On May 1 2023, an essay called 20 Theses for Liberation was co-published by various media outlets and organizations. It is co-authored by 30 progressive activists (among whom, I am one), co-hosted by 5 international organizations, and is intended to become a widely shared and dynamic organizing strategy towards mutual aims where vision, values, policy, and prefiguring can converge in an accessible and actionable way. It aims to be a “living document” on an online portal for participants to engage with and adapt while connecting with one another in solidarity.
To kick off what we hope will be wide and diverse engagement, and in honor of International Workers Day, I was asked by the co-hosting organizations to comment on how the 20 Theses for Liberation relates to the labor movement. Part 1 of this commentary can be found here.
Part 2: Labor & Climate Action #4Liberation
Inter-movement solidarity is a key aim of the 20 Theses for Liberation and it plays a critical role in today’s labor context by fostering collaboration, amplifying voices, and building collective power. By working together with other social movements, labor unions and worker organizations can address the complex challenges faced by workers today, such as inequality, discrimination, systemic racism and sexism, and precarious work, and advocate for policies and practices that promote economic justice, sustainability, and social equity. Inter-movement solidarity is an important strategy for labor organizing efforts to build a more inclusive, resilient, and impactful movement that advances the rights and well-being of all workers.
The example that must come to the forefront of labor intersectionality today is climate justice. All workers live on Earth, and the more our economic and social systems are stressed by ecological collapse, the more workers will bear the brunt of the suffering. This is not a prediction — it is happening now, especially in the Global South, but does not exclude many workers in the Global North. The people affected disproportionately by climate change are the very people who are affected disproportionately by unjust labor relations. However, there is a positive side to this situation. Workers are also uniquely positioned at a crucial leverage point for forcing comprehensive change — production. This is an opportunity for what could be the greatest grassroots power-bloc in history, and just might be our salvation as a species.
If we are to move beyond a fossil-fuel economy and capitalism’s overall need for endless extractive growth without leaving workers behind, workers must be engaged in the struggle. The labor and climate justice movements can come together to advance their shared goals of addressing climate change by transforming our economy and society to promote wellbeing and fulfillment within planetary bounds, and advocating for workers’ rights in all countries. The 20 Theses for Liberation is relevant as a shared visionary and strategic framework to help bring these movements together, each taking leadership in their own areas of expertise, while supporting and adding their perspectives and experience to collectively pursue mutual aims.
Getting more specific will require that participants continually examine their context to assess the relevance and potential impacts of organizing strategy. However, we can begin to consider some potential strategies for collaboration and increased interdependence:
Green Jobs and Just Transition: As previously touched upon in Part 1, the labor and climate justice movements can collaborate to promote the creation of green jobs and a just transition for workers in industries that are transitioning away from fossil fuels. This includes advocating for policies that support job training and job placement for workers in industries such as coal, oil, and gas that will be impacted by climate action measures. It can also mean campaigning for green jobs guarantees, shorter work weeks with a living wage, UBI, and expanding public access to basic needs. By working together, the labor and climate justice movements can ensure that the transition to a more sustainable economy is equitable and inclusive, and that workers are not left behind. If any transition is to occur, workers must have a say in what this transition should look like, in which case they will become the powerful advocates needed to force meaningful action now.
Joint Campaigns and Actions: The labor and climate justice movements can collaborate on joint campaigns and actions to advocate for policies and practices that prioritize workers’ rights and environmental protections. This could include joint rallies, protests and other actions that raise awareness about the intersectionality of climate and labor issues, and demand action from policymakers and corporations. More importantly in today’s context, moving beyond raising awareness to disruption, the mighty power of the strike must be included in the quiver of nonviolent civil-disobedience. By joining forces, the labor and climate justice movements can amplify their voices and increase their collective impact. By taking the struggle to production itself, something only workers can do, these actions will have the greatest impact.
Solidarity on Ecological and Workers’ Health: The labor and climate justice movements can work together to address both ecological health and workers’ health concerns. This includes advocating for safe and healthy working conditions, protection from hazardous substances and pollutants, and access to clean air and water for workers and communities. By collaborating on environmental and health-related issues, the labor and climate justice movements can promote policies and practices that prioritize the well-being of workers and the planet.
Advocacy for Just Climate Policies: The labor and climate justice movements can collaborate in advocating for just climate policies that prioritize the needs and rights of workers and communities, particularly those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The labor movement needs to join the environmental movement in advocating for policies that remove the economy’s dependence on growth so that we can transition to production only of what is needed for the wellbeing of people and planet. This means an end to planned obsolescence and fossil fuel subsidies, the selective downscaling of certain industries and the growth of other industries, debt forgiveness, funding public services, eliminating unnecessary waste, and ensuring that basic livelihoods are not tied to employment. It includes advocating for policies such as renewable energy and efficiency incentives, climate mitigation and adaptation measures that create green jobs, and policies that promote energy democracy and community ownership of renewable energy resources. Here again, labor and environmental concerns are aligned in the need for increasing access to the things we all need to live a good life – sustainable and good quality food, housing, transportation, and education, clean water, community, and self-determination. By anchoring organizing in shared vision and strategy, we avoid the trap of the false narrative that labor and climate concerns must be at odds. By working together, the labor and climate justice movements can advocate for policies that address the environmental, economic, and social aspects of the climate crisis.
Intersectional Approaches: The labor and climate justice movements can adopt intersectional approaches that recognize the ways in which climate change disproportionately affects the Global South and marginalized communities, including low-income workers, people of color, indigenous communities, and other vulnerable populations. By acknowledging and addressing the intersectionality of climate and labor issues, the labor and climate justice movements can collaborate on solutions that are inclusive, equitable, and just, while attracting and engaging an ever increasing number of people from all walks of life.
Consciousness Raising & Empowerment: The labor and climate justice movements can collaborate on education and awareness-building efforts to highlight the connections between climate change and workers’ rights. This includes raising awareness among workers and the broader public about the impacts of climate change on workers, the need for just transition policies, and the benefits of a sustainable and equitable economy. It means an outreach strategy that immediately engages workers and the public in democratic forums so that their voices are at the forefront of developing policy demands for a just transition. By empowering and mobilizing workers and the public, the labor and climate justice movements can build a broader base of support and increased participation towards their shared goals.
Participatory Decision-Making: The labor and climate justice movements can promote participatory decision-making processes that involve workers and communities in shaping the priorities, strategies, and tactics of their movements. This includes creating spaces for workers and community members to actively participate in decision-making processes, such as town halls, forums, people’s assemblies, and participatory planning sessions. By promoting participatory decision-making, the labor and climate justice movements can ensure that the voices and perspectives of workers and communities are leading their efforts.
The 20 Theses for Liberation draws on a broad range of thinking and movements from all over the world. It is intended to be continuously adapted by diverse people and movements to suit their own diverse contexts. It is a practice of commoning.
The above proposals are only one example of potential, immediate applications for this project, and like the 20 Theses essay itself, is not intended to be a fixed end, but rather the beginning of increased dialogue, deliberation, and collective action across all the interlinked spheres of life. The point of the 20 Theses for Liberation project is to place a permanent value on uniting around positive vision and strategic norms towards mutual aims. We must build a culture of strategic organizing that returns again and again, over ever changing terrain and increasing urgencies, to clear sighted vision and to solidarity.
Getting organized will be the spark that ignites the changes that people are already not just longing for, but working for, though too often in relative isolation. When we have been focused so long on resisting what we don’t want, that we lose sight of what we do want, we must return to positive vision. When we become oppressed by one another while struggling to change the very systems that promote these oppressions, we must return to practicing what we seek. When we get stuck in the specifics of policy and tactical decisions, or between contending or even conflicting interests, we must return to a shared framework to remain rooted in deep solidarity as we look for ways forward, together. When the truth is constantly obfuscated by the powerful, and by our hegemonic narratives, so that we think we are surrounded by enemies on all sides, we must return to the ideas of interdependence and community. Here, we re-discover that what we need to do to live better lives now, is exactly what we need to do for our fellow workers, for our neighbors, for our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world, and for the planet itself.
The 20 Theses for Liberation can be read in full and signed by any person or organization who wishes to engage with the ongoing project. #4Liberation
20 Theses for Liberation Co-Hosts & Co-Authors:
ZNetwork, DiEM25, Academy of Democratic Modernity, MetaCPC, RealUtopia, Cooperation Jackson, Kali Akuno, Michael Albert, Renata Avila, Ramzy Baroud, Medea Benjamin, Peter Bohmer, Fintan Bradshaw, Jeremy Brecher, Urška Breznik, Noam Chomsky, Savvina Chowdhury, Devriş Çimen, Mark Evans, Andrej Grubačić, Jason Hickel, Kathy Kelly, Arash Kolahi, Bridget Meehan, Sotiris Mitralexis, Jason Myles, Cynthia Peters, John Pilger, Matic Primc, Don Rojas, Stephen Shalom, Alexandria Shaner, Norman Solomon, Cooper Sperling, Yanis Varoufakis, Brett Wilkins, Greg Wilpert
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