“Speaking theoretically, a strike in the electricity sector would effectively shut down society, creating the effect of a general strike, given that economic activity is impossible without electricity.” p. 236
The main argument made by Matthew T. Huber in his book, “Climate Change as Class War,” is that virtually all of the other ways that climate/climate justice activists have been organizing and taking action on this issue over the last 20 or so years have pretty much failed. They’ve done so first, he says, because they haven’t had a working-class base and strategy and secondly, because they haven’t realized that the key to bringing about the urgent shift we need away from fossil fuels to other energy sources is through the organization of workers in the electricity industry. As the quote above indicates, he sees them as having the power to force change because of their strategic place in the overall economy.
I support organized efforts by those who have not just a class consciousness but a climate justice consciousness to do this work. Without question, an organized rank-and-file movement within the electricity sector supportive of wind, solar and other clean renewable energy sources would be helpful, potentially critical, in making the Green New Deal type of shift in the economy that working-class and other people need and which Huber supports.
However, there are some very big obstacles to be overcome if this electrical workers focus is to play anything close to the role Huber believes it can.
One is the reality that the primary electrical workers union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), as is true of almost all the construction unions, has not been historically a big supporter of shifting to renewables. They support coal, methane gas and nuclear power, as well as renewable energy—the all-of-the-above approach. They support very problematic carbon capture and sequestration. Perhaps as renewables and electric cars/trucks/buses/trains grow and displace those polluting and climate destabilizing 20th century energy sources, the IBEW will change, but as of now it’s a definite problem.
Then there’s the reality that electrical unions are part of the sector of the working class that is most conservative politically, in general. Workers in this industry are high-income in relationship to most of the working class. Historically and today, the construction unions are the least progressive, the most white and male, compared to unions in sectors like health care, transportation, retail, agriculture and government.
This doesn’t mean that organizing among this sector of the working class is not important. It can be. For white activists and organizers in particular, we have a responsibility to put ourselves in workplaces and communities where we can develop relationships and talk with white and male working-class people from an anti-racist, anti-sexist and progressive standpoint. Huber doesn’t write about this, but it’s definitely an additional reason why work in the electrical unions could be valuable.
A major weakness of Huber’s book is its downplaying of the environmental justice (ej) movement. At some places he speaks positively about it but at others it’s hard to understand why he’s saying what he is. Here’s one example, on p. 74: “Many justice-centered approaches lack a theory of power. . . [it is] focused on centering the most marginalized and vulnerable communities. . . While this is certainly morally important, and these struggles over livelihood are working-class struggles, these populations are defined by their social weakness.” He goes on from this to ultimately identify electrical workers as the sector with the potential power that he doesn’t see ej communities as having. Given the history of the trade union movement since after World War Two, this position is more ideological, almost “faith-based,” than one based on historical and present reality, although we are finally seeing a thankful resurgence of the union movement.
There is one place in the book where the word “intersectionality” is used, on page 22, and it is used in the context of Huber articulating that a “production-rooted theory of class” is the correct approach, that “these forms of oppression [race, gender, sexuality] are not separate from but constitute class power.” In other words, everything is all about class.
In my book 21st Century Revolution I address these issues, particularly in a chapter entitled “US Class Structure and Revolution Making.” After analyzing some of the interrelationships between class, gender, race and sexuality and putting forward my analysis of the seven class groupings, three of them sectors of the working class, I conclude in this way:
“It is essential that there be significant involvement of working-class leaders in the leadership of the alliance. There will be other classes part of it, farmers, professionals, small businesspeople, ministers, others. In the absence of a conscious commitment to have a broadly-based, multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-issue leadership representing not just the different movements and sectors of the population but especially the different sectors of the working class, ¾ of the population, the potential of the alliance will not be realized.
“With such an alliance, and with sound strategy, tactics and methods of organizing, we can truly create another world.”
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist, organizer and writer since 1968. He is the author of the recently published books, Burglar for Peace and 21st Century Revolution. More info can be found at https://tedglick.com.
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