Organizing for Power - Jane McAlevey pt 3/8

Workers must face up to race to unite the class. Fighting for a just transition, the workers’ movement is critical to any chance of having an effective climate policy. Organizer Jane McAlevey joins Paul Jay on

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to and a show I call Reality Asserts Itself. We’ll be back in a second with Jane McAlevey.

So, this is a continuation of my series of interviews with Jane McAlevey, which focuses on the lessons and experiences that helped shape her worldview and built her approach to organizing workers. Janes, the author of several books, including No Shortcuts and Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell), which was named the most valuable book in 2012 by Nation magazine. I would suggest if you haven’t watched the first segments of this series of interviews, go back to the beginning because they will all make a heck of a lot more sense. Thanks for joining us again, Jane.

Jane McAlevey

My pleasure. Happy to be here.

Paul Jay

So, pick us up from the Highlander Center. It sounds like quite a profound experience in terms of what shaped you as an organizer.

Jane McAlevey

Yeah, I would say that Highlander− I know we touched on it a little bit, sort of the key lessons I learned there, but the work that I went to do at the Highlander Center. I was recruited to the Highlander Center because I had been working in Latin America. I get recruited to the Highlander Center, and when I go there, I’m working jointly on a joint project with the Highlander Center and something called the National Toxics Campaign, which was one of the more important early organizational formations, certainly nationally in the United States, that represented a new kind of environmental movement, which was an environmental movement led by people of colour primarily and led by poor communities. 

It was a real break from the tradition of sort of the white-led, wealthy conservation movement. When I used to think about what the environmental movement was when I was young, I wasn’t very impressed. I didn’t feel like they were my people, even though I desperately wanted to save the planet. And so the work that I had been doing as a young person, I was winding my way into this new formation called the National Toxics Campaign. It came together with my move to the South because they were interested, at the time, in having more of a Southeastern focus in the United States. They didn’t have a strong Southeastern focus. And conveniently, I had been working with them. Then I’m being recruited to the Highlander Center. The Highlander Center wanted me to come there to do work on globalization. That was the job. They were like, we want you to come here and help workers in the U.S. South understand the problem is not that Mexicans are stealing their jobs. The problem is that CEOs and the multinational corporate elite are making you think the Mexicans are stealing your jobs when actually it’s the corporations who are stealing your jobs.

From the Highlander’s perspective, my day job was about how to get workers who were being, sort of, victimized by globalization, by the transfer of factory jobs out of the United States and into the global South. That was their biggest interest that I helped create an educational program that would let workers on their own not being lectured at, but on their own come to understand who was to blame for the pain in their lives. Overlapping with that, there was an emerging understanding of this thing that we now understand may better, or some of us do, which was that we were heading into a global environmental catastrophe.

Paul Jay

This is around ’92, ’93?

Jane McAlevey

This is 1991, 1992. So, we already understand that there’s a link between the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the sort of historic Bretton Woods institutions and how they’re driving an unsustainable economic system, which is not just bad for workers across the world. The fall of the Soviet Union. The walls are down now. We’re moving towards a sort of global hegemony around capitalism. Though it looks different in different countries, it’s not that different at the end of the day, and it isn’t 30 years later. 

We’re seeing the emergence of more of a hegemonic world when it comes to this kind of one big system. China plays an interesting role, but 30 years later, we know how that movie is playing itself out. Highlander was very focused on, can you prioritize helping workers on their own through the methods that I would learn through my mentors at Highlander. How do we create an educational system focused on letting workers see for themselves that it’s the CEOs and the corporate elite that are destroying their lives, and not that Mexicans or Central Americans are stealing their factory jobs? That was their primary motivation for me to move to the South. 

At the same time, there was an organization called the National Toxics Campaign, which was really the first national organization in the United States to center poor people and people who lived next to highly polluting industries and put them at the center of the organization. What was so brilliant about the National Toxics Campaign— and again, how I wound up being in these places at the right moment in terms of what I learned at such young ages is amazing to me because we were so ahead in understanding the twin crisis of the attack on workers and the attack on the environment. There was no separation.

We understood that back in the early 1990s, and probably many communities of colour, by the way, understood it for 100, 200, 300, from slavery on. Cotton was unsustainable, and slavery was vicious. Jim Crow was basically in the United States. Jim Crow was essentially continuing slavery in the cotton fields, and cotton turned out to be one of the most damaging soil crops in the history of the world. I had been working with environmentalists and trade unionists in Central America and seeing the effects of what the pesticide use of cotton was doing to the workers, to the families, and to the water systems. So, Latin America would bring all of this into very acute focus more quickly, I think, than we were seeing it in the United States.

So, then I come to come back to the United States. I go to Highlander, and I’m working jointly for the National Toxics Campaign, as well as for the Highlander Center on what we called the Joint Project. With me, based in the U.S. South, beginning to bring the national effort into Highlander’s already exploration into mostly white people in Appalachia, dying from runoff in rivers from, get this, one of the pulp and paper mills, which is huge in the U.S. South. Georgia-Pacific, one of the biggest lumber makers in the world, comes from Georgia.

So, people were starting to realize— I should say this because it actually matters. In 1986 in the United States, a law was passed called the Superfund law, and there was a law called the Right-To— now; I don’t want to get too technical, but there’s a reason this happened when it happened. There was an amendment to the Superfund law, which is a law that makes corporations put some pennies away in case they cause an environmental disaster. There was a law that progressive trade unionists and the progressive environmentalist fought for, that passed in 1986 called the Right-To-Know law. The Right-To-Know amendments amended the national Superfund law. I’ll step on the technicalities now, but this is going to help the story make sense historically. 

It took about two years for the environmental movement and the trade unions who were involved in that in the Right-To-Know law to operationalize the law.

So, it’s 1988 in the United States right now, and suddenly the movement has the tools because it took two years to just implement the basics of the law. We now, as United States citizens or people, have the right to request through a very bureaucratic process, but still, we have this new right to request if you live near a factory, what are the chemicals that the factory is using, and how are you discharging them from the factory. So, 1988 marks the beginning of Latino people and black people, especially black people; it comes out of the faith-based community in 1988 getting their hands around the fact that what they always thought was true is actually true, which is they’re being poisoned to death.

Okay, so we retired Jim Crow, and now we put all the poisonous factories that pollute like crazy in black communities. Also, I’m at the Highlander Center, which is nestled between white-poor Appalachia and the Deep South. We also understand this is not about just killing black people; it’s about killing poor people. Black people are a subset of poor people in the United States, and they’re a particular subset of poor people that the United States has always tried to kill. Do you know what I mean? It’s just a brutal system. 

You merge it all together, and suddenly I’m living in the South working for both of these entities and my day job; my assignment is to help people understand how globalization is affecting this, but also connecting the environmental crisis to the economic crisis. That really was sort of like my day job, as I would say, working with communities throughout the Deep South and Appalachia and going into very poor communities. For example, going into deep Alabama and working on trying to shut down— I think we discussed that because it put me very close to Bessemer, where that Amazon fight just happened. But I spent quite a bit of time in and around parts of Alabama working with black communities who were fighting to get home water systems put in because chem-waste management, which is the largest corporation in the world that handles waste disposal, particularly hazardous waste. Guess where their largest chemical waste dump in the world was? Not outside the United States, fascinatingly. Right, because the U.S. South and black communities in the U.S. South get treated like colonial— the way we treat parts of Africa frankly. It’s like that’s how racist and evil this corporate elite that we’ve been battling my whole life really is.

The largest chemical waste dump in the world sits in Alabama. Black families and the whole community are dying. The workers are dying, and their children are dying. The leukemia rate is off the charts, and we are now getting the evidence because of this law that the stuff that’s leaking out of the leech fields from this waste, the largest waste up in the world, is actually killing black people, actually poisoning all of their babies, and mothers are having major issues with their kids in the womb getting poisoned and coming out with major birth defects, or dead. So, you know, we’re literally talking about life and death as we are at the hands of the cops right now in the United States, but this is 1991, 1992. That was really like the work I did day in and day out was helping communities try and figure out how to build the power to fight back.

The segue to the trade Union work for me is, essentially, that our best partner in the National Toxics Campaign was one of the most forward-thinking trade union leaders I’ve ever met. Rest in Peace. He’s no longer with us. His name was Tony Mazzocchi. He was the head of what was called OCAW, the Oil Chemical Anatomical Workers Union. It’s sort of the Union that was featured in Silkwood, a kind of Hollywood movie way back in the ’80s. It’s that Union, and that Union kind of makes them a little bit famous. 

I literally meet this trade unionist who raises my expectations at such a young age that the trade union movement can once again be the movement that I’m dreaming that it can be, which is radical, forward-thinking, willing to take on really hard issues, not running away from the rank and file membership. About having really hard questions like, hey, guys, we seem to be dying on the job. When you guys go home from the factory, the ones who live near the factory, your family seems to be getting sick and dying, too. 

So, this is a problem and Tony Mazzocchi in the late 1970s— man, and I’m still in junior high school or something. Tony Mazzocchi, as I begin to do my homework on him, this brilliant trade union leader calls for something that the globe is just beginning to use the language over the last few years, which is he calls in the late 1970s for a just transition of the workers in his industries to shut their own industries down and transition those workers with guarantees to other good jobs in a clean economy. That’s 1977. 

He writes a book— well, there’s a book that comes out in 1983, and I am spacing out the name right this second. It’s going to come to me, but he writes a book in which he writes a book with this guy, Richard Grossman in 1983 that articulates the principles of a just transition that come from the late 1970s from the leader of a forward-thinking trade union who literally went to his guys and said, look, I know this seems counterintuitive— it’s mostly guys. Look, guys, I know this seems counterintuitive, but we need to call for ending our jobs because we’re killing the planet, and we’re killing our families. That’s 1977.

Paul Jay

 Wow. That’s really something.

Jane McAlevey

Yeah, but that shapes all of my work, and it sets an early expectation in my life that a trade union can be forward-thinking and willing to take on really hard topics. We’re missing Tony Mazzocchi right now on this planet in a really big way because he was so willing to take on the big questions, but that was most of my work at Highlander, and I would continue to do that work when I left the South.

Paul Jay

We’re still hoping to have a serious conversation about just transition, as people like Bob Pollin and others have done models that don’t even cost that much [crosstalk 00:14:49]. I can’t understand, even just from the most narrow, self-interested, partisan political positioning, why Biden doesn’t just promise fossil fuel workers a just transition and make that a major part of the campaign in West Virginia and places like that. 

Jane McAlevey

It’s major. It’s [crosstalk 00:15:09]. 

Paul Jay

It’s barely on the horizon. It doesn’t make any sense at all.

Jane McAlevey

It doesn’t make any sense at all, and what’s terribly disappointing, Tony Mazzocchi, rest in peace or rest in powers, as we say, is sadly long gone, and the unions that are involved in some of the most polluting industries today don’t share his view at all. That’s really problematic. It’s really problematic. It was amazing if you still had the Tony Mazzocchi around today when someone from, let’s say, the Laborers International Union LIUNA, who plays a very bad role in the United States on these questions. It would be very hard today if Tony Mazzocchi were still with us leading the Oil Chemical and Anatomical Workers Union; it’d be very hard for the other construction trade unions to say, we can’t do this. It’s not possible. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, because you’d have the guy who leads the most polluting industry workers standing up and saying, actually, not only can we, we have to. So, he was brilliant and—

Paul Jay


Jane McAlevey


Paul Jay

If the Clinton administration had actually seriously committed to just transition in the ’90s, there might well have never been a Donald Trump as president.

Jane McAlevey

That’s right. There is not even a question about that. That’s absolutely right. It’s still true today, and we are still running away from the solution. So, what’s interesting is I do that. That’s like the work I was focused on all the time, and it involved bringing delegations. I was frequently taking delegations. It was like a norm for me. It was the best way that we realized for workers to learn, because we know it’s not by getting lectured at. No one wants to be told anything. 

The great thing about me working at the famous Highlander Center, which was a [Paulo Freire] Freireian influenced adult education center, popular education center, radical adult education center. I learned so quickly you can’t tell anyone anything. That’s not going to work, and that’s why I became an organizer because organizers don’t tell people anything. We put them in situations that help them come to their own conclusion that something’s very, very wrong, and then we help them understand what it’s going to take for them to win and get out of the mess that they’re in. That’s the difference between a lot of the stuff I critique in my books, like, activists who just yell at people and hand them pamphlets in small font and try and tell someone that. The thing that makes me the most− no, that’s not crazy. There are so many things that make me crazy about sort of the activist Left on a bad day. At their worst, it’s no margin, small font.

Paul Jay

I was going to say the small font is; you say it all just with those two words.

Jane McAlevey

It’s like— and then telling— and then the other thing that happens all the time in the United States around election time is the following analysis, which comes from liberals, conservatives, and the Left. When they say the following, it makes me want to [grunts in anger]. When they say, why do workers always vote against their self-interest? That phrase. That insults the intelligence of most people. First of all, you don’t have any idea what their immediate self-interest is because you ain’t never been poor, you’ve never been in their situation, you’ve never been trying to feed the family, you’ve− you know what I mean? All, it’s just, it’s so— and then the idea that ordinary people who have access only to Fox News understand what’s actually happening around them is— without a conversation, without a way to meet people who actually are going to have a different idea and help them and help them realize on their own. That what they’re hearing on Fox News maybe isn’t true. That doesn’t happen by yelling at people or by lecturing them or by blaming them for how they’ve been shaped until this point in their life, whatever that point is in their life.

So, it’s like the thing I say about organizing is the very first rule of organizing is you better love ordinary people and you better respect where they are right now because your job is not to judge them. Your job is to help them understand what the forces are arrayed against them and why they might be confused about how some things work under capitalism, but, anyway. 

I feel like, at Highlander, this was just beaten into my head at a really young age in such a good way. I spent a lot of time taking workers black and white, Appalachia and the Deep South. I would always have white, poor workers, which was making its own point. The black workers from Alabama would be like, oh, they’re poisoning all of you up there, too? We thought they only poisoned us. Do you know what I mean? We would have these really poor communities from Appalachia, and I would intentionally put them on a delegation with really poor black people from Alabama or fill in the blank Mississippi, what we call toxic alley between Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Louisiana, which is one of the most toxic rivers. That strip of the Mississippi is like, don’t ever dip a toe in it, but anyway, we would intentionally mix these communities, bring them onto a delegation, and then I would take them to the U.S.-Mexico border. It didn’t cost a lot of money back then. 

You could put a bunch of people in a van, drive, get to the border, and people never left their home communities, so it seemed super interesting. We would take van loads, sometimes a bus, sometimes we’d fly if it was a smaller delegation, but I spent a lot of my time either bringing workers from the global South into our center at Tennessee, which is a big education center up on a hill. A beautiful place to do meetings, or I’d be bringing delegations from the South to the U.S.-Mexico border.

I spent about a year and a half doing nonstop delegations of black and white workers from the U.S. South going into the U.S.-Mexico border so that they could meet the people who were stealing their jobs and realize that those people were getting poisoned, sick, super poor, and somewhat living in slavery. Women were getting raped by a U.S. manager who got to go over the border every day to be a manager in a Mexican factory and come back to his job in Arizona, Texas, or wherever he lived. So, it worked so much better for us to take large numbers of workers there to see it and then let them come back. 

Then my job was to help them debrief and talk about how are you going to take this back to your factory? How will you take this back into your factory? How will you take this back into your community and explain what you just saw from your own eyes to your own community? Because that was going to be way better than Jane McAlevey, a young Northerner with a funny accent to people in the South, trying to explain it. My job was to set up the circumstances by which workers could learn on their own what was wrong. Frankly, I haven’t stopped doing that in my entire adult life. That is what I do. I figure out, and that’s what organizers do. We’re educators.

A real organizer is an educator. We are setting up situations so that people can figure out the right lessons very quickly and a lesson that’s going to be so profound, it’s going to twist their heads upside down. Your boss is not your friend, actually. Your line manager actually is connected to the guy who just knocked down or gentrified your neighbourhood. It’s like how we set up those situations so that people come to learn them on their own without being lectured to. That’s what brought me to the South, and it’s also what brought me out of the South.

After three years, I became the Deputy Director at the Highlander Center because the Deputy Director went on paternity leave. At age, I don’t know, something too young, 27, 26, I was suddenly the Deputy Director of this huge institution in the South. I was one of the only white people, and I was the only Northerner in the whole staff team of 28 people. I will tell you, not surprisingly, it led to a little bit of resentment for me to be the age I was in that position. I think it was probably an error of judgment on the part of the otherwise brilliant director of the institution, but after about another year and a half, I left being Deputy Director. I went back to being the Globalization Coordinator. At 27 or so, I think now, three years at Highlander, I decide that it’s actually not right for me to take one of the rare, beautiful staff positions as a Northerner in a Southern facing institution and that, actually, it should be filled by Southerners.

That was like my— they were trying to get me to stay to become the director for life, and I was like, you know what, this does not feel right to me. So, I leave the South. I’m going to go back to California at that point to continue doing something similar. By the way, the National Toxics Campaign in that time period blows up, which is also an early lesson for me and what it means to have turf wars, political infighting, and how self-destructive our own movement can be to ourselves.

Paul Jay

Why? What happened?

Jane McAlevey

We’re our own enemy. The right-wing does all these things that I’m always, like, if our side could just get it together, which is true right now of the trade unions. If we could just get it together, things would really be going dreamily right now or a lot better than they are. It’s too long a story, almost, but it suffices to say it blew up around race politics. So, it was like, again, in a lot of early lessons, if you don’t take race on straight-up, right-away, early, and in every conversation, you’re not going to build a working-class movement because it’s there. All of those things happened. I decided I was going to head back to the West Coast at that point.

Paul Jay

Well, hang on. When you say take race head-on, what does that mean then? How do you do that?

Jane McAlevey

Well, it’s going to be better to talk about it when we fast forward into the trade union movement, but I mean—

Paul Jay

Okay, well, we can wait for that, okay?

Jane McAlevey

But I mean, yeah, because I mean, my entire adult life is taking on race. I mean, there is no way to unify the working-class until and unless the United States, especially until then, and unless we take on the race question. There is no unifying the working-class. I forget who said it first. Someone much smarter than me a long time ago said race is the first division of the working-class. Slavery was the first division of the working-class. Was it Du Bois? I can’t remember which brilliant person said it during reconstruction in the United States after the Civil War. Certainly, I learned at a very young age, it was not an option to avoid hard conversations about race or gender, by the way, but in the U.S. South, no way you’re avoiding dealing with race questions straight up, and there was an unwillingness to do that.

That’s a short story of a very long story, but there was a persistent unwillingness to do it by the leadership in the National Toxics Campaign, and it led to a very unfortunate sort of huge split in the organization. So, I feel like I’m still in my young 20s, and now I’m learning about split’s, politics, and internal warfare. Sadly, all of these things continue to be true because democracy, it turns out, is pretty complicated. Small direct democracy, it’s actually pretty complicated. And the older I get, the more I appreciate that it’s pretty complicated. I also feel like it doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it. So, both things are true.

Anyway, so I decide— I’ve done three years in the U.S. South, deep in the South. I’ve learned an incredible amount about both race and gender and a different view of the United States when you live in the Deep South. It’s a different part of the United States, so I thought, well, maybe I’ll go to the Southwest. I haven’t done the Southwest yet. I always had this idea when I was young. I don’t know if I said this early on that I always knew I wanted to, like, where I always dreamed that I would be able to have some kind of, like, that someday I’d be doing like national campaigns that would matter.

So, this is a young Jane, and I thought the way to become someone who could understand how to run national campaigns would be to live in every corner of the U.S. I thought I needed to understand the cultural differences in each part of the U.S., so I kind of did that. 

I basically set out to live around the U.S. and each significant region. I leave Highlander after we take a huge delegation to Brazil to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. It’s 1992, and it was the first big UN [United Nations] official conference that hinted at the climate crisis to come. Where we were very much understanding in Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, in 1992, in this first huge international conference that the UN did, that what we were doing was not sustainable, that literally the rate, the fresh-water, there’s going to be a crisis in fresh-water coming. We understood then the relationship between the destruction of tropical rainforests, huge swaths, and carbon emissions. It was like— but it was sort of new, and the climate scientists were just beginning to speak up. ’89 is sort of the beginning of when the climate scientists begin to issue statements that no one understands because they write them like climate scientists. That’s why Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and people who come much later are so important because they can translate it. 

In 1989, the first statements that were coming out saying we’re going to have a global climate crisis were being taken up at this conference in Rio de Janeiro. I got sent down to Brazil to do the advance work. I lived in Brazil for six months to bring a whole alternative delegation from around the world, not just the U.S., but I was anchoring the U.S. delegation. I was meeting with the head of the prostitutes Union, which, it turns out, is at that time one of the most impressive trade unions I’ve ever met. We don’t have a prostitutes Union in the United States. It’s not legal, and it’s looked down upon. All these issues and I’m realizing, like, wow, in Rio de Janeiro, how do these women have so much power? Oh, you know why? They formed a union, and so the things I learned from the most powerful prostitution Union I had ever experienced. I’m like, 27 going, wow, they don’t have transmissible diseases happening in this sector because literally they have organized trade unions and they’ve removed like what we think of as the classic pimp. Okay, we’re getting— digress. But these were like really— like me constantly learning if workers got together and built power, they actually could have power in all sorts of industries.

Today when people say to me, oh, Jane, you’re always talking about hospital workers and nurses and people who work in buildings together, and I’m like, yeah, you have no idea. No, I’m talking about prostitutes in one of the biggest cities in the world who have figured out how to defend themselves and create good jobs. Amazing, so anyway, Brazil and I remember introducing the trade union leaders and environmental organizers from the U.S. when we took the delegation to meet the prostitutes Union. It was a special moment when people realized that, well, these women had built some really serious power by forming a trade union anyway.

Anyway, that’s my sort of transition out of Highlander. I do one more big delegation on the U.S. border. Now, I think, it’s 1993, and we’re doing a big— it was called a Tri-National Conference. I began to work with Canadians, U.S. people. It’s like understanding NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement]. So, it’s pre-NAFTA, and we’re on the road to the North American Free Trade Agreement, and people are like, wait, there’s this person, McAlevey, who’s made all these connections on the U.S. Mexico border. Let’s get her involved.

Now, it’s like my first kind of consulting gig. I’ve left Highlander, National Toxics Campaign. There’s no more. I’m driving slowly back to California, thinking I’m going to move back to California. I get waylaid on the U.S.-Mexico border to do this conference. It’s a faith-based conference. So now faith comes in and the role of faith, and it’s going to be sponsored by faith leaders, which is a realization that I already knew from working and living in the South. Faith leaders have a particular set of moralities which allow them to speak differently than other people. It’s going to be a faith-based conference on the crisis on the U.S. Mexico border with Canadians, U.S. folks, and Mexicans, and it’s because [Bill] Clinton’s now in and they’re describing and discussing what becomes NAFTA. The people I’m working with are like, are you kidding me? We were fighting this thing like crazy. Even at the Highlander Center, we were like, what is this North American Free Trade Agreement? 

Oh, they’re going to take the maquiladoras that we’ve been taking all these workers to visit, where people are dying, and they’re going to make that the global model. This is not going to be good.

Paul Jay

For people who don’t know this, maquiladoras were these tax-free zones that corporations could come down and supposedly develop some industry in Northern Mexico, but I was there, too. I mean, the sewage is running open in the streets. Kids are playing in the sewage, and I also had an experience on the border. You described the same period, the early ’90s. I went to Tijuana, and then I went to the border at sundown, and this is people getting ready to cross the border into the United States. I was on the Mexican side, and it was about 200 people to my left, 200 people to my right, people selling popcorn and tacos. It was like a party. I think somebody was playing music, and they’re all ready for the sun to go down in order to get across the border. Waiting for them on the other side was nobody because it was harvest time, and of course, California agribusiness wanted them to come over and then once they’re there, they were treated like slaves.

Jane McAlevey

That’s right. Oh, it’s amazing. Oh, the agribusiness. Anyway, yeah, it’s just amazing, the endless exploitation that goes on of the earth and of the people on it and, by the way, all sorts of species. But yeah, it’s like, anyway, so those were all years when I was not yet full-time in the trade union movement, but the series of learnings that I’m getting are setting me up for, and it’s short. We’re getting close to the trade union movement, but by the time I come into the trade union movement in 1996, I’ve already been working with some of the best trade unionists in the United States because they were not running from the climate crisis. They were actually trying to understand it. 

I was working with some of the best community-based organizations in the United States, working on trying to clean up poisons and toxic and hazardous waste. We had to build coalitions with workers right in the facilities because we understood that if we called for the plant to be closed down with no alternative, no one was going to. People couldn’t call for a plant to be closed down. That didn’t make any sense to them. That was their job. I was put in this position at such a young age to grapple with the factory job I have, which is paying me very well. It’s also killing me, my parents, and my kids when I go home and being forced to contend with it wasn’t so simple as just saying, close the factory down. Then spending the rest of my— basically, we’re going to fast forward, but I leave the environmental movement because after another few years of just listening to one national environmental group after another, you know, calling for plans to close with no just transition, no economic strategy, no way to take care of the livelihood of the workers. I was like, I’m out of here. I am done with these people. I could not spend one more minute working with national environmental organizations who are not dealing with race and racism and who were not dealing with the practical experience of workers whose lives depended on jobs that were very bad.

That’s essentially the end of that phase of my life and my move into the trade union movement where I decide I got to get to the place where there’s a working-class organization, where workers pay for their own organizations through dues, not through charity or foundation or rich people giving them money, and try and figure out how the hell we’re going to save this planet because it’s not going to be the environmental movement.

Paul Jay

Yeah, I mean, the environmental movement was completely and, to a large extent, still is delusional. If they think there’s going to be an effective climate policy without a worker’s movement, they’re out of their minds.

Jane McAlevey

Yes, exactly.

Paul Jay

All right. We’ll pick that up in the next segment. Thanks very much, Jane.

Jane McAlevey

My pleasure. Thank you, Paul.

Paul Jay

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Organizing for Power - Jane McAlevey Pt 3


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