Green Transition? Just Transition?

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Photo: Asian Development Bank, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What is the role of workers and unions in the green transition? Over the last few years Nora Rathzell and David Uzell have brought together activists and analysts from around the world demonstrating that the question is both relevant and timely. Projects in various countries, such as Austria and Canada, explicitly seek to understand the agency of workers in this process. As one looks at these efforts it becomes apparent that there are lineages of thought and practice that we need to reclaim and that the role of workers and unions in the green transition is as pressing as it is contested.

Looking into the past may reflect a certain degree of nostalgia for a period of time when emancipatory futures seemed more possible. But there are also practical reasons for doing so. In immediate terms, we can learn that the issue of work and the environment has been with us far longer than we may think, albeit without using those terms. By the 1970s the relationship between the two was on the agenda of some unions and some environmentalists in terms that we all now recognize and during the 1990s sociotechnical systems served as the core analytic of a US project on work and the environment, green jobs were an important issue in Australia, and greening industrial relations was the subject of an international project in the European Union.

But we can also learn a great deal by examining labor’s record with respect to transitions involving gender, ethnicity and race. Continue reading