Blue collar, green future.

Author:Aronoff, Kate
Position:Voices of the Resistance

One of the quieter stories to unfold in the early days of this new administration is a tale of two labor movement approaches.

The first emerged from a meeting between Trump and a dozen labor leaders just after the Inauguration. An ecstatic Sean McGarvey, president of North America's Building Trades Unions, called it "by far the best meeting I've had." The other approach will be marching on Washington, D.C., in April, backing an agenda that runs counter to just about everything Trump has done.

Maria Castaneda, secretary treasurer of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, believes in this second approach. "We have to be part of a resistance movement, an opposition movement," she tells me. "We all have the same enemy." Castaneda's union represents more than 400,000 workers in hospitals, pharmacies, and home health services around the country.

The divide between the two camps is, of all things, the climate. This spring, the various SEIU locals and the international will partner with a handful of other unions and a slew of green, faith, and racial justice groups on the People's Climate March in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the building trades aligned with Trump will try to move ahead with construction on the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, the latter of which NASA scientist James Hansen has dubbed the "fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet."

For Sean Sweeney, director of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, the split is anything but surprising.

"The building trades have always been closer to their contractors than to the rest of labor," says Sweeney, citing the longstanding agreements those unions hold with construction firms to secure contracts, including from pipeline builders like TransCanada and Energy Transfer Partners. Such relationships--and an obligation to provide work for their members--have also led the trades to partner on policy pushes with bodies like the American Petroleum Institute, the fossil fuel industry's lobbying arm.

Given the likelihood of national right-to-work legislation and aggressive cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, both unions and the climate movement are now facing existential threats. Neither have anything to gain from collaborating with Trump. The solutions to surviving may require a split in the house of labor. For progressive unions, it's also a chance to lead.

The ties between blue-collar unionists and green activists are much stronger today than ever. In the first phase of...

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