A Socialist Plan for Green Jobs

Published On March 24, 2017 | By Calvin Priest | Economy, Theory, Top Stories

Trump vowed he would bring good jobs back to the U.S. Perhaps more than any other part of his campaign, this cynical promise tapped into the real anger and desperation felt by millions of working people, after watching their living standards stagnate and fall over decades.

But the new president’s first months in office, along with his recent pro-corporate budget proposals, give few hints as to where those jobs will come from.

Instead, the administration’s planned attacks on the public sector, including deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, clean energy, and mass transit funding, will lead to the loss of tens of thousands of federal jobs. At the same time, these cuts and the gutting of environmental regulation promise to further exacerbate the crisis of climate change.

Infrastructure and Jobs

Trump’s job promises were linked to his signature pledge of a trillion dollar infrastructure plan.

But instead of including an infrastructure plan in his current budget outline, Trump’s administration has postponed it, with reports that it may be pushed back until 2018 (MarketWatch.com, 3/20/2017). While Trump will almost certainly at some point present details of his infrastructure proposals, there is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of his plan. With major tax cuts for the rich and corporations built into his budget and overall agenda, the net effect is less revenue. Where will the trillion in funding come from to create jobs rebuilding crumbling infrastructure?

Trump has so far skirted this question, insisting projects will be “profitable.” Certainly we have no reason to doubt that big corporations will profit under Trump’s plan. But the question remains: who will pay? “There is no transit system in the world that makes money,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, ranking Democrat on the House transportation committee (CNN.com, 3/16/2017).

Meanwhile, Trump’s budget makes deep cuts to transportation spending, from Amtrak to state mass-transit plans, and jeopardizes 56 public transit projects in their early development stages.

Certainly a major program of infrastructure repair and transit expansion is needed. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates $4.59 trillion in costs just to repair existing infrastructure and bring it from it’s current D+ grade to a B grade (Time.com, 3/9/2017). On top of this, a major expansion of bus and light-rail services is critical to move away from the disastrous car-based transportation system.

None of these problems are new under Trump of course. Failing infrastructure and grossly underfunded public transit are the result of bipartisan policies carried out over many decades.

A Renewable Energy Based Economy

As Socialist Alternative has long argued, a massive expansion of renewable energy, mass transit, and energy conservation programs is urgently needed.

The kind of large-scale projects required to end the use of fossil fuels could create millions of family-wage, union jobs. Further, renewables generate “more jobs per dollar invested–more than double the jobs created from investing in fossil fuels” (IEEE Spectrum, 1/27/2017).

But this desperately needed transition to a renewable energy economy must not and does not need to be based on abandoning the hundreds of thousands of workers in coal, oil, or other fossil fuel industries. We need to build working-class unity around a program rooted in the needs of both workers and the environment. A just transition for all fossil-fuel energy workers with free retraining programs will be essential in this process, or else the ruling class will continue to play divide-and-rule politics between workers and environmentalists.

Renewable energy technology has improved dramatically in recent years, with solar in particular becoming far more affordable (Renewable Energy World, 9/27/2016).

But affordability improvements will not be enough because the market will never make a rapid transition away from fossil fuels on its own. Oil corporations make up 4 of the top 10 wealthiest corporations in the world, and they have a vested interest in drilling every last drop from the ground. Meanwhile, the urgency of the environmental crisis is underscored by every new climate report.

While new innovations can assist the transition to renewables, technology is not the problem. Studies show that renewables can provide the energy needed to fuel the global economy.

There are precedents for the kind of rapid retooling needed for a renewable energy economy. In the run up to World War II, the U.S. economy was transformed to rapidly produce armaments and supplies needed for the war.

A massive public intervention will be needed for a sustainable economy, but the political will is completely lacking, with corporate politicians joined at the hip to Big Oil. Further, the conflict of interests between corporations based in different countries under capitalism undermines the global cooperation needed to accomplish the transition.

Socialist Policies Needed

The stagnation of living standards and loss of middle class jobs is the result of a process drawn out over many decades since the end of the post-World War II economic expansion in the 1970s. Capitalism since then has been unable to restore the levels of growth generated by post-war reconstruction. Wages, benefits, and public services have been continuously undermined, as corporate parties around the world have sought to restore profitability through neoliberal policies.

Trump’s protectionist “America First” approach also offers no way out for the loss of jobs which is largely linked to these global economic factors along with increased automation.

Capitalism is a crisis-ridden system that has reached its limits and is unable to provide decent living standards for all, or a sustainable economy.

While Trump and many Republican leaders openly reject climate change, the Democratic Party also has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. Federal subsidies for fossil fuels have long far exceeded those spent on renewables. This includes Obama, even during his first two years in office when he had Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.

Moving rapidly toward renewable energy will require that we get organized. Hundreds of thousands of young people are being radicalized in the fight against Trump, and there is growing interest in socialist ideas. We must build on this to create powerful movements and a new mass party independent of corporate money that will fight to carry out democratic socialist policies.

We can’t control what we don’t own. The Big Oil corporations and big banks have the resources necessary to make a clean energy transformation. But they will need to be taken into democratic public ownership to retool for clean energy, mass transit, and a sustainable economy.

On top of the jobs created by a clean energy expansion and mass transit, a socialist plan for jobs would include providing high quality health care for all including free reproductive care, fully funded public services, and well maintained infrastructure – paid for by taxing the rich.

The capitalist system is unable to fully harness technology, resources, or human creativity. Improvements in agricultural production under capitalism lead to food rotting in granaries and rural poverty for farmers, while under socialism they would mean abundant healthy food. Under capitalism, the boom in automation exacerbates unemployment and low wages. Under socialism it would be used to shorten the workweek, while providing full employment.

The struggle for a society based on human needs and environmental sustainability is inseparable from the struggle for socialism.

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