DNC: Don’t take money from most destructive industry on earth

PSC-CUNY member and PCMNY Steering Committee member Nancy Romer

PSC-CUNY member and PCMNY Steering Committee member Nancy Romer

In mid-August, the Democratic National Conference voted to overturn a June decision to refuse donations from the fossil fuel industry.  How and why did that happen? Why would the DNC decide to embrace the most destructive industry on our planet after deciding that it would not?

Pressure from the unions representing the fossil fuel and construction trades workers is the answer.  Most jobs in the fossil fuel industry are well-paid, union jobs with the kind of wages and benefits that every worker should have if we had a just society.  And, under the present conditions of too-often low pay, poor benefit jobs that are generally available, most fossil fuel workers are holding tight to their jobs.  Even similarly, skilled jobs in the renewable energy industry don’t match the pay and benefits of the fossil fuel industry. This is understandable from their personal points of view.  

There are presently about 2 million jobs in the fossil fuel industry and those workers are, like all workers, entitled to good jobs. We can easily understand why their unions try to protect those workers. But their industry is the main culprit destroying the planet for future human life.  The science is clear: we must stop the production and use of fossil fuels or we burn the planet and human life on it. The labor movement cannot collaborate in burning the planet in order to save this relatively small handful of jobs. It is in the direct interest of the rest of the union movement, the rest of the world, to fight climate change and reject the fossil fuel industry in its totality. After all, there are no jobs on a dead planet.

What is missing from this grim picture of fossil fuel unions holding on to a killer industry is the presence of a pro-union, pro-worker political power structure.  What would it take for those fossil fuel workers and their unions, most of whom have children and grandchildren who will inherit a burning planet just like the rest of our progeny, to join the movement to end the fossil fuel regime and join the movement for a total transition to 100% renewable energy economy now?  What would we, as a labor movement, need to demand to create the protection that those workers, that all workers would need?

First we would need much stronger wages with guarantees of work and/or salaries to fully sustain a family living with dignity and sufficient income.  Second, we would need a much stronger social safety net that might include health care not connected to any particular job (Medicare for All?), free public college tuition, truly affordable housing and public transportation.  We would need much more social investment in our communities and in jobs that would work for the public good, not just the private profits of corporations. We would need a World War II-scale effort to create 100% renewable energy that would provide some of those good, union jobs. We need the The Green New Deal paid for by the corporate polluters who have made fortunes from the misery of the planet, knowing full well since 1988 what they were doing and continued doing it nonetheless.

This is the world workers need and we need it now, not years down the road.  I respect the needs of the fossil fuel workers and understand why they pressured the Democratic Party to work for their needs.  But the real needs that will be accomplished by the DNC’s decision to accept contributions from the fossil fuel industry will be those of the fossil fuel industry corporations and their CEO’s.  Okay, DNC, accept contributions from the unions of the fossil fuel workers. In the current structure of political donations from groups, that seems reasonable, though it would be better to just have donations from individuals, thus breaking into the absolute power of the wealthy.  But don’t accept donations from the most destructive industry on earth. Reject those donations, reject the fossil fuel-dominated economy, and move toward building the new renewable energy economy. It is the world we need right now. History is watching. The people of the United States are watching.  The voters of the U.S. are watching. Will the Democratic Party move toward a possibly sustainable future or will it collaborate in the destruction of us all? Will the rest of the labor movement bow in ritual solidarity to the fossil fuel workers or will they insist upon creating demands of our government to insure a just transition to an economy based on the needs of the people not the profits of the very few?

Nancy Romer