On April 22,1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.
Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers’ Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union. Most Americans don’t realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as “American” as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.
This month’s Liberty Tree News focuses on Earth Day to May Day – organizing around 10 days of action taking place April 22 through May 1 this year as well as analysis lifting up the important convergence of labor and environmental activists as we push back against policies detrimental to our survival. You can help make #ED2MD a success this year by sharing actions and events you are participating in, as well as organizing your own demonstrations, marches, talks, direct actions, trainings and more in support of people, planet and peace over profit.
As union members, we know that the #1 priority for working Americans is good jobs and economic progress. That is one of the major reasons why we strongly oppose the construction of any dirty fuel pipelines, including Dakota Access and Keystone XL. Oil, coal and gas are relics of the old economy that create few permanent jobs while costing Americans billions of dollars related to health problems from pollution and clean-ups from spills.
It will not be enough to play defense. As millions ask “what will it take to stop Trump?”, a discussion about strike action has been rapidly developing. The “chaos” we created at the nation’s airports gives a hint of what’s possible. In spite of the protests being rapidly pulled together protesters won the immediate release of detained immigrants and even pushed sections of big business into coming out against Trump and his Muslim ban.
But we need to think deeply about where our strength lies and how to create disruption on an even greater scale. Working people have enormous potential power to shut down the profits of big business by taking action in their workplaces like slowdowns, sickouts, and strikes.
The Trump ascendancy creates a new context for addressing long-standing tensions between organized labor and the environmental movement, between workers’ job concerns and everyone’s need to protect the climate. Trump and his congressional Republican allies intend to exploit these tensions to the max. But their threat to workers, the earth’s climate, and society as a whole make cooperation against them imperative for both organized labor and the climate protection movement. Forging a force that can effectively counter Trumpism requires change that will involve tension within each movement as well as between them, but that may be necessary if either is to have a future. The alternative is most likely decimation of both movements and of everything they are fighting for.
Ever since taking power, the Trump administration has made clear it intends to wage war on the environment. It’s given the green light to both the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines and geared up to wipe away long-standing protections that keep our air and water safe. Its mission is clear: Eliminate any obstacle that stands in the way of fossil fuel companies.
Yet I refuse to see this moment as a crisis. I see it as an opportunity to bring together people from different backgrounds and different areas of the country to start building a truly national movement to defend our environment. And the People’s Climate March, happening on April 29 in Washington, D.C., is where it will take off.