USA: Economic justice is a green issue

Efforts to create a greener world require measures to make that world more just. And that’s not something that looks like happening any time soon.

Michael Renner of the US-based Worldwatch Institute, commenting in his ‘green economy’ blog, notes: “In the United States, and maybe elsewhere as well, full-cost pricing and current socio-economic trends seem to be on a collision course.”

Renner points out that while blatant wealth inequalities exist, making our purchases kinder to the environment will not provide the road map to a greener world. He adds that in recent decades the gap between rich and poor has widened dramatically. “From a perspective of simple economic justice, wages should be on a par with productivity gains — something that has not been the case in the United States for at least 20 years now.”

The is a theme taken up by Les Leopold, author of The Looting of America and a founder of the New York-based Labor Institute. In the 2009 book he notes starting in the mid-1970s: “Productivity and wages, American workers discovered, weren’t inextricably linked after all.”

 The money didn’t disappear. When the ‘iron law’ linking productivity and wages broke down the wealth generated by spiralling productivity went to different hands – and not the ones making the products and generating the profits.

“Nearly all of it was snatched by the owners of capital – the wealthiest of the ‘investment class’,” writes Leopold.

Both Leopold and Renner say this rising inequality must be addressed. Renner notes that “environmental sustainability requires social sustainability.”

He adds: “People who don’t have to constantly worry about making ends meet will be more likely to accept that prices should tell the ecological truth.

“Environmentalists need to be as aware of the social dimensions of sustainability—well-versed in issues like living wages or occupational health and safety — as labour representatives are mindful of the environmental dimensions.

 “Luckily, there are indications of growing recognition of mutual concerns, as well as cooperative efforts, from the Apollo Alliance and the Blue-Green Alliance to the very well-attended ‘Good Jobs Green Jobs’ conferences in Pittsburgh (2008) and Washington, DC (2009).”

Appealing to the goodwill of those who are nabbing a large and growing share of the wealth created by those doing jobs of green, blue and other hues, would be a strategy destined for failure.

It will take strength or numbers as well as strength of argument to crowbar either economic justice or environmental justice from their grasping hands – and that means effective and energetic union organisation with as many environmental allies as its can muster.

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