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Former President Bill Clinton salutes the AFL-CIO for it's green jobs initiatives. Looking on, from left, IBEW Pres. Ed Hill, AFL-CIO Pres. Rich Trumka, AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten and Building Trades Pres. Shawn McGarvey.

Former President Bill Clinton salutes the AFL-CIO for it’s green jobs initiatives. Looking on, from left, IBEW Pres. Ed Hill, AFL-CIO Pres. Rich Trumka, AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten and Building Trades Pres. Shawn McGarvey.

Former President Bill Clinton joined AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, the mayors of several cities and roughly 100 labor and community activists on April 18 in celebrating a new, labor-backed initiative to create jobs by reducing carbon emissions.

Clinton’s address touched upon the nation’s dysfunctional system of government and how average, everyday people, working through their unions, can make a difference.

Just three days earlier. Nobel Prize winning economic Joseph Stiglitz noted in an address at the labor federation headquarters that inequities in the federal budget and the nation’s tax system that favor the wealthy over the middle-class inevitably will result in economic and political instability. Or, as he put it in a bumper-sticker formulation:  “Inequality Equals Instability.”

While Stiglitz noted that there is “no silver bullet” to restore an economic balance that existed between the end of World War II and 1980, the United States does not have to go down the same road that it did during the Gilded Age and the 1920s. There still is time to step back from the brink.

In a sense, Clinton’s address was the “other side” of the same coin. If Stiglitz’s address was about how the government can enact policies to get America through these difficult times, Clinton’s appearance highlighted the fact that U.S. workers don’t have to wait for Congress to get its act together.

Stiglitz outlined the steps he believes are needed in restoring equity to those in the 99 percent (he coined the phrase)—a stimulus package to generate jobs and more investments in health, infrastructure and education. The former president talked about how his Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and organized labor can use people’s resources to grow jobs.

Attending the April 18 event after meeting with the trustees of several labor-management pension funds was Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who outlined how the trustees expect to be using those funds (which account for some $3 trillion in assets) to promote American jobs. She was joined at the AFL-CIO event by IBEW President (and MTD Board Member) Ed Hill and AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades President Sean McGarvey.

According to Clinton and Trumka, the thing these trustees and unions can and must do is invest in technologies, education and training programs as well as building and retrofitting projects that reduce greenhouse emissions. And the U.S. government needs to do the same.

The AFL-CIO will be highlighting the possibilities of green technology by waging a nationwide grassroots campaign to educate the American public that “green” can mean jobs. The federation is starting by installing energy efficient windows in its headquarters building.

McGarvey stressed that Building Trades unions have already embarked on this path through their training programs, which have produced a workforce that is ideally suited to compete in the 21st century.

Praising the skills of workers who will be installing the windows, the training programs fashioned by Building Trades unions and Weingarten’s “unmatched determination” in promoting this issue, Clinton said that the federation’s energy plan “is a recipe for a bright future.”

Clinton referenced a retrofit project at the Empire State Building, which created 275 jobs over two years. These jobs were only the tip of the iceberg, because the retrofitting reduced utility bills and greenhouse emissions while generating additional tax revenues. Moreover, the jobs that were created weren’t the low-paying ones, but the kind of employment opportunities that could, in the words of the former president, “change the job mix.”

McGarvey summed the day’s events by noting that the partnership that exists between the AFL-CIO and the CGI will build “a highway to the middle class” for people who have, until now, been left behind. Or, as Trumka added, this is a way of “how working people can step up and fill the void” left by the nation’s political and economic elites.

Stiglitz had ended his remarks with a question: “Is there hope?” Clinton answered that troubling question in the affirmative.  As the “Boy from Hope” (Clinton was raised in Hope, AR) observed, we can keep hope alive if the federal government enacts policies that reduce greenhouse emissions and make our economic system more equitable. We can keep hope alive if the trustees of jointly run labor-management pension funds invest in projects that improve and promote green technology without sacrificing a good return.