The House of Representatives recently approved a bill that would allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Although the Senate is not expected to follow the lead, the bill’s passage in the House demonstrates the fragile and often complex alliances that come together – and fall apart – when passions run deep. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Julia King suspects that it might just be time to re-examine old political friendships:
The House of Representatives recently approved a bill that would allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Although the Senate is not expected to follow the lead, the bill’s passage in the House demonstrates the fragile and often complex alliances that come together – and fall apart — when passions run deep. Great Lakes Radio commentator, Julia King, suspects that it might just be time to re-examine old political friendships.
Labor unions have a proud history of righting some of the many wrongs inherent in capitalism. One of those “wrongs” is the tendency to put the pursuit of economic gain ahead of almost everything else. Labor unions have worked tirelessly in this country — and throughout the world — to shift attitudes about working conditions and living wages and to create a balance between profit margins and social justice. For this, they should be applauded.
But recently they took a giant step backwards when unions lobbied heavily in favor of (and helped to pass) a House bill that would allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge. The Teamsters say that the drilling will create some 700,000 domestic jobs. A lobbyist for the Teamsters was quoted as saying, “What environmentalists fail to realize is that we are not an environmental organization… Our responsibility is to grow the work force.” And for some key Democrat players, such as Representative Dick Gephart, environmental concerns eroded under the pressures of long-held loyalties to working class Americans.
But by supporting Bush’s energy plan, labor will undercut not only the environment, but it’s own hard-won credibility. Labor will cease to be a voice for progress, and instead become a voice of conspicuous self-interest. For unions, pitting economics against the environment is a dangerous game: if decisions are made based on jobs and dollars without attention to broader social concerns, then we’re back where we started — a place where profits trump everything, including the needs of the working class.
From coalmines to vineyards, labor leaders have shown the world – usually with great resistance from business owners — that businesses can thrive even when they respect their workers. The economic sky doesn’t fall when employees are given their fair share. Yet now the Teamsters are using the same tactics that businesses have used for years. They want to add up the dollars in the Arctic Refuge and declare the equation complete without regard to the broader implications.
Under any scenario, the oil that’s in the refuge is finite. Any jobs that are created by the drilling will eventually disappear because the practice is not sustainable. Instead of clinging to Old Guard energy policies in an effort to squeeze the last pennies out of a dying industry, unions would be wise to use their considerable political clout to help usher in a new era of clean, sustainable energy production. And if organized labor is unable to support wise, long-term energy plans, it’s time for politicians to question NOT good environmental policy, but their loyalties to labor.