Monday, November 29, 2010

The Ultimate Green-Blue Alliance?

Progressives in Washington State have made inroads on a wide variety of issues in the past few years by forming a Green-Blue Alliance. Led by legislators such as Tami Green from the labor community and Dave Upthegrove from the enviro side, progressive issues have received more bandwidth in the Legislature.

A tight alliance between blues and greens is not always easy. At times, a union trade’s interest (i.e. coal workers in Centralia or tunnel diggers in Seattle) is working for a desired outcome that is in direct contrast to the prevailing environmental viewpoint.

There isn’t a more logical partnership than environmental transit advocacy organizations such as TCC and the ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union), which represents almost all of the transit drivers in Washington State and around the country. One of the fundamental missions of TCC is to secure and protect transit funding and transit service in Washington. In our community we often think of transit funding as an economic, environmental, and sustainability issue, but at its core it is a living wage jobs union issue. For example, if the campaign we are working on right now to save Pierce Transit doesn’t pass it is estimated that 250-300 living wage drivers’ jobs will be lost. This outcome would not only be devastating for a huge portion of working families in Pierce County but also would directly impact Pierce County’s local economy (not to mention what 35% transit cuts would do for job creation and job access).

Like any coalition, our partnership with the ATU isn’t without its challenges, but, I’m happy to say I’ve had the pleasure of working with the local ATUs towards the common goal of saving transit service and jobs in Whatcom, Thurston, and now Pierce County.

On the national level the ATU recently elected a reformer to lead their ranks. Their new president Larry Hanley’s ran on a platform of transit funding, broad based coalition building, and result oriented campaign organizing.

Here is a long interview with the incoming ATU president that is worth a read. He also clearly has a good grasp of the environmental implications of transit and the natural alliance between sustainability focused organizations and the ATU.

Transit can save the environment. Getting people out of their cars and into buses and trains can contribute heavily to that. A great number of studies say it’s far cheaper to travel by mass transit, and it’s far healthier.
One of the byproducts of car culture is that it takes away people’s sense of community, of common purpose. People become allergic to associating with their neighbors. I think mass transit alters that.
People had a much deeper sense of community when they got on the bus every day and saw people and talked. But you can’t scold people into mass transit. You can’t gripe about how selfish they are by using their car.
This car culture was designed by car companies. In postwar America a group of corporations--led by General Motors--got together and formed a phony bus company, National City Lines. And they went around and bought up all the trolley lines in America and they destroyed them. I know it sounds conspiratorial, but it’s true.
At the same time they were convincing the federal government to spend more money on highways than anything else. And that’s what built the suburbs and ruined the environment and changed America for a very long time.
We have to slowly put together a coalition that can reverse as much of that as possible. You don’t do it by critiquing people’s habits. You have to create a traveling environment where it’s convenient to take a bus or a train, where it’s cheaper.

On a side note, I am attending an transit funding/campaign organizing training this week that was convened by the ATU under their new leadership. I will follow up on the blog with some observations and takeaways.


  1. The ATU is the Amalgamated Transit Union

  2. Thanks for catching the typo, it is fixed.