Addressing inequality remains a top priority for youth climate advocates.
The Green New Deal often gets portrayed as simply a program for climate protection. But the Green New Deal — as proposed in a new congressional resolution from Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey — stands just as boldly as a strategy to counter America’s grotesque and growing inequality. The resolution they’ve introduced calls for “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era.”
Such a mobilization, notes their resolution, provides “a historic opportunity to create millions of good, high-wage jobs, virtually eliminate poverty in the United States, provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security for all U.S. persons, and counteract systemic injustices.”
The Green New Deal resolution outlines a vision of what we need to do to address the dual crises of climate change and runaway inequality. What policies and programs could help us realize that vision? My recent Labor Network for Sustainability discussion paper — Eighteen Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make Climate Mobilization Work — lays out a comprehensive strategic framework that draws on the experience of the original New Deal and the homefront mobilization for World War II. This framework envisions a Green New Deal active on a variety of fronts.
The Green New Deal will use the powers of government to rectify past and present injustices. Green New Deal jobs protecting the climate will be available to those individuals and groups who’ve been denied equal access to good jobs, with job recruitment programs that include strong racial, gender, age, and locational affirmative action to counter our current employment inequalities.
Green New Deal programs will also require standards for local hiring and minority business enterprises and provide job ladders within and across employers so those who currently face only dead-end jobs won’t face only dead-end jobs in the climate-protection economy.
Green New Deal projects will remedy the concentration of pollution in marginalized and low-income communities and counter the deprivation of transportation, education, health, and other facilities in poor neighborhoods.
The Green New Deal will ensure full employment. The original New Deal used the tools of what came to be known as macroeconomic or Keynesian economic policy to steer the economy as a whole. That New Deal employed budget deficits and other fiscal policies as well as low interest rates and other monetary policies to fight unemployment.
Neoliberalism today has abandoned Keynesian full-employment policies and steered the United States into the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, followed by an aftermath of ongoing income polarization and the impoverishment of millions of working people. The Green New Deal’s full-employment macroeconomic policies will reduce fears about climate protection’s impact on prosperity and also give working people a greater stake in the transition.
The Green New Deal will guarantee jobs for all. To counter the insecurity of working class life in general and the specific fear that climate protection may lead to job loss, climate protection policies will incorporate the principle of a job for everyone who wants one. A Green New Deal government, if its other policies haven’t led to full employment, would serve as the employer of last resort for all who want to work, putting them into jobs in climate protection and other socially needed activities.
Funding provided through this federal jobs guarantee — a commitment somewhat like the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration — will help nonprofits, local governments, and other agencies serving the public employ anyone who wants a job at a wage roughly comparable to the demands of the Fight for $15 campaign.
The jobs guarantee will not exclude any individual or group of people who want to work and make whatever special provisions may be necessary to employ veterans, at-risk youth, ex-convicts, people with disabilities, and other people with special needs who face barriers to employment. These jobs will also pay an estimated $15 per hour plus benefits, including health insurance.
By guaranteeing every person who wishes to work a public-option job with a wage twice the current federal minimum wage plus benefits, the Green New Deal will establish a standard that all employers will have to meet, ensuring that no working person will live in poverty. And the Green New Deal will also provide the education, training, and apprenticeship opportunities to help make this new economy a reality.
The Green New Deal will ensure worker rights and good union jobs. Pay and benefit standards will offer working families a decent life and future. The Green New Deal will support “high road” employers, prevailing wage provisions like those required by the Davis-Bacon Act, and project labor agreements negotiated between unions and employers to ensure that climate protection jobs elevate rather than depress wages and working conditions.
The Green New Deal — like the original New Deal — will establish a new framework that protects workers’ fundamental constitutional and human rights. The industrial mobilization during World War II reinforced the rights of workers to express themselves freely, bargain collectively, and organize for concerted action on the job. So will the Green New Deal.
The Green New Deal will tax the rich. The Green New Deal offers us an opportunity for correcting our extreme inequality. We can tax the rich to help pay for climate protection. The Green New Deal will put to productive user the trillions of dollars that American banks, corporations, and investors have lying unused in their bank accounts — much of it from government giveaways billed as “economic stimulus.”
And the Green New Deal will draw on the enormous resources of the fossil fuel industry. These resources should go to pay for the damage the industry has done to our Earth and every one of its people.
The Green New Deal will use the trillions in tax breaks and subsidies given away to America’s wealthy and the corporations they run — and the wealth of the fossil fuel industry itself — to ensure that the transition to climate safety leaves ordinary Americans far better off.
Jeremy Brecher directs research and policy for the Labor Network for Sustainability. He is the author of more than a dozen books on labor and social movements, including the Climate Insurgency Trilogy: Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival, Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming, and Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual. The Labor Network for Sustainability is engaging workers and communities in building a transition to an ecologically sustainable — and economically just — society.