Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Green Jobs: An Alternative to Neoliberalism? Recycling in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Toronto, Canada

Document type Thesis
Author Yap, Lilian
Degree Ph.D., Sociology
Publisher York University; Toronto
Date 2016
Pages 333 pages


In recent years, environmental organizations and labour unions have begun to more seriously campaign for the promotion of green jobs as a way to address the twin problems of climate change and economic stagnation, particularly in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. They variously suggest that green jobs will be created through increased investment in green sectors; for some, this requires public investment and the adoption of a Green New Deal (GND) policy orientation, while for others this requires only increased private investment in green industries. The former emphasize that since green sectors are more labour-intensive than traditional industries, investment in green infrastructure could thus generate comparatively more employment per dollar invested. At the heart of these proposals is the proposition that capitalist economic growth could be made consistent with social and ecological justice. This dissertation is a critical engagement with the propositions of the green jobs campaign through the concrete examination of two diverse cases of residential (i.e. post-consumer) recycling, a quintessentially green sector, in Buenos Aires and Toronto. Defining recycling as the (global) production of value from waste, the analysis pays particular attention to both the labour process and historical development of recycling. Through a combination of qualitative document analysis, archival research, and qualitative interviews, this thesis argues that purely market-coordinated recycling is not able to simultaneously deliver large-scale employment creation and improved socio-ecological outcomes because of the inherent tension between labour intensiveness and methods of increasing productivity. This tension, in turn, is rooted in the distributive conflict characteristic of capitalist production, the resolution of which requires increased economic growth. From an ecological perspective, then, this is simply a deferment of the problem. In line with proponents of the Green New Deal, this dissertation argues that mediation of this tension in a direction favourable to both ecological and social concerns requires collective intervention. However, going beyond the Green New Deal, it concludes that commitment to social and ecological justice requires moving in the direction of decommodified, cooperative production and collective consumption.