Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

Labour and the Environment: Five Stories from New Brunswick since the 1970s

Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

Labour and the Environment: Five Stories from New Brunswick since the 1970s

Article excerpt

A clip circulating on the Internet of the announcement of new investment in Irving Pulp & Paper shows Jerry Dias, the national president of Unifor, at the mill in Saint John, New Brunswick thanking Jim Irving, President of J.D. Irving Ltd., and the Irving workers for a job well done in getting a new forestry plan in NB. (1) The event, with Premier David Alward in attendance, took place just after the New Brunswick government's 12 March 2014 announcement of the plan. The latter, which increases the cut on the province's Crown lands, has been emphatically denounced by environmentalists. This alliance between labour and industry, by ignoring environmentalists' concerns, is an aberration. In the past 40-plus years, and at present in other sectors in New Brunswick, labour has a history of alliance-building and significant cooperation with environmentalists.

This is not just an issue in New Brunswick. Throughout North America and much of the world, the question of whether the labour and environmental movements can work together has been a central one. (2) Government and industry would have us believe that there is an inherent conflict between jobs and the environment. Yet many have argued that juxtaposing "jobs versus the environment" is a false choice and that the environmental and labour movements can work in alliances to build a more sustainable world. Indeed, my research indicates that since the 1970s in New Brunswick, the labour and environmental movements have been working together on environmental issues. In this paper, I am going to tell five stories about these labour-environment alliances in New Brunswick and discuss what I believe to be their significance for other contexts.

Recently, John Bellamy Foster, a leading Marxist scholar and editor of Monthly Review, has been focusing on the environment and the climate change question. In two 2010 papers, he acknowledges the gap in Marxist writing on the environment and calls for an ecological revolution. (3) By 2013, in several papers, he calls for "an epochal transition" for "an epochal crisis." (4) The "epochal crisis" arises from the intersection of the economic and ecological crises that capitalism is facing. Capitalism is geared to exponential growth in search of profits but has come up against the reality of finite resources. As such, the rapidly accelerating ecological threat is itself a by-product of capitalist development. He likens the kind of transition or epochal structural change, as he calls it, to Marx's call for the revolt of the working class against capitalists. The transition is to be led, not just by the working class, but by what Foster calls an "ecological working class alliance." Based on the "degradation of material conditions" brought about by these crises, the alliance would be made up of gender, race, class, Indigenous, and environmental movements. The transition would mean the end of the capitalist system and its oppression and exploitation, not only of workers, but also of the planet.

Foster draws on Naomi Klein's work on climate change and more specifically the concept of "ecological sociability," that is movements reaching out to other movements in alliances. (5) Marx saw the "socialization of labour"--that is "a class constantly increasing in numbers, and trained, united and organized by the very mechanism of the capitalist process of production"--arising out of the concentration of capital leading to the revolt of the working class. (6) In a similar fashion, "ecological sociability" arising out of the current economic and ecological crises of capitalism would bring the required pressure for this new epochal transition. Klein, like Foster, argues for the necessity of an end to the present capitalist system since an environmentally friendly change of direction in production would require planning based on collective priorities rather than corporate profits. Such a change is not going to happen under our present market system. …

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