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First Nations, environmentalists and workers uniting against big oil

Carolyn Egan

September 23, 2013

On October 22, 2012, thousands participated in the Defend Our Coast Rally in Victoria, British Columbia. Those who gathered spoke out strongly against the Northern Gateway Pipeline and the environmental damage that it could cause to their province. The Tar Sands have wreaked havoc in Alberta and a coalition led by First Nations, which includes environmentalists and trade unions, has been organizing to stop the pipeline.
They have been galvanizing public opinion and have stood up strongly against the corporations and governments who are supporting profits over the needs of the people and the earth. A broad and representative movement is what can collectively make the changes necessary to stop the oil interests whose only concern is making money for their shareholders.
Green jobs
The importance of trade unions involving themselves in this struggle cannot be overestimated. At one point there was a perceived conflict between jobs and the environment, pitting unions against environmentalists. Much work has been done to bridge that gap by organizations such as the Blue Green Alliance in the US. It originally brought together the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club but has grown much broader since.
The Good Jobs for All Coalition in Toronto held a founding summit in 2008 with over one thousand people in attendance; its three objectives were dealing with the economic crisis, the environmental crisis and promoting an equity agenda. It brought together many trade unionists, anti-racist activists and environmentalists, and a Good Green Jobs for All Committee is one of its key components.
Line 9
Line 9 is now a threat in eastern Canada. Enbridge is pushing to reverse the flow of the pipeline between Sarnia and Montreal to ship tar sands oil east. It is touted to create jobs but in reality very few will result. However, there is the potential of very real risks to the 9.1 million people in Ontario and Quebec who live in its path. We have seen ruptures to similar pipelines in Michigan, Arkansas and other areas.
We know that Ontario alone has lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs in the recent past, but the promise of significant employment is an illusion. By 2035 it is projected that only 6,335 jobs would be created because of the Line 9 project. We need investment in good green jobs for all that will protect and enhance the environment.
Tar sands is a very dirty source of energy and its development is scarring the land in northern Alberta and causing health hazards to those who work and live there. This cannot be the heart of a national energy plan.
On October 19, there will be a demonstration in Toronto at the National Energy Board hearings on Line 9. There has been a large grassroots organization building awareness in the community and opposition to Enbridge’s plans. The Steelworkers Toronto Area Council has recently endorsed the demonstration and has provided funding to bus First Nations activists opposing Line 9 into the city for the rally.
This type of support and solidarity is necessary to build the same type of movement in Ontario as we saw in British Columbia. Environmentalists, First Nations and trade unionists should continue to develop ongoing links and relationships that will build the collective strength to defeat big oil. Our interests are not counter-posed and solidarity will move the fight forward.
Join the October 19 rally to say "No Line 9, no tar sands pipelines!"

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