In August 1997, at the Canadian Autoworkers Constitutional Convention in
Vancouver, BC, the following resolution was agreed upon.
BASIC PRINCIPLES FOR STRUGGLING WITH CONFLICTS
The environment is not an issue involving “others”.
• The environment is first of all a public health issue, affecting the air we
breathe, the water we depend on, the food we eat, the soil our children
play in; it’s about chemicals, poisons and carcinogens in our community.
• It’s about the future resources we leave for the next generation; it’s about
preserving and therefore sharing the beauty of nature.
Environmental issues can’t be separated from the economic
system we live in.
• An economic system that treats humans as commodities, interested
only in their contribution to profits and discarding them at will, is
unlikely to give much priority to our natural environment.
Our economic system divides us regarding our concerns over
jobs vs our concerns over our environment.
• Although the long-term effects of environmental damage will negatively
impact on all our lives, the need to earn a living in uncertain times
pushes workers to focus on the short term, which often means laying
environmental issues aside.
• Somehow we must address both the short-term (jobs) and long-term
(environment) aspects of survival.
We can learn from our experience over health and safety.
• In the early days of the health and safety movement, workers were often
confronted with the choice between trading off health (the work
environment) for profits and competitiveness (i.e., jobs). When we
resisted – with significant success – was this anti-social and a false
•We demanded both a safe environment and decent jobs, and we are
making substantial progress in this area.
Tensions will occur and we must think strategically in dealing
• The most difficult choices involve jobs that affect a specific group vs
environmental implications that primarily affect a broader and different
group. To deal with this, both sides must think strategically.
• Those who make the environment the centre of their political activities
can’t build a constituency if they’re perceived as being insensitive to jobs
and people’s livelihoods.
•Workers and unions can’t build the broader alliances they need in
today’s times – especially with young people – if we’re cornered into
being seen as insensitive to the wider community and the kind of
environment we will leave for future generations.
•We need public education and will to achieve that campaign goal, unions
and environmentalists need to think and work strategically, but we’re
barely talking to each other.