Labor Party Greetings To Kansas City ‘Step It Up’ Rally, April 14, 2007
by Bill Onasch

Let me begin by saluting the organizations and hard working individual activists who made this event possible–as well as those of you in attendance today. We hope that this is the beginning of a new, broader and bolder response to the most serious crisis humanity has yet to confront.

Relations between the labor and environmental movements have, of course, not always been harmonious. Some have seen–and a few continue to see--environmental measures as a threat to existing good jobs.

We in the Labor Party were fortunate that the man we call our Founding Brother, the late Tony Mazzocchi, not only played a central role in the fight to establish OSHA, to deal with our workplace environment. He also had a lifetime commitment to broader environmental issues, collaborating with such movement pioneers as Barry Commoner and Ralph Nader. A leader in the old Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union, he won over the workers employed by some of the worst corporate polluters to an environmentalist vision. That union today is part of the Steelworkers, one of the sponsors of this event and one of the national unions affiliated to the Labor Party.

Tony Mazzocchi

Tony helped the Labor Party formulate an environmental policy we call Just Transition. We recognize that as we restructure our economy away from environmental destruction, toward sustainability, many current jobs will be eliminated. But, as we implement these needed far reaching changes we at the same time must assure the affected workers that they will be retrained and placed in good jobs in new industries and guarantee they and their families will continue a decent standard of living in the process.

We propose to pay for this Just Transition primarily through an expansion of the Superfund concept. The Superfund tax–now suspended by the Bush administration--was established to pay for the toxic messes left behind in plant sites abandoned by corporate polluters. We think those who have profited from decades of poisoning our environment should also pay to help their former workers become productive in a sustainable economy.

Tony Saper, ATU 1287, distributes LP leaflet explaining 'Just Transition'

This past January I was invited to speak to a Labor & Sustainability Conference up in St Paul. The event was initiated by a United Auto Workers local at a Ford plant in the process of being shut down. The union has been campaigning for a community take over of the plant and using it and its workforce to convert to the production of clean transit vehicles.

I reminded them that in 1942 all auto production in this country came to an abrupt halt. The government took over the planning and direction of converting them to another use, retained and expanded the workforce with their union contracts intact, and achieved an historic industrial success. Then it was production for war. Why can’t we do the same thing today making things like clean transit vehicles to save our planet from destruction?

The conference in St Paul was a remarkable gathering, a good mix of blue collar workers and “tree huggers.” They met with mutual respect, learned from one another, and have established a continuations committee to go on to the next steps. Its success needs to be replicated throughout the country–even here in Kansas City.

Great social change, such as required to halt and reverse the forces changing our climate, have always been the product of great mass movements. We need to leave here today determined to educate, agitate, and organize in our communities, workplaces, and campuses and not rest until we have accomplished our mission to save this planet.

Thank you very much.

Bill Onasch delivers the greetings