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Blue-Green Coalitions

Blue-Green Coalitions: Fighting for Safe Workplaces and Healthy Communities

Brian Mayer
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Blue-Green Coalitions
    Book Description:

    What do unions and environmental groups have to gain by working together and how do they overcome their differences? In Blue-Green Coalitions, Brian Mayer answers these questions by focusing on the role that health-related issues have played in creating a common ground between the two groups. By recognizing that the same toxics that cause workplace hazards escape into surrounding communities and the environment, workers and environmentalists are able to collaborate for the protection of all.

    Mayer examines three contemporary cases of successful labor-environmental alliances to demonstrate how health and safety issues are used to create durable and politically influential social movement coalitions:

    •Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, a coalition of environmental, labor, community, and public health organizations in Massachusetts that has developed a successful prevention-based approach to safe workplaces and a clean environment;

    •the Work Environment Council in New Jersey, which succeeded in passing the first statewide right-to-know law and concentrates on protecting citizens from the dangerous toxics generated by the state's chemical industries;

    •the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, an organization that began in the 1980s fighting hazardous high-tech practices that were affecting the Valley residents and the high-tech industry's largely immigrant workforce.

    In Mayer's ethnographic accounts of the challenging work of bringing these blue-green coalitions together, it becomes clear that stereotypes about environmentalists and workers are largely irrelevant when thinking about who is at risk of exposure to dangerous toxic substances. Both movements share a common concern for protecting their members' health from toxic hazards that are by-products of the modern industrial economy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5902-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Blue-Green Coalitions
    (pp. 1-22)

    There is a story told by members of the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers–Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA) Local 201 about the day protestors from Greenpeace gathered outside their manufacturing plant. Located in an industrial suburb north of Boston, the General Electric Company’s Saugus Riverworks—where Local 201 represents much of the workforce—has been operating since the 1950s, creating gears that drive everything from submarines to dishwashers. Saugus Riverworks has had its fair share of environmental problems, but the union there believes that the emissions released by their plant are lower than most...

  5. 1 A Forgotten History of Collaboration
    (pp. 23-60)

    There is an important history of collaboration between the labor and environmental movements in the United States. This forgotten history of cooperation is often obscured by more prominent periods of conflict and failed attempts at alliance building. By ignoring these significant examples of alliances and coalitions between the two movements, we fail to recognize the potential for creating a more permanent arrangement between unions and environmental groups. If each time they do come together a new “age of cooperation” is heralded by media pundits and political observers, the lessons learned from the past and the hard work of the coalition...

  6. 2 Promoting Precaution to Prevent Harm
    (pp. 61-97)

    Environmental reforms can have adverse consequences for the health of workers, which are unintended and largely ignored as new environmental campaigns are waged. Regulatory shifts in the handling of hazardous waste led to the concentration of toxics in working-class and minority neighborhoods (Bullard 1992, 1993; Bryant and Mohai 1992). Environmental campaigns targeting certain toxic pesticides like DDT created more occupationally dangerous formulations, leaving farmworkers at greater risk than they were before (Gordon 1999; Gottlieb 1993). No longer able to release high levels of air pollution into the environment, some industries responded to stricter regulations by sealing off ventilation mechanisms and...

  7. 3 Fighting for the Right to Know
    (pp. 98-132)

    The lack of information on potential toxic exposures limits the ability of labor and environmental organizations to campaign for stricter management of hazardous substances and better regulatory enforcement. Many activists, both workers and environmentalists alike, distrust official government and industry accounts of potential health risks. Because they lack specific information, regulators often claim an inability to govern. Industries, almost as a default reaction, dispute claims of occupational exposures and community claims of toxic poisoning. It was not until 1984, in the aftermath of the tragic accident in Bhopal, India, in which an accidental release of methyl isocyanate is estimated to...

  8. 4 Revealing the Hidden Perils of High-Tech
    (pp. 133-163)

    The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, located in San Jose, California, is my third case study of a labor-environmental alliance that is oriented around health. This organization faces a number of challenges unique to this region where the high-tech electronics and computer industry boomed in the 1980s. For most outside observers, the high-tech industry that developed in the Silicon Valley—as the manufacturing region in the Santa Clara Valley came to be called—is seen as a safe and clean neighbor that could be easily integrated into light-industrial areas that bordered residential suburbs. Images of scientists working in “clean rooms,” dressed...

  9. 5 Finding the Connections
    (pp. 164-189)

    Defending one’s health and the health of one’s family is a powerful motivator for collective action. It drives parents to shield their children from potential harm and community groups to organize to oppose the siting of hazardous waste in their backyards. Though some workers may be willing to accept certain levels of risk in exchange for higher compensation for their labor, many industrial labor unions have made health and safety a priority on a par with wages and benefits. The three coalitions examined in the previous chapters each found some way to make health a common ground between workers and...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 190-210)

    Workers are on the front line of the fight for safe workplaces and healthy communities. All too often, though, they are forgotten as environmental and community activists gather allies and build alliances and coalitions to challenge toxic exposures. As I have shown, bringing in partners from the labor movement, whether traditional union activists or health-and-safety activists, can significantly improve the likelihood of a particular campaign’s success. The alliances and coalitions brokered by the New Jersey Work Environment Council and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, in particular, mobilized such diverse support early on in their careers such that city and state...

  11. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 211-220)
  12. References
    (pp. 221-232)
  13. Index
    (pp. 233-240)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-242)