Most people are now sold on the science of climate change. Some, like me, have been saying the same thing for over 30 years. Since July 1992 I have had a Free Press newspaper clipping pinned near my desk: the headline is "Humans, environment on a collision course"; it outlines five things we must do "to reverse a trend toward vast human misery and mutilation of the Earth."
Now Greta Thunberg, with her school strike and youthful sass, implores, "Why should we go to school when adults don’t listen to those who are educated, when you don’t listen to the scientists?" She has also stated, "The politics we need has not been invented yet." Well, maybe it has, and now it is time for the economics and the politics to catch up to the science in our long march to justice.
The greenwashing of green consumerism, or trying to buy our way out of the crisis, has not worked. Decades of oppression through the false narrative of jobs versus the environment have held us back. It is time to organize our way out. Time for the little sisters to get heard, time to realize Green Labour has been here all along.
I was raised by labour leader Al Cerilli. I grew up witnessing his tough love with the workers he represented and the management he negotiated with, and with initiatives such as the Manitoba Federation of Labour environment committee. I remember listening to Tommy Douglas records playing in the background at home.
I also grew up camping. There was never any false dichotomy of jobs versus the environment for me. I valued both equity and workers’ right to unionize, for equal pay for work of equal value, and for safe working conditions that expanded to include corporations being regulated to make it safe for communities by cleaning up pollution and not overconsuming resources.
Loving nature and feeling comfortable in the wild as part of nature is what kids learn from camping. We have respect and awe for the power of nature, rather than seeing wilderness as something to fear, dominate or exploit. These are the values I grew up with, and these are the values of Green Labour. I apply an anti-oppression lens to workers and to anthropocentrism — the idea people can dominate nature.
Green Labour moves beyond exploitation of people and the earth; there is no marginalization of the health interests of either, because their interests are the same. Combined with values and practices of community development, this is the approach I have cultivated throughout my career.
For example, when I was the MLA for Radisson — a constituency that includes New Flyer Industries — NFI began painting buses 24/7 across the street from homes on Pandora Avenue. Residents called complaining of health problems; it turns out they were breathing in the paint, which included volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
We met and organized a neighbourhood group. I also met with the company management and the workers on the NFI’s workplace safety and health committee. The committee showed me pages and pages of workplace safety and health violations, which explained why NFI kept open the factory doors that faced the homes.
Meetings between the workers and the community residents revealed a solidarity. They cared for each other. In the working-class suburb of Transcona, residents knew families of NFI workers, and employees were connected to residents. They wanted both problems solved: safe jobs and a safe environment.
We negotiated solutions in the new environment act licence, including a provision for a community committee to meet regularly with the company. In Green Labour, this committee would include workers to also address the workplace safety and health issues. The VOC paint was replaced, and other improvements were made.
On May 26 at 7 p.m., the May Works Festival of Labour and the Arts has a session featuring more about how workers can organize for a just transition on our biggest challenge — climate change. It will require outside-the-box thinking — not just as consumers, but as producers and as workers. This is where our power lies to make the needed changes, within the next 10 years, to advert catastrophic climate outcomes and the economic and society impacts that go with them.
The session will explain principles of Green Labour and how to employ our hard-won labour rights to organize and advance a climate-justice agenda. My presentation will explain how we can build a labour movement that is a leading part of that agenda; it will feature social-innovation tools for knowledge translation and planning for sustainable development.
I will introduce my Green Labour Change Matrix, which outlines points of intervention on which labour unions must organize for sustainability and green jobs. To register, go to mariannecerilli.ca and click on the Green Labour banner. The full May Works calendar is at mayworks.org
We have less than 10 years to catch up to our grandchildren, including the ones not yet born.
Marianne Cerilli is a health educator, former MLA and community development consultant and aficionado.