At Green Party Convention,  Labor-Green Coalition is Invisible

Bruce Vail

Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein (right) and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, talk to reporters during the party's national convention on July 14. (Photo by MICHAEL MATHES/AFP/GettyImages)

BAL­TI­MORE — If the Green Par­ty pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tion that end­ed here on July 15 is any indi­ca­tion, move­ment toward polit­i­cal coop­er­a­tion between orga­nized labor and the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment is still weak, with no sign of gath­er­ing strength.

The con­ven­tion — which nom­i­nat­ed physi­cian Jill Stein as the party’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date —did not fea­ture offi­cial par­tic­i­pa­tion by any labor union, or any labor-affil­i­at­ed orga­ni­za­tion. No elect­ed labor lead­ers spoke to the del­e­gates dur­ing the two-day offi­cial pro­ceed­ings, and par­ty activists aren’t expect­ing any help from orga­nized labor in the cam­paign this fall.

Not even the Blue­Green Alliance both­ered to send a rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Formed in 2006 by unions and major envi­ron­men­tal lob­by­ing orga­ni­za­tions specif­i­cal­ly to fos­ter coop­er­a­tion between the two groups, the Blue­Green Alliance appears bad­ly wound­ed by the polit­i­cal fight over the pro­posed Key­stone XL pipeline. That con­tro­ver­sy result­ed in the high­ly pub­lic with­draw­al of Labor­ers Inter­na­tion­al Union from the Alliance ear­ly this year, and feel­ings are still raw.

None of this is very sur­pris­ing to Green Par­ty vet­er­an Howard Hawkins, a Team­sters mem­ber from Syra­cuse, N.Y. The major­i­ty of Greens are work­ing class peo­ple, and many of them are in unions,” he said. But labor lead­ers are dis­trust­ful of the green move­ment, and coop­er­a­tion only takes place in a hand­ful of iso­lat­ed areas, and at the low­est lev­els of the union hier­ar­chy, Hawkins said.

Hawkins had a close-up view of this dynam­ic two years ago, when he was the Green Par­ty can­di­date for gov­er­nor of New York. Hawkins said he opposed Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty can­di­date Andrew Cuomo’s plans for a state gov­ern­ment aus­ter­i­ty pro­gram that would harm pub­lic sec­tor work­ers, but he found lit­tle sup­port from unions. He could gain no back­ing even from New York’s Work­ing Fam­i­lies Par­ty, which is heav­i­ly sup­port­ed by the Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union (SEIU) and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­i­ca (CWA), he said. The Work­ing Fam­i­lies Par­ty ulti­mate­ly endorsed Cuo­mo in that race. They often sup­port cor­po­rate Democ­rats, and even Repub­li­cans,” Hawkins commented.

Labor’s gen­er­al dis­in­ter­est in the Green Par­ty notwith­stand­ing, Hawkins said he would help lead an effort to secure an endorse­ment for Stein from the Unit­ed Elec­tri­cal, Radio and Machine Work­ers of Amer­i­ca (UE), which is affil­i­at­ed with nei­ther with the AFL-CIO nor the mori­bund Change to Win fed­er­a­tion. I don’t know if we’ll get the endorse­ment of the UE, but we’ll get a fair hear­ing from them,” he said.

Stein’s accep­tance address at the con­ven­tion reflect­ed the dis­tance between most of orga­nized labor and the Green Par­ty, con­tain­ing no men­tion of unions indi­vid­u­al­ly, despite a heavy empha­sis on green jobs as the log­i­cal means to both relieve unem­ploy­ment and advance envi­ron­men­tal goals.

Green jobs are right­ful­ly the cen­ter­piece of the party’s plat­form, Hawkins added, and ought to be the basis of much greater coop­er­a­tion with orga­nized labor. For Hawkins, the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion’s green jobs ini­tia­tives are a step for­ward, but far too mod­est to have the nec­es­sary effect. He crit­i­cized the Blue­Green Alliance for its fail­ure to embrace a more com­pre­hen­sive green jobs pro­gram that could lead the coun­try toward a car­bon-free econ­o­my. The Blue­Green Alliance won’t even come out against nuclear pow­er or so-called clean coal,” so there are still enor­mous pol­i­cy dif­fer­ences to be over­come, Hawkins noted.

Hawkins con­clud­ed that he saw few signs that the ten­sion between orga­nized labor and the green move­ment would change any­time soon. Small-scale alliances will con­tin­ue to be forged at the local lev­el, he pre­dict­ed, par­tic­u­lar­ly if the Green Par­ty is suc­cess­ful in elect­ing more offi­cials at the munic­i­pal lev­el. But any larg­er change seems far off.

Hawkins’ view seemed to be con­firmed in an indi­rect way by Erin Bzymek, press sec­re­tary for the Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based Blue­Green Alliance. Asked for com­ment by Work­ing In These Times on the Green Par­ty con­ven­tion, Bzymek said the Alliance had no com­ment. Asked for some assess­ment of the broad­er state of the labor-green rela­tions, Byzymek again said she could make no comment.

Bruce Vail is a Bal­ti­more-based free­lance writer with decades of expe­ri­ence cov­er­ing labor and busi­ness sto­ries for news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Dai­ly Labor Report, cov­er­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing issues in a wide range of indus­tries, and a mar­itime indus­try reporter and edi­tor for the Jour­nal of Com­merce, serv­ing both in the newspaper’s New York City head­quar­ters and in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. bureau.
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