The Blue-Green Alliance and Beyond: USW President Leo Gerard Addresses the MoveUP Convention

November 3, 2009

President Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers joined the MoveUP convention to talk about the work to marry values of sustainability and environmental protection with those of labour solidarity and good jobs.

Gerard spoke about a US-based project close to his heart, the Blue-Green Alliance. Gerard wryly noted that the US is often accused of having the best government money can buy. Compared to corporate lobbies, neither the Sierra Club nor the Steelworkers have much money. What they do have is members.

The genesis of the Alliance came when, after joining together and agreeing on a political direction, the Steelworkers and the Sierra Club realized they would need ground troops in the US to pressure the Senate and Congress for the legislation needed for good, green jobs.

Gerard talked about his time as a young man working in a smelter in Sudbury when workers were told they had to make a choice: good jobs or a clean environment, not both. His personal revelation came when he started working on health and safety issues in the early days of his union activism. It became clear cleaning up pollution was about better jobs.

Gerard told the assembled that climate change is the pressing issue of our time, and a work towards a healthy environment must come with good jobs. The labour movement can help lead the way to a solution that works for everyone. Fighting climate change and energy conservation, Gerard said, can become the industrial engine for economic renewal in North America. Gerard used the example of a program to retrofit public buildings to rigorous conservation standards which in Canada alone.

The ranks of the Blue-Green Alliance have grown from an initial one million members to seven million across the States. Gerard informed convention the Steelworkers have been talking with Environmental Defence and the Sierra BC to create east and west Canadian Blue-Green Alliance chapters.

Gerard was well versed in BC’s environmental, labour and political issues. He took time to upbraid Gordon Campbell for his inaction on forestry issues and mass transit, noting the premier’s environmental hypocrisy. The BC Liberals lied to the electorate before the May 12th election, he said, it would be up to trade unionists to expose that lie every day.