The Forgotten History of Earth Day and Labor
Collectively, we celebrate Earth Day in 193 countries worldwide on April 22nd. Originally proposed by peace activist John McConnell in 1969 at a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Conference in San Francisco, the celebration has become synonymous with Environmentalism and Green-Activism. Earth Day’s success is largely credited to policy-makers and marketability; however, many have forgotten the initial contributions of Labor & Industry. Earth Day’s national success was in large part thanks to the help and involvement of laborers across the country.
One of the initial hurdles that the first Earth Day had to clear was garnishing support outside of the realm of politics and traditional media. Less than a week after its announcement; then president of the United Automobile Workers, Walter Ruther, donated the first $2,000 to the initiative. Shortly after, other groups in Construction and General Industry followed suit. Outside of the initial monetary boost that organizers needed, the UAW under Ruther’s leadership mobilized mailing campaigns and encouraged their members to participate in local Earth Day events.
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Today, our shared history with Earth Day has either been forgotten or overlooked. Although marching and organization can produce important policy decisions, the work and progress made by those in our Industries has made building and manufacturing safer and eco-friendlier. This Earth Day, we honor the influence and support that Labor & Industry had in helping support and shape the celebration of our planet as we know it. We salute the leadership of the past for having the foresight to stand up for our collective futures and well-being. As Ruther put it:
“What good is a dollar an hour more in wages if your neighborhood is burning down? What good is another week’s vacation if the lake you used to go to is polluted and you can’t swim in it and the kids can’t play in it? What good is another $100 in pension if the world goes up in atomic smoke?”
You can learn more about Earth Day and how you can get involved here.