“Once labor has been embodied in instruments of production and enters the further process of labor to play its role there, it may be called, following Marx, dead labor [. . .]. The ideal toward which capitalism strives is the domination of dead labor over living labor.” — Harry Braverman1
“[T]here are no jobs on a dead planet.” — Bill McKibben2
In a recent essay in New Labor Forum, authors Jeremy Brecher, Ron Blackwell, and Joe Uehlein urge the labor movement to take a more active role in the fight against climate change.3 Many unions, they lament, have been reluctant to engage the issue, and indeed others have actively taken positions at odds with the climate movement’s most basic tenets. Where unions have been asked to choose between job security and the environment, many have understandably chosen the former. In this fraught context, the authors argue that unions must not only work to reveal the “jobs versus environment” choice as a false one, but that they must do so by developing a climate protection strategy of their own. Drawing on the example of World War II and the economic mobilization that surrounded it, they suggest that labor adopt a strategy involving large-scale government investments in sustainable transit, clean energy, and green infrastructure. Not only would such a strategy put millions of people to work, but it would put them to work on precisely the jobs that matter for mitigating climate change. In many ways, there is little in this strategy with which to disagree. For labor, ignoring climate change can no longer be an option. To quote Bill McKibben: “[T]here are no jobs on a dead planet.”4 At the same time — and especially given the analogy Brecher, Blackwell, and Uehlein attempt to draw between World War II and the climate fight — one cannot help but raise yet an additional question. That question, which will be the focus of this essay, is on the labor process itself. Drawing on the ongoing experience of transit workers in California’s East Bay, this essay asks the rather simple question: what might a climate protection strategy modeled on World War II mean for transit workers?