Welcome to the IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus

"Judi Bari did something that I believe is unparalleled in the history of the environmental movement. She is an Earth First! activist who took it upon herself to organize Georgia Pacific sawmill workers into the IWW…Well guess what friends, environmentalists and rank and file timber workers becoming allies is the most dangerous thing in the world to the timber industry!"

--Darryl Cherney, June 20, 1990.

Canada, the World Bank and International Confederation of Trade Unions announce a partnership to promote Just Transition in the phase-out of coal-fired electricity

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 13, 2017

Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister is back on the  international stage at the One Planet Summit in Paris, which is focusing on climate change financing – notably phasing out  fossil fuel subsidies, and aid to developing countries.  In a press release on December 12,  Canada announced a partnership with the World Bank Group to accelerate the transition from coal-fired electricity to clean sources in developing countries, stating: “This work also includes sharing best practices on how to ensure a just transition for displaced workers and their communities to minimize hardships and help workers and communities benefit from new clean growth opportunities. The transition to a low-carbon economy should be inclusive, progressive and good for business. We will work together with the International Trade Union Confederation in this regard.”   The World Bank Group announcement was briefer : “Canada and the World Bank will work together to accelerate the energy transition in developing countries and, together with the International Trade Union Confederation, will provide analysis to support efforts towards a just transition away from coal.”  The ITUC Just Transition Centre hadn’t posted any announcement as of December 13.

Other Canadian partnerships announced in a general press release: a Canada-France Climate Partnership to promote the implementation of the Paris Agreement through  carbon pricing, coal phase-out, sustainable development and emission reductions in the marine and aviation sectors; Canada was selected as one of five countries for a new partnership with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition led by Bill Gates; and Canada , along with five Canadian provinces, two U.S. states, and Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile, signed on to the Declaration on Carbon Markets in the Americas, to strengthen  international and regional cooperation on carbon pricing.

The World Bank, one of the organizers of the One Planet Summit, made numerous other announcements – including that it will no longer finance upstream oil and gas developments after 2019, and as of 2018, it  will report greenhouse gas emissions from the investment projects it finances in key emissions-producing sectors, such as energy. Such moves may be seen as a response to the demands of the Big Shift Global campaign of Oil Change International, which  released a new briefing called “The Dirty Dozen: How Public Finance Drives the Climate Crisis through Oil, Gas, and Coal Expansion  on the eve of the One Planet Summit.  Over 200 civil society groups also issued an Open Letter   calling on G20 governments and multilateral development banks to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and public finance for fossil fuels as soon as possible, and no later than 2020.  Signatories include Oil Change International, Les Amis de la Terre – Friends of the Earth France, Christian Aid, Greenpeace, Reseau Action Climat – Climate Action Network France, WWF International, BankTrack, Climate Action Network International, Global Witness, 350.org, Germanwatch, Natural Resources Defense Council, CIDSE, and the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development.

In Canada, Environmental Defence is collecting signatures in a campaign to stop fossil fuel subsidies , stating  “ Together, federal and provincial governments hand out $3.3 billion in subsidies every year for oil and gas exploration and development. In 2016, Export Development Canada, a crown corporation, spent an additional $12 billion in public money to finance fossil fuel projects.”

The Invisibility of Poverty in Puerto Rico

By Oscar Oliver-Didier - CounterPunch, December 11, 2017

It has been more than two months since Hurricane María, a catastrophic category four hurricane, took a heavy toll on Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and dismally affected its local residents. People in the mainland saw pictures and videos of entire communities being physically disconnected due to bridges collapsing and roads being covered with debris. The news cycle kept repeating how extremely difficult it was to send rescue teams and aid to these heavily hit areas. And it is pretty common to know by now that any form of communication was basically inexistent—due to cellphone towers being torn down by strong winds—and that 100 percent of users were left without electricity right after the storm. Although some improvements have occurred, to this date, not much has changed. Only a little over half of the island has recovered electrical power—mostly intermittently.

Even though it has lost its persistent media coverage, what this dire aftermath and the subsequent relief and recovery effort have revealed is the island’s century-old unequal colonial relationship with the United States, and the local elites’ role in sustaining it. Recent controversy over the mishandling of the humanitarian crisis after Hurricane María should not surprise anyone. In the territory, as subaltern subjects, Puerto Ricans have been continuously subjected to a capitalist and racial hierarchical system.

These unjust core-periphery relations are a still evolving colonial condition that has made the territory a contested realm for economic extraction and injustices since the U.S. invaded the island in 1898. In fact, there is a similar case that dates back to an 1899 hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico called San Ciriaco—after which the U.S. quickly moved to devalue the local currency, raise property taxes, and put in place a corporate takeover of land that unleashed the sugarcane economic boom of this period.

As multiple recent news articles have highlighted, it has also laid bare the extreme inequality and conditions of poverty present throughout the U.S territory. Even the politically vocal Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz pronounced recently in an interview that: “We will no longer be able to hide our poverty and our inequality with palm trees and piña coladas.”

It is important to note, however, that Puerto Rico has had a long history of obscuring poverty—especially after the Operation Bootstrap program was implemented in the island during the mid-twentieth century. This expedited modernization project was to become the Cold War’s antithesis to communist Cuba. Deemed a beacon for freedom and a laboratory for democracy in Latin America, huge amounts of federal money were transferred from the mainland to the territory in order to showcase Puerto Rico as capitalism’s success story.

However, this process of modernization was not working hand in hand with a long-term economic project that would actually lift most islanders out of poverty—today, more than 40 percent of residents live under the federal poverty line. By the 1970s, the economy started a downturn, so in 1976 Section 936 of the U.S. tax code was created to grant mainland corporations a tax exemption from their incomes originating from its Puerto Rico subsidiaries. Without a strong local economy—just a huge profit increase for mainland companies—when the tax exemption finally expired in 2006, Puerto Rico was left in economic shambles and has not recovered since.

Members speak out to protect climate, clean energy jobs

By staff - Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, December 11, 2017

In the final week of November, KFTC members Russell Oliver, Stanley Sturgill, Henry Jackson, Teri Blanton, Roger Ohlman, Mary Dan Easley and Mary Love converged in Charleston, West Virginia – alongside hundreds of other concerned people – to testify to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against the agency’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

“Now that we have cleaner, safer and cheaper ways to generate energy, the only question should be: how can we create more of those new jobs right here and right now in Appalachia? I know this because not only have I lived it, I’m still trying my best to keep living it,” said Stanley Sturgill of Harlan County, a retired coal miner and KFTC member.

Sturgill and others urged the EPA not to eliminate the Clean Power Plan rule. Issued in 2014, the plan is an Obama administration regulation that calls on states to develop plans for modestly reducing their carbon pollution. Most would do that through energy efficiency programs, development of solar and wind power, and reducing the amount of coal burned. States have lots of flexibility on how they choose to meet the standard.

Kentucky’s utilities would be required to reduce their carbon dioxide pollution by 31 percent by 2030 from the baseline of 2012 – something that will mostly be achieved anyway through coal plant retirements that have already happened or have been recently announced.

But, to meet or exceed the standard, the state also needs to adopt some new policies and strategies to reduce energy consumption and get more from renewable energy.

Instead, the EPA is proposing to do away with the rule, which has never actually been implemented due to court challenges. What’s more, the EPA’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan has not followed the in-depth public engagement process that went into creating the plan.

KFTC member Mary Love pointed this out in her testimony to the EPA.

A call for solidarity against forced evictions of MST members in northern Brazil

By staff - La Via Campesina, December 13, 2017

An aggressive attack is being waged against landless farmers in the northern state of Pará, Brazil, according to a statement released by the Landless Workers Movement (MST) on Tuesday.

According to members of Brazil’s largest social movement, large-scale landowners along with local judicial authorities, media outlets and the Brazilian military police are targeting MST encampments throughout the country.

Occupants living in 20 encampments located in the northern State of Pará are preparing for a planned eviction on Wednesday, which activists warn will force more than 2000 families into precarious living conditions.

Meanwhile, leading up to Wednesday’s forced eviction, unarmed families and individuals living in the MST’s Hugo Chavez encampment site, were reportedly shot at on Monday by private security officials.

The recent violence takes place as the Brazilian government continues to peruse regressive land ownership laws, which have resulted in devastating consequences on landless and displaced agricultural workers.

During the administration of the unelected Brazilian President Michel Temer, the MST has witnessed increased levels of state violence and criminalization against members of their movement

In light of the escalating violence and repression, we are issuing a call of international solidarity! So, please feel free to send us a short video or statement in support of the MST!

Watchdogs Say US Chemical Safety Board Is "Flying Blind"

By Mike Ludwig - Truthout, December 8, 2017

In the early hours of August 31, explosions erupted at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, where floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey had cut off the power supply to refrigerated containers containing organic peroxide. Residences in a 1.5-mile radius had been evacuated, and deputies manning barricades began falling ill in the middle of the road one by one. Medics were called, but no further warning was given as columns of black smoke filled the air.

Arkema knew the fires were coming -- organic peroxides burst into flames unless they are kept cool -- but company officials had insisted in a press conference prior to the explosions that the chemicals were not toxic or harmful to people, according to a lawsuit filed in September by emergency workers injured at the scene.

The lawsuit describes the scene near the plant as "nothing less than chaos," with police officers doubled over vomiting and medics gasping for air on their way to assist them. At least 15 people were hospitalized. Arkema initially told authorities the victims had inhaled a "non-toxic irritant," but residues obtained from nearby residences tested positive for dangerous toxins, such as dioxins and heavy metals, according to a separate lawsuit filed by people living nearby.

What else is Arkema hiding? For answers to that question, the public is turning to the US Chemical Safety Board, where an investigation of the Arkema incident is ongoing. However, the federal agency has failed to implement a rule requiring chemical plant operators to report dangerous releases during accidents to its investigators. Congress mandated this provision back in 1990.

Had Arkema been required to report the looming chemical fires to the Chemical Safety Board, the government and emergency workers would have had more to go on than the "vague" disclosure offered by the company during the storm, according to Adam Carlesco, a staff attorney at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The watchdog group filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging the chemical board's inaction on the reporting rule. Other plaintiffs include the Memorial for Workplace Fatalities and two Gulf South environmental groups.

"America's sole industrial safety monitor is currently flying blind and placing the health of the public at risk," Carlesco said.

First year progress report on the Pan-Canadian Framework lacks any mention of Just Transition

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 12, 2017

On December 9th, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia jointly announced the first annual progress report on the implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change – officially titled,  the First Annual Synthesis Report on the Status of Implementation – December 2017 (English version)  and Premier rapport annuel du cadre pancanadien sur la croissance propre et les changements climatiques (French version).     The report summarizes the year’s policy developments at the federal and provincial/territorial  level – under the headings pricing carbon pollution ; complementary actions to reduce emissions;  adaptation and climate change resilience ; clean technology, innovation and jobs; reporting and oversight; and looking ahead.  It is striking that the report is up to date enough to include mention of the Saskatchewan climate change strategy, released on December 4, as well as the Powering Past Coal global alliance launched by Canada and Great Britain in November at the Bonn climate talks – yet in the section on “Looking Ahead”, there is no mention of another important outcome of the Bonn talks: a Just Transition Task Force in Canada.  As reported by the Canadian Labour Congress in “Unions applaud Canada’s commitment to a just transition for coal workers”,  “Minister McKenna also announced her government’s intention to work directly with the Canadian Labour Congress to launch a task force that will develop a national framework on Just Transition for workers affected by the coal phase-out. The work of this task force is slated to begin early in the new year.”  No  mention of that, nor in fact, any use of the term “Just Transition” anywhere in the government’s progress report.

Environment Canada touts ‘good progress’ on climate after scathing audit” appeared in the National Oberserver (Dec. 11), summarizing some of the progress report highlights and pointing out that not everyone agrees with the government’s self-assessment that “While good progress has been made to date, much work remains”. Recent criticism has come from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in her October report ; from Marc Lee at the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis in “Canada is still a rogue state on climate change”  (Dec.11) ; and from the Pembina Institute in  State of the Framework: Tracking implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change .  The Pembina Institute report calls on the federal government to speed up on all policy fronts, with specific recommendations including: “extend the pan-Canadian carbon price up to $130 per tonne of pollution by 2030, implement Canada-wide zero emission vehicle legislation, ban the sale of internal combustion engines, and establish long-term energy efficiency targets.”

Amid Worst Winter Wildfires in California History, Farmworkers Are Laboring in Hazardous Air

By Amy Goodman - Democracy Now!, December 11, 2017

In California, drought-fueled wildfires raged toward Southern California’s coastal cities over the weekend. The fires have scorched some 230,000 acres of land and forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. At least one woman has died so far. The wildfires are already the fifth largest on record in California history. Climate experts say the intensity of the winter blazes is linked to climate change. Authorities have warned residents to stay inside because of the dangerous air quality caused by smoke and carcinogenic ash from the fires. But a number of farms have stayed open, sparking concerns that farmworkers are laboring in hazardous conditions without proper equipment. Last week, volunteers handing out free protective masks to farmworkers say they were kicked off some farms, despite the fact that the pickers were asking for the safety equipment. For more, we speak with Lucas Zucker, who was evacuated last week due to the wildfires. Zucker is the policy and communications director for CAUSE—Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy—and he helped distribute respirator masks to farmworkers who had to continue working despite the hazardous air quality conditions. We also speak with Democratic California State Assemblymember Monique Limón, who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura County.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to California, where drought-fueled wildfires raged toward Southern California’s coastal cities over the weekend, the fires scorching 230,000 acres of land, forcing nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. At least one woman has died so far. The wildfire is the fifth largest on record so far in California history, the largest ever recorded in December. Climate experts say the intensity of the winter blazes is linked to climate change.

Authorities have warned residents to stay inside because of the dangerous air quality caused by smoke and carcinogenic ash from the fires. But a number of farms have stayed open, sparking concerns farmworkers are laboring in hazardous conditions without proper equipment. Last week, volunteers handing out free protective masks to farmworkers say they were kicked off some farms, despite the fact the pickers were asking for the safety equipment.

For more, we go now to Southern California, where we’re joined by two guests. Via Democracy Now! video stream, Lucas Zucker, joining us from Ventura in Southern California, evacuated last week due to the wildfires. He’s policy and communications director for CAUSE—Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy—helped distribute respirator masks to farmworkers who had to continue working despite the hazardous air quality conditions. By phone, we’re joined by Democratic California State Assemblymember Monique Limón, who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura County.

“WTO Kills Peasants! 21 Years is Enough!! WTO Out of Agriculture!!!” La Via Campesina to step up its resistance during the XI Ministerial Conference

By Francés: Claude Girod, et. al. - La Via Campesina, December 10, 2017

A large delegation of La Via Campesina comprising peasants, rural workers, indigenous peoples, women and youth from around the world will converge outside the venue of the 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which is scheduled to take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina from the 10th to13th December.

During the week of the conference, La Via Campesina (LVC) will mobilise, organise and join social movements and allies to expose the devastative effects that WTO has had on peasant agriculture and to reiterate our long-standing demand of 21 years, to oust the multilateral trade body from any discussions and decisions regarding agriculture.

La Via Campesina, a global peasant movement with more than 180 member organisations from 79 countries, has consistently demanded to take agriculture out of the WTO’s scope. Instead it has demanded a systemic change that brings about food sovereignty to the worlds peoples. Once again the rallying call from the global peasants’ movement is “For Food Sovereignty, WTO Out of Agriculture!”.

Since its beginnings in 1995 as derivative of General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATTs), the World Trade Organization has promoted the most brutal form of capitalism, better known as trade liberalization. At successive Ministerial Conferences, the WTO has set out to globalise the liberalisation of national markets, promising economic prosperity at the cost of sovereignty. In more or less the same terms, by its “liberalization, deregulation and privatization”, which is called Package of Neoliberalism, WTO has encouraged the multiplication of free trade agreements (FTAs) between countries and regional blocs, etc. In this context, with help from governments that have been co-opted, the world’s largest transnational corporations (TNCs) continue to expand globally and are blatantly undermining democracy and all of the institutional instruments that are meant to defend the lives, the territories, and the food and agricultural ecosystems of the world’s peoples.

Through AoA (Agreement on Agriculture) regulated in the WTO, peasant communities become the most disadvantaged because they have minimal capital resources and little or no protection from national governments as WTO prohibits any protection that stand in the way of market liberalisation. Its role was replaced and eroded by corporations with large capital resources, slowly forming a monopoly scheme. As a result, peasants have to deal with dangerous implications such as land grabbing, criminalization, environmental pollution and the importation of agricultural products.

In the previous Ministerial Conference (MC) in Nairobi in 2015, WTO had made six decisions on agriculture, cotton and issues related to LDCs. The agricultural decisions cover commitment to abolish export subsidies for farm exports, public stock-holding for food security purposes, a special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, and measures related to cotton. Decisions were also made regarding preferential treatment for least developed countries (LDCs) in the area of services and the criteria for determining whether exports from LDCs may benefit from trade preferences.

In the 11th Ministerial Conference the WTO wants to return to the subject of agriculture in relation to public stock-holding, to put an end to small-scale fishing, and to make progress with multilateral agreements such as the misnamed General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Notwithstanding the misleading protectionist statements coming from the developed countries, the WTO will meet again to try to impose the interests of capital at the cost of Planet Earth, of the democratic aspirations of the world’s peoples, and of life itself.

What happens to workers when wildfires and natural disasters hit?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 8, 2017

Sadly, we are becoming  used to seeing headlines about the costs of fighting climate change-related wildfires, hurricanes, and floods – most recently, the record wildfire season of 2017.   These news reports usually discuss loss  in terms of the value of  insurance  claims – for example, “Northern Alberta Wildfire Costliest Insured Natural Disaster in Canadian History – Estimate of insured losses: $3.58 billion”   from the Insurance Bureau of Canada, or in terms of the budgets of emergency service agencies – for example, “Cost of fighting U.S. wildfires topped $2 billion in 2017” from Reuters (Sept. 14), or in terms of health and mental health effects – for example, “Economic analysis of health effects from forest fires”  in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research (2006).  “The Science behind B.C.’s Forest Fires” (December 5) post by West Coast Environmental Law discusses the links to climate change, and concludes that the record wildfires of 2017 foreshadow growing economic and  human costs in the future.

When employment effects of disasters are reported, it is usually by statistical agencies interested in working days lost or unemployment effects,  for example,  “Wildfires in northern Alberta: Impact on hours worked, May and June, 2016”  from Statistics Canada, or “Hurricane Katrina’s effects on industry employment and wages ” from the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( 2006) . While all these are important, Hurricane Katrina taught that there are also other aspects, including those of environmental and economic justice.

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