AFL-CIO’s Lust for Oil Pipeline Jobs

Despite the existential risk from global warming, short-term self-interest often wins out, whether opposition to the cost of building mass transit or readiness to put oil-industry jobs over the danger from fossil fuels, as Norman Solomon explains.

By Norman Solomon

At a meeting with the deputy political director of the AFL-CIO during my campaign for Congress, she looked across her desk and told me that I could get major union support by coming out in favor of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

That was five years ago. Since then, the nation’s biggest labor federation has continued to serve the fossil fuel industry. Call it union leadership for a dead planet.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka visiting "Occupy Wall Street"

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka visiting “Occupy Wall Street”

Last week, the AFL-CIO put out a statement from its president, Richard Trumka, under the headline “Dakota Access Pipeline Provides High-Quality Jobs.” The rhetoric was standard flackery for energy conglomerates, declaring “it is fundamentally unfair to hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is steadfast against the Dakota Access pipeline: “We will not rest until our lands, people, waters, and sacred sites are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline.”

In sharp contrast to the AFL-CIO’s top echelon, some unions really want to restrain climate change and are now vocally opposing the Dakota pipeline. Communications Workers of America has expressed solidarity with members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe “as they fight to protect their community, their land and their water supply.”

At National Nurses United, Co-President Jean Ross cites “an obligation to step up climate action to protect public health and the future for the generations to follow us.”

Ross said: “We commend the leaders and members of the Standing Rock Sioux, the many First Nation allies who have joined them, and the environmentalists and other supporters who have participated in the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline.”

NNU points out that “the proposed 1,172-mile pipeline would carry nearly a half million barrels of dirty crude oil every day across four states.” Ross says that such projects “pose a continual threat to public health from the extraction process through the transport to the refinery.”

As for the AFL-CIO’s support for the pipeline, NNU’s director of environmental health and social justice was blunt. “We’re deeply disappointed in our labor federation siding with those that would endanger and harm the land, the water, the lives of the people along the pipeline path and the health of the planet itself in the name of profits,” Fernando Losada said.

He added that the Dakota pipeline is part of “a drive to extract fossil fuel that is untenable for the future of the planet.”

The nurses union is part of the AFL-CIO, but dominant forces within the federation are committed to corporate energy priorities. Losada said that “some elements in the AFL-CIO” have caused a stance that “is a narrow position in the alleged interests of their members for some short-term jobs.”

Compare that narrow position to a recent statement from Communications Workers of America: “The labor movement is rooted in the simple and powerful idea of solidarity with all struggles for dignity, justice and respect. CWA will continue to fight against the interests of the 1% and corporate greed and firmly stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the environmental and cultural degradation of their community.”

A venerable labor song has a question for the leaders of the AFL-CIO: Which side are you on? When it comes to planetary survival, the answer from the top of the AFL-CIO hierarchy remains: We’re on the wrong side.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

6 comments for “AFL-CIO’s Lust for Oil Pipeline Jobs

  1. J. Wilson
    September 26, 2016 at 15:31

    Looks like all of these nuclear reactors with their subsidies are nothing more than factories to produce useful fissionable material for WEAPONS.
    What a scam.

  2. Daniel Platt
    September 21, 2016 at 02:33

    Anyone who honestly believes that human use of fossil fuels is the predominate cause of climate change should follow the example of James Lovelock, and campaign energetically for the use of nuclear energy. If you do not do that, you are either a closet genocidalist, or suffering from a world-class case of cognitive dissonance. The people who claim we can get by on windmills and solar panels are implicitly arguing for a level of austerity so savage that it makes today’s right-wingers look like humanitarians by comparison.

    Of course, the foolishness of the North Americans and Europeans may ultimately prove irrelevant, as rest of the world closes ranks around the relatively enlightened leadership of the BRICS nations. The nations of the English-speaking world will simply diminish in importance, unless they attempt to assert themselves by launching much larger wars, which unfortunately cannot be ruled out.

    • John
      September 25, 2016 at 18:58

      Except, of course, that nuclear has its own (massive) set of problems, and that your claim as to the insufficiency of solar and wind is being disproven as we speak, as multiple countries have had days where all electricity used is produced by renewables, and the rollout of renewables is nowhere near done…

      Conventional nuclear, aside from the problems with safe waste disposal, are simply unable to exist without massive subsidies, whereas the cost per kilowatt hour of solar and wind installations is, without subsidies, becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuels (which are heavily subsidized both directly snd indirectly.)

      Renewabled do not require austerity, as you claim, rather, they enable abundance.

      Take just one proposal – solar roads, and this would provide enough energy to meet our current power needs plus power electric cars, which, due to Elan Musk’s decision to put all his electric car patents into the public domain, could , in a single model year, make up 100% of auto production if there was a will to do so.

      Now, if you had shown the intelligence to specify LiFTeR nuclear plants (Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors) as something that should be built (a variety of reactor that cannot melt down, has far fewer problems with the mining of fuel, does not produce weapons grade plutonium, and leaves very little hazarous waste (in fact, it could even use waste from conventional plants as a fuel), you might have come across as something other than a shill repeating discredited talking points. But you did not choose to attempt to argue intelligently, rather, you chose to label people more informed than you as “closet genocidalists.”

      Thus, I have no moral qualms in calling out your dishonest stupidity as exactly what it is.

  3. Jay
    September 20, 2016 at 19:05

    “Pleasant”, what does that have to do with anything in this particular essay, it’s about pollution and climate change, or did you not even glance at it.

    Regarding pleasant manufacturing, it’s a lot more “pleasant” and safer to work for say 70 thousand dollars a year, in a clean plant, with environmental controls, break time, paid time off, medical care, versus working in a factory in the USA circa 1925.

    Things massively improved for labor in the US from the 30s until the early 1960s, and then environmental rules helped clean the air in the factories. Capital decided it was a good idea to move jobs to say Mexico instead of building things in the US safely and as reasonably cleanly as possible. (And yeah, things are still built in the US, but some of those factories are starting to resemble 1920s sweatshops. But now with computers in the offices.)

    And Foreign Affairs is an establishment journal okay with things like the Iraq invasion, or the Ukraine coup. In other words, beltway conventional think. You’ll have to go back to the 1980s to find any part of conventional wisdom objecting to US imperialism, in this case in places like Central America. Of course, they’d espouse the idea that making washing machines for Maytag in a new in 2004 factory was crap work. They don’t know the difference.

  4. Roger Annis
    September 20, 2016 at 14:27

    The trade unions in Canada as well as their political party, the NDP, are similarly divided over the issue of fossil fuel pipelines and the life-destroying global warming to which pipeline products contribute. The new, NDP government in the province of Alberta (May 2015) has not seen a pipeline proposal it doesn’t like. Meanwhile in Ottawa, the language of the new (October 2015) Liberal government in Ottawa may have shifted compared to its Conservative Party (Stephen Harper) predecessor, but the essence remains unchanged. The government wants full steam ahead on major oil and gas pipelines, though it says it is bent on acquiring “social license” before proceeding.
    Arctic Sea ice has reached its second-lowest level since satellite-tracking began. The Washington Post reports from Alaska on September 12, “Here in the northernmost municipality of the United States, 320 miles above the Arctic Circle, people are facing the idea that they may soon be among the world’s first climate-change refugees.” Coastal communities such as Barrow, Alaska are facing the inevitability of closing up and moving on as rising ocean levels and stronger storms will soon wash them away. Resistance is ultimately futile, including way, way too expensive to contemplate ‘ocean proofing’.

  5. Winston
    September 19, 2016 at 21:47

    Those manufacturing jobs were not pleasant either. That’s why the book about their loss was entitled “Nothin’ But Blue Skies.” The real issue is why do people want to be stuck in manufacturing? That is not a pleasant vocation. Should only be a stepping stone not a destination. That is because of deeper issue how hard upward mobility truly is.
    The American Dream Is an Illusion
    UC Davis Economics Professor: There Is No American Dream

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