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Auto Strikes and Climate Change

As long as good jobs and workers’ rights are seen as optional add-ons in the fight against climate change, we will be waging a losing battle. As the United Auto Workers’ strike shows, new industrial strategies must do more to protect and empower the hard-working people who will be carrying them out.

NEW YORK – The United Auto Workers’ first-ever strike against the so-called “Big Three” (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler-owner Stellantis) underscores the need to bring climate action, economic growth, and workers’ rights into alignment. Public policies aimed at increasing the production and sales of electric vehicles (EVs) have the power to catalyze innovation and private-sector investment in ways that benefit workers. But realizing that potential requires a new understanding of the role that both government and workers play in driving positive economic change at scale.

While the UAW has made clear that it is not opposed to the transition to a low-carbon economy, it insists that this shift should encompass the creation or preservation of good jobs. The broader implication is that if the “green transition” does not fully bring about workplace and economic justice, it will lack the political support needed to get out of the starting blocks. And make no mistake: Only governments have the power both to drive this economic transformation and to ensure that it improves the lives of working people. Here is what they must do.

First, states can and should do more to set a general direction for investment, innovation, and growth. By establishing bold climate goals or “missions” with ambitious, measurable targets, they can crowd in public and private investment and spark cross-sectoral innovation.