Deep Cleavages Amongst US Labour Unions with Respect to Climate Change, Finds Report


Labour Unions and Green Transitions in the USA: Contestations and Explanations
By Dimitris Stevis, Professor, Colorado State University


From the author:
“In broad terms there are now two camps amongst US labour unions with respect to climate change and renewables (the two not always related). On one side, are those unions that believe that something needs to be done about climate change and that renewables are a good strategy. On the other side are those that are opposed to meaningful climate policy –even as they claim that climate change is a problem.”

This report outlines the deep cleavages with respect to climate policy but also argues that the views of unions are more complex and contradictory than the opposition-support dichotomy. Additionally, it seeks to understand what explains the variability in union responses to climate change and policy. What can account for the contradictions evident amongst and within unions?


Download the Full Report (PDF)


Workshop asks “What kind of Green and Just Transition?”




DATE: Thursday 12 July 2018, 12 noon-18.00pm

VENUE: Room CG28, University of Westminster Marylebone Campus, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS (opposite Madame Tussaud and diagonal from Baker Street tube station)

There is much discussion as well as divergent approaches to the question of a just transition to a low carbon economy, revolving around what is achievable by the market or by ecological modernisation and whether instead a much more radical transformation is necessary. This workshop addresses this debate and is concerned in particular with the active role of workers and the trade unions in this transition, including examples from the built environment of successful intervention.

Many researchers who are part of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change: Canada in International Perspective (ACW) research project will be participating in the workshop.

Speakers include:

  • Dr Peter Bonfield (tbc), Vice-Chancellor University of Westminster
  • Linda Clarke, ProBE/University of Westminster, ACW Associate Director
  • Béla Galgóczi, European Trade Union Institute, ACW Co-Investigator
  • Colin Gleeson, ProBE/University of Westminster, ACW Co-Investigator
  • Professor Malcolm Kirkup (tbc), Dean, Westminster Business School
  • Mercedes Landolfi (Fillea CGIL, Italy)
  • Carla Lipsig-Mummé, York University, ACW Principal Investigator
  • Sam Mason, Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union
  • Philip Pearson (GJA)
  • Vivian Price (US)
  • Melahat Sahin-Dikmen, ProBE/University of Westminster
  • Lisa Schulte, Middlesex University
  • Dimitris Stevis, Colorado State University, ACW Co-Investigator
  • Fred Steward, University of Westminster, ACW Co-Investigator

and others.

A complete agenda, speakers, and biographies are available here.

To reserve a place and for further information, contact, Melahat Sahin-Dikmen at or Linda Clarke at

(Re)claiming Just Transition

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Who controls the meaning of the phrase “Just Transition”?

Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces (ACW) Collaborating Researcher, Professor Dimitris Stevis of Colorado State University, says that we have recently entered a period of deep contestation over the ownership and meaning of Just Transition.

As any concept, whether democracy or sustainability, becomes more prominent it becomes increasingly contested. This is no mere disagreement over definitions. Rather it reflects competition over investing terms with particular meanings.

That is now the case with Just Transition, a concept that has been around for several decades but has only recently become globalized. It is important that we demand that green transitions serve the common good because they are not inherently socially just and, in fact, are frequently less just than other transitions, such as gender or racial emancipation. Nor are they necessarily ecologically just. Decarbonized industrial policy can be as ecologically unjust as the current, carbon-based, industrial policy by externalizing harms across space, time and ecosystems.

It is, therefore, important to think about it systematically so that we can, at the very least, differentiate initiatives that co-opt and dilute its promise from initiatives that contribute to a global politics of social and ecological emancipation.



Trump’s first 100 days – Pipelines and immigration policies strengthening Right and dividing Left

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During his first one hundred days President Trump delivered on some of his ‘promises’, failed in others, and changed his mind in many instances. But, overall, he has promoted a politics of intolerance and authoritarianism while, at the same time, he has been ‘disciplined’ by US capitalism and its aggressive geopolitics that have been evident for some time now.


In evaluating Trump’s first 100 days it is important to recognize that he has given voice to some nativist elements within US politics that had hitherto been marginalized. But it is also important to underscore that he has given voice and a cover for even larger intolerant elements that have been integral parts of the Republican coalition for several decades.


Trump’s travel orders and immigration practices breed authoritarianism not only because they are taking place but, also because they are justified in nativist terms. The relevant state agencies have become more aggressive and, unfortunately, unions in the sector are supportive of such politics. The continued shift of some of these unions to the right is adding to the authoritarian wing of the US labor movement that includes substantial elements of the police and other law and order entities. It is not surprising that Republicans, in states where they have recently attacked public sector unions, have sought to treat law and order unions differently from other unions.


The Administration’s decisions regarding pipelines have reinforced the fossil fuel economy while Trump’s gestures towards the building and construction unions have found some willing responders and are reinforcing their business unionist tendencies. It is not likely that renewables will decline as a component of the US energy mix. In fact, they are likely to grow. For every California, however, there will be a Texas where the production of renewable energy is a purely economic act unassociated with a climate or broader environmental policy plan. We can well look down the road to another Superfund, except that the next time around it will involve abandoned solar and wind farms.

Health care

Trump’s health care proposals are drawing the line against any broadening of the public domain. His choice for Education Secretary deepens the parasitical privatization of the public sector that allows profiteers to have access to and benefit from the public budget while limiting their risks. In all these moves he continues to appeal to those elements of the working and lower middle classes who need someone to blame for their precarity –whether women, blacks or immigrants- other than the real culprits.

At the same time, however, the new president is contributing to the reassertion of US capitalism over US society and beyond. His claims about keeping jobs in the US are revealed to be empty public relations, while US capital and capitalists – and the associated geopolitics – are “disciplining” Trump. Increasingly his broad economic and strategic choices affirm the direction of US imperialism as it has unfolded over the last few administrations – from the pivot to East Asia to reorganizing West Asia.

Trump as cover for “crony capitalists”

But here it is important to understand that it is not just Trump that is moving the USA in an authoritarian direction. Rather, the intolerant, crony capitalist elements that have long controlled the Republican Party and the USA House and Senate can now use Trump as an excuse or a decoy for accomplishing what they have been seeking for decades.

If Trump is someone we can readily associate with regressive policies, we should not lose sight of the class-based and conservative social politics emanating from the rest of the Republican Party, as evident in the priorities of Vice-President Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The irony may be that by the time they are done hiding behind Trump they may discover that it is too late to reverse the road to a deeper authoritarianism that will devour them, as well.

Democrats struggle to respond

And, of course, Trump and his allies are successful because the dominant forces within the Democratic Party, in their obsessive determination for centrism, have allowed these reactionaries to move the center very far to the right. Moreover, they have resolutely resisted those elements of the Democratic Party that could, in fact, spearhead an alternative agenda.

This has not taken place simply because the Democrats are tactically forced to follow the Republicans in their rightward move. Rather, it is evidence that the dominant forces within the Democratic Party are themselves central elements of the capitalist alliance that rules the USA and which supports the privatization of the public domain and the atomization of society. President Obama’s decision to speak to a financial entity for $400,000 should not leave us with any doubts about who controls the Democratic Party at present and the long road facing those who want a more democratic and egalitarian USA.


Dimitris Stevis is Professor of the Department of Political Science at Colorado State University, and Co-investigator of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research programme.

SoGES GCRT Environmental Justice in the Anthropocene to host symposium

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The School of Global Environmental Sustainability (SoGES) Global Challenges Research Team (GCRT) Environmental Justice and Sustainability in the Anthropoceneis hosting a two day symposium April 24-25, 2017 in the Lory Student Center at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. Registration is free and open to the campus and broader community, however, the deadline to register is March 24, 2017 or until space fills up, so register early!


This symposium brings together over 100 academics and practitioners from more than 30 countries. Environmental Justice (EJ) is a central component of sustainability politics during the Anthropocene – the current geological age when human activity is the dominant influence on climate and environment. The overarching goal is to build on several decades of EJ research and practice to address the seemingly intractable environmental and ecological problems of the unfolding in this era. How can we explore EJ amongst humans and between nature and humans, within and across generations, in an age when humans dominate the landscape? How can we better understand collective human dominance without obscuring continuing power differentials and inequities within and between human societies? What institutional and governance innovations can we adopt to address existing challenges and to promote just transitions and futures?


From its origins as a US movement against environmental racism and other inequities in the early 1980s the scope of EJ, as a field of research and as a movement, has broadened enormously. Global EJ activism and research, in fact, is moving beyond demanding equity in the distribution of environmental harms and benefits to a call for the structural transformation of the economy and our relationship with nature as a means to address social, political, economic and environmental crises. The symposium will explore these transformations with a focus on multidisciplinary approaches for just transitions and other important directions of future EJ research.


The SoGES Environmental Justice in the Anthropocene GCRT (formerly EJCSU) consists of a multidisciplinary team spanning five departments: Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, Engineering, Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, Political Science, and Sociology. Principal investigators include: Neil Grigg, Melinda Laituri, Sheryl Magzaman, Stephanie Malin, Stacia Ryder and Dimitris Stevis. Megan Demasters and Kathryn Powlen serve as graduate student coordinators. Together the team works on various multiscalar issues of EJ in the U.S. and abroad. The Environmental Justice in the Anthropocene GCRT is committed to rigorous research and public engagement.


To register, please visit For more information, contact or visit

ACW Baseline Subreport – Labor Unions and Green Transitions in the U.S.

By Dimitris Stevis

Professor, Department of Political Science
Colorado State University, U.S.


This draft baseline report provides an exploratory overview of US labor union proposals and practices regarding a green transition. It focuses, primarily, on national level unions and it does not examine proposals from other organizations. The role of labor unions at the state and local levels as well as a more systematic review of non-union proposals that explicitly address work and workers will be covered in the amplified report. My goal is not to speculate whether a green transition of some kind will take place in the US or whether workers will benefit from such a transition. Rather, one goal is to explore whether workers and unions are striving to be the agents and authors of such a green transition and what political dynamics may prevent or enable them to do so. A second goal is to explore how inclusive or exclusive the green transitions envisioned by unions may be.

The first part of this report clarifies the analytical approach that is employed and, in particular, the interface of sociotechnical transitions, politics, social power and institutions. The second part provides an overview of union strategies by sector or industry. I close with some comments about green transitions that set the agenda for additional research.


Download the full report (PDF)