What is often brought-up in debates on unions organizing workers in controversial areas of employment is the fact that unions do not create jobs for their members, they act to democratize the conditions of work that already exists. The newest focus of this public debate is focused on whether workers should seek jobs in pipeline and extractive industries given the global issue of climate change. However, this question is not where the analysis begins or ends – and should not be the focus of union activists who care about the environment.
Democratic unions provide one of the few spaces that working people are able to engage in broader social and economic discussions. As such, they have a responsibility to engage in the hard social debates. Unfortunately, and far too frequently, this debate happens only at the leadership level, with no attempts to meaningfully engage and include the membership. This results in undermining broader attempts to build solidarity and engagement because union members have become alienated from them.
While scientific and long-term implications are on the side of (eco)socialists, for this debate to be meaningful and for the progressive forces in the labour movement to be effective, we must devolve these discussion to the local level. In the fight for real-world alternatives to an economy based on exploitative, colonial, and climate-damaging practices, socialists must leverage our best values of solidarity, respect, and dignity to engage one another.
In the end, the movements’ goals should not be about forcing upon workers the “Hobson’s Choice” – whether to work on pipelines or not work at all – but instead to build a society and economy where options like pipelines are replaced with better, unalienated work.