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Blue-Green Coalitions

Fighting for Safe Workplaces and Healthy Communities

Brian Mayer

Publication Year: 2008

What do unions and environmental groups have to gain by working together and how do they overcome their differences? In Blue-Green Coalitions, Brian Mayer answers these questions by focusing on the role that health-related issues have played in creating a common ground between the two groups. By recognizing that the same toxics that cause workplace hazards escape into surrounding communities and the environment, workers and environmentalists are able to collaborate for the protection of all.

Mayer examines three contemporary cases of successful labor-environmental alliances to demonstrate how health and safety issues are used to create durable and politically influential social movement coalitions:

•Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, a coalition of environmental, labor, community, and public health organizations in Massachusetts that has developed a successful prevention-based approach to safe workplaces and a clean environment;

•the Work Environment Council in New Jersey, which succeeded in passing the first statewide right-to-know law and concentrates on protecting citizens from the dangerous toxics generated by the state's chemical industries;

•the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, an organization that began in the 1980s fighting hazardous high-tech practices that were affecting the Valley residents and the high-tech industry's largely immigrant workforce.

In Mayer's ethnographic accounts of the challenging work of bringing these blue-green coalitions together, it becomes clear that stereotypes about environmentalists and workers are largely irrelevant when thinking about who is at risk of exposure to dangerous toxic substances. Both movements share a common concern for protecting their members' health from toxic hazards that are by-products of the modern industrial economy.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-6


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pp. v-8

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pp. vii-viii

This is a book about cooperation. In this spirit, I owe many thanks to those who shared their stories and opinions about how blue-green coalitions come together and the challenges in making them work. I am especially grateful for the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow’s openness and...

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Introduction. Blue-Green Coalitions

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pp. 1-22

There is a story told by members of the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers– Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA) Local 201 about the day protestors from Greenpeace gathered outside their manufacturing plant. Located in an...

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1. A Forgotten History of Collaboration

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pp. 23-60

There is an important history of collaboration between the labor and environmental movements in the United States. This forgotten history of cooperation is often obscured by more prominent periods of conflict and failed attempts at alliance building. By ignoring these significant examples...

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2. Promoting Precaution to Prevent Harm

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pp. 61-97

Environmental reforms can have adverse consequences for the health of workers, which are unintended and largely ignored as new environmental campaigns are waged. Regulatory shifts in the handling of hazardous waste led to the concentration of toxics in working-class and...

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3. Fighting for the Right to Know

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pp. 98-132

The lack of information on potential toxic exposures limits the ability of labor and environmental organizations to campaign for stricter management of hazardous substances and better regulatory enforcement. Many activists, both workers and environmentalists alike, distrust official...

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4. Revealing the Hidden Perils of High-Tech

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pp. 133-163

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, located in San Jose, California, is my third case study of a labor-environmental alliance that is oriented around health. This organization faces a number of challenges unique to this region where the high-tech electronics and computer industry boomed in...

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5. Finding the Connections

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pp. 164-189

Defending one’s health and the health of one’s family is a powerful motivator for collective action. It drives parents to shield their children from potential harm and community groups to organize to oppose the siting of hazardous waste in their backyards. Though some workers may be willing...

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pp. 190-209

Workers are on the front line of the fight for safe workplaces and healthy communities. All too often, though, they are forgotten as environmental and community activists gather allies and build alliances and coalitions to challenge toxic exposures. As I have shown, bringing in partners...

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Methodological Appendix

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pp. 211-220

Labor and environmental organizations operate in fairly different social contexts. Union halls are welcoming places with staff people generally in place to help out strangers walking in through their doors. Environmental groups, depending on their size, are slightly less organized. Many of...


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pp. 221-231


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pp. 233-240

Author Biography

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pp. 241-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780801459023
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801447228

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 726824320
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Blue-Green Coalitions

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Labor unions -- Political activity -- United States.
  • Labor movement -- United States.
  • Green movement -- United States -- Citizen participation.
  • Environmental health -- United States -- Citizen participation.
  • Work environment -- United States.
  • Industrial hygiene -- United States.
  • Coalitions -- United States.
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