Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, addressed the convention on Wednesday morning. The Sunrise Movement is the youth-led climate justice organization that put the concept of a “Green New Deal” on the political agenda with an audacious occupation of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s office in November of last year.
Prakash told UE members, “The Green New Deal is an economic vision for the 21st century … We are forcing a departure from 40 years of corporate control of our government, from wage stagnation, from rising levels of wealth inequality. We are moving towards an economic vision for this country that is a courageous and compassionate vision.”
She emphasized the key role that manufacturing workers will play in the Green New Deal — “The Green New Deal is going to require making a lot of stuff.”
“A transition is coming whether we want it or not,” Prakash pointed out. The Green New Deal is a response to that transition that, through a “transformative, socio-economic mobilization” similar to the mobilization of U.S. industry and society during World War II, “will create tens of millions of good, unionized jobs.”
Following Prakash's remarks, delegates discussed a resolution endorsing the Green New Deal and the Global Climate Strike scheduled for September 20-27, 2019.
Patrice Jacobs, Local 150, said the subject of the environment is “very touching and moving to me.” She reported that her workplace, Longleaf Medical Treatment Center, Wilson, NC, has been dealing for five years with water-related health problems that have affected both patients and workers, and that her co-workers would be pleased that the convention addressed environmental issues.
John Miles, Local 506, related how his local had experienced mass layoffs in 2013 and 2016 and expressed concern that the existing government retraining programs that laid-off Local 506 members had to rely on are insufficient. “We need to figure out how to reeducate people in more diverse areas” and “sustain their wages,” he said, so that workers are able to support the Green New Deal.
“What we're facing is the potential extinction of human life,” said Dominic Harris, Local 150. “That means there ain't no jobs, there ain't no unions, there ain't no Republicans, no Democrats.” Faced with such a serious crisis, he said, “we don’t need incrementalism, we need a punch in the face.”
Scott Slawson, Local 506, relayed a “valuable lesson” that Local 506 had learned from working on an initiative to bring jobs to the Erie area, that “you have to have everybody at the table … friends, allies, comrades and even enemies.” He said the climate crisis is something “we should have been facing head-on 30 years ago.”
“I’m not looking forward to the reversal of the Gulf Stream, I’m not looking forward to the polar ice caps melting, I’m not looking forward to the disease and everything else that goes along with that,” Slawson continued. “I don’t want my children and my comrades to have to live through that.”
Bryan Pietrzak, Local 506, and Eric Franke, Local 808, also spoke on the resolution.