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Democrats: A Party in Labor Over the Green New Deal?
Although Biden lost Iowa, he won the endorsement of the 775,000-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) while on his…
Although Biden lost Iowa, he won the endorsement of the 775,000-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) while on his way to New Hampshire. It was an unusually early endorsement for the union. In 2008 and 2016, the IBEW waited until Obama and Clinton had more or less secured the nomination. It seems Biden’s poor Iowa showing was as unnerving for the union as it was for Biden.
In making the early endorsement, IBEW president Lonnie Stephenson described ‘an urgency this year’ to pick a candidate aligned with their values. Stephenson was being polite. The fact is that Sanders scares the biomass out of the IBEW and a lot of other unions, including the United Mineworkers (UMW), North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), and the AFL-CIO and many of its more than sixty union affiliates, representing 12.5 million members.
Labor’s problem with Sanders can be summed up in three words — Green New Deal (GND). Sanders’ own climate defense plan builds on the GND and calls for a ten-year, nationwide mobilization that would eliminate the nation’s carbon footprint by 2030. Workers in the oil, gas, and coal industries hear and read those words as a pink slip. Biden — being the moderate he is — speaks of making the transition by 2050.
In fairness to Sanders, his plan, like the GND, makes provision for a just transition to a carbon-free (or neutral) economy. Elements of a just transition include retraining programs, the provision of grants for low- and middle-income families to weatherize their homes and businesses, and economic development funds for communities reliant on the fossil fuel industry. Undertaking the transition would, Sanders and his supporters say, create 20 million new jobs in industries of the 21st century. A claim that many economists corroborate.
So, what’s the problem? The problem, according to Phil Smith, director of communications for the UMW, is —
The whole notion of a ‘just transition’ for workers simply does not exist. There has never been an example of a just transition in this country.
The IBEW is not the only union that has swung to Biden in recent weeks. The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), representing around 200,000 workers, announced its endorsement of Biden just before the Iowa caucuses. The union endorsed Sanders in 2016. The move to Biden took place after it polled its members.
ATU’s president, John Costa, said Joe Biden is the right person for working people and America. Other unions that think so as well include the Iron Workers Union, the International Association of Fire Fighters, and the National Association of Government Employees.
Sanders perceived radicalism is not the only reason many in labor are more comfortable with Biden. Notwithstanding his gaffes and perceived wishy-washiness, he’s been a strong supporter of unions throughout his career.
The truth is that the link between labor and the Democratic Party is not what it was back-in-the-day. It may be the reason why 37 percent of union workers voted for Trump in 2016.
No matter who the standard-bearer is in 2020, Democrats are risking an even greater loss of rank-and-file union voters with their stance on climate change. Should the party be too aggressive in its plan to move the nation off fossil fuels, it risks losing critical swing states in November like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado.
If, however, the party is not aggressive enough, it risks not just the loss of young voters but their active opposition. The success of Democrats in November may well depend upon how they solve this particular puzzle.