Friday, December 05, 2008

What about the Dirty Jobs?

When I ranted about the privilege check needed on NPR's science friday show on electric cars, and when I've complained about the discussion of the Big 3 bailout, what I'm essentially talking about is a class bias against blue-collar workers.

People even on the left like to blame the unions for their implicit support of the gas-guzzling beasts that the Big 3 automakers churned out. The battle between Henry Waxman and John Dingell over control of the House Energy and Commerce Committee was just the most obvious face of this dispute.

Most of the people in the media, though they make crap for money, come from the educated middle class, and tend to look down on blue-collar workers. Sherrod Brown noted this bias on Maddow last night (video here) about the difference in attitude toward the bankers who come looking for cash and the auto companies.

While reading my print copy of Mother Jones today (yeah, I still read print!) I came across this article on the "dirty jobs"--the people who still work in coal mines and car factories, and what we do with them.

Some quotes:

...The idea of sustainability, as envisioned by Hawken and other lead theorists, was to reconcile modern business civilization with the urgent mandates of preserving the earth's household. It is, in other words, management theory, with its eye firmly fixed on maximizing production efficiencies—and its accounting hand eager to put the messier business of displacing workers, shuttering industries, and increasing the cost of living of the less well off far on the margins of that "framework of a broader perspective."

...After NAFTA, too, workers were assured they would be retrained to be credentialed members of the brave new information order. Then, too, their livelihoods were not so much "recycled" as kicked to the curb.

...Under cap and trade, by contrast, one surefire winner will likely be, you guessed it, Wall Street investment banking concerns brokering carbon credits to major energy companies. Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse have already created US-based carbon-trading desks; Goldman also holds a 19 percent interest in the London-based Climate Exchange. The last time we let financial-services companies drive economic policy, we got the mortgage meltdown. What could possibly go wrong this time?

...It seems that carbon-control policy has taken its peculiar shape in part because environmentalists can't seem to shed their class biases—or blind spots. The popular "feebate" mechanism, for example, imposes consumption taxes on high-carbon automobiles, home heating systems, and the like, while passing on the savings to savvier consumers. Now, there are sound reasons to suggest that feebates could speed up production of better, carbon-neutral consumer goods by ramping up market demand. But they also, like many such design-driven responses to the climate crisis, aim at rewarding the conduct of already privileged segments of the market—while advancing few immediate and practical remedies to market's lower reaches. And as emissions-control measures, feebates, like cap and trade, are at best an ambiguous means of shaping actual consumer behavior. "They do nothing to influence how much vehicles are driven and risk [the] unintended consequence of additional driving," concluded a 2003 study by the nonpartisan Resources for the Future.

...But for any of this to happen, our prophets of sustainability need to form real political alliances with their counterparts in the labor movement—and to do so as their political equals, not as patrician managers who want to fine-tune workers' consumption patterns while earnestly lobbying them out of a job. Other species may have devised more invidious survival strategies, but the surest path to human sustainability is through solidarity.

Once again, I urge you to read the whole damn thing. It may be more questions than answers, but they're questions we really need to be asking.