Labor and Green Transitions: Lessons from the USA

Monday, 11 July 2016: 10:55
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Dimitris STEVIS, Colorado State University, USA
This contribution focuses on whether and how labor unions and environmentalists are trying to influence the green transition in a liberal capitalist economy, in this case the USA, and does so by employing a political coalition approach. The first task, therefore, is the identification of the major coalitions through which (some) unions and environmentalists are seeking to influence the green transition in the USA. In addition to unions and environmentalists these coalitions may include elements of the federal and subfederal state, particular sectors of capital as well as particular sets of corporations.

However, the approach recognizes that actors are embedded in and constituted within social institutions. A historically informed coalition approach cannot treat actors as atomistic interest groups that come to the arena independent of and equal to each other. The industrial and environmental relations of particular countries are the product of historical struggles and compromises that create path dependencies that variably enable and constrain the participating actors. An approach, then, that embeds coalitions within their historical and social contexts allows us to better understand the social-ecological purpose of the transition paths that emerge. While these contexts do influence the paths taken it is also evident that there is room for agency by unions and environmentalists.

This contribution draws on a long term study of the efforts of unions and environmentalists to influence the green transition in the US. It is based on an extensive and systematic review of the green transition positions of key labor unions, environmental organizations, green business associations, federal and subfederal governments, and selected corporations which are “allied” with unions and environmentalists. This review employs historical information, interviews, participant observation and close reading of primary and secondary material.