Of turtles and Teamsters

For a while it appeared that environmentalists and labor union organizations were quite happy, though strange, bedfellows. When these powerhouses of the American political system combined forces on issues – such as the WTO protests a couple years ago – they were hard to ignore. However, it appears that the honeymoon phase of the relationship is over and, as is typical of such trysts, these two organizations are realizing they do not have as much in common as they once thought.

     The rift between these groups began last March when the 720,000 member United Auto Workers Union sided with the Big 3 auto makers to kill the outrageously high fuel efficiency standards being proposed in Congress. Despite environmentalists’ urgent plea for the measure to curb dastardly global warming, the Senate rejected the bill by a whopping 62-38 margin – largely because of the defection of union workers concerned that the new standards would drive their jobs right off the American economic road.

     This rift between Turtles and Teamsters continued over President Bush’s energy plan, especially the proposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Greens, of course, rose up against the Bush plan and hyperventilated about how it would turn Alaska into an oil wasteland. Labor leaders, on the other hand, did not find this homage to Mother Earth all that convincing. As Teamsters’ president James Hoffa noted, the drilling would take place in “an area one-fifth the size of Dulles Airport, and it’s going to be done in the winter time when there’s no tracks, and . . . on snow roads . . . there will be no marks left, except maybe a small refinery.”

     What the labor union’s did find convincing, however, was ANWR’s potential to create new jobs. Thus the labor unions and environmentalists found themselves spatting once again as they lobbied Congress.

     Will this split continue? No one, of course, knows for sure. But as John Nichols, writing for The Nation, rightly understands, this divide is “a significant threat to . . . the ‘Teamsters and Turtles’ coalition of trade unionists and environmentalists that was forged in the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization.”

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CFACT defends the environment and human welfare through facts, news, and analysis.