By Jim Miller
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the heroic struggle against it have ignited a big battle inside of American labor. Earlier this fall an excellent article in Common Dreams outlined the split over DAPL at the national level with key trades unions and AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka backing the pipeline and criticizing the protests while other large national unions were issuing statements supporting the Standing Rock resistance.
Here in California and elsewhere, Trumka’s letter in support of the pipeline received strong condemnation. For instance, a response to it that I penned as chair of the California Federation of Teachers Climate Justice Task Force challenges the AFL-CIO leader in the strongest possible terms: “In sum, your statement is factually inaccurate, morally suspect, politically inept, and does not stand for the values that should guide a progressive union movement worth being a part of in an era of stark threats to the future of our children.” I have yet to receive a response.
Prominent labor historian Jeremy Brecher gets to the heart of the conflict in the Common Dreams piece:
“The core of the problem” he explained, “is that the AFL-CIO has consistently opposed significant cuts to climate-destroying projects, like Dakota Access, while failing to adequately advocate for policies that would actually address climate change in a worker-friendly way.”
This is not to deny that some climate-protecting policies will have negative impacts on specific sets of workers—like pipefitters and coal miners—whose jobs or industries need to be changed, or ended entirely, in order to protect the climate. “So the solution is quite straightforward,” argued Brecher. “We need to have strong protections for those workers and communities who are directly affected. And more broadly, we need a full employment policy based on putting hundreds of thousands, or millions, of people to work fixing the climate. This is an emergency like World War II, and we need an emergency response like the mobilization of the 1940s.”
Brecher is absolutely correct in his assessment, and despite some unions’ negative response to the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to not approve the permits needed to finish the project, others are formally backing the Standing Rock resistance and calling for a better future and green jobs.
Not surprisingly California unions and labor councils are leading the way with folks like the California Nurses Association, SEIU, the California Federation of Teachers, and others stepping up. Beyond individual unions, both the Alameda Labor Council and the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council have passed resolutions in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Importantly, these resolutions (the San Diego version is a modification of the Alameda statement) are cognizant of the problem Brecher outlines, and they explicitly “support a just transition to a renewable energy economy and investment in the construction of a nationwide sustainable energy infrastructure that will address the growing threat of climate change and its consequent droughts, floods, fire, crop failure, species extinction and other dire consequences of global warming.”
As we head into the Trump era, it is abundantly clear that such a vision for green infrastructure is on hold for at least four years, but one hopes no one in labor will be naïve enough to buy into a Trump infrastructure plan that will surely marry union busting and climate denial with corrupt corporate tax giveaways. We need to stand together on progressive principles with our sisters and brothers inside and outside of labor or we will surely all hang separately.
See the entire SD-Imperial Counties Labor Council Resolution that passed unanimously at the December 7th meeting below:
San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council
Resolution against the Dakota Access Pipeline
WHEREAS, the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council is committed to joining the larger movement for racial justice and climate change and a just transition for workers into a new economy; and
WHEREAS, the $3.78 Billion, 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline would carry over half a million barrels of dirty crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois to connect to other pipelines bringing oil to the East Coast and the Gulf; and
WHEREAS, the pipeline is slated to pass through the tribal lands of the Standing Rock Sioux near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, and underneath the Missouri River, the main source of water for the tribe; and
WHEREAS, the pipeline desecrates the ancestral burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux; and
WHEREAS, millions of workers—including our own union members—their families, and communities live in the path of the proposed pipeline; and
WHEREAS, the transport of heavy crude is particularly volatile, leading to 18.4 million gallons of oil and chemicals spilled, leaked, or released into the air, land, and waterways between 2006 and 2014 in North Dakota alone, causing death, contamination of soil and water, and all kinds of disease; and
WHEREAS, scientists have warned that in order to avoid wide-scale, catastrophic climate disruption, the vast majority of known remaining fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground; and
WHEREAS, Native American land protectors and their supporters have been brutally attacked by private security forces with attack dogs and pepper spray; and
WHEREAS, Native Americans and other activists have the same right to defend their land and engage in nonviolent protest as workers who are protesting the actions of an unfair employer; and
WHEREAS, the U.S. Congress has repealed the ban on exporting oil, meaning that the oil transported by the pipeline is likely to be sold overseas and not contribute to US energy independence; and
WHEREAS, we know that the real threat to workers’ lives and livelihoods is catastrophic climate change; and
WHEREAS, many large corporations, especially fossil fuel corporations, have been putting profits ahead of the common good of workers, the public, and the environment, and these corporations have been granted the unjust constitutional rights and powers of personhood, and the doctrine of money as speech through activist Supreme Court decisions thereby diminishing democracy and the voice and power of the people; and
WHEREAS, numerous local, national and international unions have already passed resolutions against the construction of the pipeline, including the American Federation of Teachers Local 1931, AFT 2121, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, the National Nurses United, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Communications Workers of America, the United Electrical Workers, and others; and
WHEREAS, this Labor Council’s Environmental Caucus is already committed to a climate justice agenda; and
WHEREAS, more long-term, good paying jobs would be created by investing in sustainable energy infrastructure projects using already existing technologies while at the same time reducing pollution that creates greenhouse gases; and
WHEREAS, we support the rights of our union brothers and sisters building the pipeline to work in safe environments at jobs that are consistent with respect for the environment and the rights and safety of frontline communities;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that we call upon the Federal Government to make permanent the moratorium on construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline by revoking permits for construction issued by the Army Corps of Engineers; and be it further
RESOLVED, that the Federal Government provide economic support, training and to transition to sustainable jobs for the up to 4,500 union workers who would be employed by the construction of this pipeline; and be it further
RESOLVED, that the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council calls on the labor movement to support a just transition to a renewable energy economy and investment in the construction of a nationwide sustainable energy infrastructure that will address the growing threat of climate change and its consequent droughts, floods, fire, crop failure, species extinction and other dire consequences of global warming; and be it further
RESOLVED, that the federal government immediately stop the brutal attacks and protect the first amendment rights of peaceful protestors, and be it further
RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be forwarded to Congressional Delegations of Northern California, President Barack Obama, the Secretary of the Interior Department and Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.