to be synonymous with the environmental movement. But, behind the successes that followed the first Earth Day — including the Clean Air and Water Acts, the Endangered Species Act, and the unstoppable movement to more renewable energy in our country and world — another movement has been a key partner in these victories.

The labor movement.

We all want to leave future generations a planet better off than the one we inherited. And, throughout our history unions and union members have been fighting to do just that, by making their workplaces, the communities around them and our environment safe and healthy. Union workers are better trained to deal with potentially dangerous situations and they’re able to speak out and blow the whistle on dangerous situations without fear of reprisal because they know their union has their back. That means fewer industrial disasters and more workers coming home at the end of the day, as well as cleaner air and water.

Unions are also a key to ensuring all Americans have the opportunity to prosper in our economy. Without them, we’re much more likely to live in a country where the incomes of working people shrink and income inequality becomes even worse.

However, unions have been under attack. Weak or non-existent unions mean no accountability and no recourse for unfettered attacks on our environment, on wages and benefits for workers dragging us in a race to the bottom globally, and on worker and community health and safety.

While today’s political climate has many — including me — worried about our future, one thing is clear: if the labor and economic justice movements and the environmental and environmental justice movements don’t stand together in solidarity we’ll lose this battle for a better planet and future. It has never been more vital for us to act on our common purposes to build a strong and fair American economy, while protecting our natural world.

Union members were key participants in the People’s Climate March and will be front-and-center at the March for Climate, Jobs and Justice on April 29 in Washington, D.C. as well as sister rallies around the country.

Next week, on April 29, there will be a March for Climate, Jobs and Justice in Washington, D.C. (with sister rallies held around the country and world). We’ll be there with many of our friends and allies in the labor and environmental movements standing together in solidarity to address climate change in a way that creates good jobs for working people and ensures opportunity, prosperity and justice for all.

I urge you to join us either in Washington, D.C. or at one of the other rallies. But, don’t stop there. We need to stand beside each other every day. We need to defend each other when we’re attacked, because an attack on labor is an attack on the environment and an attack on the environment is an attack on workers.

Together, we have accomplished great things and together we can weather this storm and move forward to accomplish so much more — emerging with stronger bonds than ever before.

Kim Glas is the executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance.

We unite labor unions and environmental organizations to solve today’s environmental challenges in ways that create quality jobs.

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