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The Foundations of Future Forestry - Interview with Judi Bari
There are two, slightly different versions of this interview, neither of which are complete, so we are treating them as separate documents. The other version, The Shit Raiser Speaks is also featured in this library.
Interview by Chris Carlsson and Med-O - Industrial Worker, December 1992.
Judi Bari was bombed by persons unknown just prior to the beginning of Redwood Summer 1990 and is currently. plaintiff to a case against the FBl for their lack of effort regarding her attempted assassination. This interview was conducted by Chris Carlson in April '92 at Judi's home in Mendocino County, California.
Chris Carlson: one of the things we like to talk about a lot is the question of identity. How many people, when you ask them "who are you?" will tell you about their jobs, or how many will tell you about something they really care about?
Judi Bari: Most people tell you their job, I think.
Chris Carlson: Yeah I guess most people assume you are expected to answer with what you do for a living. But I find that almost everybody that I talk to for a little longer actually has something else that they do. Whether they're an organizer, a musician, a wind surfer, they define their life with an outside activity. And that's really a healthy response to the work-all-day life. Why should you put your identity and your soul into this godawful miserable experience? It's already bad enough getting this measly shit money out of it.
Judi Bari: Well I guess I did when I was working because I proudly identified with the struggle. I had a bumper sticker that said "POW: Post office Worker." I proudly identified both with the job and the fact that we were resisting on that job. I think that's one of the ways for people to identify with the jobs even in a shitty society.
Chris Carlson: As a resistor?
Judi Bari: Yeah I never had a bumper sticker that said "Kiss me I'm a carpenter" but I did have one that said Post Office Worker...
Chris Carlson: Isn't there a spontaneous critique of capitalist "efficiency" in various forms of sabotage? Can you see thatleading to a broader vision of a world worth working for?
Judi Bari: I think that the machinery to a factory worker is just so alienating, that it's just a natural instinct to destroy it. It would take a lot more than destroying machinery here and there, it would take political organization, that's the problem. People are always gonna trash machinery though, no matter what. If you work on machinery like that, it's really a natural experience, this isn't a question of "are you an evil radical in your factory, and do you sabotage--" Any industrial job I've ever worked at, I imagine it's the same in the technocratic-industrial jobs, people spontaneously fuck things up. It's like the only rebellion you have. It's not organized resistance, it's just gut level rejection. Sometimes it's a way to get a break, like if you throw pieces of pallet into the conveyer belt, the thing will break and they'll have to come fix it end you can wait.
Chris Carlson: Yeah, in an office you can just hang a sign on the xerox machine saying "out of order."
Judi Bari: There you go! These cultures really do translate, we just have to learn the integrating language. That's the thing about the Wobblies and Earth First! that makes them powerful beyond their numbers because they combine the natural instinct to sabotage the machinery of oppression and - destruction with political organizing.
Chris Carlson: Self-management is a common goal of contemporary radical workers. Does this play a role in your politics, and if so, can you discuss the problem of workers adopting the values and concerns of the marketplace in order to survive?
Judi Bari: Yeah I absolutely believe in workers' control, both on the job and in political organizing also. I think that the people at the action get to decide what happens. I don't think the decision gets made at some central off ice and then you tell your little Greenpeace clones that you will go here and do that. Workers' self-direction is important not only on the job but also in political activity.
Chris Carlson: So what's going to excite people now? Certainly it's not because they're workers that they're going to get involved with anything. on the other hand, as we know perfectly well, the real social power that exists to really fuck with the system is found in the workplace. So there's strategic power there, but it's not necessary that there be this psychological identification. It's basic to Wobbly philosophy and to most proponents of labor organizing, that you, have to somehow act on your social function as a worker, as opposed to thinking about taking advantage of the strategic power at work as a part of something else--
Judi Bari: Well, what we've done is, exactly what you're saying. We worked with the workers on workplace issues, and we formed alliances on broader issues, and pretty soon the workers that we were defending on the PCB spills were defending us on the destruction of the forest. So the people in Earth First! who say I'm a sellout for wanting to work with workers in extractive industries, well I call it the "Future Ex-Logger Coalition" because by the time that they're ready to work with us they've had it with the job.
Chris Carlson: So do you think they really embrace an ecological agenda?
Judi Bari: Oh well they certainly do, yeah. When I interviewed workers about working conditions, what made them begin to question the company in many cases were sentiments like "I went out to my favorite spot and it was gone. You know I used to take my son fishing, and now there's no more fish."
One of the episodes at the Fort Bragg rally, the famous dramatic confrontation in the middle of town when the Earth First! rally comes face to face with the yellow-ribbon-waving-crazed-drunk-alcohol-abusive, ranting and raving, and we offer them the microphone. These 3 loggers get up there and the first one just rages, and then the third one [Duane Potter] gets up, and he's 5th generation with the whole accent, and the whole trip, (we didn't know him, he was not a plant, he was somebody we'd never worked with before), and he said "You all know me, I grew up with you," he addressed the loggers, and he said "I used to log in the summer and fish in the winter, and now there's no more logs and no more fish. I never wanted to put my family on welfare, but I put my family in welfare because I can't do this anymore, I can't keep destroying this place I love." He said he was going to dedicate his life to opening a recycling center, so he can have right livelihood.
There is a group of ex-timber workers who want to do some kind of reparations and right livelihood. The coalition of people who criticized us from the environmental movement, who criticized us far advocating the interests of extractive industry workers, they don't understand what we're doing at all.
Not in any way, shape or form are we advocating for traditional unionism, even though we had Georgia Pacific workers wearing IWW buttons to work. Right now Georgia Pacific's redwood section is less than 1% of the overall operation. It's basically a pulp and paper company, primarily based in the south. Then they have this little Western Division up here that does redwood, and it's about one big mill. Before they would recognize a Wobbly union they would definitely close the mill. There's just no question that we don't have a single chance in organizing for traditional labor goals. We're looking at an industry that's on its way out.
What we're talking about is what we're going to do after it leaves and how we're going to seize control of our community so that we CAN do what we think needs to be done after it leaves. That's the broader question that we're working on: control of our community so that it won't get gentrified, and the timber workers won't be displaced. Right now we're controlled by out-of-state corporations.
Chris Carlson: I wonder how you imagine controlling the outside capital that might be coming in?
Judi Bari: I don't think you can solve all the problems without a revolution! We're doing traditional labor organizing, we advocated for the workers who got PCB dumped on them, we advocated for the worker who got killed in Ukiah mill and got criminal charges brought against Louisiana-Pacific, we interviewed workers about their working conditions, but that's the narrower thing.
We're also talking about this broader thing of resource destruction, of out-of-town evil corporation-- L-P is a wonderful adversary. Harry Merlo, the guy that's in charge of L-P is Snidely Whiplash! We have this perfect villain, stereotypical, right out of a book, hate to waste something like that, y'know the evil corporate raider from Texas, the slimy corporate millionaire... You're talking about a man who said "We'll log to infinity--it's out there and it's ours and we want it NOW!" He's amazing, you can't believe the shit he's done! They're really a fun company. one of the things that was so fun about working in the factory as opposed as to the grocery stores is the personification of the boss. It's not like some company, Safeway, well who is Safeway? But here, just like Miz Julie and Jim Strong were right there for us to ridicule in the factory, the same for Harry Merlo and Charles Hurwitz. They're right there, and they're just perfect. They really personify the whole thing.
But anyway the alliance with workers based on workplace issues has been translated into a larger question of the resource base, finally leading to our demand for eminent domain seizure of the timber industry by the county.
Chris Carlson: Socialism in Mendocino County!
Judi Bari: You know what happened after we did that, besides that they tried to kill me for it... The other thing that happened is that it got immediate notice--it wasn't the first time we asked for eminent domain, by the way. When L-P announced that they were moving their redwood mill to Mexico, people were really outraged, and the Board of Supervisors and everybody were having meetings to discuss it, and L-P's response in their typical arrogant manner was "We don't understand what everybody's so mad about, where's the pat on the back for all the good things we've done?" [laughter] So everybody was up in arms and we went to the Board of Supervisors meeting to talk about--the Mexico plant was the first time we asked for eminent domain seizure. We weren't totally dismissed although we weren't taken one bit seriously. It's like, oh those radicals, yeah, right, sure.
But the second time we came back was six months later and this time we came back with workers and we made the same demand again, and this time we were taken very seriously, so seriously that, well one of the Board of Supervisors members, the crazy one, said to us "let's meet at lunch to talk about this." Twelve of us were able to stay and meet the Supervisor in a public restaurant in Ukiah during a lunch break to talk about how to go about seizing the resource from the biggest landowner and corporate boss of Mendocino County. There was absolute silence in the restaurant, you could hear a pin drop. People were so shocked at what we were saying, and in the middle of the meeting the state senator's aide comes running in (he had got word through the grapevine) to find out what we're up to. What the county supervisor was saying to us loudly in public was, "OK, you say there's--(see I knew there's a legal precedent because of my union background but they'd never seized a resource but they had seized a factory.) There's two legal precedents for seizing the factory. It's eminent domain, one was in Pennsylvania and one was in Ohio. In Pennsylvania the community physically blockaded the machinery and won an eminent domain seizure of the factory. You never hear about this in the history books.
Chris Carlson: That was recently?
Judi Bari: 1975 or so. So the supervisor says "You say you've got legal precedent far this, get your lawyers together and get this written up in a legal language and than bring it to me and I'll introduce it as a measure at the Board of Supervisors, and it will then lose 4-l and you can take the position to referendum. Even if loses it will be heard all the way to Wall Street." Well, not only was it heard all the way to Wall Street, but that meeting was, and the result was the rifle scope across a picture of me and the death threats started. There's just no question in my mind that there's a relationship between those two things.
So the reaction was very swift and sure, "well, OK, she wants to seize the resources, let's kill her!" [laughter] So you see, that was even broader. We started from workplace problems, we went to resource destruction, and then we started to demand eminent domain. That was certainly taking it into a broader context!