The Multinational Monitor



Beyond the Myths of Environmental Regulation

Fear at Work: Job Blackmail, Labor, and the Environment
by Richard Kazis and Richard L. Grossman
New York: Pilgrim Press, 1982 Paperback, 306 pages, $10.95

by Walden Bello

The Wall Street Journal will probably give this book a bad review. Which would be all the more reason to recommend it.

Richard Kazis and Richard Grossman, both staff members of the Washington, D.C.-based Environmentalists for Full Employment, have performed an invaluable service for the progressive movement by providing us with a sustained and decisive rebuttal of all the key arguments which big business has used to scare labor away from allying itself with the environmental movement.

Myth No. 1 is that measures to protect the environment and promote occupational safety result in job losses. Culling all available research on the subject, the authors fix on an EPA study which alleges that over a ten-year period, 36,611 workers lost their jobs due to environmental regulation. The figure is, of course, minuscule compared to the more than a million Americans who lost their jobs as a result of relocation of industries overseas by multinationals and the million workers thrown out of their jobs by Reagan's budget cuts. But the EPA figure, claim the authors, is still inflated, since many of those fired were immediately rehired and many of the others were actually laid off for reasons other than environmental controls. In contrast, pollution controls are creating new jobs, with one study placing the figure at 524,000 jobs between 1970 and 1978.

Myth No. 2 is that environmental regulation results in inflation. The truth, on the contrary, is that failure to regulate now will significantly contribute to inflation later. The Hooker Chemicals Corporation, for instance, could have spent $2 million to properly dispose of toxic wastes in 1952; instead, over $87 million in taxpayers' money had to be spent in the late seventies to clean up just the Love Canal at Niagara Falls. Myth No. 3 is that environmental regulation reduces productivity. Again, Kazis and Grossman find that the contribution of pollution controls to "productivity slowdown" is minimal. The problem, they add, is that the current definition of productivity-the amount of goods and services produced per hour of human effort - is too narrow. Productivity measures do not take into account the products created by people who apply environmental controls in the production process. As one electrician put it, "Clean air and clean water are products just like steel. The company does not view them as products. But people working to create clean air and clean water view themselves as productive."

The frothing opposition to controls seen in Interior Secretary James Watt and former EPA Administrator Anne Burford is traced to the same motivation that makes corporations wage war on labor unions: resistance to anything that limits profitability and management prerogative. "Management understands," assert the authors, "that when it opens itself up to public scrutiny, participation, and accountability, its own power is diminished. People begin to see that there are alternatives, there might be better ways to organize the work process, produce particular goods, and allocate capital, resources and labor. Demands for greater democracy at the workplace, for jobs, for safe and healthy workplaces, for strong protection of public health and the environment, and for a say in natural resource use are also demands that corporations accept limits on their power and their freedom from accountability."

While Kazis and Grossman see unions and environmentalists as natural allies, they urge environmentalists to make sure that their initiatives include provisions for the relief, compensation, and employment of the few workers who might be displaced. More important, they must take the offensive and "demand both jobs and environment and reject the false choices posed by employers."

Forging a truly effective labor -environmentalist alliance, the authors caution, will not be easy. But instances of successful alliances are growing, like the pathbreaking one between nuclear workers at the Goodyear Atomic Plant in Piketon, Ohio, who demanded greater safety on the job, and anti-nuclear activists who made the workers' cause a national issue.

The only thing that mars this otherwise excellent and optimistic paperback book is its steep price: $10.95. Perhaps the authors could have more sharply challenged the "management prerogative" of the publisher to ensure that the book reached its prime audience: workers.

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