Conjectures on Labor-Environment Alliances

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: 301
Oral Presentation
Hwa-Jen LIU , National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
Matthew Carl GARRETT , Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT
This paper examines different historical contexts under which labor and environmental movements have taken their current shapes, and offers some conjectures about possible future trajectories. We put forth a broad schema for explaining the character of labor and environmental movements according to two historical determinants: the historical strength of organized labor, and the overall character of the state (i.e., whether or not it bears an authoritarian legacy). In contexts where organized labor is historically strong and remains dominant, environmental movements are more likely to incorporate livelihood and class politics issues in their agenda, cases such as India and Brazil. However, once the hegemonic labor movements show signs of decline, environmental movements are likely to engage in fierce ideological competition against the dwindling left – cases such as Germany, England and Korea. This competition might take two different paths: the greens attempt to absorb the left (e.g., Germany), or the greens in no small measure cut themselves off from the leftist tradition and do so intentionally (e.g., Korea). In contexts where organized labor is chronically weak, environmental movements are likely to take the helm of social movement sector (cases such as the US, Japan, and Taiwan), and more likely to emphasize the purely ecological dimension of environmentalism and to jettison the class politics embedded in many environmental controversies. We close the paper with a description of possible future paths of convergence and divergence of labor and environmental movements across the world sectors we have described.