EFCA and the Green Economy

In recent weeks, the battle has intensified over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Its passage would greatly increase workers’ rights to organize and strengthen collective bargaining; because of this, organized labor has made its passage one of its top priorities, and in early February, thousands of workers marched on the Capitol.


No wonder why the largest opposition has come from big business and its mouthpieces, like the Wall Street Journal. The latter has been persistently spreading the lie that EFCA would eliminate employees’ right to a secret ball election to determine union representation; what it really does is leave the choice up to the workers whether they want an election or pursue card check—in fact, increasing workplace democracy. Additionally, as Dean Baker recently reported, arguments are being promoted that higher unionization rates—an expected outcome if EFCA passes—lead to higher unemployment, which in these tough economic times no one wants. Luckily, this is argument also holds no water.


Contrary to those opposing the act, EFCA would strengthen the bargaining power of the American working class, which would, if taken advantage of correctly, lead to many positive developments for the economy as a whole and the environment.


Higher unionization will increase workers’ bargaining power and ability to take collective action. This will mostly likely result in higher wages and benefits, greatly increasing the standard of living for many workers and their families. Besides being desirable on its own, this will serve as a stimulus to the economy, opting for a "high road," wage-led growth instead of "low road," profit-led growth. EFCA will also increase workers’ political clout for the same reasons it will increase wages—together we are what we cannot be alone. Just as we’ve seen labor mobilize to pass EFCA, the same can be done for legislation around single-payer health-care and others, but with an even stronger impact.


EFCA, however, is also an opportunity to hasten the transition to an equitable green economy (of course, we also need to envision what this will look like). With the increased economic and political clout of organized labor—which will hopefully include more rank-and-file organizations once the playing field is leveled a bit—it gives them the ability to fight for issues around climate legislation and green jobs, all of which are in the interests of working people. Therefore, from the environmentalist point of view, EFCA should be looked at integral in achieving environmental sustainability.


One of the biggest problems historically in the environmental movement has been trying to reconcile calling for the shutting down and elimination of energy facilities that produce dirty and dangerous energy, such as coal and nuclear, while facing the reality that those facilities provide jobs. An organized workforce can help bridge this divide. For example, if workers everywhere were better organized, it would be easier to demand that General Motors be nationalized and converted over to making wind turbines and vehicles for mass transit; or, even better, put workers in control of GM. Also, it’ll be easier for people to take actions against coal plants, and such, if those doing the action have the solidarity of the workers inside. This solidarity will come much easier if the workers know that the demands to shut down the dirty coal plant are coupled for calls for green jobs; additionally, unionized workers within that plant have the power to help reach obtain such demands.


The bottom line is that an equitable green economy is not going to arise out of the good hearts of those running our inequitable dirty economy. Therefore any measures that strengthen the ability of those most hurt by economic inequality and environmental destruction—people of color and working class communities—to wage a struggle to build a more just and sustainable alternative should be greatly welcomed. EFCA is one of them. So let’s pass it without any watered down provisions, and take advantage of the room it will give us to make change. Also, as profit hungry corporations who opposed EFCA try to claim they are "green" and care about the environment, it should be made clear that if you oppose EFCA, you oppose the environment. The point has been reached where the health of the economy and the health of the planet and its inhabitants cannot be separated; that includes solutions.

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