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A Choice Of Nightmares

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ENVIRONMENT[image, unknown] Job blackmail

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A choice of nightmares
You've got two options: keep your job and pollute the environment or join the dole queue and protect the environment. Which will it be? Richard Kazis looks at this 'choice of nightmares' in the US and argues that the conflict is not only unnecessary but misleading.

WHEN the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered Union Carbide in 1971 to clean up air pollution from its Marietta, Ohio, plant, the company resisted, claiming the move would cost 600 workers their jobs.

Yet when Marietta citizens joined the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union to challenge Union Carbide, the company quickly backed down. The pollution control deadline was eventually met and not a single worker was fired. Throughout the 1970s, employers claimed that a clean environment must be sacrificed for the sake of a healthy economy.

Employers actively encourage fears that stricter environmental regulation might lead to higher unemployment. They know the fear of no job and no income is a powerful persuader— and they often use that threat to win worker support for their actions.

According to William Winpisinger. president of the million-member International Association of Machinists, the corporate ultimatum is ‘support industry or lose your job.’

This job blackmail is often quite effective. In 1975. for example, the drive to defeat a California antinuclear campaign was supported by virtually all California labour organizations Sigmund Arywitz, secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labour, wrote to every’ local union advising against ‘giving in to extremist environmentalists who must have their own way on every issue without regard to the number of jobs it will cost.’

In fact, experience over the past decade indicates that health and environmental laws have been good for society and for employment. Few jobs have been lost and several hundred thousand new ones have been created.

No hard data has been provided to back claims that environmental laws cost jobs. The major industry associations rely on figures gathered by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Between January 1971 and June 1981, the agency identified 153 plant closings in firms of 25 or more workers. A total of 32.611 jobs were alleged to have been lost because of environmental laws— an average of just 3.200 workers a year in a workforce of over 100 million.

In fact, the government agency: overestimates the extent of environmentally-related layoffs. The surveys include many- plant closings where declining sales, technological obsolescense. more efficient competitors and scarce raw materials were more important factors in corporate decisions to shut up shop.

On the other hand environmental protection has created several hundred thousand jobs in construction, manufacturing. operation and maintenance, engineering and design of pollution-control systems. One EPA official estimated in early 1982 that water pollution control employed about 220.000 people. Data Resources. lnc.m an economic research and consulting firm, says there will be a net increase of 524.000 jobs by 1987 as a result of pollution controls.

The evidence that environmental protection creates more jobs than it eliminates has not prevented Washington from using job blackmail to weaken labour support for environmental regulation.

Vice President George Bush say’s axing environmental and health regulations will ‘reduce costs, reduce inflation, increase productivity and provide more jobs.’

Yet, even the most cursory- analysis of the roots of inflation, slow growth and declining productivity shows regulation to be at most a minor factor. James Miller Ill, an architect of Reagan’s regulatory- strategy- and now director of the Federal Trade Commission, admitted as much in 1977. ‘In contrast with fiscal and monetary policy-.’ he wrote. ‘regulation has a very small effect on the rate of inflation.’

By pitting jobs against the environment corporations are trying to hide the consistent and costly failure of industry- to protect both the environment and workers’ health— and to provide decent. secure jobs. They are trying to shift public attention away from the serious health, environmental and economic costs of unrestrained industrial production and undemocratic economic planning.

The corporate attempt to set the terms of public debate on environmental and economic issues has been especially effective on the question of ‘growth’. In the 1970s, environmental concern was equated with opposing growth and therefore jobs. Business leaders and their allies carefully cultivated the no-growth/no-jobs argument. Energy Secretary James Schlesinger told the 1977 national convention of the AFL-CIO:

‘Restraining growth means restraining the growth of jobs. It means unemployment. It means the failure to provide the best part of the American way’ of life to a growing number of our citizens.’

Many labour unions and their members —particularly the building trades which depend on large-scale construction projects for jobs— agreed with Schlesinger. Similarly, many minority groups feared environmentalists wanted improvement at the expense of growth and therefore at the expense of the poor.

Now, more and more of the labour and environment movements see the growth/no-growth debate as a false and avoidable conflict. There is no hard-and-fast correlation between growth and jobs. Different kinds of growth create different kinds of jobs and different numbers of jobs.

Growth in solar energy- and energy conservation creates more jobs than growth in nuclear power generations. The microchip computer-based growth of the 1980s and nineties may eliminate more jobs than it creates. The real question which every society must address is not growth or no-growth, but what kinds of growth — and for whose benefit.

Fundamental choices
It is precisely this question, however, which corporate and government leaders are not eager to open to public debate. To do so would force business leaders to acknowledge they want the kind of growth which enables firms to pursue the highest profits with the least interference from regulators or the public. The growth/no-growth conflict, like the alleged ‘jobs versus the environment’ trade-off tends to divert public attention from the fundamental social choices about the use of resources, capital and labour.

Fortunately, environmental job blackmail does not always work. There is a growing tradition of labour-environmental co-operation and resistance to threats of environmentally- related job loss. These efforts share several basic principles:

• full employment is an environmental issue, since as long as people are afraid of losing their jobs, the power of job blackmail will persist,

• environmental protection is a labour Issue, since the workplace is the most unsafe and unhealthy environment and since a healthy environment is a prerequisite of a healthy economy:

• there is more that unites labour and environmentalists than separates them and neither should allow itself to be used against the other;

• the right to a job and the right to a clean environment are both basic human rights.

Richard Kazis works with Environmentalism for Full Employment. He is co-author with Richard Grossman of Fear at Work: Job Blackmail, Labour and the Environment. For information write to: EFFE, 1536 16th Street NW, Washington DC 20036, U.S.A

The 'Greening' of Europe
In Europe, especially West Germany and France, the ecology movement has added a new colour to the political spectrum. Diana Johnstone assesses the power of the ‘Green Parties’.

THROUGHOUT the 1970s, ecologists were sure they were the future in a France where everything else belonged to the past. A year ago, ecology candidate Brice Lalonde ran far ahead of other minor candidates in the presidential elections with four per cent of the vote.

The eventual winner, Socialist Francois Mitterrand, under pressure from environmentalists kept his promise to halt construe-don of a nuclear power plant at Plogoff, where local inhabitants were united against it. But the Socialists promised ‘vast national debate’ on nuclear power boiled down to a two-day debate in the National Assembly. In the end the decision was to keep the same old nuclear policy. And the green light was given to start work on six new reactors.

Today, ecology supporters feel demoralised, bitter and betrayed. This hard feeling, typical of relations between ecologists and the traditional left, shows how difficult it is to create new political alignments in the West capable of facing up to the problems of the 1980s.

The ecology movement is a loose collection of people fiercely concerned about the destruction of the earth’s physical environment, whereas the patties and labour unions of the left are responsible for the short-term well-being of their wage-earning constituents. Coming at key issues of economic growth and jobs from different angles, they often have trouble getting together — especially as economic recession deepens.

This split is sharpest in W. Germany where the ecology movement has it own political party, the 'Greens', able to win local elections and lure young people away from the Social Democrat Party (SPD). Polls have shown that an SPD-Green coalition could eventually have majority appeal. But the two remain bitter rivals.

There is only one important mass organisation in Europe consistently striving to bridge the gap between labour and environmentalists: the Confédération Francaise Démocratique du Travail (CFDT), France's second largest trade union confederation. The Confederation denies ant natural conflict between job-creation and ecology. On the contrary, it stresses that many new jobs could be created by developing local hydraulic, geothermic, biomass and solar energy sources.

The CFDT has been a leading critic of the ambitious nuclear power program championed by the state power monopoly, Electricité de France (EDF). On the other hand the Communist-led Confédération Générale de Travail (CGT) strongly supports the French nuclear program. In this, the CGT is like most Western trade unions and the CFDT is the exception.

French and German anti-nuclear activists have realised that nuclear power development makes no sense in terms of national needs. According to Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth - France) member Pierre Radanne, 'If those countries insist on building a strong nuclear industry, it's because they eventually hope to cover the world market with nuclear power plants’. France is in a particularly strong competitive position. It is the only nation with dozens of power reactors, a breeder reactor, a reprocessing center, weapons— the lot. The Americans and Russians are held back by fear of nuclear proliferation. But France has no such inhibitions.

As soon as the Left came into office, ‘the pro- nuclear lobby got to work and gave the Socialists a good scare,’ recalls Pierre Radanne. ‘So they quickly agreed to continue the nuclear program. Then when the ecologists let out a howl, they were given a little something too— about 1,500 new jobs developing solar energy in Southern France. But the Left has no real policy of its own.’

This could change once the Mitterrand coalition gains more experience and if the CFDT can make its influence felt.

There has never been a real ecological party in France. The splintered movement has managed to pull itself together long enough to field candidates in elections, winning five to ten per cent of the vote in some sections of Paris in the 1977 municipal elections.

This may not be enough to get elected, but other parties have got the message. Paris mayor Jacques Chirac woos the ecology vote with promises of parkland and pedestrian streets.

Friends of the Earth and other environment activists are watching suspiciously to see If the Left keeps its promise to introduce a proportional system in time for next year’s municipal elections. If so, ecology candidates could finally get elected. On the turbulent French political scene. that would be a major event.

Diana Johnstone is European editor for In These Times.

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New Internationalist issue 114 magazine cover This article is from the August 1982 issue of New Internationalist.
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