Making a Living on a Toxic Planet
The Struggle for Good Work and a Clean Environment

From mining accidents to bomb trains, from the Denora Smog to the Bhopal disaster, from the Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster to the Deepwater Horizon explosion both workers and the communities where they labor have a shared interest in work that is safe for humans and safe for the environment. We want jobs that are both socially useful and environmentally sustainable. As labor, both in and outside of unions, is pitted against a safe environment from the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline to coal and uranium mining, we need to highlight the common ground and spaces for collaboration that can show a way forward for good jobs and a healthy environment.

Scientists and environmentalist Barry Commoner argued that regulation of environmentally destructive practices was not a solution to the crisis of pollution. The only solution proven to work is to ban environmental toxins altogether. He argued, “By adopting the control strategy, the nation’s environmental program has created a built-in antagonism between environmental quality and economic growth.” This antagonism has grown to a crisis point today as we face ever growing ecological crises and the continuing struggle for good jobs.

The role of labor is central to any socialist project. Socialists see the organized working class as the force capable of ending capitalism and bringing about a socialist society. And yet we're faced with an unprecedented set of environmental crises, climate change chief among them, that show certain kinds of labor as the cause of the crisis. This contradiction has been under-theorized. We need to take the challenge of finding a way beyond the jobs versus environment question that has plagued both the environmental and labor movement for at least 50 years and is now one of the central challenges of our generation. This panel will look at historical examples of attempts that shed light on this contradiction and to bridge this divide, as well as contemporary examples of challenges and possibilities, while working to outline a guide to action for environmental and labor activists.

Sponsored by Science for the People.

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