For over a century, labor championed America’s evolving environmental movement. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the labor movement promoted the conservation of America’s national resources and opposed industrial exploitation of public lands for profit. During the Great Depression, labor supported New Deal programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps. This program created jobs for unemployed youth to restore farmland, protect wilderness areas, and create public parks.
After World War II, labor union members began to link the dangers of pollution in the workplace with the contamination of the surrounding communities. Allied with the emerging ecology movement, the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) strongly supported the passage of the Clean Air Act (1963) and the Clean Water Act (1972). Labor unions were also important organizers of the first Earth Day and the first national environmental teach-in. In the 1970s, the labor movement began promoting alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar, and hydroelectric power built by union members.
Within the last ten years, labor and environmental organizations worked together to create the BlueGreen Alliance and the Labor Network for Sustainability which promote environmental protection, economic fairness, and social justice. These organizations mobilized union members for the 2017 People’s Climate March, demonstrating the labor movement’s commitment to environmental justice and protection of the environment.