Over 550 participants from diverse communities in Toronto came together to build a movement for good jobs at the Good Green Jobs for All conference on Nov. 7th. The event was organized by the Good Jobs for All Coalition made up of 40 community, labour, youth, social justice and environmental groups.
While some may think that a green job means working on environmental issues, the conference was premised on a larger vision. “It is employment that is viable, that allows every family to sustain themselves and that contributes significantly to protecting the environment,” says Rosemarie Powell, Assistant Executive Director of the Jane-Finch Family and Community Centre. Powell brought a number of youth to the conference who have been participating in a Green Anti-Poverty Coalition and other initiatives in the local community.
In her closing remarks to attendees, Good Jobs for All Coalition co-chair Winnie Ng said the Coalition doesn’t just exist to put on conferences. “What was evident from today is that this Coalition builds movements. We’ve initiated a hard-hitting campaign for EI reform and supported changes to temp agency practices,” said Ng. “Now we’ve begun a movement to create green jobs with social justice and equity. And in this journey, we are not going to leave anyone or any community behind.”
Tonika Morgan is a member of the Medina Collective and a young community movement builder. “When products become more valuable than people, and people are easily replaced because they’ve been de-skilled, there’s a loss of power. That’s when movements arise,” she told participants. “To succeed, every community and individual in a movement must be accountable for communicating with each other. You can’t wait for people to come to you.”
Aboriginal environmental activist Clayton Thomas-Muller called for all peoples to come together “to deepen our understanding of how industrialization has damaged our relationship to the earth as well as the systems of oppression that have kept us from coming together such as race, class and gender power dynamics.” He called for an intergenerational approach that involves not sacrificing one population and their way of life so that another can thrive.
Participants spent a good part of the day in workshops to discuss strategies that could create good green jobs. They were encouraged by Peter Tabuns, former Executive Director of Greenpeace and currently MPP for Toronto Riverdale. “In Ohio, 6,000 people who used to make windshields for cars, now make solar products. In Germany , 250,000 have found jobs in the renewable energy sector,” said Tabuns. He noted a recent study that said up to one million trades jobs could be created if every home in Canada was retrofitted to make it more energy efficient.
While many may be skeptical that society can move away from fossil fuels, there is hope that strong movements can change things, according to John Cartwright, President of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council. He cited a number of examples where community coalitions have been successful in the past few years.
“Just look at what we have been able to do,” he told delegates. The “Made in Canada Matters” campaign made sure that Toronto’s subways and streetcars were built in Canada to create jobs here. “The Public Transit for the Public Good” campaign forced governments to invest millions of much-needed dollars in Toronto’s transit system. And we brought together an amazing coalition of youth, immigrants, community organizations and others to force the Ontario government to raise the minimum wage 28% over three years.”
Already, battles have been won to create conditions for new good green jobs. As a result of community pressures, Toronto Community Housing has agreed that there will be at least 25% Canadian content in materials for building retrofits. Most recently, the City of Toronto adopted a new Sustainable Energy Strategy for Toronto. It calls for things like energy retrofits, water conservation actions and renewable energy installations. Under pressure from groups like the Toronto Environmental Alliance, the City agreed to ensure the plan puts a priority on local procurement, local green jobs and local green manufacturing.
“We make paths by walking, so let’s walk together,” Cartwright told conference delegates. “That’s how we build power and gain the ability to change things for the better.”
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