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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Sustainable Alliances: The Ideology of Union Environmentalism

Victor Silverman.

This paper examines the ideas animating the union-green alliance of the 1990s to answer the question of whether the alliance is based on more than a simple coincidence of opposition to a common enemy of free trade regimes, multinational corporations, and neo-liberal political elites. It portrays the ideology and practice of this new movement, by focusing on the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment (ASJE, a Portland-based group which has battled the Maxxam Corporation, owner of Pacific Lumber and Kaiser Aluminum) and the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (TUAC, an international union organization which has developed a labor-oriented program for sustainable development and has opposed neo-liberal trade and industrial policies). The papers conclusions are based on interpretations of interviews, published documents, and political actions in the 1990s.
The central question I examine is: Has labor truly transformed its relationship to the environment and to environmentalists?

This paper will uncover the green ideas undergirding the union side of the labor-environmentalist alliance. It will demonstrate that these ideas have a substantial basis in union ideologies of solidarity and universalism at the same time as they fulfill real political and organizational needs of the movement. While unions have not become radical environmentalist institutions, to say the least, unions and union activists have indeed attempted to transform their relations to the environmental movement and to nature itself.


Victor Silverman  (United States)
Associate Professor
Department of History
Pomona College

Victor Silverman is the author of _Imagining Internationalism in American and British Labor_ (Univ. of Illinois Press, 2000) and _California_(Interlink Publishing, forthcoming). He is the director and producer of a documentary film, "Sugar Shakers and Broken Glass: San Francisco's Transgender Revolt." Silverman is currently working on a history of the international left in the twentieth century.

  • Labor
  • Environmentalism
  • Trade Unions

(30 min Conference Paper, English)