Alyssa Battistoni: Hi every­one. My name’s Alyssa Battistoni. I do not have slides so you’re just going to have to look at me. 

So the the title of my talk I think is about cyborg ecoso­cial­ism, which you might be won­der­ing about, and gen­dered labor. And I wrote a piece actu­al­ly call­ing for cyborg social­ism in place of ecoso­cial­ism a while ago, by which I meant sort of try­ing to think about how we can be tak­ing both ecol­o­gy and tech­nol­o­gy seri­ous­ly, human and non-human labor and things like that. I was like, let’s call it this. That did not quite catch on although I encour­age you to go out there and talk about cyborg social­ism. But I’m not going to talk about it too much now. I will sort of try to hint back at that lat­er. But what I most­ly going to talk about is labor and the pol­i­tics of labor. 

And this is going to be draw­ing in argu­ments that we make in a book that our next pre­sen­ter Thea Riofrancos and I wrote with Daniel Aldana Cohen and Kate Aronoff called A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal. And I’m going to sort of just make a cou­ple of the argu­ments that we’re try­ing to make around labor, the pol­i­tics of labor, what it means for sort of coali­tions around the Green New Deal, what the pos­si­bil­i­ties might be for build­ing such a movement. 

So, basi­cal­ly we argue that if we’re going to defeat fos­sil cap­i­tal we need to build a low-carbon labor move­ment. And so I will say a bit more about what I think that means. I think it’ll prob­a­bly come as no sur­prise to any­one here that there have been um, ten­sions between labor and envi­ron­ment since at least the 1970s. And this is a major prob­lem we think for the cli­mate move­ment and for any sort of move­ment for a Green New Deal to solve. After all, orga­nized labor has his­tor­i­cal­ly played a major role in keep­ing cap­i­tal in check, push­ing for the expan­sion of pub­lic goods, you know, for var­i­ous forms of reg­u­la­tions and so on. 

And by pit­ting labor against the envi­ron­ment, I think, the right has been able to blud­geon envi­ron­men­tal action, or oppose envi­ron­men­tal action, with a threat of lost jobs even as they with the oth­er hand got work­er pro­tec­tions and under­mined work­ers’ rights to orga­nize. So, that kind of you know…this X Y Z…you know, envi­ron­men­tal pol­i­cy will kill jobs I think is a pret­ty disin­gen­u­ous claim giv­en what the peo­ple who make those claims are actu­al­ly doing to work­er rights? But it’s been effec­tive, and par­tic­u­lar­ly because the more effec­tive the anti-worker poli­cies are, the less pro­tect­ed work­ers are, the more depen­dent they are on the jobs they have, the more dif­fi­cult it is to make the case for envi­ron­men­tal action. I think this is a vicious cycle that we’ve been see­ing that we real­ly need to break out of. 

So, we need to both draw on the his­to­ry of think­ing about how the sort of green jobs—and this is obvi­ous­ly the lan­guage that has sort of emerged to sort of try to over­come the environment/labor problem—how we can have a com­mit­ment to good green jobs to replace extrac­tive indus­try work but also to expand our think­ing about what green jobs are, we need to increase the pow­er of all work­ers in rela­tion to their boss­es by offer­ing alter­na­tives to bad work and strength­en­ing labor­ers’ right to orga­nize. And we need to be par­tic­u­lar­ly atten­tive to the ways in which the divi­sion of labor is struc­tured along racial and gen­dered lines. I think the dis­cus­sion of racial cap­i­tal­ism ear­li­er was real­ly help­ful for think­ing about how and why labor pol­i­tics… Well, help­ful for think­ing about many of the aspects of cli­mate and Green New Deal pol­i­tics. Absolutely essen­tial to think­ing about labor politics. 

And we need to think about how we can actu­al­ly have the labor move­ment out fight­ing for the Green New Deal because I do not think we will get one if we don’t have a revi­tal­ized labor move­ment real­ly work­ing for it. So I will go through some of those. 

So even though labor and envi­ron­ment have typ­i­cal­ly been pit­ted against one anoth­er, the labor his­to­ri­an Trish Kahle observes that envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions and labor pro­tec­tions have his­tor­i­cal­ly risen and fall­en togeth­er. So we should­n’t actu­al­ly think of these as things that come at the expense of one anoth­er. Companies that treat their work­ers bad­ly tend to treat the land and the envi­ron­ment bad­ly too. They are both parts of keep­ing costs down. And so we looked to the his­to­ry of labor groups that has sought to strength­en both like Miners for Democracy, which in the late 1960s and ear­ly 1970s pro­posed that min­ers who lost jobs to reg­u­la­tions on coal min­ing could be giv­en union work restor­ing local land and infrastructure. 

We also looked to the Blue-Green Alliances of the 70s and 80s, like those led by Tony Mazzocchi of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers International Union. And he argued for wind­ing down indus­tries that harmed work­ers, envi­ron­ment, soci­ety, while also tak­ing steps to pro­tect their liveli­hood. So you could have some­thing like a GI Bill for atom­ic work­ers who would be left unem­ployed by nuclear dis­ar­ma­ment, which you know, peo­ple applaud me if it should hap­pen. A super­fund for fos­sil fuel work­ers, which also should maybe hap­pen. And so on. 

So, there have been his­to­ries of these kinds of attempts to think through what can we do to make sure that it’s not work­ers who are pay­ing for the deci­sions essen­tial­ly that their boss­es have made. But we also know that there’s a lot of work to d, and so I’ll say a lit­tle bit about that.

You know, I think as sev­er­al speak­ers have ref­er­enced, we do need to do a lot to remake every­thing from how we trav­el, to where we live. Things like retro­fitting exist­ing build­ings; retro­fitting pub­lic hous­ing, as has been part of some recent Green New Deal for Public Housing bills that have been intro­duced into Congress; con­struct­ing units of no-carbon pub­lic hous­ing; erect­ing a smart grid and oth­er kinds of things; the net­works of train lines that Kian ref­er­enced, things like that, all will take a lot of work and this is of course what the New Deal is famous for, pub­lic works projects. 

As Billy was sug­gest­ing, we prob­a­bly need to not repli­cate all of the carbon-intensive projects, so less roads, more train tracks; few­er air­ports, more bus sta­tions, and so on. But you know, there is a lot to do should we put resources into doing that. 

But, I wan­na argue that those projects are part of a tran­si­tion­al strat­e­gy and not a mod­el for a new econ­o­my. So, we can’t just…you know, we can’t just ramp up the pro­duc­tion of green tech­nol­o­gy indef­i­nite­ly, per Myles’ sort of chal­lenge on the growth ques­tion. And Thea I think will also say a bit more about why and sort of where the green tech­nolo­gies come from and whether they’re as green as we think they might be. But we do need to go all out I think for a decade or two to build a world that will last, a world of things that are func­tion­al and beau­ti­ful, and then we need to actu­al­ly live in it. 

So, I think we need to ask what work does liv­ing well with­in plan­e­tary bound­aries require? So we argue that it’s crit­i­cal to think more broad­ly about green jobs, to think beyond you know, the kind of typ­i­cal ener­gy and infrastructure—important as those are, to also take into account work that’s ori­ent­ed towards sus­tain­ing and improv­ing life both human and non-human, and low-carbon waste. So, that in par­tic­u­lar we think includes things like care work and edu­ca­tion work, cen­ter­ing work that pro­vides care for peo­ple, com­mu­ni­ties, and envi­ron­ment. To ref­er­ence Sophie’s pre­sen­ta­tion, I think this is actu­al­ly an impor­tant project of over­com­ing the fam­i­ly as the site of the only access to care and resources. We need access to care that does­n’t rely on get­ting mar­ried to access health­care or hav­ing chil­dren who can take care of you when you’re old. 

But as Sophie also points out care can also be bru­tal, includ­ing and espe­cial­ly for those who pro­vide it. And so, care work is both the fastest-growing sec­tor in the coun­try, but also are among the worst-paid, least reg­u­lat­ed, done over­whelm­ing­ly by women, par­tic­u­lar­ly women of col­or and par­tic­u­lar­ly by immi­grant women. So, it’s hard work even if it sounds nice. It’s like we like care and it’s deeply exploit­ed so you know, we need to improve that work, we need to pro­tect peo­ple doing that work and orga­niz­ing around that work as we’re think­ing about build­ing the no-carbon econ­o­my and adjust­ing a divi­sion of labor that gives women and peo­ple of col­or the worst-paid and lowest-status jobs. 

Prioritizing care I want to say also means tak­ing bet­ter care of the plan­et we live on. The his­to­ri­an Nick Estes has recent­ly argued that many indige­nous peo­ple are cur­rent­ly per­form­ing unwaged and unrec­og­nized care­giv­ing work for the Earth. And he argues, like unwaged care­giv­ing work, land defense and water pro­tec­tion are under­val­ued but nec­es­sary for the con­tin­u­a­tion of life on a plan­et tee­ter­ing on col­lapse. So we sup­port Red Nation’s call to cen­ter mul­ti­species care­tak­ing in a Green New Deal. I think that could involve a lot of things, but includ­ing employ­ing peo­ple in the work of car­ing for and restor­ing ecosys­tems. I think the CCC is typ­i­cal­ly the exam­ple here. You know, plant­i­ng trees, reveg­e­tat­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of acres of range­land, soil con­ser­va­tion and so on, and I think we could think about what oth­er kinds of projects could a new CCC do. 

We’d also want to think about build­ing care for the Earth into things like agri­cul­ture, which I think could also be a way to con­nect rur­al areas and farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties to the Green New Deal. And this of course is also anoth­er site of racial cap­i­tal­ism, since farm work­ers in the US are most­ly immi­grants and deeply exploited. 

And so you know— I’m going to ref­er­ence Sophie’s pre­sen­ta­tion again. I’m say­ing that all repro­duc­tion is always already assist­ed and you know, I think we should think about that as we apply that think­ing to our plan­et. So I think what cli­mate change and oth­er eco­log­i­cal crises make clear is that we can no longer take the repro­duc­tion of our world, of sort of a liv­ing world, for grant­ed. Reproducing life on Earth will actu­al­ly require a lot more assis­tance from us. More human labor and human work, while also rec­og­niz­ing the vital work done by non-human nature, by the ecosys­tems that make the plan­et hab­it­able. So, this is sort where I do see some­thing like this is a kind of cyborg polit­i­cal econ­o­my that’s mixing…you know, rec­og­niz­ing human and non-human labor, mix­ing the nat­ur­al and arti­fi­cial, and doing that towards the project of let­ting us all not only sur­vive but thrive. 

So, I want to now fin­ish with a few com­ments on the sort of pol­i­tics and pow­er I’ve men­tioned. And I sug­gest at the begin­ning you know, there’s sort of like a few ways that I think we should think about work and labor under a Green New Deal. But as I said we need to have the labor move­ment on board if we’re going to win any­thing. And I think that this is where sort of some of the coali­tion ques­tion comes in. And you know, what we argue is that a Green New Deal coali­tion has to go beyond extrac­tive indus­try work­ers to make life bet­ter for work­ing peo­ple more broadly. 

And this isn’t just a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple, it’s also I think a prag­mat­ic ques­tion. A labor pro­gram that’s only focused on tran­si­tion­ing fos­sil fuel indus­try work­ers to clean ener­gy jobs just isn’t going to bring enough work­ers into the fight to win. There are around 50,000 coal min­ers work­ing in the US today. Another 1.4 mil­lion oil and gas work­ers. And those peo­ple should all have you know, access to good work and liveli­hoods and ben­e­fits and what­ev­er, after we get rid of their industries. 

But to win a Green New Deal we actu­al­ly do need to have the entire­ty of the labor move­ment fight­ing, and that means bring­ing into the fight the rough­ly 18 mil­lion health­care work­ers, 3.6 mil­lion teach­ers who are already doing low-carbon work. These work­ers are already part of a labor move­ment that’s fight­ing for union jobs in con­nec­tion to a larg­er expan­sion of pub­lic goods and ser­vices, while also under­tak­ing new kinds of orga­niz­ing that reach beyond the workplace. 

They’re also at the fore­front of labor mil­i­tan­cy. So, in 2018 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report­ed twen­ty major work stop­pages in which a total of 485,000 work­ers went out on strike. And work­ers in edu­ca­tion, health­care, and social assis­tance account­ed for over 90% of those work­ers and rep­re­sent­ed half of all strikes in the past decade. 

That is still a ways off from the tur­moil that pro­duced the orig­i­nal New Deal. In the 20s there were over 500 strikes a year, even at the low point in 1927. But we think that when polit­i­cal momen­tum is grow­ing things can change fast. 

Recent strikes also show how the labor move­ment, or labor orga­niz­ing, can help orga­nize the work­ing class more broad­ly. So the labor orga­niz­er and the­o­rist Jane McAlevey argues that unions win when they do a whole work­er orga­niz­ing, which is orga­niz­ing that sees work­ers as con­nect­ed to broad­er com­mu­ni­ties and that orga­nizes those com­mu­ni­ties along­side them. And so when unions fight and win this way, they win for the whole com­mu­ni­ty, they build the foun­da­tion for future fights and future gains. 

So the Chicago Teachers Union and United Teachers of Los Angeles have orga­nized in the work­place and the com­mu­ni­ty for over a decade. And this is a mod­el some­times referred to as bar­gain­ing for the com­mon good. So in LA peo­ple might remem­ber that teach­ers went out on strike ear­ly this year, in January 2019, and a lot of peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty went out with them. And they won bet­ter con­tracts, more teach­ers, more coun­selors, more nurs­es, an immi­grant defense fund, a com­mit­ment to more green spaces and more gar­dens, and essen­tial­ly they won a lot of things that we imag­ine as part of what a Green New Deal could and should be. So we should think I think about more ways that we can be doing that kind of labor/community orga­niz­ing and not just see­ing labor as dis­tinct, sep­a­rate, and not part of this broad­er kind of orga­niz­ing we need to do. 

And my final words, I just want to say some­thing about how we can build the kinds of com­mu­ni­ties that we’re going to need to win. And I think this is some­thing in sort of in…the brief for this pan­el was around you know, how can we not give into the pol­i­tics of despair and to hon­or that sense of despair. And I real­ly think that we can look to the labor move­ment as well as an exam­ple of how to bring joy into the struggle.

So, Tuesday morn­ing I was out on the HGSU UAW pick­et line. This is the grad stu­dent union at Harvard who are on strike right now. And it was just an incred­i­bly won­der­ful and joy­ous thing. And I think that you see that often in labor orga­niz­ing and labor actions. And many oth­er kinds of orga­niz­ing and actions too. But I think we should be… I’d be inter­est­ed to hear what the folks from Sunrise think about build­ing that kind of joy and sol­i­dar­i­ty into the cli­mate move­ment in a real­ly seri­ous way, both with­in the sort of self-identified cli­mate move­ment and our con­nec­tions to folks in labor. And yeah, so I look for­ward to talk­ing to every­one about that more too. So, thanks a lot.

Further Reference

Climate Futures II event page

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