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Cornell Global Labor Institute

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Jobs, Justice, Climate Rally

Global Labor Institute Rallies Unions on Climate Change Threat

Multicolored labor banners lit up the stately New York Society for Ethical Culture on September 21, when more than 700 union members and leaders, environmentalists and international figures rallied to send a strong message to world leaders assembled at the United Nations:
"A fair and ambitious international climate change agreement is urgently needed!"
Cornell's Global Labor Institute (GLI) organized the rally as part of Climate Week NYC.  "Unions all over the world are linking with other movements to call for determined global action on climate change–action that creates good 'green' jobs and advances social justice," said GLI Director Sean Sweeney.  "For the past two years, the GLI has helped U.S. unions engage the UN process and thus become more aware of the need for a global agreement that's fair, ambitious and binding."  The event's co-sponsors were Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, headed by Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, and the Global Campaign for Climate Action's tcktcktck Campaign.

Keynote speaker, AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka, declared "The AFL-CIO … and all the unions in North America … are strongly on board the global campaign to reduce carbon emissions and stabilize climate change." At the same time, Trumka addressed the complex nature of the challenges ahead and the importance of developing new cleaner coal technologies.  "Working together with environmental organizations… we hope to reverse practices that put our very survival at risk," said Trumka. (Full speech text at

Mary Robinson moderated the program, which included interactive dialogue between representatives of environment and labor organizations, government and green business groups, and performances by singer Judy Collins and musician Kaki King. 

After hearing from Mohamed Naheed, President of the Maldives and leader of the "V10"­the 10 vulnerable countries and regions where climate change has already harmed agriculture and flooded coastlines­one activist at the rally said, "People don't understand.  Those 10 countries will be completely underwater very soon if we don't solve this climate problem…"

Richard L. Trumka 2009The enthusiastic crowd showed broad representation from New York's unions, including Laborers (LIUNA), SEIU, AFSCME, IBEW, Utility Workers, Actor's Equity, Seafarers, AFT, Bakery and Confectionery Workers, Domestic Workers United, Musicians, UFCW, Screen Actors Guild, Writers Guild, Carpenters, and Transport Workers (TWU).  National TWU Vice President Roger Toussaint explained the need for more sustainable and climate-friendly transportation systems.  Kevin Knobloch, President of the Union of Concerned Scientists, decried the gulf between what is regarded as politically feasible and what science says is necessary to avert climate disaster, emphasizing that now is not the time for small plans or small thinking.

Labor’s climate change: The climate rally’s keynote speaker, AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka (pictured) emphasized the need to take the warnings of climate science seriously, called for new public investment in green jobs, and reflected on the distance labor has travelled since its opposition a decade ago to the Kyoto Climate Treaty.

GLI Joins Unions on the Road to Copenhagen

The “Jobs, Justice, Climate” rally September 21 in New York City “helped set the stage for historic union participation in the climate talks scheduled for December in Copenhagen, Denmark,” said GLI Director Sean Sweeney.
Cornell ILR’s Global Labor Institute (GLI) is preparing to travel to Copenhagen with a United States labor delegation for the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change.  The GLI is organizing workshops in Copenhagen with two global union federations representing workers in the transport, food and agriculture sectors.  GLI staff Jill Kubit and Lara Skinner will provide technical support for the events.  LIUNA, SEIU, TWU, AFT, AFSCME, Utility Workers and IBEW, all of which attended the September 21 rally, are sending representatives to Copenhagen along with the AFL-CIO, Communications Workers of America (CWA), United Mineworkers, Boilermakers, United Steelworkers and the Amalgamated Transit Union. “The US labor unions will be joining a global labor delegation that will be pushing hard for green investments and transition assistance in the new climate treaty,” Sweeney said.

Labor Supporters at GLI Event in NYC 2009Filing in for Jobs, Justice, Climate: More than 700 supporters of labor and environment movements from New York City and from across the globe filled the Society for Ethical Culture’s Manhattan auditorium on September 21 for a public event spearheaded by Cornell ILR’s Global Labor Institute (pictured).