Young Workers Are Energizing the Labor Movement With Climate Activism

The North American labor movement is experiencing renewed momentum, driven by the same age group that, across party affiliations, and the urban-rural divide has expressed its enthusiasm majority-to-outsize supportFor advancing a climate policy overhaul that includes economic justice as its core.

The overall membership rate of the United States’ unions has risen slightly in 2020. fell back to where it’s been hovering the past few years, in 2021. Despite this stagnancy, union membership among workers aged between 25 and 34 was on the rise. 8.8 percentIn 2019, to a modestly-modest 2019. 9.4 percent2021 This bump does not account to the surge in union drives over the past eight months — including in the midst of this writing — Many of these are available.These were Young workers lead.

Young people have been raised in a hostile environment for labor. Their working lives were preceded by decades worth of union disintegration. In 1981, former President Ronald Reagan crushed an air traffic controllers’ strike, 11,000 workers were fired, heralding a new era in labor repression. Workers carried out work before 1981. 200-400 large strikes each year in the U.S., but that number tumbled through Reagan’s two terms. In 2017, there were only seven large strikes per year. The Intercept reported.

However, the strike tactic has been reenergized by young people in innovative ways over the past few years. For example, there have been a lot of school climate strikes led by youth all over the world, and organizers who were part Black Lives Matter. movementOrganised Strike for Black Lives.

Joshua Dedmond (youth organizer for the Labor Network for Sustainability) said that many of these young climate justice and racial justice activists are now in the labor movement. Truthout. “I really feel that there is a sincere yearning [by] young workers to bridge these existing chasms between the labor movement and climate justice movement,” he said. Dedmond and others with the LNS Young Worker Listening Project are in the process of analyzing 400 surveys of young workers and 70 in-depth interviews, ahead of a report to be published this fall, which will summarize young people’s experiencesDealing with the impacts of climate change on the job, and opinions on how the labor and climate movements could further strengthen one another. Many young activists report dealing with burnout, and that pattern has raised questions for them about what sustainable work looks like and how organizers’ labor can be sustained for the long haul — questions that intersect deeply with union organizing. The labor movement offers a space to build across social movements, Dedmond said, by “tearing down some of the silos and insularity that we encounter.”

Simultaneously, it’s clear that young people in the labor movement want to bargain on climate issues in contract negotiations, according to LNS’s preliminary survey results. While it has been challenging to get some older workers involved in the climate struggle, Dedmond said, younger workers are quicker to see the connections between intersecting crises they’re dealing with. “Young workers bring a refreshing analysis to note that we don’t have to trade off good jobs for the environment and we don’t have to trade off the environment for good jobs — we can very much work in concert.”

Governments are able to avail trillions of dollars for climate solutions worldwide, the delivery of visions like biodiversity-boosting offshore wind farms and cascades of rooftop solar panels, will create nearly 10 million jobs in the U.S. alone over the next decade, as the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst has estimated. The extent to which individuals who bring the energy transition about in their daily work can successfully increase bargaining power in the face corporate opportunismExperts predict that this will determine whether the reordering is a one-off or a shift from Big Oil to Big Battery and Big Solar. have explained.

However, well belowUnionization rates for those working in the nuclear, coal, and natural gas sectors are increasing. Renewable energy workers are joining unions more frequently. According to U.S. Energy and Employment data for 2021 report, nearly 10 percent of solar workers are unionized — more than double the previous year. Safety is a key part of the shift towards worker organizing in renewable energy. Similar to jobs in the fossil fuel based economy and energy system, there are new jobs that workers can take up during the energy transition. These include installing offshore wind turbines. In Texas, where the union rate is among the lowest in North America after South Carolina, North Carolina and Utah — at 3.8 percent — construction workers rarely have health insurance or other benefits afforded to union members elsewhere, according toThe group Texas Climate Jobs Project. Employers are not required to pay workers compensation if workers are injured on the job. Short of an expansion of workers’ protections, such as those that could be collectively bargained for, massive offshore fleets could come at the expense of the people building them.

The push toward building worker power amid an energy transition is also about protecting, and growing, what’s already in place. The labor movement is, naturally, behind institutions that we often take as a given. Social Security is like weekend getawaysThe middle class itself. But the recent unwinding of other staples of a healthy society — the right to abortion and the authority of the federal government to regulate emissions from power plants, for instance — highlight how powerful right-wing and corporate interests have the ability to reverse years of activist wins.

Sharon Griffith is an administrative assistant and shop steward for the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 1-2, in New York City, and a member of UWUA’s Young Workers Initiative Committee. She stated that young workers groups have the best chance to reverse decades worth of anti-union rhetoric. “We can give [young workers] our side of the story before corporations’ relentless propaganda model [instills the idea that] ‘you should just be lucky to have a job,’” Griffith said at an event2015 UWUA Convention “We can further educate them that it is in fact the corporations, the employers, that are lucky to have us.”

For climate activist Alexandria Fisher, the labor movement has proven a vessel for making a more significant impact on climate-focused interventions than in more conventional climate spaces she’s engaged with, like the United Nations’s annual Conference of the Parties (COP), which has Several times it failedto achieve its purpose. Fisher began working at the Ministry of Energy in Alberta in 2017. She joined the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees — the largest public sector union in western Canada — that serves around 100,000 government workers, and was elected chair of its environmental committee. Together with a group of other young women in their early 30s, she helped to pass a resolution committing the union to initiating the decarbonization of members’ pension plans. Ultimately, she and others involved with the effort were able to “convince people in the heart of oil country to support climate.” Fisher praised the union’s elders for their support and willingness to pass the torch and create space for leadership of younger organizers with new visions.

The AFL-CIO, America’s largest union federation, was founded in June. issued a resolutionTo launch a program for young workers, which will be a hub to empower young workers with access union infrastructure through its affiliated state labor councils and central labor councils. “Young workers are organizing from the ground up, leading high-profile campaigns around the country and winning,” Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO president, told Truthout in a statement, of the federation’s decision to revamp a version of what it beganIn 2009. “Young workers report the economic status quo is working against them, and when they look for answers, they see collective action through labor organizing as the solution,” Shuler said. In addition to training and mobilizing more young organizers, the initiative will plug into legislative efforts around student debt and affirming college athletes’ right to organize and promote collective bargaining education efforts in high schools.

The influx of resources could majorly amplify ongoing efforts and simultaneously help the labor movement “save itself,” as John Hiatt, former chief of staff for the AFL-CIO president, wrote in The Prospect. There’s no shortage of youth-led union drives and young worker committees to amplify. The Labor Network for Sustainability (Labor Network for Sustainability) is currently planning. Young Workers Climate Convergence in Los Angeles in partnership with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11, in September, where they’ll bring together workers across professions who want labor to lead on climate. Stephanie Laverty from the TWU reports that the Future Leaders Organizing Committee (FLOC), a program for young workers in the Transport Workers Union’s air division has more than doubled its size since its inception in 2019. In September, the group plans to open up the young workers program to TWU’s other two divisions: transit and rail.

“Unions are a great equalizer,” Anthony Hernandez, an airline worker and leader with FLOC told TruthoutWhen asked about the importance of young worker involvement with unions during ongoing economic, climate justice, and public health crises, he said, “It is very important that young workers are engaged with unions.” “Being in a union made me aware that … we are not expendable pieces of equipment.”

History has shown that momentum from within and at the margins traditional unions can have enormous potential to transform society, said Timothy Minchin (Professor of North American History at La Trobe University, and the author of Labor Under Fire.The U.S. union membership rate was highest between 1933 and 1945 spiked from 9.5 percent to 33.4 percentThis kept in check earnings by the richest 10%, which didvetailed as union membership increased over the same time period.

Minchin says young workers are particularly motivated by the copy-cat effect — as seen in the efforts of workers across Amazon, StarbucksAnd Trader Joe’s franchises. “Once people see that you can organize, others get the confidence to do it themselves,” Minchin said. “Things can change quite quickly, actually, which is an encouraging aspect.”

Despite the stagnant federal climate policy, continued growth in the labor market could have huge implications for curbing climate change and improving the quality of life for those who live in it.