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Labour and Standing Rock solidarity

By: 
Carolyn Egan

November 13, 2016

 

Over five thousand people rallied at Queens Park recently and marched to the US consulate in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux. Many Indigenous groups came to Toronto from across Ontario but the majority of the demonstrators were climate conscious residents from the area. The gathering was large and vocal which speaks to the growing climate justice movement and increasing links with Indigenous communities which are leading struggles across North America. At the Lower Churchill Hydro Project in Muskrat Falls, Labrador hundreds of building trades workers were forced to leave when local residents occupied the site; the Chippewas of the Thames are challenging Line 9 at the Supreme Court.

The Standing Rock Sioux are taking on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) which goes through their lands. They have set up an encampment and have been met with dogs and batons protecting oil profits. Their courageous stand has drawn Indigenous people from the United States and Canada as well a climate justice activists. Thousands have brought their solidarity and this fight has become a symbol of resistance against Big Oil.

Unfortunately the trade union movement is split over the issue. There are 4,500 construction jobs involved and the North American Building Trade Unions (NABTU) has come out strongly against the indigenous peoples. Peoples who are standing up for their territory and legitimate fears of their water being contaminated by a pipeline break as has happened in so many places. NABTU has chosen to side with their class enemy the American Petroleum Institute. Although it is no longer a part of the AFL-CIO it has influenced its president Donald Trumpka who stated, “The AFL-CIO calls on the Obama Administration to allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue.” This is a reprehensible position for which he did not get agreement from the affiliated unions, but relied on a past policy in support of pipelines. It places the largest labour federation in the US against indigenous peoples and their just fight to protect their territorial integrity and a sustainable environment. 

Other unions are taking positions in support of the Standing Rock Sioux, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Communication Workers of America, the United Electrical Workers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, National Nurses United and many individual locals. The fact that they have spoken out is very important in this pivotal struggle.

The debate over jobs versus the environment has to be won in favour of climate justice.  The International Labour Organization tells us that transforming to a greener economy could provide between fifteen to sixty million jobs over the next twenty years. The facts tell us that millions of good, green jobs can be created as we move to infrastructure projects that massively expand low carbon mass transit, extend renewable energy such as wind turbines and solar energy, and move to efficiencies such as green buildings both housing and commercial.   

The International Trade Union Confederation has said, “There are no jobs on a dead planet.” The green economy is growing faster than any other section of the economy and we have to fight to make sure those are good union jobs and dialogue with rank and file workers that there are alternatives to the fossil fuel industries. This is a critical debate for workers and it is our job as socialists to actively engage in it. At a recent delegates meeting of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council the proceeds of the regular raffle held to support progressive causes were designated to the Standing Rock Sioux. We can win it.      

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