Unions and the Environment:  towards a just transition

Unions and the Environment: towards a just transition

“Environmentalists and health-safety activists have a common goal: the eradication of pollutants from work and the environment alike. And in this, we sink or swim together,” Canadian Labor Congress Secretary Treasurer Dick Martin told the CLC’s first joint environment and workplace health and safety conference in Winnipeg late last year.

Workplace exposures to hazardous chemicals at high levels for long periods of time make millions of workers sick each year. Though worth the struggle, just making the boss meet OSHA recommended limits isn’t always enough. US Government limits presume exposure to healthy young adults, are sometimes based on self-serving data provided by manufacturers, and do not meet with general agreement in the occupational health community.

“Check out the exposure limits they have in Norway,” says Dorothy Wigmore, an occupational health and safety professional with the British Porn Canadian Auto Workers and McMaster University Labour Studies Program. “Norwegian thresholds are a fraction of what US OSHA recommends.”

Workplace toxics follow us home. Numerous studies have shown that the distribution of industrial wastes can be predicted by the income levels (the lower the income the higher the amount of toxics) and race (toxics are found most often in communities of color) of residents.

“Job Fear”

Corporate leaders tell us it’s a choice between jobs and the environment. Confronted with this no win choice we need to look for other alternatives.

In the US the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers union (OCAW) has been in the forefront of recognizing environmental issues as union issues. In the 1980s OCAW was con- fronted with the longest lockout in US history at a BASF chemical plant in Geismar, Louisiana. BASF’s attempt to break the union was unsuccessful because of community/labor coalition building around the health and safety concerns in the plants and the environmental poisons causing health problems in the area of the plants.

The fear of job loss if environmental and safety needs are met is a legitimate fear in this economy. An OCAW booklet on labor and the environment says this about “job fear”: “There is good reason to be worried about our jobs. Many profitable companies are trying to eliminate them and the economy seems to be generating new jobs that are mostly low paying and/or part time with few, if any, benefits. But we also have to worry about our health and our environment. Too many of us are dying from cancer caused by toxics. Too many of our neighbors and family members are suffering from diseases caused by toxics entering the environment. Job fear might be keeping some of us from getting more involved in trying to stop in-plant and community pollution. But if we don’t get involved and accidents do take place, it could lead to more and more job loss. Prevention of toxic exposure is the best job protection we can find.”

Just Transition

Locally the Citizens Environment Alliance has documented problems in Michigan and Ontario water and air. CEA efforts earlier this year prevented the Detroit Edison company from re-starting the antiquated, mothballed, coal burning Connor Creek power plant.

Coal burning plants spread nitrogen oxides resulting in ground level ozone or smog, sulfur oxides which increase acid rain, and carbon dioxide which increases health the greenhouse effect. About a third of all mercury released into the environment by human activity comes from coal fired plants.

Rick Coronado an active member of both CEA and the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW), says, “it should be obvious that burning coal is detrimental to the environment and to human health and should be banned. But this leads to another problem, loss of jobs for workers porn hd who mine the coal or work in the power plants.”

Coronado says solutions are possible. Energy can be produced by cleaner technologies. Recycling can be profitable.

“It’s not easy to realize that ones’ own industry and way of life has to radically change,” says Coronado. “A jobs and economic transition program must be worked out with government and industry at the table. Unions like steel and auto should be looking at a just transition strategy. This means put just transition on the bargaining table and make it a strike issue if necessary. It means communities supporting unions in this struggle because they have an important stake in the outcome and that means unions need to stop burying their heads in the sand and recognize that change is inevitable.”

Jobs & the Environment

Corporate logic says damage to the environment is not a cost to be carried by the corporation. Whether it’s old people and children getting sick or the Federal government paying for clean-up the costs are borne by society.

Big city mayors are joining with corporations in opposition to Environmental Protection Agency “environmental justice” standards which are designed to alleviate the current racist distribution of poisons.

“Job fear” is rampant and reasonable. Manufacturing jobs are moved around the world in pursuit of low wages, anti-union governments, and the lack of environmental standards. At home deregulation of the power generating industries threatens jobs, safety standards, and the easy supply of electricity we’ve all grown used to.

Faced with such concerns union uneasiness about raising environmental standards is understandable, but the only answers that help union members are those which take into consideration both good jobs and a clean environment.

When the question is presented as “jobs or environment” the choice is false. Most frightening is the fact that if we don’t make a transition to an economy where both are achieved there won’t be either to leave for our grandchildren.

An injury to one is an injury to all!

An injury to one is an injury to all!

Following is a statement by Jose Bove, French farmer and unionist, to a French court during a trial on charges of destroying genetically modified maize. Bove is best known for actions against the McDonaldization of food.

The strength of our union movement rests on this determination to mobilize free individuals who accept all the consequences of their acts…

Today, I am present in this court together with Rene Riesel and Francis Roux, accused of committing a serious crime according to the law. The alleged crime is: the destruction of sacks of genetically modified maize.

Yes, this is serious, and that’s why I assume full responsibility. I am not going to hide behind collective, anonymous responsibility. As a trade unionist in the Confédération Paysanne, I believe in the ability of everyone to act as an individual. There is no place in  young porn our trade union for a hierarchy of responsibility. Each member of the union plays a main part in her or his own future, and is fully engaged in this. The strength of our union movement rests on this determination to mobilize free individuals who accept all the consequences of their acts knowing fully the motive for them.

Yes, on January 8, I participated in the destruction of genetically modified maize, which was stored in Novartis’ grain silos in Nerac. And the only regret I have now is that I wasn’t able to destroy more of it.

I knew that by acting in this way I was doing something illegal. But it was necessary, and we had no other choice. The way in which genetically modified agricultural products have been imposed on European countries didn’t leave us with any alternative.

When was there a public debate on genetically modified organisms? When were farmers and consumers asked what they think about this? Never.

The decisions have been taken at the level of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and state machinery complies with the law of market forces. The WTO dictates its own law on the opening of trade barriers. The obligation to import bovine somatotropin meat from the USA is a good example of this. The Panel of the WTO, the true policeman of world trade, decides what’s “good” for both countries and their people, without consultation or a right of appeal.

The countries or groups of countries which refuse the importation of bovine somatotropin meat or genetically modified products have to prove that these are dangerous, and not the inverse! The Codex Alimentarius, the norm dictated by the multinationals, is there to fix the rules of the game!

Why refuse something which is presented as “progress?” It’s not because of old fashionedness, or regret for the “good old days.” It’s because of concern for the future, and because of a will to have a say in future development. I am not opposed to fundamental research. I think that it would be illusory and detrimental to want to curb it. On the other hand, I don’t think that every application of research is necessarily desirable, at the human, social or environmental level.

The current discussion on cloning is like the one on genetic modifications. Is everything that is possible actually desired by and gainful for people?

Today, no intelligent person can say that genetically modified maize is an example of progress, neither for agriculture, nor for the economy. On the other hand, the greatest concerns surrounding genetically modified maize are equally important for human health as for nature.

Novartis’ Bt maize is associated with multiple long-term risks because of the presence of the three introduced genes. Even the director of Novartis recognizes that a “zero risk” simply doesn’t exist. Is this an admission of powerlessness, or a way in which to cast aside his future responsibility in case there are problems? The problems arising today with certain agricultural practices (such as animal-based feeds, the effects on bee populations etc.) only serve to reinforce our caution when dealing with the sorcerer’s apprentices.

The biggest danger which genetically modified maize represents, as well as all the other GMOs, is the impossibility of evaluating the long-term consequences of their use, and following their effects on the environment, animals and humans.

No separation of genetically modified and non-manipulated products is carried out. For example, non-manipulated and genetically modified soya are actually mixed together when they arrive in France. As a result, there is no way of tracing the genetically modified soya. There is no choice left, neither for the producer, of which I am one, nor for the consumer, amongst whom we all number.

This type of culture also poses a threat to the future of farmers. For some decades productionism has served to enslave farmers. From being a producer, the farmer has now become someone who is exploited, who can no longer decide on her or his way of managing the land, nor freely choose her or his techniques for this. However, a real revolution has been taking place for the last 15 years amongst members of the Confédération Paysanne, who have put this other type of agriculture back into action.

Either we accept intensive production and the huge reduction in the number of farmers in the sole interests of the World Market, or we create a farmer’s agriculture for the benefit of everyone. Genetically modified maize is also the symbol of a system of agriculture and a type of society which I refuse to accept. Genetically modified maize is purely the product of technology, where the means become the end. Political choices are swept aside by the power of money.

Agriculture is a perfect illustration of this type of logic, which pervades every facet of food production. Agricultural production has now become the agro-industry. From the farmers who formed their small cooperatives, we have seen a conversion to the firms who have rationalized their systems of production in order to maximize profits on their investments. Since the 1920s, maize in the USA has been hybridized in order to oblige all farmers to buy seeds through a trust.

The trusts merged in order to invest in new techniques, which were capable of releasing new profits. Novartis, the world’s leading pharmaceutical group, invests billions in order to remain number one: they sell seeds, herbicides, pesticides and medicines. But competition is strong, and as a result of the merger which took place between two of their main competitors last week, they have announced a plan to lay off 2000 employees in order to assure their shareholders of the profitability of the company.

Is it this kind of logic we want? No. I reject this lurch forwards where the aim of the economy isn’t to satisfy needs, but is merely production for production’s sake, without any link to the interests of the individual or the whole.

Do we need genetically modified maize in Europe?

No. In 1997 maize production increased yet again. It’s overflowing the silos. The European Union has to stock the excess. And who’s got to pay for this? Citizens. Who needs these new seeds? No one. It’s only Novartis which wants to get the returns on its investment and remain the number one pharmaceutical group in the world!

By destroying the genetically modified maize seeds on January 8 at the Novartis factory in Nerac, we wanted to put this short-sighted logic into the spotlight.

Yes, this action was illegal, but I lay claim to it because it was legitimate.

A democratic debate simply doesn’t exist. The conspiracy of silence organized by the companies and the sovereign states is the sole logic which prevails. As with blood contaminated with the HIV virus, or mad cow disease, the public mustn’t be alarmed. Everything has to be allowed to continue in silence.

By appearing before you today, I’m aware of being in breach of the law which wants every citizen to be content with expressing her or his views by simply putting their vote in the urn every six years.

But it’s not in this way that social and economic problems are resolved — on the contrary. Through the action which we undertook and for which we are being judged, we kicked off a vast citizen’s movement which refuses the use of GMOs in foodstuffs for animals and for humans. These actions will stop when this mad logic comes to a halt.

Yes, this action was illegal, but I lay claim to it because it was legitimate. I don’t demand clemency, but justice. Either we have acted in everyone’s interest and you will acquit us, or we have shaken the establishment and in that case you will punish us.

There is no other issue.