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Despite Intimidation, Union Voices Get Louder for Ceasefire in Gaza

Tue, 10/31/2023 - 00:00

By Keith Brower Brown and Caitlyn Clark - Labor Notes, October 31, 2023

Workers from three Chicago hospitals marched October 21. Photo: @lowisiana on X.

In the U.S. and across the world, hundreds of thousands of people have taken the streets to protest Israel’s assault on Gaza, which has killed at least 8,300 Palestinians, including 3,300 children, since October 7. On October 27, the United Nations called for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce.”

In the U.S., those protesting Israel’s attacks have faced a wave of repression by employers.

Management retaliation has struck journalists and academics. Michael Eisen, editor-in-chief of the open-access science journal eLife, was fired after sharing a satirical article from The Onion that criticized media responses to the loss of Palestinian life. Jackson Frank, a sports writer for PhillyVoice, was fired after criticizing a pro-Israel post by the Philadelphia 76ers.

After publishing and signing a letter of prominent artists and critics for a ceasefire, to stop an “escalating genocide,” Artforum Editor-in-Chief David Velasco was fired after 18 years at the magazine and six in that role. Three other editors resigned from the high-profile magazine in protest.

The National Writers Union is documenting such cases—both to connect writers with individual support, and to push for industry-wide reforms.

Meanwhile in Gaza, at least 25 journalists have been killed by Israeli airstrikes.


After Starbucks Workers United posted a message of solidarity with Palestine on X (formerly Twitter) October 9, Starbucks executives sued the union in federal court. The lawsuit demands that Starbucks Workers United stop using the union’s current name and logo on the grounds of trademark infringement.

In a letter published in In These Times, Workers United President Lynne Fox says, “Starbucks saw an opportunity to capitalize on the horrific and tragic events in the Middle East to further its unprecedented, illegal union busting campaign, trying to bully workers into abandoning their union name and logo.” The union has countersued.

Starbucks now finds itself the target of a consumer boycott from both ends—pro-Israel customers blaming Starbucks for the union’s statements, and pro-Palestine customers protesting its attack on the union.


In Olympia, Washington, the Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council voted unanimously for a resolution against “any union involvement in the production or transportation of weapons destined for Israel,” and called for “our parent federation [the AFL-CIO] to also publicly support an immediate ceasefire and equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis.”

A library worker and delegate who co-wrote and organized for the resolution, who asked to be identified as Alice, said the demands were “inspired by the call from Palestinian unions to unions around the world” to stop labor from backing the assault on Gaza. A group of delegates has started researching connections between local unions and the Israeli military, particularly in nearby ports.

The national AFL-CIO pushed back. On Monday, a field rep emailed council officers saying “your resolution goes beyond the position that the AFL-CIO has taken. Please let me know if you intend to retract the resolution.” Alice said she was told not to talk to the press.

By the end of the week, the Council president yielded to the push from the national office, and posts about the resolution were taken down.

“It’s just unbelievable to me that they would pressure us like this,” Alice said. “Local labor councils and unions speaking up is how we show the leadership where the rank and file is at.” A few Thurston-Lewis-Mason delegates have been asking other regional councils and union locals to pass resolutions standing with them.

“I’m hoping we can put some pressure on the AFL-CIO to back off, and even endorse a ceasefire, the position that so many international unions have come to, from Ireland, Canada, the U.K.,” Alice said. Regional or national union federations in those countries have passed calls for a ceasefire or an end to Israel’s occupation.

In the past week 27,000 labor activists have signed a letter calling on top U.S. union leaders to “break your silence” and push for a ceasefire.

The national AFL-CIO statement from October 11 closed with a call “to end the bloodshed of innocent civilians, and to promote a just and long-lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The New York Times reported on October 27 that Postal Workers (APWU) President Mark Dimondstein, who described himself as an “anti-Zionist Jew,” was a lone voice on the AFL-CIO executive council pushing others to stand for a ceasefire. He spoke for 30 minutes in the council meeting, the Times reported.


Retaliation for political speech is nothing new.

In 2011, National Public Radio fired host Lisa Simeone after she was quoted in the press as an activist with a local Occupy Wall Street group. NPR claimed it was against policy for employees to take public stances on anything related to coverage.

CNN fired commentator Marc Lamont Hill in 2018 after he called for “a free Palestine from the river to the sea” in a speech delivered at the United Nations’ International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

Grocery workers, retail workers, transit workers, and postal workers have fought disciplines and firings since 2020 over the right to wear Black Lives Matter buttons and masks. Some eventually won, especially when they fought with union backing.

In 2020, editors at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette barred scores of journalists from any coverage of Black Lives Matter protests. Reporter Alexis Johnson’s initial infraction was a personal tweet poking fun at critics who said the protests caused a public mess, by joking a Kenny Chesney tailgate party caused even more ruckus.

After editors barred Johnson from covering anti-racist marches, 100 co-workers posted in support of her. Editors barred them, too.

Post-Gazette workers with the NewsGuild fought back. Their campaign called for resignations from two top editors over the “outrageous sensitivity,” and asked advertisers to stop bankrolling the paper until it reneged.

The campaign didn’t win, but the fight set the stage for workers to mount a strike over management cuts to their health care. That strike has been going for a year.


Despite the current crackdown on criticism of Israel’s actions, a handful of union locals have passed calls for ceasefire and solidarity.

In Austin, Texas, Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 520 passed a resolution at its membership meeting to sign on to the ceasefire letter started by the United Electrical Workers (UE) international and Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 3000.

Electrician apprentice Dave Pinkham, one of the members who brought the motion, talked to members across the local to build support. “The main question that came up was, ‘What does this have to do with us?’” says Pinkham. “We made an appeal to humanity: ‘U.S. military support to Israel is supporting violence there. Let’s stop.’ That worked.”

Along with these Texans, eight other labor organizations have added their name to the ceasefire letter, including the San Antonio educators and school staff, Restaurant Workers United, and the Auto Workers' western regional leadership.

On Tuesday, top leaders of the Painters (IUPAT) put out their own call for a ceasefire. IUPAT President Jimmy Williams wrote on X, “It is the duty of all working people to stand up and say enough. A conflict of this magnitude cannot be fixed by bombs and bullets.”

The board of Longshore Workers Local 5 in Oregon, which includes workers in bookshops, early childhood education, and animal clinics, put out a ceasefire statement that says, “The ILWU’s long history of social justice activism and solidarity with oppressed people around the world is part of what drew the original organizers of Local 5 to the ILWU in the first place.” In recent decades, Longshore Workers at Oakland and British Columbia ports have refused to unload cargo from Israeli ships, honoring picket lines and boycotts.

A new rank-and-file campaign, WGA for Peace, is pushing for the Writers Guild to resist the lead of the Director’s Guild (DGA) and SAG-AFTRA in releasing statements of support for Israel. A group of high-profile members of the Guild had asked the Guild to condemn the October 7 attacks.

A WGA for Peace representative said the group worried the statements would fuel “a one-sided narrative that would lead to the escalating genocide in Palestine that we’re witnessing today.

“As mostly lower to mid-level workers, we knew that if we were going to be successful we would have to show collective force publicly,” said the representative, who asked to remain anonymous.

WGA for Peace published their own open letter, now signed by members of the Animation Guild (IATSE-TAG), the Directors Guild, and SAG-AFTRA calling on their unions to retract statements uncritically supporting Israel’s actions.

In California, the board of the Oakland Education Association called for an immediate ceasefire, organizing a rally with other unions and sharing curriculum and other resources for teachers.

“We have large groups of students who come from Yemen, as well as Palestine and other parts of the Middle East,” said kindergarten teacher Olivia Udovic, a board member. “At my daughter’s high school, students helped lead a teach-in and walked out last Friday. A middle school is holding a circle for Muslim, Jewish, and Arab-American students to process what’s happening together.

“I’d say times like this are a time to show our students how understanding current events is critical—and we have responsibilities, especially when it’s our government that’s funding so much of the atrocities we’re seeing on the news.

“That’s what it means to address the sadness and anger that many of us are experiencing right now. For younger people, it’s even harder to understand the why, and even more important to provide spaces to do something, to not just sit in grief.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

Tags: movements, unions, and organizationstrade unionsPalestineLabor for Palestineinternational solidaritymovement politicsLabor Notesunion bustingAFL-CIOAmerican Postal Workers Union (APWU)United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)United Electrical Workers (UE)International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)

Frontlines to Big Greens: Stand with us in calling for #Ceasefire now and Justice for Palestine

Tue, 10/31/2023 - 00:00

By Hendrik Voss - It Takes Roots, October 31, 2023

Over 2 million Palestinian people have suffered under a 16 year blockade on Gaza and now endure a complete siege, as Israel bombs, starves, and displaces them. Israel has cut off food, water, and electricity to Gaza and has engaged in bombing of residential buildings, markets, schools, health facilities, and mosques – all with the support of the United States and other governments. Palestinians are forced between two decisions, stay and try to survive, or try to flee into exile, but will never see their home again. Our solidarity as environmental justice and human rights defenders globally is vital, as we are witnessing genocide before our eyes. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance at $3.8 billion a year, totaling more than $260 billion to date. Five of the top six global defense corporations based in the United States are profiting from and enabling the ongoing bombardment against Palestinians in Gaza.

As environmental justice frontline communities that have experienced violence and displacement at the hands of settler-colonialism, we stand in unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian freedom struggle for self-determination and to live freely with their human rights fully intact on their lands.

Our It Takes Roots alliances comprise over 200 groups in more than 50 states, provinces and Indigenous territories across North America, Puerto Rico and Guåhan. Since the beginning of the most recent escalation in the 75-year history of settler-colonialism and violence across historic Palestine, many of our members have drawn upon their extensive grassroots organizing experience and we have taken our grief and outrage to the streets, into the halls of Congress, engaged in direct action, and educated our communities. Together, we continue our practice of international solidarity, and call for an end to the siege of Gaza, and an end to the occupation.

Further, we call on the larger environmental and climate movement to stand with frontline and Indigenous Movements around the world by calling for a ceasefire, an end to all violence and warfare, insisting that Israel allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, and calling on our governments to refuse to send any additional weapons or funding to the Israeli military. Now is the time to build on our cross-sector relationships, and to appeal to all our partners and allies who might still be on the sidelines, to join the international struggle for a free Palestine. We must build momentum to prevent further loss of life.

Life is sacred. We mourn the devastating loss of all Palestinian and Israeli lives, and all casualties of colonialism and rising militarism around the world. It Takes Roots is determined to continue our work for justice and peace at home and globally. Liberation of one is only possible with the liberation of all.

Additional Resources:

Emergency funds are urgently needed. To move resources directly to Palestine, we recommend moving funds to Grassroots International, who has long-term relationships in the region and a commitment to movement-building. They are moving funding in limited ways right now, and are poised to move large-scale funding to Gaza as soon as it is possible, and to support groups impacted by repression in the 1948 lands, Jerusalem, and the West Bank. Additional resources:

Move emergency funds to Palestinian/Arab/Muslim-led diaspora organizing in the U.S.:

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

Tags: Palestineinternational solidarityIt Takes Rootsenvironmental justicesocial justiceclimate justiceBig GreenNGOsecological movements and organizationsmovement politicsfront line communitiesBlack, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)indigenouscapitalism, colonialism, and fascism

More Juice?

Thu, 10/19/2023 - 00:00

By x364181 - Industrial Worker, October 19, 2023

Is that all labor needs?

Ever since the sharp decline of unions in the latter half of the 1900s people have been scrambling to “revive” the labor movement. The call to action gained momentum recently during the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopes were rekindled with new Amazon and Starbucks organizing attempts. People shout for more unions, more certification elections, more contracts, more workers organizing, more oomph –We mean it this time, dammit!

The sense of urgency is definitely on point, but the problem with the revival discussion (with a few exceptions) is that it suggests we only need to add more energy to the movement. No doubt it would be great to have more labor activity, but there is much less discussion about what form a new labor movement should take. There are different kinds of union practices underneath the labor umbrella and not all of them should be revived. 

The danger with this mindless urgency is that it doesn’t account for how business unionism (the dominant form of labor organizing) was complicit in the decline and suppression of class struggle. If we simply step on the gas and apply the old labor habits our tires are going to spin in the mud. The problems will not be resolved, they’ll repeat with more intensity. Needing more labor activity is obvious, but all the important decisions are about the form this movement should take.

Here are two aspects of the labor movement that definitely shouldn’t be revived: Bureaucratic Leadership and Workplace Contractualism:

Bureaucratic Leadership

Bureaucracy refers to the top-down, staff-led form of unions that dominates the labor movement. Rather than shop floor committees, today’s unions are like separate agencies that provide a service for workers. You pay your dues and the union reps handle the logistics. This has resulted in the rank & file being divided away from controlling the union’s direction. The union also diverges from the real needs of workers. 

Some business unionists have recognized that rank & file disinvolvement is part of labor’s decline, so they attempt to activate more workers. But this has amounted to little more than token involvement in the same old business union practices.

Why is bureaucracy so problematic? As an economic rule, business unions must provide better conditions for workers compared to having no union at all – this is a bare minimum they must do in order to exist as organizations. However, these businesses are bound to an economic logic of minimizing their costs, cutting corners, and seeking the quickest compromise with the boss. The weakening of the labor movement is a reflection of unions driving down their costs and producing agreements in the cheapest way possible, always hovering around a minimal effort. They’re not called business unions for nothing. 

Secondly, bureaucracy generated a class collaborationist labor movement that led to a decline in worker militancy. That kind of structure has its own institutional characteristics that are different from rank & file committees. Union officials are not interested in waging a class war, but in mediating peace between classes. It is the bureaucrat’s role to collaborate with the employer, broker a settlement, and put workers back to work. I stress this problem is not a matter of individual personality, but the bureaucratic structure which shapes individuals into their role. Even the most militant rank & filer elected to leadership will develop these characteristics after spending time in union officialdom.

Is it any wonder then why the labor movement is so inactive? Who are these clowns at labor’s helm who cry out for labor’s revival when their own form of organization has been suffocating rank and file militancy for decades? The bureaucratic aspect of the labor movement needs to be abolished, not rejuvenated. 

Further, since business unionism has declined to the point of organizing 10 percent of the workforce, and only 6 percent of the private sector, it doesn’t make sense to ‘bore from within’ and breathe more life into business unionism. Let these dinosaurs die.

Workplace Contractualism

Workplace contractualism is another major factor that contributed to labor’s decline. This clunky term refers to how today’s unions are entirely built around negotiating a contract. In the US, this practice was officially endorsed by the government’s National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which sought to substitute labor’s disruptive potential with an “orderly” election and contract negotiation procedure. The ultimate purpose of the NLRA was to subdue the class war rather than accelerate it. 

Through the NLRA, workplace contractualism became the standard practice of unions. The rank & file was reduced to the role of politely voting for union representation, and then voting to ratify the contract prepared in the backroom. In effect, the self-activity of workers on the shop floor – the real threat labor poses to capitalism with its strikes and other disruptions – was displaced by union staffers, legal experts, and other porkchoppers required to facilitate the contract process. 

Workplace contractualism is a class collaborationist form of unionism that seeks to establish “industrial peace,” a situation where strikes and other disruptions are minimized. Unions get some minor wins but are also locked down by no-strike clauses. If there is a complaint, workers have to go through a bureaucratic grievance procedure that is far removed from the shop floor. Unions most often forfeit the ability to control work by agreeing to management rights clauses in the contract. These are all huge victories for the employer that solidify the class system and guarantee the continuity of wage slavery. 

Through workplace contractualism, workers lost their strike-readiness and the leverage that comes from the ability to disrupt work. If revival takes that form again the result will be more of the same. Do not resuscitate! 

Vicious Circle of Defeat

These two problems with the movement aggravated each other and drove labor’s decline. The more workplace contractualism was practiced, the more bureaucratic expertise was required to run unions. Likewise, the more bureaucracy commanded the labor movement, the more entrenched workplace contractualism became since that practice is what suits the comfy staffers and union officials. 

More Energy, Different Movement

We do need more labor activity – a bigger, faster, more dedicated movement – but to get there we need to break the mold of unionism set by the US government and its lackeys in the labor movement. It is the form of business unionism that limits the amount of labor activity. Rather than the bureaucratic / staff led structure, our organization needs to be grounded in self-managed committees. We must reclaim day-to-day control of work and all the leverage that comes with direct action. If we hastily revive the aspects of labor that tamed class struggle in the first place, we have no reason to expect a big new labor movement. By repeating the same old habits, we only reproduce our own defeat. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

Tags: Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)solidarity unionismrevolutionary unionstrade unionsunionsmovements, unions, and organizationsstrategy and tacticsstrikesdeep organizingCOVID-19class struggleanarcho-syndicalismlibertarian-socialism

Animal Liberation Is Climate Justice

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 00:00

By Laura Schleifer and Dan Fischer - New Politics, Winter 2022

Twenty twenty-one was the Year of the Flood(s)—and droughts, fires, famines, and plague. Floods swelled from Chinese subways to Alpine villages; fires raged from the Canadian-U.S. Pacific Northwest to Greece and Turkey; Madagascar suffered drought-induced famine; locusts ravaged crops from East Africa to India to the Arabian Peninsula; flesh-eating bacteria spawned in the Atlantic; the coronavirus killed millions; and right-wingers began begrudgingly acknowledging the eco-apocalypse, shifting from climate change denialism to increasingly Malthusian, eco-fascistic narratives.1

Meanwhile, world leaders discussed how to save capitalism from global warming. The much-hyped 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) regurgitated reformist policies that aimed to preserve the very system causing this catastrophe. Its accomplishments included pledges to reduce coal usage and end global deforestation by 2030, and a recommitment to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This target (let alone 1 degree, as scientist James Hansen advocates) seems purely aspirational considering our current trajectory toward 3 degrees or higher. Moreover, these voluntary measures may never even materialize at all.

It’s particularly difficult to take such pledges seriously when the discussion at COP26 barely touched on a leading cause of global warming, deforestation, species extinction, water depletion, ocean “dead zones” and plastics, soil erosion, air pollution, world hunger, antibiotic resistance, and infectious diseases—including, most likely, COVID-19.2 The delegates chowed on meat, fish, and dairy-based meals, which comprised 60 percent of the conference’s menu, ignoring these meals’ high carbon footprint. To quote Carl Le Blanc of the Phoenix-based nonprofit Climate Healers: “The cow in the room is being ignored at this COP. Animal agriculture has been taken off the agenda and put on the menu.”3

In accounting for climate change, a focus on cows is essential for several reasons. First, farmed animals—mainly cows raised for beef and dairy—produce roughly one-third of the world’s methane emissions. Despite being shorter-lived than carbon dioxide (CO2), methane is the more potent greenhouse gas by far—by a factor of eighty to one hundred. Second, land used by the cattle industry has a staggering opportunity cost. Scientists found this year that if the world abolished animal agriculture and restored the liberated land to forest and wild grassland, the flora and soil could sequester 772 billion tons of CO2.

Although the UN released a special report two years ago stressing that one of the most effective ways to mitigate warming is a plant-based diet,4 not one day of COP26 was devoted to the issue, in stark contrast to the time dedicated to energy, transport, and finance. Even as protests outside the conference called attention to this issue, the delegates inside ignored it.

One reason cited for the omission was that addressing animal agriculture would unfairly target historically oppressed communities, continuing the Global North’s legacy of dominating and controlling those they’ve colonized.5 While this may seem motivated by the noble impulse to be “sensitive” to colonial dynamics, the knowledge that these same imperialist nations’ delegates also removed from the conference’s concluding agreement the so-called Loss and Damages Finance Facility,6 which mandated compensation be paid to poorer countries for climate damages, should put any uncertainty about their true motives to rest. This is just one manifestation of how the call for sensitivity toward oppressed groups is exploited by those most responsible for current crises in order to avoid making transformative changes within their own societies.7

Unfortunately, the Western left bears some responsibility for this manipulative usage of political correctness, due both to its collective failure to reject the neoliberal exploitation of identity politics, and to its constant smearing of veganism and animal liberation as “middle class and white.”8 While it’s certainly true that vegan and animal advocacy are often conducted in colonial, Eurocentric ways, that does not mean there are no liberatory ways of advancing these goals, or that no marginalized individuals do this type of work themselves. Around the world, Indigenous, colonized, and working-class people engage in praxis that recognizes how the fates of other species enmesh with our own, and that our collective survival depends upon the liberation of humans and other species alike.

Animal Agribusiness as Colonial Force

“We demand that the copious lands in the hands of ranchers … be turned over to our communities, which totally lack land,” declared Mexico’s Zapatista National Liberation Army in early 1994.9 Although rarely framed as such, this Indigenous peasants’ revolt largely centered on a struggle to reclaim land from the commercial cattle industry. Opponents of veganism insist that abstention from animal products would be “colonial” and wipe out many traditional Indigenous cultural practices. While this can be true in cases where white, settler, and/or non-Indigenous vegans attempt to tell Indigenous people what to do, the opposite is staggeringly true: Animal agriculture is one of the greatest drivers of colonization in human history.10

This is due to the enormous amount of land and resources required for animal farming compared to plant farming. Currently, 26 percent of earth’s ice-free surface is used for ranching. Additionally, one third of all crops, including 80 percent of global soy production, is used for livestock feed. Of the world’s agricultural land, nearly 80 percent is used for animal agriculture rather than for growing crops for direct human consumption. Since raising animals is so resource intensive, cultures that consume meat- and dairy-heavy diets need much more land and water than others. In the pre-colonial Americas, most people did not practice animal agriculture,11 but lived mostly on plants, supplemented by hunting and fishing. The animals typically found on U.S. farms—cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, and goats—were transported from Europe by colonizers desiring meat and dairy, and later, profits, as they began exporting animal products back to Europe. Colonial expansion in the Americas increasingly became a lopsided “conflict” between “cowboys” seeking more land for cattle ranching and “Indians.”12

Today, animal agriculture still drives colonization. In Central and South America, cattle ranching and livestock feed production join extraction and logging industries as primary land thieves. For example, invasions by ranchers are resisted by Nukanchiruna, Chaibajú, and Uaima communities in Colombia and by Mayangna, Miskito, and Kriol communities in Nicaragua. In addition to stealing land, ranching pollutes local water supplies and causes global warming-induced droughts that force Indigenous people off their land. When Indigenous people have attempted to resist this land-grabbing, they have often been attacked and murdered by the land thieves. Last year, the watchdog group Global Witness documented the murder of 227 environmental campaigners, one-third of whom were Indigenous.13 Numerous attacks stemmed from commercial agriculture, including ranching. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre documented 604 “business-related human rights issues in 2020,” finding “the most dangerous sectors were agribusiness and mining.”14

Animal agribusiness also drives world hunger, as food that could be fed to humans directly is used for livestock feed. While many might claim famine is not about lack of food, but rather lack of distribution under capitalism, it’s worth asking why people who were food sovereign prior to being ejected from their land (often by animal agribusiness) are now dependent on “distribution” for their survival. As climate change intensifies, actual food shortages, as opposed to manufactured scarcity, are becoming more of a reality. The organization A Well-Fed World addresses this issue by combining vegan food distribution to the world’s poorest with education for wealthier nations on how animal consumption there drives food insecurity elsewhere.

Those living in capitalist/colonizer societies of settler heritage should consider the impact their own lifestyles are having on Indigenous communities. If the world went vegan, it would free up a land mass the size of the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, China, and Australia combined,15 enabling its return to Indigenous peoples to sustainably inhabit and restore. Land could also be freed up for reparations to Black Americans, whose enslaved ancestors were promised, but have yet to receive, forty acres each. This would empower the creation of more Black autonomous communities like Mississippi’s Cooperation Jackson. There is much potential for collaboration between veganism as a liberatory praxis and #LandBack and reparations movements—a mission currently being explored by initiatives like Black Vegfest’s liberation farm project, which teaches Black people organic, veganic farming and helps them reconnect with the land and their own history from a Black liberationist and animal liberationist perspective.

Animal Liberation from Agribusiness and Fishing Workers

Last year, an industry usually hidden from “polite” society suddenly began entering public consciousness—the animal killing industrial complex. It began with the emergence of a bona fide global plague. Although the origins of COVID-19 are still a matter of debate, Michael Worobey’s analysis in November’s Science locates the first known human infection in a marine animal vendor in a quasi-slaughterhouse called a wet market. The virus then spread rampantly through slaughterhouses worldwide.

Soon, slaughterhouses began shutting down as tens of thousands of workers fell ill and hundreds died. Farmers lamented having to kill “their” animals—which seemed strange, considering the animals would’ve been killed anyway, until one realized such “dirty work” is not usually done by farmers but rather outsourced to society’s most disenfranchised: the undocumented immigrants, enslaved prisoners, ex-convicts, and other profoundly indigent people staffing slaughterhouses.

This raised questions about why the meatpacking industry was such a hotbed of COVID spread. Was it the freezing temperatures needed to preserve carcasses? The workers’ inability to cover their faces when coughing/sneezing due to disassembly lines moving so fast? Their generally weakened immune systems, given their long hours and unhealthy environment? While many commentators rushed to say there was little to no risk of catching COVID from “meat,” live animals don’t enter slaughterhouses as “meat,” and they breathe just like humans do. Moreover, it’s telling that other factory settings did not experience similar outbreaks, whereas mink farms did. Additionally, infectious diseases have a long history of being formed and spread through animal agriculture.16 Thus, the high rates of COVID in slaughterhouses hardly seem coincidental.

Even before COVID, slaughterhouse work was extremely dangerous. Because so many workers lack legal rights, either because they are undocumented or have felony convictions, labor abuse is rampant. Musculoskeletal damage from repetitive motion and injuries caused by exhaustion while handling sharp equipment, slipping and falling on entrails, and so on are widespread. Due to high consumer demand for animal products, lines move so quickly that workers must wear diapers to avoid bathroom breaks and go long periods without rest, food, or water—all of which increase their risk of injury due to fatigue and dehydration. Fearing deportation or re-criminalization, workers rarely report violations; and to avoid legal repercussions, companies rarely send them for proper medical treatment when sick or injured. Sexual abuse is pervasive. Due to high employee turnover rates caused by deportation, injuries, sickness, or simply returning to their countries of origin, employers regard workers as disposable, just like the animals they slaughter.

While some of these dangers resemble the occupational hazards of other agricultural jobs, slaughterhouse workers also suffer mental health effects from killing sentient beings. In addition to the trauma of working under such brutal conditions, they also endure PITS—Perpetrator-Induced Traumatic Stress. Much like soldiers, executioners, and others tasked with inflicting systemic violence, slaughterhouse workers suffer high rates of addiction, anxiety, depression, and suicide. Families and communities suffer too, as workers then release their trauma through displaced violence, leading to abnormally high rates of domestic violence and other forms of violent crime in those areas.17

Commercial fishing, the world’s top killer of wildlife and an inhibitor of oceans’ carbon sequestration, relies heavily on slave labor, with up to a quarter of fishing boats carrying captive workers. Fishing workers often face physical and sexual abuse and filthy living conditions, unable to escape while at sea for months on end. Fish farm workers endure high disease rates and hazards like drowning, bites, and electrocution, plus long hours, low pay, and frequent sexual harassment. On top of having a much-higher carbon footprint than plant-based farming, fish farming often blocks access to coasts and is connected to violence against local communities.18

As leftists, our solidarity with these individuals is imperative. Many might consider the “solution” to be greater legal workers’ rights and industry regulation, rather than the more radical goal of industry eradication. However, there is no way to regulate away the central trauma induced by forcing a subjugated class to kill thinking, feeling beings who don’t want to die. Additionally, consumer demand for animal products endangers workers by forcing them to work at such high speeds. In another tragic irony, many workers exploited or enslaved by animal-exploitation industries globally may have been forced into that situation through displacement caused by the world’s biggest land appropriator—animal agriculture.

What would leftist solidarity with animal agriculture workers look like? The organization Food Empowerment Project is one example. Founded by Xicana animal rights advocate lauren Ornelas, it promotes veganism while also materially supporting workers in all food-producing industries. Through its comprehensive approach to food-related ethical issues, it includes animal liberation as one part of a broader goal of total liberation.

Additionally, solidarity with slaughterhouse workers would entail active support for workers’ strikes, and efforts to create opportunities to help them escape that industry altogether, including the creation of jobs that help rather than harm animals, such as running a sanctuary or restoring habitats. Leftists and animal liberationists should also amplify the voices of former slaughterhouse workers exposing the horrors of that industry and its victimization of humans and nonhumans, such as Susana Soto, a Mexican immigrant who quit her slaughterhouse job after realizing the connection between the way her employer was beating his wife and the violence his business was inflicting on chickens, and now is a vegan animal rights activist.19 We can also build mutual aid networks to sustain slaughterhouse workers attempting to exit that industry and organize to redirect current tax subsidies funding animal agriculture to fund plant agriculture instead. Toward the bigger goal of bringing down this industry and catalyzing a large-scale transition to plant-based food systems, slaughterhouse workers themselves also have the power to block supply chains through mass organized refusal to work. After all, slaughterhouses and meat packing facilities comprise a small bottleneck for industrial animal agriculture—particularly in the world’s top cow slaughterer, Brazil, and top chicken slaughterer, the United States.

When slaughterhouse workers planned strikes last summer, leftists and animal liberationists missed an opportunity to build solidarity with them. And this example is but one episode in a longer history that reveals why animal liberationists should be socialists, and socialists should be vegan. As long as societies rely upon the production of animal “products,” they will always require someone to kill them and thus need an underclass. And as long as an underclass exists, there will always be someone economically desperate enough to do it.

Environmental Racism and Classism

In addition to land theft, labor exploitation, and literal enslavement, animal exploitation industries terrorize marginalized human communities via environmental racism and classism. Because factory farms and slaughterhouses are massive polluters, their surrounding communities are always poor and typically Black and Brown. These communities then suffer the effects of contaminants poisoning the land, water, and air.

In 2020, a study revealed that animal agriculture-induced air pollution causes 12,700 deaths per year in the United States alone. 20 One danger is ammonia-spiked fecal matter particles, which lodge themselves in lungs, leading to eventual death. The Natural Resources Defense Council states: “People living near or working at factory farms inhale hundreds of gases formed as manure decomposes. For instance, one gas released by lagoons, hydrogen sulfide, is dangerous even at low levels. Its irreversible effects include seizures, comas and even death.”21 In North Carolina, the nation’s second-largest pig producer, five hundred residents successfully sued the industry for irreparable damage to their health, as well as for lowering their home values (an outcome that also worsened the legacy of redlining).22 In addition, hospitals located near these facilities report 30 percent more deaths among patients with kidney disease, 50 percent more deaths among patients with anemia, and 130 percent more deaths among patients with sepsis than in other locations. Rates of child asthma, low birth-weight babies, and infant mortality were also much higher in these communities.23

Animal agriculture is also a major cause of global freshwater pollution.24 In the United States alone, animal agriculture produces one billion tons of phosphorus- and nitrogen-rich waste annually, contaminating 145,000 miles of rivers and streams, nearly one million acres of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, and over three thousand square miles of bays and estuaries. This impacts low-income communities, such as Casco, Wisconsin, which found its drinking water supply to be contaminated by nearby dairy farms. “Blue baby syndrome,” which causes infant fatality, is rampant in these areas, as are miscarriages and disease outbreaks due to bacteria- and virus-infested drinking water.25

This pollution has far-reaching effects. For instance, chemical and manure runoff from Midwestern U.S. farms floats down the Mississippi River and dumps into the Gulf of Mexico, where it creates the world’s second biggest ocean dead zone. This affects both the local ecosystem and the local population, contaminating drinking water, causing toxic algae blooms, and deoxygenation that leads to mass die-offs of marine wildlife.26

Additionally, water depletion is exacerbated by droughts resulting from climate change, which is also connected to animal agriculture.27

Animal Liberation from the Majority World

Far from being predominantly a marker of “first world” or “white” privilege, vegetarianism and veganism are growing fastest in the Global South. Nigeria, Pakistan, and Indonesia saw the largest increase in vegetarianism from 2016 to 2017. Bangladesh ranks as having the lowest per capita meat consumption globally, followed by India, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, and other countries in the Global South. According to a 2016 global survey by Nielsen, the population of Africa and the Middle East is 16 percent vegetarian and 6 percent vegan, making it the second most vegetarian region after East Asia, which is 19 percent vegetarian and 9 percent vegan. North America and Europe are last in both categories, with only 5 to 6 percent vegetarianism and 2 percent veganism. Even within these continents, poorer28 and more melanated communities are most likely to lean plant-based. In the United States, African Americans are about three times as likely as white residents to be vegetarian, and more than twice as likely to be vegan.29

These trends make sense given the roots of the philosophy of animal liberation in the majority world. Widely influential ideas of nonviolence toward living beings emerged in ancient Indian and other Asian religions millennia ago. Additionally, Syrian poet Al-Ma’arri was an early advocate of veganism a thousand years ago. These legacies continue in contemporary Asia. China has the largest population of vegans on earth, which is growing exponentially, and the country has pledged to reduce meat consumption by 50 percent by 2030.30 Chinese youth are also increasingly active in animal rights activism,31 as are Koreans32 and other East Asians.

Traditional African diets were mainly plant-based, and a growing movement reinvigorates those culinary traditions. Nicola Kagoro, a Zimbabwean chef, told the Guardian, “I particularly think it’s important to spread veganism around Africa because it originated in Africa. Our ancestors didn’t eat as much meat. It is through colonization that we learned these crazy meat-eating practices.” Today’s vegan food movement largely began with Jamaica’s 1930s Rastafarianital diet. Their plant-based lifestyle, as journalist Paige Curtis explains, “is part of a broader belief in Black sovereignty, health, and ecological harmony.”33 Additionally, African climate justice activists like Indigenous Guinean vegan Abdourahamane Ly and Nigerian journalist Joshua Borokinni are connecting animal liberation to ecology and decolonization, while organizations like Liberian Animal Welfare and Conservation Society and Uganda’s Lead Vegan orphanage combine youth programs with vegan education and animal rescue. In Rwanda, former poachers now lead gorilla protection efforts and community renewal projects, while Zimbabwe’s all-female anti-poaching unit Akashinga prevents poaching through community support rather than punishment.

In Western Asia, Turkey’s vegan movement is flourishing, an extension of the Istanbul culture of collectively caring for street dogs and cats. The animal liberation group Yod has also been building alliances with feminist, ecological, and other liberatory movements.34 Additionally, many Indigenous Kurdish guerillas, particularly among the women in YJA-Star, have stopped eating meat. Spokesperson Evren Kocabiçak explains this reflects a “social ecological consciousness” that considers “the culture of hunting as one of the factors that create war and violence.” Kocabiçak emphasizes an aspiration to “live without causing any harm to the environment we live in, all while maintaining friendship with the animals.”35 Elsewhere in the region, Lebanese vegan YouTuber Seb Alex joined local Beirut vegans following the 2020 explosions to provide vegan food aid and animal rescue to human and nonhuman area residents whose lives and homes were shattered, and opened the Lebanese Vegan Social Club, the first vegan advocacy and animal rights center in that part of the world.

In the Holy Land, despite Israel’s so-called vegan-washing efforts to portray itself as a “vegan nation,”36 Palestinian Israelis (aka Israeli Arabs) are twice as likely to be vegan as Israeli Jews, although the Jewish vegan population overlaps considerably with the country’s anti-apartheid movement, such as the animal rights organization One Struggle, which morphed into Anarchists Against the Wall in 2003. In the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Animal League rescues and treats animals while promoting veganism and opposing Zionism. The West Bank is also home to the Daily Hugz sanctuary and the Bethlehem Animal and Environment Association animal shelter. Gaza’s Sulala Animal Rescue works to save animals injured or rendered homeless by Israeli bombings, while Plant the Land provides vegan food aid and plants food to develop Palestinian food sovereignty in resistance to Israeli sanctions. Vegans for BDS works to build vegan support for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

In 2021, Cuban animal rights groups successfully pushed that government to implement an animal protection law.37 Cuba’s queer, feminist, Afro-Cuban hip-hop group Krudas Cubensi has been advocating for veganism as part of a holistic approach to liberation. Some Xicanx and Caribbean activists are combining food justice work in North America with Latin American and Caribbean outreach; Boricuan (“Puerto Rican”) activist Michelle Carrera started Chilis on Wheels as a vegan food justice initiative for New York City homeless populations, and expanded to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Others, like Colombian activist Fernando Cuenca, became animal liberationists after experiencing war and connecting that to the violence on our plates.

The international peasant network La Via Campesina, which includes pastoralists, says that “we urgently need to reduce meat consumption.” Of course, pastoral communities require a just transition away from their current livelihoods, perhaps in the form of the “conservation basic income” advocated by environmental sociologist Bram Büscher and anthropologist Robert Fletcher, or what ecologist Spencer Roberts calls “a Green New Deal of careers in public service for rural folk, including not only building housing, health care, education, and clean energy infrastructure, but also reseeding endangered flora, reintroducing endemic grazers, and regenerating wildlife habitat on formerly farmed land.”38

Globally, Indigenous people increasingly reject animal exploitation. For examples, we can look to the Maori vegan movement in Aotearoa (aka New Zealand); Indigenous decolonial species liberationists like queer Nahuatl activist Wotko Tristan and the queer vegan Xicanx collective Mariposas Rebeldes; Wiradjuri performer and activist Carolyn Ienna; animal activists from Canada’s Kwe, Anishanaabe, and Ceg-A-Kin Nakoda Nations; and Mi’kmaw scholar Margaret Robinson. According to Robinson, even non-vegan Indigenous people often share much common ground with vegans and animal liberationists due to traditional aboriginal ways of seeing animals and nature as subjects, rather than as objects and commodities.39

Finally, Black veganism is its own dynamic movement.40 Examining interconnections between racial justice, animal liberation, and plant-based living from a perspective that considers racialized health disparities, environmental racism, Black criminalization, and subjugation through racialized “animalization,” Black veganism is both scholarly inquiry and liberatory praxis. Its roots originated in the civil rights and Black Power movements, from civil rights activists Dick Gregory and Coretta Scott King and Dexter King, to Black feminist and abolitionist scholar Angela Davis, who argues “there is a connection between our treatment of animals and of people at the bottom of the hierarchy.” Contemporary Black vegans fight racial health disparities by empowering Black communities with veganism, as explored in documentaries like The Invisible Vegan and They’re Trying to Kill Us. Some, like agroecologist Eugene Cooke, promote food justice through urban farming, while others, like Thrive Baltimore founder and Afro-Vegan Society Executive Director Brenda Sanders, focus on making veganism accessible to entire low-income Black communities. New York City also hosts an annual Black Vegfest, thanks to Brotha Vegan author Omowale Adewale. Additionally, critical theorists like Christopher Sebastian, A. Breeze Harper, , Che Gossett, Christopher Carter, Syl Ko, and Black Vegans Rock founder Aph Ko, as well as those in the broader racial justice movement like Benedicte Boisseron, Joshua Bennett, and Zakkiyah Iman Jackson, deconstruct “human” identity under white supremacy and explore animal subjugation’s ties to racial subjugation.

In recognizing the ties between their own liberation struggles and the struggle for all life on earth, these activists and organizations are building a powerful foundation for many human, animal, and ecological justice movements to come together into one mass, multidimensional movement for collective liberation from below. It is here that the solution to our current existential crises lies—not in the false manipulations and machinations from above.

Animal Liberation from Youth

Demonstrating that children need to be conditioned to see animals as food, a survey found that over 80 percent of U.S. children aged four to seven considered cows and pigs “not okay to eat.” 41Although they ate hamburgers and bacon, the overwhelming majority did not know these were made from animals.

Young peoples’ turn toward plant-based diets is evident in the trajectories of Climate Strike organizers Greta Thunberg in Sweden and Vanessa Nakate in Uganda. Thunberg keeps a vegan diet and suggests the world must move in that direction as well. Nakate “has recently edged towards vegetarianism, an unusual choice in Uganda,” reports the Financial Times. Nakate tells them she would like to have a vegetarian wedding and that she is conscious of “the impact of meat and dairy products.” Another climate justice activist, TedX speaker and Genesis for Animals founder Genesis Butler, 13, went vegan at age six after watching her mother breastfeeding her sister and realizing cow’s milk is stolen breast milk meant for calves.

Clearly, youth are propelling the current shift toward vegan diets. Veganism increased in the UK by 360 percent from 2006 to 2016, and in the United States sixfold from 2015 to 2018.42 Some 70 percent of the world population reports they are reducing or avoiding meat consumption. Data analyst Fiona Dyer told Forbes that younger generations, particularly millennials, are driving this trend. Building on that momentum, the U.S. organization Raven Corps is building a national network of youth activists aged 15 to 22 that includes veganism/animal liberation in their overall approach to social justice.

Animal Liberation from Animals

Finally, an approach to animal liberation that is truly “from below” would recognize animals’ key role in struggling for their own freedom and well-being. Animals themselves are joining the struggle, as documented in Jason Hribal’s Fear of the Animal Planet and Sarat Colling’s Animal Resistance in the Global Capitalist Era. Pigs escape farms, elephants revolt against captors, and runaway cows learn to survive in the wild. One example involves a goat named Fred who escaped from a New Jersey auction house in 2017. Remaining on the run, he returned over a year later. A few hours after police received a report that he was in the area, about 75 goats and sheep mysteriously escaped. All signs indicate Fred was their liberator. Soon after police corralled sixty of the animals back into the facility, Fred returned once again and banged his head against the gate, trying to reopen it. Even the auction house manager proclaimed, “I think he’s the culprit. He must have banged that fence and let [the animals] out last night. I’m almost positive.” Other stories, like the veterinarian’s account of a cow who took extreme measures to save her calf from the dairy industry,43 the slaughterhouse-bound cow who escaped to a Polish island,44 and the brave pregnant sow who escaped slaughter by jumping out of a moving truck45 also give a compelling glimpse of nonhuman agency in animals’ own liberation struggle.

Such stories, regularly reported and surely more frequently occurring, can potentially galvanize popular empathy for and solidarity with animals. Recognizing animals as co-resisters offers humans both moral and practical strength to resist climate change. Ecofeminist scholar and activist pattrice jones powerfully writes, “I do know that we are not alone in the struggle to save the earth. The sooner we see that and act accordingly, the sooner we can begin to end our own awful estrangement and help to heal those we have hurt.”46

False Solutions

Unfortunately, some leftists, rather than accepting the necessity of radically challenging the oppression of human and nonhuman beings, insist technological fixes such as so-called regenerative ranching and lab-grown meat will solve animal agriculture-induced problems. Regenerative ranchers claim certain cattle ranching methods will reduce carbon to preindustrial levels. Lab-grown meat enthusiasts, for their part, claim highly expensive factories can grow enough meat from animal cells to replace normal meat production. Essentially, these boosters seek solutions from above—from large ranchers and biotech investors—rather than from below.

The godfather of regenerative ranching, Zimbabwean ecologist Allan Savory, claims his adaptive, knowledge-intensive methods of high-intensity cattle grazing on rotating areas of land can “fight desertification and reverse climate change.” Although his work is supported by some prominent environmentalists, scientists are strongly skeptical. In 2017, the Food Climate and Research Network published a metastudy examining three hundred scientific articles. It found that regenerative ranching has a very limited ability to sequester carbon, and that the benefits are outweighed by the practice’s high levels of methane emissions. Lead author Tara Garnett summarized: “This report concludes that grass-fed livestock are not a climate solution. Grazing livestock are net contributors to the climate problem, as are all livestock.”

Moreover, although five out of six farms globally are small-scale operations of two hectares or less, comprising only 10 to 25 percent of the world’s farmland, they produce a disproportionate 35 percent of the world’s food, mainly because they focus on crops for human consumption. This means about 75 to 90 percent of the world’s farmland is controlled by larger-scale farming interests. In the United States, a whopping 99 percent of “meat” is factory farm produced. Indeed, factory farming was created because it is less resource intensive and polluting than conventional farming.47 Thus, replacing it with small-scale ranching would do nothing but make eating animals more expensive, continuing the subjugation and exploitation of other animals—and its attendant violence, suffering, and harm—not to feed the poor, but for the pleasure and profit of the rich.

Lab-grown, or “clean,” “meat” faces ethical, technological, and economic obstacles, making it as unlikely to replace normal meat as “clean” coal is to replace regular coal. Currently, it requires the use of fetal bovine serum, a slaughterhouse by-product for which a pregnant cow is killed; then her fetus is ripped from her womb and bled to death so humans can take the blood.48 Such “clean” practices certainly do not challenge the human exploitation of other animals. On a technological level, reporting an array of researchers’ findings, journalist Joe Fassler explains:

For cultured meat to move the needle on climate, a sequence of as-yet-unforeseen breakthroughs will still be necessary. We’ll need to train cells to behave in ways that no cells have behaved before. We’ll need to engineer bioreactors that defy widely accepted principles of chemistry and physics. We’ll need to build an entirely new nutrient supply chain using sustainable agricultural practices, inventing forms of bulk amino acid production that are cheap, precise, and safe. Investors will need to care less about money. Germs will have to more or less behave.49

Conclusion: Peace with Life on Earth

Although socialists advocate for transformative change, many sound like COP26 delegates when addressing the issue of how the oppression of nonhumans affects life on earth. How can we advocate for the abolition of private property while treating other sentient beings as property? How can we unequivocally oppose exploitation while exploiting the labor and bodies of humans and nonhumans through an industry based on systematic killing? How can we oppose extractive industries while extracting and consuming body parts? How can we overturn the paradigm of domination and systemic violence while participating in a practice based on it?

It’s time the left steps up to the literal and figurative plate. First, we need to stop erasing the suffering and efforts of marginalized people through dismissal of resistance to animal exploitation as “white” and/or “privileged.” As Guinean climate activist Abdourahamane Ly puts it, “Every week you lot come up with some new ‘hot take’ why veganism is racist and colonialist. And every week BIPOC vegans say, ‘Hey, can you not erase us and use us for clout?’ And you say no.”50

Second, we need to stop exempting the violence and exploitation we’re committing against our fellow animals from our opposition to oppression. A truly liberatory framework would view these issues holistically, understanding their interrelationship and how colonialism, imperialism, militarism, capitalism, and other oppressive systems impact people, ecosystems, and animals. To exclude animals from that analysis is to engage in the very form of compartmentalization that underlies our social and ecological crises. Worse yet, to refuse to address these issues holistically has provided fodder for the capitalist class to continue its path of destruction unabated, endangering the entire fate of life on earth.

To transform our approach, we can begin by transitioning to a vegan lifestyle to the fullest extent practicable,51 which, according to an Oxford University study,52 is the “single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact” and dramatically reduce the damage done to marginalized people and nonhuman animals. Additionally, leftists have much to teach vegans regarding the importance of taking collective action rather than advocating for individualist or consumerist pseudo solutions. As leftists, we can provide meaningful support for the many initiatives mentioned above, as well as start our own: we can create vegan mutual aid and food justice initiatives, from food distribution to community gardens and food forests; create job opportunities for ex-slaughterhouse workers; teach courses on vegan cooking and human-animal-Earth liberation; work with local schools, hospitals, and restaurants to help them transition to serving plant-based meals; and start animal rescue initiatives, habitat restoration efforts and sanctuaries, involving children to teach the next generation to respect all life.

Another critically needed action is to shift tax subsidies from funding animal exploitation to plant foods.53 Because raising and slaughtering animals is so resource intensive, the actual price of “meat,” milk, and eggs is far costlier than that of growing plants for human consumption, which is why poor countries eat the fewest animals and wealthy countries consume the most. Thus, taxpayer subsidies are poured into the animal exploitation industries to artificially lower costs, making many believe it’s eating plants that’s expensive! Outrageously, despite animal agriculture’s role in creating both the ecological crisis and zoonotic diseases like COVID-19, last year the United States allocated record funds to animal agriculture.54 Reallocation of that money to plant farming would alleviate problems caused by animal agriculture; benefit public health, especially in low-income areas, by increasing plant food availability and affordability;55 economically support transitioning farmers and ranchers; provide jobs for workers that avoid the dangers and horrors of slaughter; free up land; and improve ecological regeneration potential.

Additionally, participation in human liberation movements is crucial to the achievement of both human and animal liberation. Movements for prison abolition, Black Lives Matter, No Human Is Illegal, and #LandBack address the injustices underlying the exploitation and victimization of marginalized communities by these industries, and how their liberation is intertwined with that of nonhumans. Collective liberation depends upon a proliferation of alliances between human, animal, and ecology movements.

We can also learn from Indigenous ways of understanding nature and our role within it. In 2010, about 35,000 international attendees, many from Indigenous nations, gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to participate in the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Their radical proposals included both a social-systemic transformation beyond capitalism, and the principle that “Every [living] being has the right to well-being and to live free from torture or cruel treatment by human beings.”

By striving for the total liberation of all species, we work toward dismantling systems and tools of oppression and creating a sustainable, even regenerative, future. The apparent alternative is increasing suffering, injustice, and ultimately the extinction of life on earth. Which side are you on?


1. Oliver Milman, “Climate Denial is Waning on the Right. What’s Replacing It Might Be Just as Scary,” Guardian, Nov. 21, 2021.

2. Phoebe Weston and Jonathan Watts, “The Cow in the Room: Why Is No One Talking about Farming at Cop26?,” 2021.

3. Matthew N. Hayek, Helen Harwatt, William J. Ripple, and Nathaniel D. Mueller, “The Carbon Opportunity Cost of Animal-Sourced Food Production on Land,” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, Sept. 7, 2020.

4. “We Need to Talk about Meat.” United Nations Climate Change Conference, May 19, 2021.

5. Alex Lockwood, “Animal Agriculture Was Critically Ignored at COP26—But Why?,” Sentient Media, Nov. 16, 2021.

6. Navin Singh Khadka, “COP26: Rich Countries ‘Pushing Back’ on Paying for Climate Loss,” BBC News, Nov. 8, 2021.

7. See Nancy Leong, Identity Capitalists: The Powerful Insiders Who Exploit Diversity to Maintain Inequality (Stanford University Press, 2021).

8. This argument has been widely put forward, for example by the anarchist Peter Gelderloos and the ecosocialist Max Ajl.

9. Joseph Whitmeyer and Rosemary Hopcroft, “Community, Capitalism, and Rebellion in Chiapas,” Sociological Perspectives 39, no. 4 (1996), 523.

10. David Nibert, “Cows, Profits and Genocide: The Oppressive Side of ‘Beef’ Consumption,” paper presented at Brock University’s “Thinking about Animals: Domination, Captivity, Liberation” conference, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada, March 15–16, 2007.

11. “Why Didn’t American Indians Have Domesticated Animals?,” Probaway, Aug. 4, 2009.

12. Jamison Pfeifer, “How Beef Colonized the West and America’s Dinner Plate,” High Country News, 2019.

13. “Global Witness Reports 227 Land and Environmental Activists Murdered in a Single Year, the Worst Figure on Record,Global Witness, September 13, 2021.

14. “Attacks and Risk to Business and Human Rights Defenders Worsened in 2020,” Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, March 2, 2021.

15. Olivia Petter, “Veganism Is the ‘Single Biggest Way’ to Reduce Our Environmental Impact, Study Finds,” Independent, Sept. 24, 2020.

16. Romain Espinosa, Damian Tago, and Nicolas Treich, “Infectious Diseases and Meat Production,” Environmental and Resource Economics 76, no. 4 (2020), 1019–44.

17. Amy Fitzgerald, Thomas Dietz, and Linda Kalof, “Slaughterhouses and Increased Crime Rates,Sage Publications, 2009.

18. “Workers in the Fishing Industry,” Food Empowerment Project, accessed Dec. 18, 2021.

19. Amy Percival, “This Former Slaughterhouse Worker’s Story Will Make You Go Vegan,” Live Kindly, Dec. 15, 2020.

20. Sarah Kaplan, “Air Pollution from Farms Leads to 17,900 U.S. Deaths Per Year, Study Finds,” Washington Post, May 10, 2021.

21. Rachel Tepper, “Waste Lagoon At Cattle Feedlot Captured on Satellite Photo,” Huffington Post, Aug. 21, 2013.

22. Gary Robertson, “Court Upholds Hog Verdict; Smithfield Announces Settlement,” Associated Press, Nov. 19, 2020.

23. Olga Naidenko, “Duke University Study: N.C. Residents Living Near Large Hog Farms Have Elevated Disease, Death Risks,” Environmental Working Group, Dec. 16, 2021.

24. Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, “Factory Farms & Water Pollution”.

25. Jackie Wang, Nicole Tyau, and Chelsea Rae Ybanez, “Farming Activity Contaminates Water Despite Best Practices,” Center for Public Integrity, Aug. 16, 2017.

26. Martin Caldwell, “As Massive Dead Zone Blooms in Gulf, Hold Industrial Farming Companies Responsible,Mighty Earth, Aug. 1, 2019.

27. Nathan Halverson, “We’re Running out of Water, and the World’s Powers Are Very Worried,Reveal, June 30, 2021.

28. Hal Herzog, “Vegetarianism and Money: Surprising Results from a New Study,Psychology Today, Aug. 24, 2015.

29. Vidya Rao, “Black and Vegan: Why so Many Black Americans Are Embracing the Plant-Based Life.”, Feb. 26, 2021.

30. Oliver Milman and Stuart Leavenworth, “China’s Plan to Cut Meat Consumption by 50% Cheered by Climate Campaigners,” The Guardian, June 20, 2016.

31. Peter J. Li, “Animal Rights Activism in China.” MCLC Resource Center, March 7, 2018.

32. “Kara,” Studio FNT.

33. Paige Curtis, “The Unsung Caribbean Roots of the Vegan Food Movement,” July 21, 2021.

34. Szilvi Aichi, Interface: A Journal For and About Social Movements, (May 2015).

35. Evren Kocabiçak, “The World’s First Army of Women,” in Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig, and Peter Lamborn Wilson, eds., To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolution (Autonomedia, 2016), 69.

36. Nick McAlpin, “How Israel Uses Animal Rights to ‘Vegan-Wash’ the Occupation,” New Arab, July 18 2019.

37. Nelson Acosta, “Cuba Passes Animal Welfare Law after Civil Society Pressure,” Reuters, Feb. 27, 2021.

38. Spencer Roberts, “Boycotting Animal Products as a Collective Act of Protest,Current Affairs, March 4, 2021.

39. April Johnson, “This Indigenous Scholar Says Veganism Is More than a Lifestyle for White People,” Vice, Mar. 27, 2018.

40. See Kim Severson, “Black Vegans Step Out, for Their Health and Other Causes,New York Times, Nov. 28, 2017.

41. Erin R. Hahn, Meghan Gillogly, and Bailey E. Bradford, “Children Are Unsuspecting Meat Eaters: An Opportunity to Address Climate Change,Journal of Environmental Psychology. Academic Press, Oct. 9, 2021.

42. Sarah Marsh, “The rise of vegan teenagers: ‘More people are into it because of Instagram’,” Guardian, May 27, 2016. Michael Pellman Rowland, “Millennials Are Driving the Worldwide Shift Away From Meat,” Forbes, May 23, 2018.

43. Holly Cheever, “A Bovine Sophie’s Choice,”, 2011.

44. “Runaway Cow Escapes Slaughterhouse to Live on Polish Island,” BBC News, Feb. 19, 2018.

45. Kristen Avery, “Pregnant Pig Is Being Taken to Slaughterhouse, Then She Jumps Out of Moving Truck to Give Birth,” LittleThings, May 22, 2017.

46. pattrice jones, “Stomping with the Elephants: Feminist Principles for Radical Solidarity,” in Steven Best and Anthony Nocella II, eds., Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth (AK Press, 2006), 331.

47. James McWilliams, “The Myth of Sustainable Meat,” New York Times, April 12, 2012.

48. Nick Thieme, “Why Do We Use Blood Extracted from Cow Fetuses to Make Fake Meat?,” Slate, July 11, 2017.

49. Joe Fassler, “Lab-grown meat is supposed to be inevitable. The science tells a different story,” Counter, Sept. 22, 2021.

50. Ly, Abdourahamane, Twitter Post. March 26, 2021, 2:32 AM.

51. Veganarchist Memes, “Dear Leftist Critics of Veganism: Veganism Is Not Ableist or Classist,” Medium, Aug. 28, 2020.

52. Petter, cited above at note 15.

53. See Christina Sewell, “Removing the Meat Subsidy; Our Cognitive Dissonance around Animal Agriculture,Columbia SIPA Journal of International Affairs (Feb. 11, 2020).

54. Sally Ho, “U.S. Animal Agriculture Subsidies Soared in 2020 Despite Climate Health Danger,Green Queen, Nov. 24, 2021.

55. “Food Deserts,” Food Empowerment Project.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

Tags: animal rightsconcentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO)veganismvegetarianismgreen-anarchismlibertarian-socialismagribusinessagricultureagricultural workers and peasantsgreen unionismgreen syndicalismfoodecological movements and organizationsmovement politicsclimate changegreenhouse gasCOVID-19Global SouthindigenousBlack, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)COP26Black Lives Matter

Chapter 26 : They Weren’t Gonna Have No Wobbly Runnin’ Their Logging Show

Thu, 10/12/2023 - 18:39

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

Now Judi Bari is a union organizer,
A ‘Mother Jones’ at the Georgia-Pacific Mill,
She fought for the sawmill workers,
Hit by that PCB spill;
T. Marshall Hahn’s calling GP shots from Atlanta,
Don Nelson sold him the union long ago,
They weren’t gonna have no Wobbly,
Running their logging show;
So they spewed out their hatred,
And they laid out their scam,
Jerry Philbrick called for violence,
It was no secret what they planned…

—lyrics excerpted from Who Bombed Judi Bari?, by Darryl Cherney, 1990

Meanwhile, in Fort Bragg, the rank and file dissent against the IWA Local #3-469 officialdom grew. Still incensed by Don Nelson’s actions over the PCB Spill, and not at all satisfied with a second consecutive concessionary contract, the workers now had yet another reason to protest: a proposed dues increase. Claiming that the local faced a financial crisis, the embattled union leader proposed raising the members’ dues from $22.50 per month to $29, an increase that amounted to more than a 25 percent rise. Ironically, IWA’s Constitution limited the monthly dues rate to 2½ times the wages of the lowest paid worker. The local’s financial shortage had resulted from a decrease in the wages and the loss members due to G-P’s outsourcing logging jobs to gyppos and automation of jobs in the quad mill. [1] The usual suspects readied themselves to blame “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs” once again.

Nelson presented his proposal in the form of a leaflet posted on the employee bulletin boards and distributed in the employee break rooms throughout the G-P Mill in Fort Bragg. The leaflet stated, “we are voting to maintain the ability of our union to function.” A group of rank and filers, however, led by a mill maintenance janitor, named Julie Wiles and her coworker Cheryl Jones, as well as some of the eleven workers affected by the PCB spill and others who had been most dissatisfied with the recent round of contract negotiations, responded by producing a leaflet of their own opposing the dues increase. Their leaflet stated, “Last year Union officers’ wages plus expenses were $43,622. This year they were $68,315. That’s a whopping 69 percent increase! Considering our lousy 3 percent pay raise, how can the Union ask us for more money?” The rank and file dissidents’ leaflets were quickly removed from the employee bulletin boards. [2] This wasn’t to be the worst of it, though.

On the afternoon of November three, 1989, Julie Wiles was distributing the anti-dues increase leaflets at the G-P Mill’s southernmost gate, while Cheryl Jones did likewise at another entrance. They were attempting to pass out the literature to their fellow workers as they exited the facility at the end of their shift. Wiles elected to place some of the leaflets on the windshields of her fellow workers’ parked vehicles while she waited for the morning shift to end. Such activity was routine for the conducting of union business and had been done many times in the past, without incident. This day, the results would be different, however. While in the process of distributing the fliers, Wiles observed a plant security guard removing those she had already placed. Wiles decided to confront the guard, and questioned his activities. The guard responded that he was only doing his job, and that the Fort Bragg police had been summoned, in case she had any additional questions. [3]

Julie Wiles was by no means a stereotypical rabble rouser. She was introverted and reclusive. She had chosen her particular job, having declined opportunities to bid for what most workers considered to be more desirable positions, because it afforded her a substantial degree of autonomy and personal privacy. However, though she was something of a loner, Wiles was also a staunch union member, and she knew what her rights were, or so she thought. When the police arrived, Wiles informed them that she was conducting union business, following established past practices, and provisions set forth by the National Labor Relations Act, which prevented company interference in internal union affairs. [4] She also stated that she didn’t want to cause any trouble and offered to leave. [5]

According to Wiles, the police were initially “pleasant; even courteous,” and initially left her to her own devices. Soon after that, however G-P security chief Lee Gobel drove up, exited his vehicle, and demanded that the police arrest Wiles, “for trespassing and littering”, on the orders of plant manager Don Wittman. Wiles responded by demanding that Whitman come to the parking lot and state this himself in person, Gobel refused to convey the message. The police informed him that they had no grounds for arrest, agreeing with Wiles’ interpretation of labor law. Unsatisfied, Gobel then demanded that the police make a citizen’s arrest, which they did, claiming that they were obligated by law to do so. Wiles then was handcuffed, placed in the back of a police car, transported to the Fort Bragg police station, and locked in a holding cell. [6] The response was hardly warranted, and city officials attempted to save face by denying that it had taken place. Fort Bragg City Manager, Gary Milliman, claimed that Wiles had not been arrested or placed in a holding cell, but instead had been cited for committing an infraction in violation of a city ordinance against littering. Police Chief Thomas E Bickell concurred with Milliman’s framing of the events, but also stated that under California law, a peace officer was required to make an arrest, when confronted with a “citizen’s arrest”, or face the possibility of violating the law themselves. Bickell admitted, however, that he had never before heard of any instance of anyone actually being arrested—citizen’s arrest or otherwise—for placing literature on the windshield of a parked car. [7]

The union treated the arrest as a nonissue and didn’t even file a grievance against the company, however. Instead Nelson issued a second bulletin, officially signed by himself, distributed similarly to his first one, beginning, “Someone has been illegally and anonymously putting handbills on car windows in the parking lots and around the Mill opposing the dues increase.” [8] Mike Keopf again documented the IWA local’s internal disputes in the local press, in this instance, in the Mendocino Commentary, which again drew an angry and defensive response from Don Nelson. Nelson claimed that he welcomed and encouraged rank and file dissent, that he had been unaware of Wiles’ arrest when he had written the statement, and was convinced that the leaflets had been produced by an outside source, namely, Earth First!. He also claimed that the so-called 69 percent increase in the local officer’s wages was compensation for lost work time spent negotiating the recent contract. [9] Wiles and her fellow workers were disturbed by Nelson’s conduct, nonetheless. Why had he not investigated matters before issuing the statement? The whole matter reeked of the company and the collaborationist leadership of the Union local colluding to quell a rank and file revolt. [10]

In any case, their efforts backfired, because on November 6, 7, 8 and 9 the membership voted 179 to 84, a whopping two-to-one margin, to oppose the dues increase. Although more than half of the 560 members abstained, it was clear that the proposed increase was highly unpopular. [11] Wiles attributed these results to the membership’s anger at the union and the company for “pushing (us) peasants too far.” [12]

Don Nelson and IWA Local 3-469 Trustee Parke Singleton attempted to conduct damage control, even writing letters to and participating in interviews in the local press, calling the campaign to oppose the dues increase, “misinformation”, in part because the leaders of it chose to remain anonymous. They claimed that the new contract they had secured, without the aid of a strike, was a victory—though they conceded this was primarily because the rest of the IWA Western Region, which represented timber workers throughout the Pacific Northwest—had given up even greater concessions. [13] G-P millworkers in Oregon had not had a wage increase since 1986 and they had lost control of their pension plan in 1987, and workers at G-P’s mill in Woodland, Maine had been working without a contract since 1988. [14] Nelson, once again, insisted that the union had taken all of the action it legally could on the PCB spill.

Nelson further argued that Wiles’ actions were not protected by the NLRA, because she was not engaged in organizing activity, and because of this, her rights were limited to posting her leaflets on the employee bulletin board, unless she were running for union office (which she wasn’t). Distributing leaflets in the GP parking lot was supposedly only allowed by company consent, which hadn’t been given. Nelson claimed that he had received this information after speaking with an unnamed source at the Department of Labor (DOL). [15] However, NLRB lawyers, who are distinct from the DOL, are the official authority on matters of labor law, and they informed Wiles that her actions were indeed protected. [16] Nelson reiterated that he believed that the workers were being “stirred up by outside agitators who (didn’t) know what they (were) talking about,” and that he was “seen by G-P as one of the most active and radical union representatives they have ever had to deal with (but that he didn’t) publish his criticisms and dealings with G-P in the press.” [17] Apparently the latter was reserved for environmentalists and dissident workers, who questioned his alleged “radicalism”. Since Nelson had allied himself with G-P in opposing Forests Forever, to serve as a voice of “the workers” against “environmental extremists”, it was essential that he quell any hint of actual worker dissent.

* * * * *

There had been a grain of truth in Nelson’s accusations. The leaflets had been produced with the help of an Earth First!er, namely Judi Bari. However, Bari hadn’t agitated the workers to revolt; instead, the workers, who had been working with Mike Koepf and Anna Marie Stenberg, had called upon Judi Bari’s assistance at the suggestion of Stenberg, who had not met Bari previously, but had seen her debating Don Nelson over L-P’s Mexico plans on community access cable TV. Stenberg contacted Bari and learned that not only was the latter an Earth First!er, but that she was an IWW organizer and veteran union activist as well. Stenberg was impressed with Bari’s knowledge and grasp of the issue, and was also pleased to discover that the latter had followed Koepf’s reporting on the PCB spill. The workers welcomed Bari’s involvement, and were not at all opposed to working with a known Earth First!er, tree sits or no, though they did have some concerns about tree spiking, which Bari was able to mitigate somewhat by her sensitivity to their plight. [18]

As a result, Bari was now assisting the mill workers on the issue of the PCB spill, as the company was appealing the ruling, and the IWA leadership was refusing to fight the company. The workers affected by the spill wanted to continue their fight, but OSHA had denied their request, arguing that they had to be represented by their union in order to do so. Bari, who was experienced at dealing with OSHA, informed the workers, Stenberg, and Koepf, that the law actually allowed the workers to be represented by any; labor union, not just their official bargaining unit. Since it was highly unlikely any other AFL-CIO union local or international would have dared contradict IWA Local 3-469 for fear of being accused of a jurisdictional battle (which is technically prohibited under the AFL-CIO’s international bylaws), Bari suggested that they instead be represented by IWW Local #1. [19]

However, since no such local actually existed, despite the presence of IWW members in Mendocino County, Bari, Cherney, Stenberg, Koepf, (the latter two having joined at Bari’s urging) and several others quickly established one. Following the guidelines set forth by the IWW Constitution, which at the time required the signatures of a minimum of twenty dues paying IWW members in good standing in order to receive an IWW General Membership Branch Charter, Bari, Cherney, and Stenberg quickly gathered the needed signatures from among the IWW members in Humboldt and Mendocino County, and submitted their application to the IWW’s General Executive Board. Demonstrating that this IWW branch to be wasn’t merely a paper tiger created for political expediency, one of the charter members was Treva VandenBosch. Another was Pete Kayes. The IWW quickly granted the new branch its charter. [20]

The branch was officially the Humboldt County and Mendocino County General Membership Branch—though it was usually referred to as “Earth First! – IWW Local #1”, following the course which had only one year previously seemed to be a distant utopian dream. The timing of the branch’s formation was fortuitous, because it came as the second issue of Timberlyin’ was being distributed among the workers at P-L, and some workers at L-P—while not willing to openly declare themselves—were secretly feeding information to Bari, et. al. The G-P workers’ concerns fed into this momentum nicely. Uniting these independent workers’ struggles into a single, organized struggle was precisely the core element in Bari’s overall strategy to counter Corporate Timber. With that in mind, the new IWW branch made it a priority to take up both the defense of Julie Wiles and the fight against G-P’s OSHA fines being dismissed. [21]

G-P millworkers affected by the PCB spill, including Ron Atkinson, Joe Valdao, and Treva Vandenbosch, as well as Cheryl Jones and Julie Wiles wrote a press statement responding to Nelson’s and Singleton’s accusations [22], with Judi Bari’s assistance, who helped the workers craft their various points into a single unified document. [23] The workers challenged Nelson and Singleton on the PCB spill, stating at one point:

Throughout this traumatic incident, Don Nelson never once talked sympathetically to the workers who were poisoned. In fact, he accused them of ‘making a mountain out of a molehill.’ He publicly defended the company, saying they had been ‘completely above-board’ and he testi­fied in the company’s behalf at the OSHA hearing. He said on KMFB radio that PCB’s are not proven harmful, and published a statement diminishing the incident, saying that ‘there were no known se­rious injuries because of this spill.’ Yet, six months later (Murray) still had a bodily PCB level of 386 parts per million, when the EPA standard is 0.26 parts per billion.” [24]

The workers reinforced the notion that the strike vote was due to dissatisfaction with the 1985 contract, on purely immediate economic concerns, certainly, but also on broader working class and ecological issues. Specifically, the workers denounced the violation of union principles brought about by the profit bonuses, not just because they didn’t bring about the promised results, but because of their effect on the workers’ solidarity and the environment. They also expressed their complete disgust that the current contract eliminated all in house loggers, replacing them completely with gyppos once and for all, and tied this with L-P’s moving their mills to Mexico. [25]

The workers defended their vote against the dues increase, stating that it was, indeed, a vote of no confidence in Don Nelson’s leadership (or lack thereof), and suggested that much of what he did was unnecessary anyway:

“The duties of our paid union rep are clearly spelled out in our constitution. They involve keeping the finances straight and enforcing the contract. They do not include running for County Supervisor or sitting on County committees. Nelson has published a list of eleven functions he claims he fulfills. Of these, only two (Contract and Grievances) are necessary. The rest, including Unemployment Appeals, Cal OSHA, Political Contacts and Political action are either duplications of services that are offered free by the agency involved, or they are part of Nelson’s Democratic Party political agenda.” [26]

The workers clearly did not wish to be subsidizing Nelson’s political ambitions on the local union’s $145,000 annual dues revenue. Further, they noted that Nelson was, in essence, double dipping anyway: 

“(Nelson's) staff, by the way, consists of two full-time employees—Don Nelson and his wife Rosmarie. So we rejected the dues increase and now in spite of our mandate, he’s refusing to cut his hours. Instead the union has decided to withhold the portion of our dues money that we’re supposed to pay to the National Union. This is a dangerous move, since it can lead to the National Union placing our Local in trusteeship. A trusteeship would not only mean that the National Union would control our money, but they would suspend all our democratic rights, including the right to elect officers and vote on union business, for 18 months. In order to keep his full-time position, Don Nelson is willing to sacrifice this. Of course, he has good reason to fear union democracy. He is unlikely to win again.” [27]

The workers also declared, that contrary to the pessimistic opinions of Crawdad Nelson (whom the workers named) and Rob Anderson (whom they did not), they were also deeply committed to ecological issues as well as economic ones:

“We are not stupid, and we can see as well as anyone else what the timber companies are doing to the trees. It’s our environment as much as yours and we go to the forest to camp, fish, hunt, and find solitude. Some of our families have lived here for five generations, and we know that our children will not be able to enjoy the forests as we have if they continue to be cut the way they are now.

“In fact, our concern for the health of the forest is not less, but greater than that of the general community, because the loss of the forest will also mean the loss of our livelihoods. This is one of the reasons it is so important for us to regain control of our union. We don’t have many years left if things keep going the way they are now. Our only hope for continued employment is sustained yield logging. And we will need strong union if we hope to slow the company down enough so that we can have both jobs and forests in the future.” [28]

The dissident workers concluded with a strong rebuttal to Nelson’s claim that they were under the influence of “outside agitators”, explaining that their reason to seek support from the likes of Stenberg, Koepf, and Bari; Earth First! and the IWW, was out of necessity, due to lack of support from the IWA local’s leadership. They finished by explaining that if some of them didn’t sign their names, it was out of fear that they would become nonpersons, as had Vandenbosch, and that the union wouldn’t defend them. As if to vindicate the dissidents, on December 12, 1989, Judge Robert Heeb of the Ten Mile Justice Court in Ukiah dismissed the case against Julie Wiles. [29]

Don Nelson attempted to save face by claiming that he had not been informed of the PCB spill, stating that the information had been lost somewhere in the complex chain of command the local had devised under his leadership. He also declared that he had, “Immediately called G-P management and reminded them that they must treat any spill as a hazardous spill until they conclusively knew it was not; that they must contain it and isolate the area of the spill. After some argument they did,” and went on to argue that he had “never defended G-P.” [30] However, Nelson did not even once challenge G-P’s appeal of the PCB spill. [31] Nelson also defended his lack of action on the contracting out of the logging crews, arguing that unions couldn’t legally challenge companies from outsourcing.[32]

Nelson also admitted that the wage enhancement did indeed, tie workers interests to those of the company, but in the same instance he defended it, not by citing any realized concrete gains, but by offering another optimistic prediction that it would finally start to pay off over the life of the current, four-year contract, “As long as environmentalists didn’t curtail the supply of wood to the mills.” [33] Nelson’s insistence that IWA international president Bill Hubble had originally supported the “wage enhancement” proposal in 1985 didn’t hold any water, because the latter had seen the light and now was opposed to similar proposals. [34]

Nelson’s commitment to union democracy was no better, and in January he reintroduced the dues increase proposal. The workers opposed to the dues increase responded by producing yet another leaflet with the headline, “how many times do we have to say no?” Nelson responded with his own leaflet which included a statement at the end that actually read, “A vote against the dues increase is a vote for the IWW,” as if this would somehow scare the workers into voting against their own interests. [35] IWW Local #1 responded with its own leaflet titled, “What is the IWW: and What are We Doing in Fort Bragg?” The leaflet assured the workers that the Wobblies didn’t wish to raid the IWA shop or undermine the workers contract—weak as it was—with G-P, because a bad contract was better than none at all. It also suggested that the workers vote their conscience on the proposed dues increase, as the IWW wasn’t in the business of interfering in other union’s internal affairs, unless the workers desired it, and in the current context, the matter was one initiated by the rank and file before the IWW had gotten involved. [36] The rank and file workers once again refused the dues increase by a vote of 60-55 in mid February, even though Bill Hubble, himself, had journeyed to Fort Bragg to lobby for it. [37]

Adding insult to injury, IWA Local #3-469 cut a deal with G-P that same month, without even consulting the eleven workers affected by the PCB spill, agreeing to reduce the fine from $14,000 to $3,000. [38] OSHA dropped the “willful” injury to a worker charge down to “serious”, agreeing with the company’s argument that there were still enough “experts” claiming that the chemicals weren’t toxic, in spite of numerous studies showing otherwise.
Five of the workers hit by the spill, Ron Atkinson, Frank Murray, Craig Ogram, LeRoy Pearl, and Treva Vandenbosch responded that in the fall they had sent a letter to Local 3-469 stating that they didn’t authorize the union to represent them in the case against OSHA (Docket Number 89-2713). [40] They then sent a letter to Sidney Goldstein, the judge presiding over the case, demanding that he not agree to the settlement. [41]

The judge had informed them that they needed to be represented by an official labor representative, so they sent a second letter to the OSHA, the appeals judge, and IWA Local 3-469 stating that they chose IWW Local #1 (specifically Judi Bari and Anna Marie Stenberg) to be their official representative. [42] Treva Vandenbosch organized community support for the case by circulating a pre written letter to the judge, encouraging interested supporters to contact the latter in support of the dissident workers and to show up at the hearing scheduled for February 1, 1990. [43] Judge Goldstein acquiesced, and held off signing the agreement until the workers could make a written point-by-point appeal, for which he granted them two weeks time.[44]

Judi Bari covered that task, and wrote an extensive rebuttal to G-P’s claims. [45] G-P’s counsel in the OSHA case, Claudia Brisson, wrote an appeal to the Judge, dated February 22, 1990, arguing that labor law clearly stated that since Local 3-469 was the workers’ official representative, the IWW was not legally able to represent the dissident members. Regrettably, the Judge agreed with this interpretation, even though Judi Bari tried, unsuccessfully, to argue that Nelson’s interpretation of the law was incorrect, arguing that it mandated that workers before OSHA hearings be represented by a labor union, not any specific labor union, and that the dissidents had clearly chosen the IWW. [46]

It was clear, to the workers, that G-P’s real motivation in challenging the IWW’s representation on behalf of IWA Local 3-469 was purely selfish. Bari’s letter to the judge explained why:

“Since the time when this settlement was reached, G-P has continued to violate their employees right to a safe work environment, apparently confident that they will receive nothing more than a slap on the wrist from OSHA. On Dec. 20, 1989, they were cited by CalOSHA for failing to provide safe lockout procedures for the computerized green chain. They made changes in response to this citation, but the changes were not enough to protect the safety of workers on this machine. On 3/16/90 G-P was cited once again for three more violations on the same machine, including a serious violation for not reporting an accident in which an employee had three fingers severed. On 2/24/90, yet another complaint was filed on the same machine, this time citing ten safety violations. This complaint was investigated on 3/12/90, and a final settlement has not yet been reached.

“This latest OSHA complaint, listing the ten violations, was only filed because Anna Marie Stenberg was willing to sign it for the workers so that they did not have to use their own names. Because of consistent harassment of employees who file complaints, the workers are afraid to step forward even though they are concerned about the unsafe equipment. And, since G-P will not allow Anna Marie to enter the mill and inspect the machinery, it is difficult to resolve this complaint until the workers can have some real assurance that they will not suffer reprisals if they identify themselves.

“G-P’s harassment of workers who attempt to use the OSHA process has recently resulted in Fed OSHA investigator Chuck Byers being sent to Ft. Bragg to investigate this intimidation. He has been looking into the harassment of at least four different workers in OSHA complaints that took place after the settlement agreement.

“What all this shows is that G-P has continued unslowed in its pattern of violating OSHA rules concerning both safety and harassment. We believe that the leniency of the settlement G-P negotiated with OSHA in the PCB case and their ability to escape the scrutiny of a hearing has encouraged their arrogant attitude towards the workers’ safety.”

Clearly, the company didn’t want the IWW—a potentially effective challenge to their power—replacing a supine union that they could use as cover. [47]

The dissidents’ and IWW’s efforts were not wasted, however. For one thing, they had exposed the IWA and Don Nelson as collaborationists and undermined the latter’s ability to provide cover for corporate timber as he was ever more willing to do as resistance to unquestioned corporate logging practices steadily increased. The victims may have been isolated in the mill, and Murray and Vandenbosch had to retire for their health, but in the community, they were now considered heroes. The Mendocino Grey Panthers honored them at their annual dinner on January 27, 1990. [48] The workers in turn recognized the work of Mike Koepf, Anna Marie Stenberg, and Judi Bari of the IWW in assisting them. [49] In May of 1990, the EPA fined G-P $20,250 for violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act.[50] In late October, Anna Marie Stenberg received the files of the Cal OSHA and Federal OSHA investigations of the PCB spill, and they confirmed that the company had indeed tried to cover up the event. [51] Eventually OSHA did fine G-P $114,000 for willful violation of the workers’ safety, which was the highest possible fine they could have received. [52] The IWW agreed to offer the IWA millworkers, free of charge, any services that the IWA local cut as a result of losing the vote on the proposed dues increase. [53]

Once again, the supposedly “bumpkin proletariat” had defied the preconceived notions of Dave Foreman, Crawdad Nelson, and Rob Anderson. And, once again, the so-called “ unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs” had contradicted the reactionary rhetoric of TEAM and WECARE. Workers and environmentalists were working together on common issues.

[1] “IWA Rank-and-File Union Millworkers Reply”, by Ron Atkinson, et. al., Anderson Valley Advertiser, December 13, 1989, Mendocino Commentary, December 14, 1989, and Industrial Worker, January 1990.

[2] “Damage Control”, by Mike Koepf, Mendocino Commentary, November 16, 1989.

[3] Koepf, November 16, 1989, op. cit.

[4] Koepf, November 16, 1989, op. cit.

[5] Atkinson, et. al., op. cit.

[6] Koepf, November 16, 1989, op. cit.

[7] Koepf, November 16, 1989, op. cit.

[8] Koepf, November 16, 1989, op. cit.

[9] “Response from Don Nelson”, letter to the editor by Don Nelson, Mendocino Commentary, December 14, 1989.

[10] Atkinson, et. al., op. cit.

[11]“Interview with Don Nelson, Business Agent for IWA Local #3-469”, by Roanne Withers, Anderson Valley Advertiser, December 6, 1989. That Withers conducted this interview at all is incredible, given her anger at Nelson for his actions over Harvest Market. Withers’ questions, while fair, were anything if not challenging, and she, too, would offer her support for the dissidents and victims of the PCB spill.

[12] Koepf, November 16, 1989, op. cit.

[13] “IWA Sets the Record Straight, letter to the editor, by Parke Singleton, various publications, including Anderson Valley Advertiser, November 29, 1989, Mendocino Beacon, November 30, 1989, Mendocino Commentary, November 30, 1989, and Country Activist, December, 1989.

[14] “Georgia-Pacific Seizes Great Northern”, by Jamie Sayen, Earth First Journal, Eostar / March 20, 1990.

[15] Withers, op. cit.

[16] Atkinson, et. al., op. cit.

[17] Withers, op. cit.

[18] Interview with Anna Marie Stenberg, held October 18, 2009.

[19] “Earth First! in Northern California: An Interview with Judi Bari” by Douglas Bevington, reprinted in The Struggle for Eco­logical Democracy; Environmental Justice Movements in the United States, edited by Daniel Faber, New York, NY and London, Guilford Press, 1998, 255-56.

[20] “Minutes of the Inaugural Meeting of IWW Local #1”, recorded by Judi Bari, November 19, 1989. Judi Bari also designed the leaflets for the meeting, which were drawn in her steady and graceful longhand, including the text. The meeting took place at Anna Marie Stenberg’s house in Fort Bragg. In 1995, the minimum threshold for establishing an IWW branch has since been reduced to ten members in good standing. Additional charter members of note included Betty and Gary Ball, Alan Graham—better known as “Captain Fathom” who had carried the IWW torch in the county for over three decades at the time of Local #1’s establishment, Herb Jager, a somewhat famous beatnik with a long history in the San Francisco counterculture scene who lived in Sonoma County at the time, and Kay Rudin, a local activist, graphic artist, and videographer. Roanne Withers did not sign the charter, but also became a member of the local.

[21] Minutes of the Inaugural Meeting of IWW Local #1, recorded by Judi Bari, November 19, 1989.

[22] Minutes of the Inaugural Meeting of IWW Local #1, recorded by Judi Bari, November 19, 1989.

[23] Letter to Jess Grant, by Judi Bari, unpublished, San Francisco Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch archives , date unknown, but likely December 1989 based on the context.

[24] Atkinson, et. al., op. cit.

[25] Atkinson, et. al., op. cit. The dissident workers had distributed a poster at one point which had started with the bold headline, “ATTENTION MILL WORKERS: YOU HAVE BEEN ECONOMICALLY KIDNAPPED!”

[26] Atkinson, et. al., op. cit.

[27] Atkinson, et. al., op. cit.

[28] Atkinson, et. al., op. cit.

[29] Atkinson, et. al., op. cit.

[30] “Response to ‘Rank and File’, by Don Nelson, Anderson Valley Advertiser, December 27, 1989 and Mendocino Commentary, January 11, 1989.

[31] “IWW Defends Mill Workers”, by Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, Industrial Worker, March 1990.

[32] Don Nelson, December 27, op. cit.

[33] Withers, op. cit.

[34] Atkinson, et. al., op. cit.

[35] Bari and Cherney, March 1990, op. cit..

[36] “What is the IWW: and What are We Doing in Fort Bragg?” leaflet by IWW Local #1, January 1989. The leaflet was written by the branch, though clearly Judi Bari did design it, as the headlines are written in her longhand.

[37] “Here and There in Mendocino County”, by Bruce Anderson, Anderson Valley Advertiser, February 21, 1990.

[38] Bari and Cherney, March 1990, op. cit.

[39] “Hot Tubbin at Harry’s: Anna Marie Stenberg”, interview by Lynne Dahl, New Settler Interview, issue #54, December 1990.

[40] Bari and Cherney, March 1990, op. cit., and Letter to IWA Local 3-469, by Ron Atkinson, et. al., August 24, 1989, unpublished. A copy of the latter is on file at the Willits Museum.

[41] Letter to Judge Sidney Goldstein, by Ron Atkinson, et. al., January 1990, unpublished. A copy of the latter is on file at the Willits Museum.

[42] Bari and Cherney, March 1990, op. cit., and Letter to Judge Sidney Goldstein, January 24, 1990, op. cit.

[43] “OSHA Vs. G-P: PCB Spill Hearing”, letter to the editor, by Treva Vandenbosch, Anderson Valley Advertiser, December 13, 1989 and Mendocino Commentary, December 14, 1989.

[44] Bari and Cherney, March 1990, op. cit.

[45] Letter to Judge Sidney Goldstein, by Judi Bari, February 14, 1990, unpublished. This letter is on file in the Willits Museum.

[46] Letter to Judge Sidney Goldstein, by Judi Bari, March 16, 1990, unpublished. This letter is on file in the Willits Museum.

[47] Ibid.

[48] “Panthers Honor Whistleblowers”, Earth News, Mendocino Commentary, February 8, 1990.

[49] “Here and There in Mendocino County”, by Bruce Anderson, Anderson Valley Advertiser, February 7, 1990.

[50] “Here and There in Mendocino County”, by Bruce Anderson, Anderson Valley Advertiser, May 2, 1990.

[51] “Here and There in Mendocino County”, by Bruce Anderson, Anderson Valley Advertiser, October 10, 1990.

[52] Bevington, op. cit., 255-56.

[53] Minutes of the Inaugural Meeting of IWW Local #1, recorded by Judi Bari, November 19, 1989.

Tags: Redwood UprisingJudi BariSteve OngerthEarth First!Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)Earth First! - IWW Local 1timber workersDon NelsonFort Bragggreen unionismgreen syndicalismgreen industrial unionismsolidarity unionismtrade unionsInternational Woodworkers of America (IWA)Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)health and safety

United Auto Workers on Strike

Mon, 10/09/2023 - 00:00

By Zachary Guerra - Industrial Worker, October 9, 2023

The UAW is conducting a coordinated strike against the big three.

DETROIT, MI — It’s September 15. I’m stuck in traffic on my way to the UAW rally. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rashida Talib, UAW President Shawn Fain and others will be speaking. There are state police on the road, more than usual. I’m stuck in traffic for 15 minutes–then stuck downtown for another thirty. I miss half of the speakers.

Workers at 3 UAW plants are on strike for a 36 percent four-year pay raise, cost-of-living adjustments, a 32-hour week with 40-hour pay, an end to the tier system, returning their defined-benefit pensions for new hires, and pension increases for workers who have retired. Many of their demands were benefits they previously received before being clawed back by the company and union officials in their 2007 union contract, allegedly due to the recession. The workers are on strike at the GM Plant in Wentzville, Missouri, a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, and a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio. (Stellantis owns Jeep and Chrysler). Their demands track with other strikes occurring around the county, especially for cost-of-living adjustments. It seems that their strategy will be a staggered strike. UAW president Shawn Fain warns that “many more factories may follow.” In total 146,000 workers have walked off the job, and they are feeling fired up.

The UAW is holding the rally outside of the UAW-Ford National Program Center, just under the people mover, Detroit’s raised rail that goes to a few places downtown. It rumbles above, a backdrop to the fiery speeches being delivered.

Many of the workers are afraid of plant closures. As our manufacturing capacity shifts to renewables, many are afraid that without proper retraining programs, these workers will be out of a job. As for the electric manufacturers that do exist, these factories are nonunion, low-wage jobs. 

We march down Jefferson to Beaubien St. I’m in a loose formation behind a banner, and there is a crier behind me. She chants “No justice! No jeeps!” We stop at Beaubien to rally and clump together before heading back up towards the program center. This time I’m in a different formation, and whose variation on “No justice! No jeeps! (No fords, no trucks, no nothing!)” encourages the dozen people I’m standing with.

As an IWW I am excited to see the militancy of these workers. Spurned by Shawn Fain’s bravado, these workers are eager. The mode of the strike is particularly interesting. I think we can learn a lot from watching this unfold; this is a patient strategy. In 2019 the UAW went on strike for forty days, and this will likely be longer. The Union targeted three different shops, owned by three different brands, at once. This is reminiscent of our union’s goal, which is that all workers in one industry organize together, not separated by shop. Unfortunately the UAW does not organize all auto workers. Currently engineers are not eligible for membership, for example. This is a fantastic time to be a Wobbly.

I will continue to monitor the strike and help where I can. Fellow Workers, I encourage you to participate as well. To sign up for UAW updates, follow this link. The bosses can’t scare us now. Solidarity!


Note: As of September 22, 2023 38 additional Stellantis and GM plants went on strike. As of October 8, 2023, General Motors has made a 6th offer to the UAW, but it does not include the traditional pensions reinstated, nor the Cost-of-Living Adjustments lost in 2009, nor several other demands. Notably, it would include electric vehicle battery manufacturing workers in the master agreement.

Tags: strikesUnited Auto Workers (UAW)automobile manufacturersauto workersStellantisGeneral Motors (GM)class strugglegreen unionismtrade unionsAFL-CIOelectric vehiclesjust transitionshorter work hoursIndustrial Workers of the World (IWW)

Just Transition for Auto Workers: The Answer to Auto’s Race to the Bottom

Fri, 10/06/2023 - 00:00

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 6, 2023

Organized labor and the climate movement, often portrayed as opponents, have made an auspicious start toward cooperation in the autoworkers strike. The UAW, eschewing Trumpian blandishments to attack the transition to electrical vehicles (EVs), have instead endorsed the transition to climate-safe cars and trucks. One hundred climate organizations, rejecting the blandishments of auto industry allies that low wages in the non-union South will make EVs cheaper and therefore help fight global warming, have instead signed a letter of solidarity with UAW workers and are organizing to support union picket lines.[1] The purpose of this Commentary is to explain the context of this convergence and to indicate the elements of a “just transition” for the auto industry that can provide a joint program for the labor and climate movements.

The Backstory

Labor and climate issues have been entwined in the US auto industry since long before the public recognition of global warming. The Big Three auto strike is intertwined with the business and political strategy of the auto industry, its response to the climate crisis, the changing role of federal and state governments, and the decay and transformation of the UAW.

An investigative report by E&E News in 2020 found that company scientists warned executives at General Motors and Ford in the 1960s that carbon emissions from their cars and trucks would cause the earth’s climate to warm. In response to this threat, the auto companies secretly gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations denying the reality of global warming. Along with the oil industry and the US National Association of Manufacturers they formed the Global Climate Coalition to oppose any mandatory actions to address global warming; it spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising against international climate agreements and national climate legislation.[2] The auto companies expanded their investments in high-emission trucks and SUVs. They opposed higher standards for fuel economy and carbon emissions. Until 1996 the Big Three did not produce a single commercial electric vehicle – allowing Tesla to corner the market with its EVs.[3] Today emissions from the tailpipes of cars and trucks are the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States.

In 2008, rising gas prices and the Great Recession devasted the Big Three’s carefully cultivated market for gas guzzlers. GM and Chrysler went into bankruptcy and an $81 billion bailout left the US government as majority owner of GM and the UAW and Fiat as the principal owners of Chrysler.

The US auto industry was reconstructed under President Barak Obama’s economic recovery plan. Auto corporations and the UAW agreed to a large, long-term increase in energy efficiency to cut carbon emissions. The auto corporations agreed to cooperate with emission reduction requirements because their survival depended on the plan’s massive public investment in the auto industry. This involved cooperative planning for retooling the industry, large-scale federal support for developing new technology, and substantial public investment in modernizing the industry on a low-carbon basis. The result was a steady decrease in carbon pollution rates, an increase of jobs for auto workers, and an end to the crisis that threated to nearly eliminate auto production – and an estimated three million jobs — in the United States.

Faced with the collapse of the auto industry and the loss of millions of jobs, the UAW had little choice but to agree to major concessions. Its contracts incorporated a two-tiered wage structure under which those hired through 2007 are now making an average of $33 per hour while those hired after 2007 now make $17 per hour or less. Lower-tier employees receive lower health benefits and don’t get defined benefit pensions or retiree health care. Auto workers lost the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) that gave them protection against inflation. Nonetheless they went for years without wage increases. They also lost the “job banks” jobs security program that provided laid-off workers pay and benefits if employment dipped below a pre-defined level.[4]

While the concessions were presented as a temporary measure to address the crisis in the auto industry, they were not reversed in subsequent contracts, and the degradation of auto work has continued to the present day. Meanwhile, the auto companies have continued to oppose climate protection policies and to promote high-pollution, low-mileage trucks and SUVs. Indeed, as recently as July 2023 the auto industry’s largest lobbying organization came out against the Biden administration’s proposed rule to ensure that two-thirds of new passenger cars sold in the United States are all-electric by 2032.[5]

Subsidizing Change in the Auto Industry – At the Expense of Auto Workers and the Climate?

The politics of climate and jobs was transformed in 2019 by the proposal – initiated by the youth climate Sunrise Movement and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – for a Green New Deal. They called for a ten-year mobilization of every aspect of American society to create 100% clean and renewable energy, guarantee living-wage jobs for anyone who needs one, and a just transition for both workers and frontline communities. The Green New Deal reconfigured American politics with its core proposition: fix joblessness and inequality by putting people to work at good jobs fixing the climate.

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign created a committee stocked with Green New Deal advocates like Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. He made their recommendations the centerpiece of his campaign policy. Biden’s Build Back Better plan combined ideas from the Green New Deal with proposals for “industrial policy” – government efforts to shape the economy by supporting specific industries, firms, or economic activities — long advocated by industrial unions and some progressive politicians. Many of these ideas were incorporated into Biden’s three major economic bills, the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure, and Inflation Reduction Acts, which provide trillions of dollars over the next decade to incentivize domestic production in targeted industries, notably the auto industry. Unlike the government-led reconstruction of the auto industry under Obama, however, today’s federal program is largely limited to providing subsidies to auto companies to expand EV production, rather than actively reshaping the industry. When the House passed its version of the Inflation Reduction Act in 2021, it included another $4,500 tax credit to consumers for EVs built largely with union labor, but Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia succeeded in removing the provision as a condition for allowing the IRA to pass the Senate.[6]

The auto companies have been happy to accept these federal subsidies, but they are also happy to evade their stated purposes. Auto companies have given surface compliance to federal pressure to reduce carbon pollution, but in reality they continue to promote highly profitable but high-carbon SUVs and light trucks and drag their feet on shifting to EVs. And they are using the federal subsidies to move their operations to low-wage, non-union locations in the South and to use joint ventures with foreign auto companies to evade unionization.

Since the early 1990s the South’s share of auto industry employment has grown from 15 to 30 per cent while the Midwest’s proportion has fallen from 60% to 45%.[7] The auto companies are now using the subsidies provided by Biden’s industrial policy to accelerate this migration. In the past two years the big auto companies have announced nearly $90 billion in investment for EV plants, according to the Center for Automotive Research. Their suppliers are investing billions more. Brookings Metro says total private-sector investment in EV manufacturing under Biden has reached nearly $140 billion.[8]

Brookings Metro calculated that the South has attracted 55 percent of the total private investment in electric vehicles and batteries under Biden, twice as much as has gone to the Midwest. Such EV and battery plant investments include Hyundai and Rivian in Georgia, Toyota in North Carolina, Tesla in Texas, BMW in South Carolina, Mercedes-Benz in AlabamaGeneral Motors in Tennessee, and Ford in Tennessee and Kentucky. EV investments in the South are expected to create at least 65,000 jobs.

To further bolster their resistance to worker demands, auto companies are creating their EV battery plants as joint ventures with foreign companies. As such they are not subject to the master agreements that cover the Big Three, so that the UAW must negotiate separate contracts for plants that are already offering wages far below the master agreements.

This “restructuring” seemed to be just fine with the Biden administration. In early June Energy Secretary Jennifer Grandholm told an industry group that the administration was “agnostic” about where companies choose to site their clean-energy investments.[9] Later that same month the Department of Energy approved more than $9 billion in loans to Ford and a Korean company to build EV battery plants in Kentucky and Tennessee.[10] This subsidy gave no consideration to wages, working conditions, union rights, or retirement security. The next day UAW president Shawn Fain issued a statement that read in part:

The switch to electric engine jobs, battery production and other EV manufacturing cannot become a race to the bottom. Not only is the federal government not using its power to turn the tide – they’re actively funding the race to the bottom with billions in public money. Why is Joe Biden’s administration facilitating this corporate greed with taxpayer money?

In the past five years, workers who build GM products in Lordstown Ohio, have had their lives turned upside down as they were forced to retire, quit or uproot their families and move all over the United States when GM closed their plants despite massive profits. Their jobs were replaced in GM’s new joint-venture battery facility with jobs that pay half of what workers made at the previous Lordstown plant.

Not only is the White House refusing to right this wrong, they’re giving Ford $9.2 billion to create the same low-road jobs in Kentucky and Tennessee.

The last time the federal government gave the Big Three billions of dollars, the companies did the exact same thing: slash wages, cut jobs, and undermine the industry that for generations created the best jobs for working families in this country. Autoworkers and our families took the hit in 2009 in the name of saving the industry. We were never made whole, and it’s an absolute shame to see another Democratic administration doubling down on a taxpayer-funded corporate giveaway.[11]

Faced with such a rebuff in the prelude to the impending auto strike, and perhaps counting the working class voters in a state critical for the 2024 presidential election, the Biden administration announced in late August that the Energy Department would provide $2 billion in grants and $10 billion in loan guarantees under the Inflation Reduction Act, plus $3.5 billion in grants under the infrastructure law, to help companies convert existing plants to making EVs and batteries. The once-“agnostic” Granholm proclaimed her new religion: “We are going to focus on financing projects that are in long-standing automaking communities, that keep folks already working on the payroll, projects that advance collective bargaining agreements, that create high-paying, long-lasting jobs.”[12]

UAW president Fain praised the decision.

The UAW supports and is ready for the transition to a clean auto industry. But the EV transition must be a just transition that ensures auto workers have a place in the new economy. Today’s announcement from the Department of Energy echoes the UAW’s call for strong labor standards tied to all taxpayer funding that goes to auto and manufacturing companies. This new policy makes clear to employers that the EV transition must include strong union partnerships with the high pay and safety standards that generations of UAW members have fought for and won.[13]

The Biden administration’s shift – at least momentarily – toward a just transition for auto workers facing the greening of their industry indicates both the political popularity of just transition and a balance of forces propitious for efforts to realize it. Given that context, what measures can labor and climate movements advocate to begin to realize a just transition for auto workers?

A Just Transition for Auto Workers

The UAW, more than a hundred climate and allied organizations, and President Joe Biden have all endorsed a “just transition” to electric vehicles for auto workers. But what would a just transition for auto workers actually mean? Here are some of the measures that workers, environmentalists, and governments could join together to promote.

Union demands

In contrast to past negotiations with the Big Three, the current UAW leadership has presented its basic proposals both to auto workers and to the public. In addition to wage and other economic demands, there are three union proposals in particular that are necessary parts of a just transition.

  • Working family protection program: Until 2009 the Big Three had a “job banks” jobs security program. If employment dipped below an agreed level, laid-off workers would receive pay and benefits. The UAW is proposing an updated version, the “Working family protection program,” which would require companies that shut down facilities to pay UAW members to do community-service work. It would give the companies a strong incentive to keep plants open and workers on the job.
  • Right to strike over plant closures. The Big Three have closed 65 plants over the last 20 years. Yet workers and communities are often powerless in the face of shutdowns. The right to strike over plant closures will provide a powerful tool to deter them and to provide workers and community members power to negotiate just terms for closures.
  • Eliminating tiers. In 2008 when the collapse of the US auto industry threatened to destroy as many as three million jobs, the UAW agreed to major concessions, including separation of workers into “tiers” which provided far lower wages and worse conditions for workers who were newly hired. The companies have used this to divide the workforce and to drive down wages for the growing proportion of lower seniority workers. As long as the tier system persists, the companies will be able to discriminate against a growing proportion of the workforce. Getting rid of tiers is an essential part of a just transition because the companies can use them to drive down conditions for workers making electric vehicles. The Teamsters’ recently ended tiers at UPS.
Federal policy
  • Just Transition requirements in federal auto subsidies. Initially funding under the Inflation Reduction Act and other federal programs that subsidize the transition to climate-safe industry did little to see that the jobs created would be good jobs, let alone union jobs. As a result, the auto companies have been taking the subsidies and using them to shut down good-paying union jobs in the Midwest and open new, nonunion jobs with lower pay and dangerous health and safety conditions in southern states with anti-labor “right-to-work” laws.

When the UAW protested, the Biden administration changed course and issued a $15.5 billion package of grants and loans primarily focused on retooling existing factories for the transition to EVs. This package included conditions for grants and loans that, if applied across the board to all EV subsidies, would make a major contribution to a just transition for auto workers.

In the $2 billion Domestic Conversion Grant Program, higher scores will be given to “projects that are likely to retain collective bargaining agreements and/or those that have an existing high-quality, high-wage hourly production workforce, such as applicants that currently pay top quartile wages in their industry.” The program “aims to support a just transition for workers and communities in the transition to electrified transportation,” with particular attention to “communities supporting facilities with longer histories in automotive manufacturing.” Preference will be given to projects that “commit to pay high wages for production workers and maintain collective bargaining agreements.”

The Department of Energy’s recent $10 billion loan initiative under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program for automotive manufacturing conversion projects is targeted for automotive manufacturing conversion projects that “retain high-quality jobs in communities that currently host manufacturing facilities.” Examples of criteria include “retaining high wages and benefits, including workplace rights, or commitments such as keeping the existing facility open until a new facility is complete, in the case of facility replacement projects.”[14]

These programs were welcomed by UAW president Shawn Fain. Their provisions will make it difficult for auto companies to take the money and use it to shut down existing union plants and open new nonunion plants in low-wage regions.

So far, these conditions apply only to a tiny sliver of the hundreds of billions of dollars that the federal government plans to give or induce others to invest in the transition to electric vehicles. They do not currently apply to other grants and loans. And they do not apply to the many times larger subsidies that will be given via tax credits. The Advance Manufacturing Tax Credit, for example, requires minimums for domestic content, payment of prevailing wages, and apprenticeship-based training. But it says nothing about location or workers’ right to union representation or collective bargaining.

A crucial strategy for a just transition for auto workers could be to include labor requirements in all EV subsidies similar to those in the recent package of grants and loans. Their inclusion in already established programs makes a strong case that they are legal and proper policies.

  • Community Benefit Plans. The Department of Energy is requiring Community Benefits Plans in all funding opportunity announcements and loan applications under the Bipartisan Infrastructure and Inflation Reduction Acts. Its Community Benefits Plans are based on four core policy priorities: investing in America’s workforce; engaging communities and labor; advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility; and implementing Justice 40.[15]A core purpose of the Community Benefit Plans is “engaging communities and labor.” Auto workers and communities can use this as an opportunity for demanding that such plans in fact address the needs of existing auto workers and communities. For example, labor and climate coalitions could demand that there by no layoffs of current workers in facilities that use the grants and loans.The requirement for Community Benefits Plans can and should be extended to all BIA and IRA grants and loans.
  • Employee Retention Credits. The 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) provides for an employee retention tax credit designed to encourage employers to keep employees on their payroll despite experiencing an economic hardship related to COVID-19.[16] Some or all of the federal tax credits allocated for the transition to EVs could be redesigned to similarly incentivize auto companies to retain current workers.
State policy
  • Just Transition Programs: Legislation recently submitted to the Michigan legislature has proposed a state program for just transition, modeled in part on the just transition legislation now in operation in Colorado. An early version of the Michigan bill establishes a broad-based advisory committee to draft a community and worker economic transition plan. It would establish a wage differential benefit for affected workers, provide education for dislocated workers, and create a grant program to support transitional communities.[17]
  • Job Criteria in State Subsidies. A wide array of state programs could incorporate criteria like those indicated above for federal programs. For example, economic development grants could be targeted for investments in existing auto communities to encourage conversion of existing plants and/or building of new plants for EV production.
  • State Employee Retention Credits. Discussion is under way in some midwestern state legislatures to enact state employee retention credits along the lines of those in the federal CARES act.

These state programs might be most effective if they were coordinated among the states of the Midwest auto region.

These just transition proposals are not “pie in the sky.” They grow out of existing programs and proposals of the UAW, the climate movement, federal agencies, and state legislators. As President Biden’s unprecedented decision to join the UAW picket line indicates, they come at a time when the government and the auto companies are most vulnerable to pressure to do the right thing. They will not in themselves turn the auto plants into a utopia. But they can play a significant role in halting and even reversing the race to the bottom that is already underway in the auto industry. They can promote both climate protection and a decent future for auto workers. And they can provide a program around which auto workers, climate protectors, and advocates for the public interest can join forces.


[1]“An Open Letter to Big 3 Auto CEOs: The Climate Movement Stands with UAW!”

[2] Ross Gelbspan, The Heat Is On (1997) Perseus.

[3]  Maxine Joselow, “GM, Ford knew about climate change 50 years ago,” Climate Wire, October 26, 2020.

[4] Anne Marie Lee, “Why is the UAW on Strike? These are their contract demands as they negotiate with the Big Three,” CBS News, September 19, 2023.

[5] Coral Davenport, “Auto Industry Group Assails Biden’s Plan to Electrify America’s Cars,” New York Times, July 7, 2023.

[6] Stephen Edelstein, “Union-made bonus for EV tax credit proposal is gone, Manchin confirms,” Green Car Reports, June 23, 2022.

[7] Ronald Bronstein, “The Real Issue in the UAW Strike,” Portside, September 17, 2023. Originally published in The Atlantic, September 15, 2023.

[8] Glencora Haskins and Joseph Parilla, “Spurred by federal legislation, new industrial investments are reaching a wide swath of the country,” Brookings, June 13, 2023.

[9] Silicon Valley Leadership Group, “Powering Progress,”

[10] LPO Announces Conditional Commitment for Loan to BlueOval SK to Further Expand U.S. Battery Manufacturing Capacity,” Department of Energy Loans Programs Office, June 22,2023.

[11]Statement from UAW President Shawn Fain on Federal Government Giving Ford $9.2 Billion Loan with No Strings Attached,” UAW, June 23, 2023.

[12] Maria Gallucci, “DOE offers $15.5 billion to retool existing auto plants for EVs,” Canary Media, September 1, 2023.

[13]Statement from UAW President Shawn Fain on the U.S. Department of Energy Announcing $15.5 Billion in New Grants and Loans to Support a Just Transition to Electric Vehicles, News from the UAW, August 31, 2023.

[14] “Biden-Harris Administration Announces $5.5 Billion to Support a Strong and Just Transition to Electric Vehicles, Retooling Existing Plants, and Rehiring Existing Workers,” Department of Energy, August 31, 2023.

[15] “About Community Benefit Plans,” Department of Energy.

[16] “Covid-19 Related Employee Retention Credits: Overview,” Internal Revenue Service.,hardship%20related%20to%20COVID%2D19.

[17] “Senate Bill No. 519, September 20, 2023, Introduced by Senators SINGH, MCCANN, HERTEL, MCDONALD RIVET, GEISS, MCMORROW and SHINK and referred to the Committee on Labor,” September 20, 2023. For an overview of just transition programs, see Jeremy Brecher, “How to Protect Workers While Protecting the Climate,” Labor Network for Sustainability, July 15, 2021. For state just transition programs, see Jeremy Brecher, “Protecting Workers and Communities from Below Part 2:There Ought to be a Law,” Labor Network for Sustainability, May 15, 2023.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

Tags: strikesUnited Auto Workers (UAW)automobile manufacturersauto workersStellantisGeneral Motors (GM)class strugglegreen unionismtrade unionsAFL-CIOelectric vehiclesjust transitionshorter work hoursLabor Network for Sustainability (LNS)Jeremy Brecher

Renewable Energy is (Mostly) Green and Not Inherently Capitalist, Volume 1: Wind Power

Sun, 10/01/2023 - 00:00

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Eco Union Caucus, October 1, 2023

Is renewable energy actually green? Are wind, solar, and storage infrastructure projects a climate and/or envi­ronmental solution or are they just feel-good, greenwashing, false "solutions" that either perpetuate the deep­ening climate and environmental crisis or just represent further extractivism by the capitalist class and the privileged Global North at the expense of front-line communities and the Global South? 

This document argues that, while there is no guarantee that renewable energy projects will ultimately be truly "green", there is nothing inherent in the technology itself that precludes them from being so. Ultimately the "green"-ness of the project depends on the level of rank-and-file, democratic, front-line community and working-class grassroots power with the orga­nized leverage to counter the forces that would use renewable energy to perpetuate the capitalist, colonialist, extractivist system that created the cli­mate and environmental crisis in which we find ourselves.

In‌ order to do that, we mustn't fall prey to the misconceptions and inaccuracies that paint renewable energy infrastructure projects as inherently anti-green. This series attempts to do just that. This first Volume, on utility scale wind power addresses several arguments made against it, including (but not limited to) the following misconceptions:

  • Humanity must abandon electricity completely;
  • Degrowth is the only solution;
  • New wind developments only expand overall consumption;
  • Wind power is unreliable and intermittent;
  • Wind power is just another form of "green" capitalism;
  • The extraction of resources necessary to build wind power negates any of their alleged green benefits;
  • Wind power is an extinction-level event threat to birds, bats, whales, and other wildlife (and possibly humans);
  • Only locally distributed renewable energy arrayed in microgrids should be built without any--even a small percentage--of utility scale wind developments;
  • Only nationalized and/or state-owned utility scale renewable energy developments should be built;
  • No wind power developments will be green unless we first organize a socialist revolution, because eve­rything else represents misplaced faith in capitalist market forces.

In fact, none of the above arguments are automatically true (and the majority are almost completely untrue). However, they're often repeated, sometimes ignorantly, but not too infrequently in bad faith. This document is offered as an inoculation and antidote to these misconceptions and misinformation.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

Tags: renewable energywind poweroffshore windsolar powerenergyclean techscience, ecology, energy, and technologytechnologybatteriesenergy storageinvestor owned utilities (IOU)electricity gridsinfrastructure and mega-projectselectric vehiclesElectric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)climate changeextractivismlithiumrare earthscobaltcopperconflict mineralsGlobal SouthGlobal NorthFree, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC)nuclear powercapital blightgreenwashinggreen capitalismecosocialismgreen syndicalismgreen unionismlibertarian-socialismreportspublicationsSteve OngerthIWW Environmental Unionism Caucus

Chapter 25 : Sabo Tabby vs. Killa Godzilla

Fri, 09/29/2023 - 15:46

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

Between 1914-18, when the IWW openly advocated ca’canny (better known as “sabotage”), it often used the symbol of an angry black cat, with claws borne, fur standing on end, and a bottlebrush tail, as visual code. Indeed, the “sabo-cat”, (which may have originally been a tabby to provide a visual play-on-words, i.e. “sabo-tabby” for “sabotage”) designed by none other than Solidarity Forever songsmith and IWW organizer Ralph Chaplin [1], is still used today by the IWW, Earth First!, and the admirers of both—sometimes to specifically encourage direct action, but generally as a totem. [2] And though the IWW and Earth First! may have openly advocated sabotage at different times during their existences, as Earth First!er George Draffan had pointed out, in actual fact, it was the timber workers themselves who actually practiced it more than anyone else. [3] While this was often welcomed by the members of Local #1, at the same time, it also potentially caused problems as well.

"As opposition to Corporate Timber grew, North Coast activists anticipated a backlash. Already Earth First!ers in Arizona had been set up and framed for “terrorist” acts they didn’t commit. It was only a matter of time before something locally would get sabotaged, blown up, or burned down and the North Coast activists would likely get the blame. Indeed, there were some hints that it had possibly already happened. Take the case of the mysterious burnings of the Okerstrom feller-buncher logging equipment.

In addition to Louisiana-Pacific’s outsourcing and waferboard production, the use of capital intensive logging equipment comprised the third component of that corporation’s liquidation of The North Coast’s forests and timber economy. In the fall of 1989, they introduced a new class of log harvesting machines known as “feller-bunchers” which looked like a giant construction machine, similar in appearance to an earth mover or crane. They had enormous claws which would grip the base of small to medium sized trees, and in each claw were saws which would then sever the tree near its base. Once cut, the claws would then lift the tree and stack it to be yarded out. These were ideally designed to work in even-aged rotation tree plantations, and to some extent, envisioned as a viable option for cutting trees in second and third growth forests. Since L-P had almost no old growth left to cut on the North Coast, having clearcut most of it already, this machine would enable to the new “logging to infinity” and waferboard lumber production outlined by Harry Merlo. As an added bonus, feller-bunchers greatly reduced the size of logging crews down from six to two workers: one to operate the machine, and another to act as a spotter and guard. [4]

L-P gave advance notice that they would favor gyppo operators in the competitive bidding process who were willing to use these $700,000 behemoths, but as of late 1989, the only local Gyppo operator to use them was Willits based Okerstrom Logging (the same company who had sprayed the loggers at Juan Creek with Garlon four years earlier), who agreed to purchase three. [5] The machine, described by many as essentially “a lawn mower for the forests” [6] was universally hated by loggers, environmentalists, and other residents for various reasons, who started disparagingly referring to the monster as “Killa Godzilla,” due to both its destructiveness and its tendency to roar when under heavy strain. [7] Okerstrom defended the machine, claiming that it didn’t reduce employment, on the grounds that it made “dangerous, brush choked sites loggable,” and also claimed that it had environmental benefits as well, because it reduced the need for skid trails normally caused by Caterpillar logging. [8] What Okerstrom wasn’t telling anyone, however, was the obvious fact that this machine was to be used increasingly, resulting in greater and greater destruction of the forests. Sooner or later, the monster would devour all of the jobs, even if it temporarily added a few—which was a debatable claim to say the least. [9]

The locals, including many loggers, did not welcome the machine’s intrusion into their neck of the woods. Okerstrom was using one of these units on L-P land near on Greenwood Road halfway to Elk, and west of Philo in southwestern Mendocino County throughout September and early October of 1989, nonstop from 5 AM to 8 PM at night. The noise was so loud, that it disrupted the daily lives of many neighbors who lived near the logging site. [10] A coalition of Earth First!ers, IWW members, Greens, and other local residents spent several weeks planning an action to protest the feller buncher’s use, including conducting reconnaissance of the site, securing a location for a base camp, and organizing further support among the neighbors. [11] Two veterans of the antiwar movement, including Louis Korn, had agreed to chain themselves to the machine in symbolic protest, while the others would stand nearby, singing songs, distributing leaflets, and dialoging with the workers involved in the cut. [12]

The activists planned their next move only to find that their thunder had been stolen. In mid October, during a heavy rainstorm, the machine fell silent. [13] A couple of days before the planned demonstration, the organizers contacted one of the neighbors to announce the time of the action, saying something like “The demonstration is next Tuesday,” to which the neighbor responded, “No it’s not. I saw them pulling that machine out this morning. It was torched.” [14] Several eyewitnesses confirmed that the behemoth, its cab badly damaged by fire, had been slowly moved on a flat-bed truck along the Greenwood Road towards the coast. [15] Okerstrom at first denied that anything like this had happened, even though it had been confirmed by as many as four separate witnesses, then he altered his story to suggest that a fire had occurred, but not to the feller-buncher. [16]

Louisiana-Pacific as expected, blamed the destruction of the machine on “eco-terrorists,” and Shep Tucker specifically named Earth First! as the prime suspect. There had been a great deal of equipment sabotage carried out in this particular part of Mendocino County, and it seemed to come in waves, suggesting it wasn’t random or incidental. For starters, this logging site was not far away from the Cameron Road cut of two years earlier, when the spiked logs that had injured George Alexander had been harvested. Local Gyppo operator Charles Hiatt, who had logged a site on State Highway 128 near the coast, had reported that his crews had found minor damage to their equipment, including broken gauges, cut hoses, and even some blood smeared around the cabs. Boonville Gyppo Robert “Mancher” Pardini had sugar added and oil removed from several of his bulldozers on an L-P cut in the area that year. Nobody knows for sure who carried out any of these acts of vandalism, though everyone had their suspicions. Many of them followed the types of “ecotage” suggested by Ecodefense. And it was arguable that sabotage of logging equipment was somewhat effective at halting logging operations, even if tree spiking wasn’t. [17]

To be clear, Earth First! – IWW Local #1 had never publically advocated or participated in equipment sabotage either, but there was little they could do to prevent it, because vandalism and sabotage were tactics that were widespread in their use and certainly predated Earth First! (and even the IWW for that matter). Earth First!ers locally had not condemned equipment sabotage, and Darryl Cherney had even been on record stating, “destruction of machinery is morally justified under certain circumstances, while violence against other living things is not.” Judi Bari had likewise stated, “History will remember people who destroy bulldozers as heroes…you win a lawsuit to stop a logging plan, then the timber company files an identical plan the very next season. Besides sabotage, what else is left?” [18] Judi Bari was no fool, however, and Earth First!ers were wary of engaging in any activity that might land them in serious legal jeopardy, especially in light of what happened to the Earth First!ers and their allies in Arizona. [19] Bari insisted that not only did she not engage in sabotage herself, she did not know and did not want to know who did:

"“We organizers, we don’t cheat on our taxes. If somebody hands me a contribution, I’m going to declare it. We don’t do sabotage. I don’t even do civil disobedience because I don’t want to hand myself over to Susan Massini and the ‘Justice System’ in this county. They would love to get a hold of me. They put Mike Roselle in jail for four months for a minor civil disobedience.

“So, we need to stay as clean as we can. We need to be as open and as public as we can. And we need to try to build broad, public support.” [20]

In this particular case, Bari assumed that the loggers themselves had been the culprits, and even though she declared that she didn’t know who they might have been, Bari reported that she had heard, second-hand, that loggers were bragging that they wanted “to take the machine out.” [21] As to why the workers would willingly engage in such acts, Bari had a very thorough and logical explanation:

"“We all know that these people are cutting themselves out of jobs. And they all know it, too…Louisiana-Pacific, for example, sets the price per thousand (board feet), and as the woods become more depleted, it takes more and more labor to get the thousand out. And, since they have no collective bargaining…they have no say in what the price is that they’re offered. So the price per thousand has become so low the gyppos cannot make enough off the cut to maintain their own equipment. What’s happening is that wages have gone to a disgracefully low level—people are starting at $9.00 an hour in the woods. That is an embarrassment. This is the most dangerous job in the United States, according to the Labor Department…

“(T)he corporations are threatening their jobs and equipment. They’re doing it by paying them so little per thousand that they can’t pay their employees a living wage, and they can’t afford to maintain their own equipment. That’s where the danger is coming from. It’s not coming from Earth First!…

“(W)hat is happening is that the smaller gyppos are being squeezed out, as the laws of capitalism play themselves out. The smaller companies have been increasingly squeezed out, and only the larger, more crass gyppos have survived.” [22]

These suspicions were echoed by Charles Hiatt, who considered the feller-buncher “an invitation to trouble.” Hiatt was no rabble-rouser, and he had suspected environmentalists might have sabotaged some of his own equipment earlier, but in the case of the feller-buncher, he also suspected workers’ dissatisfaction. Hiatt had refused to purchase one himself, not wanting to spend “half a million for a machine L-P wanted loggers to go for, but people don’t want,” even though he was not adverse to using heavy machinery (he owned a sizable fleet of heavy equipment, some of which he displayed publicly in Boonville). [23]

It wasn’t even entirely clear that sabotage had been carried out at all. Indeed, as time passed, it became more apparent that the machine had simply caught fire due to misuse. [24] Okerstrom denied that it was, which was an indication that it was extremely unlikely that (had it actually been sabotage) environmentalists were responsible, because had that been the case, Okerstrom would have enthusiastically proclaimed it. He hadn’t. If it had been sabotage carried out by the workers, Okerstrom couldn’t admit it, because then his insurance wouldn’t have covered his other feller-bunchers. [25] It was not entirely out of the question that the gyppo owners themselves sometimes committed sabotage, because doing so would allow them to commit insurance fraud, collecting on the damage of equipment they didn’t actually want or need, but in the case of the Okerstrom feller-buncher, this is not likely. From every indication, the gyppo owner was only too happy to serve as Merlo’s guinea pig in the use of these new “Killa Godzillas”. [26] So if “Sabo-tabby” had indeed defeated Godzilla or the latter had defeated itself somehow, it remained a mystery. The organizers of the aborted demonstration shelved their plans until the other “Killa Godzillas” could be found. Meanwhile a certain government “intelligence” agency watched quietly and, at the very least, took note of what Judi Bari had said or (more likely) seemed to have said.

[1] Chaplin, Ralph, Wobbly: The Rough and Tumble Story of an American Radical, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1948.

[2] “Fellow Workers, Meet Earth First!: an Open Letter to Wobblies Everywhere”, by x322339, Industrial Worker, May 1988.

[3] “What’s Really Going On in Timber”, letter to the editor by George Draffan, Earth First! Journal, Samhain / November 1, 1988, and Anderson Valley Advertiser, November 16, 1988.

[4] “In the Middle of Run Away History: Judi Bari, Earth First! Organizer, Mississippi Summer in the California Redwoods”, interview by Beth Bosk, New Settler Interview, issue #49, May 1990.

[5] “Opinion: Sabotage!”, by Don Lipmanson, Mendocino Commentary, November 2, 1989, reprinted as “Black Cat Strikes Again”, by Don Lipmanson, Industrial Worker, February 1990.

[6] “Here and There in Mendocino County”, by Bruce Anderson, Anderson Valley Advertiser, November 1, 1989.

[7] “Louis Korn Comments”, by Louis Korn, Mendocino Commentary, November 2, 1989.

[8] Lipmanson, November 2, 1989, op. cit.

[9] Bruce Anderson, November 1, 1989, and Lipmanson, November 2, 1989, op. cit.

[10] Bruce Anderson, November 1, 1989, and Lipmanson, November 2, 1989, op. cit.

[11] Bosk, May 1990, op. cit.

[12] Korn, November 2, op. cit.

[13] Lipmanson, November 2, 1989, op. cit.

[14] Bosk, May 1990, op. cit.

[15] Lipmanson, November 2, 1989, op. cit.

[16] Bosk, May 1990, op. cit.

[17] Lipmanson, November 2, 1989, op. cit.

[18] Lipmanson, November 2, 1989, op. cit.

[19] Letter to the editor, by Judi Bari, Mendocino Commentary, November 16, 1989.

[20] Bosk, May 1990, op. cit.

[21] Bari, November 16, op. cit.

[22] “Some People Just Don’t Get It”, Judi Bari interviewed by Bruce Anderson, Anderson Valley Advertiser, June 13, 1990.

[23] Lipmanson, November 2, 1989, op. cit.

[24] “Reports of ‘Ecotage’ Remain Unconfirmed”, staff report, Mendocino Beacon, November 16, 1989.

[25] Bosk, May 1990, op. cit.

[26] “Press Statement”, by Karen Pickett, Tracy Katelman, Jennifer Biegel, and Karen Wood, August 29, 1990.

Tags: Redwood UprisingSteve OngerthJudi BariIndustrial Workers of the World (IWW)Earth First!Earth First! - IWW Local 1Redwood Summersabotagemonkeywrenchingtimber workersMendocino Countygreen unionismgreen syndicalism

Chapter 24 : El Pio

Wed, 09/20/2023 - 15:51

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

“The anti-corporate sentiment voiced by the very people who labor in the woods and mills could be a powerful force in the struggle to save forests and local timber jobs. However, the workers lack a militant organization with a coherent strategy for achieving that goal. In that vacuum, a worker-environmentalist alliance has a chance to develop.”

—Don Lipmanson.[1]

“This is the Pearl Harbor to our North Coast, and we’re going to mobilize people. We look forward to mill workers joining us on the line when they realize our interests are theirs.”

—Judi Bari[2]

While the controversy over the spotted owl, The Lorax, and Forests Forever continued to escalate, at long last, LP’s actual reason for the closures of the Potter Valley and Red Bluff mills came to light. The mill had closed in April and there were hopes and rumors that the mill would be sold to another operator and reopened, but it was not to be.[3] No sooner had L-P been fined by the California State water quality agency to clean up contamination of the Russian River caused by its Ukiah mill[4], when the Los Angeles Times broke to story that the company was in the final stages of negotiating an agreement with the government of Mexico to open up a secondary lumber processing facility at El Sauzal, a small fishing village near Ensenada in Baja California.[5] This new 70-100 acre mill would serve as a drying and planing facility that would process raw logs shipped out of California and elsewhere. However, it was also evident that the Mexican Government had jumped the gun in revealing the details of the proposal before L-P had crafted their P.R. strategy.[6] Caught red handed, L-P reluctantly admitted what timber workers and environmental activists had suspected might be true for several months, that the company was engaged in cut-‘n-run logging.

According to the article, the company’s application was part of the growing move by multinational corporations to take advantage of the maquiladora program—a forerunner to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—which was designed to allow them to take advantage of favorable, liberalized investment laws there. Likewise, corporations would also benefit from much laxer environmental regulations and substantially cheaper wages, averaging approximately $0.50 per hour, for example for mill workers, as opposed to $7-$10 per hour in nonunion facilities in California. L-P had planned to export as much as 300 million board feet of unprocessed “green” lumber for processing in Mexico, where they would employ 1,000. Had those jobs stayed in California, they would have kept the laid off millworkers employed. [7]

Environmentalists, who had been complaining about L-P’s exporting jobs, overcutting, and destroying the resource base for years, were angry, but hardly surprised. It made no sense whatsoever to them to locate a redwood processing facility anywhere but within the area in which redwoods still grew, and they immediately accused L-P of ulterior motives.[8] Betty Ball elaborated:

“(L-P’s move is a) blatant attempt to avoid our own environmental regulations, and instead go to Mexico where they won’t have to worry about a regional water quality board which is threatening to fine them $300,000 in a lawsuit like the one filed over toxic emissions from their pulpwood plant in Samoa.”[9]

Tim McKay of the North Coast Environmental Center accused L-P of yet another divide-and-conquer tactic, declaring:

“It’s ironic that the same company that has done so much to distribute yellow Styrofoam balls and ribbons as a symbol of the plight of the lumber workers, and to pit them against the conservationists…is secretly negotiating to export jobs. It is clear that the yellow ribbons are more truly symbolic of the fact that timber workers are hostages to a ruthless industry.”[10]

Gail Lucas decried the questionable economics of the proposal, saying, “Those jobs in Mexico could be jobs for Northern California. People just don’t seem to understand that last year alone, log exports from the Pacific Nortwest meant the exporting of 37,000 potential jobs.”[11]

L-P had evidently been counting on the unions, gyppos, and politicians to help them once again shift the blame to “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs”, but the company had used this trick far too many times to be taken seriously. Richard Khamsi, business agent for the Humboldt-Del Norte County Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO called L-P’s move “socially irresponsible”, and further declared, “Those [soon the be lost] manufacturing jobs are extremely important to this area.” Gary Haberman denounced the company’s plan as “un-American” and pointed out that local workers would be at a competitive disadvantage due to the working conditions extant at the Mexican location, which he described as “slave-like”. Doug Dickson, official for the statewide social workers union agreed that the move “(Would) impoverish the working community.” Mike Evers of the Humboldt County Public Employees Association agreed, opining that in Baja California, L-P, “(wouldn’t) have to agree to eight-hour days, (and) industrial actions (wouldn’t) be a problem, (because) they (wouldn’t) have to pay workers compensation when someone loses a finger.”[12]

In Mendocino County, even IWA Local 3-469 representative Don Nelson lashed out at Louisiana-Pacific in a letter to Doug Bosco, declaring:

“L-P’s blatant disregard for workers and communities of the North Coast by their proposal to move the planning and drying of their redwood lumber to Mexico demands action on your part immediately…(L-P’s) problem is corporate mismanagement that is leading to the destruction of their North Coast timber base. L-P’s overcut of the North Coast has been documented.”[13]

“These corporations are robbing the natural resources of Northern California and we’re getting less and less in return. It’s bad enough the profits go somewhere else, now the jobs are too.”[14]

The announcement shocked other locals, including Walter Smith, whose gyppo operation had performed many cuts for LP. As early as 1985, Smith had expressed frustrations with LP, albeit discretely.[15] After L-P made their intentions clear, Smith felt that the time for discretion was long past. “The real value of [timber] wages and benefits has declined over the past ten years…workers feel betrayed, and they’re mad as hell,” declared Smith.[16]

The announcement even angered politicians normally willing to kowtow to Corporate Timber.[17] For example, Assemblyman Dan Hauser was incensed that his first knowledge of the move had come from the Los Angeles Times even though he and other lawmakers had been “negotiating” with L-P (as well as G-P and Maxxam). “L-P is treating the North Coast like a third world country,” Hauser declared in a press statement, and threatened to propose legislation that would require that redwood milling operations take place within the county or local region where the wood was logged.[18] “In the long run it will export jobs and lead to potential overcutting and destruction of the resource base,” he further warned. Meanwhile, State Senator Barry Keene stated, “It really erodes their credibility for them to say that they’re benefactors in the community and then to act as predators. I think we need to begin looking at this in an adversarial framework, and I’m certainly going to begin doing that.”[19]

With few allies to call upon, L-P invoked “economics” to justify their actions. Shep Tucker hastily denied that the company was exporting jobs, that the new mill would actually facilitate the expansion of L-P, that its location—where the annual rainfall averaged less than 9 inches—was chosen due to the climate being more favorable to drying lumber, and that the plant would better serve its customers in Southern California and the American Southwest.[20] Tucker also denied that there would be an increase in the rate of redwood logging on the north coast.[21] When pressed, however, he conceded, “Look, it’s a global economy, and it’s no secret we’re going to make savings in labor costs. We want to build where we can get good quality and make a profit, which is what (business is) all about. I’m not afraid to say that.”[22]

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat didn’t find Tucker’s arguments at all convincing, opining:

“The truth is that L-P wants to build a mill in Ensenada, 90 miles south of San Diego, because labor is cheap there—much cheaper than in Mendocino County, and lower costs mean lower prices and larger profits, both reasonable and important goals for a business, but businesses must do more than cut costs. They must be good citizens in the places where they do business.

“In that area, Louisiana-Pacific is stumbling. It’s southern strategy has managed to offend almost everybody in Mendocino County—from environmentalists who fear a wholesale attack on forests to timber industry workers who see their jobs sailing away.”[23]

Only the Humboldt Beacon and Fortuna Advance editor Glenn Simmons, who was always willing to follow Corporate Timber—even off the edge of a cliff if asked—seemed willing to swallow Tucker’s explanation, opining:

“The decision by Louisiana-Pacific to locate a redwood remanufacturing plant in Mexico is one based on economics. Because the L.A. Times broke the story, with the Times-Standard running a similar story shortly thereafter, an alliance of politicians, union leaders, and environmentalists gathered together to hold a news conference blasting L-P’s plans last week.

“Did they listen to L-P spokesman Shep Tucker? No. They simply ignored L-P’s assertion that by locating the plant in Mexico, the company will become more competitive and stronger in a growing international market. Tucker insists that the Mexico based plant will help maintain existing North Coast jobs.

“Union leaders such as Gary Haberman, Mike Evers, and Dough Dickson, environmentalist Tim McKay, Assembly man Dan Hauser and state Sen. Barry Keene all resorted to knee jerk reactions to unfairly blast L-P…”[24]

Perhaps one might have wanted to Simmons if he believed that absolutely everything Tucker said was the truth and if so, on what basis did he stake his claims? L-P’s alleged talk of expansion was curious given the fact that only ten months earlier they had decried the lack of logs available to keep the aforementioned mills open, “due to environmental lawsuits”—lawsuits which didn’t actually exist. Despite LP’s closing those facilities, plus a mill in Chico and partial cutbacks in Cloverdale, the company had announced record semi-annual earnings, equaling $88.3 million—a 31% increase—in addition to record sales totaling $993.1 million for 1989. The company was, at that time, the world’s second largest lumber producer, operating 115 plants employing 14,000 in the United States and Canada. [25] L-P had grown “like a cancer”, while timber prices had grown rapidly and pulp prices had exploded in the previous two years. L-P couldn’t very well claim poverty.[26]

Mendocino County was certainly up in arms. The manner in which news about the move had been broken was the main topic of concern at the Board of Supervisors meeting on September 19, 1990. Norm de Vall was especially angry and went as far as to suggest that consumers, labor unions, and environmentalists should unite and call a consumer boycott (as they had four years previously to oppose Garlon spraying). “Thousands of jobs, thousands of homes are going offshore. Those built here will be very expensive because of that,” he declared. Liz Henry shared similar sentiments, and the two were unexpectedly joined by James Eddie, who was not normally one to rock the boat. He accused L-P of, “Moving us back to a colonial state (and that similar corporate moves were) moving us toward a society of either the very rich…or the very poor (leading to) the erosion of the working middle class.” Meca Wawona, a long time environmental activist (one of four present that spoke out against the move) declared that L-P’s claims that no jobs would be lost was untenable, because the decision would enable further automation and replacement of mixed use forestry with tree plantations, automation, and waferboard.[27] The supervisors placed an item on the agenda for their October 10, 1989 meeting on the issue and invited L-P to send a representative to explain their reasoning for the move.[28]

L-P had not been present but indicated that representatives would be available by October 10 to offer their perspective on the matter. Shep Tucker indicated that they had elected not to attend the September 19 meeting, because they “chose not to get into a hissing match” with the supervisors. He also warned them that neither they nor the state legislature could “dictate free enterprise” He further declared, “(The supervisors are) going to have to realize we didn’t have an option in the matter…(the Los Angeles Times article) was not our choice.” He then reiterated that L-P was “wholly, 100 percent committed to Northern California,” and again proceeded to shift the blame for the company’s move to the environmentalists.[29]

Then, displaying even greater chutzpah, L-P officials showed up unannounced at the September 25 supervisors meeting, avoiding any contact with the angry citizens prepared to confront them two weeks later. The company’s sleight of hand had been enabled by supervisor Marilyn Butcher who allowed L-P’s western division manager Joe Wheeler—one of the three company officials present—to read a prepared statement explaining its reasons for the move, and further declare:

“I was terribly disappointed with the reaction (of the supervisors) without even giving us a call…I am sure the suggestion of a boycott of L-P products called for by Supervisor de Vall was premature, and reviewing the project as I have outlined, will not only be advisable, since the only people hurt by a boycott would be the employees of Louisiana-Pacific.”

Marilyn Butcher and Nelson Redding responded approvingly to this and other statements by L-P spokesmen Wheeler, Tucker, and Chris Rowney, but the other supervisors were angered. Liz Henry stated that while the new mill might not result in the loss of jobs, it was not adding any new ones. Jim Eddie was even angrier than he had been at the previous meeting, pounding his fist on the desk, stating scoldingly that the county could no longer trust L-P given their closures of the Potter Valley and Red Bluff mills—even though more L-P logging trucks could be seen hauling timber than ever before. He then accused the corporation of being un-American, and more akin to being an outsider than the environmentalists the latter so quickly blamed for the county’s economic ills, stating, You may have run the (Potter Valley) mill for a while, but I have lived all my life with it.” Norm de Vall subsequently accused L-P of playing politics by showing up announced before the meeting where the discussion over the move had been scheduled. This statement drew a strong rebuke from Butcher, who retorted, “Norman you boggle the mind,” and accused him of leaving the initial meeting early to inform environmentalists of the October 10 meeting, a charge de Vall denied.[30]

If anything the opposite was true, and in response to Butcher, de Vall was incensed and agreed to lend his support to local environmental and labor leaders who were demanding that L-P appear at the October 10th meeting to face public scrutiny. In exchange, the leaders agreed to appear at a press conference organized by de Vall the next day, September 26.[31] At the event, de Vall criticized Wheeler’s comments as being, “an embarrassment to local government in Mendocino County.”[32] IWA Local #3-469 business agent Don Nelson also rattled his saber over L-P’s planned move to Mexico, calling the announcement, “shocking.” He further stated, “It’s absolutely contrary to all of the policies of any timber company in the country and it breaks the faith of the residents of the county and the communities that depend on our own timber resources. It’s bad enough the profits go somewhere else; now the jobs are too.”[33] Walter Smith denounced L-P’s “Wall Street economics (that) maximized profits and liquidated assets (which) threatened timberlands in Northern California.”[34] Nelson and de Vall concentrated their ire on L-P’s profiteering, but said nothing about the company’s toxic emissions, its destructive clearcutting, or its exploitative treatment of its workers.

De Vall’s and Nelson’s proposed response was fairly impotent as well, suggesting little beyond lobbying elected state officials, such as Barry Keene and Doug Bosco. This was evidently too much for Judi Bari, who was present at the event.[35] She declared, “L-P had given new meaning to the ‘cut and run’ theory.” [36] She then pointed out that Keene and Bosco were part of the problem, themselves being too willing to kowtow to the whims of the corporations, succumbing to “bare corporate greed, careening over a cliff with a madman in control.” Bari then suggested (justifiably) that Nelson was little more than a figurehead for G-P management. Nelson exploded, again denouncing National Tree Sit Week, and declaring Earth First!, “so far outside (of) the mainstream (that) they’ve lost all credibility.” He then stormed out of the Supervisor’s conference room “with de Vall close at his heels.”[37] This conference, shown on local cable access community television was witnessed by many interested residents of Mendocino County, including Anna Marie Stenberg in particular.[38]

The county residents were to be disappointed if they thought L-P would actually show up and face their scrutiny, however. Shep Tucker made it quite clear that company representatives would not appear, declaring, “We have said what we needed to say. It’s not in our best interests to continue the debate.” He also admitted that their main reason for showing up two weeks previously was specifically to avoid confrontation with the environmentalists. [39] The issue remained on the agenda for the October 10 Supervisors’ meeting, however, and that allowed critics of the move to not only appear and voice their mind, but to hold a protest rally on the county courthouse steps on the main thoroughfare through Ukiah preceding the meeting as well.[40]

At the meeting itself, Supervisor de Vall opened discussion by reminding everyone that the board had not yet taken a position on the issue. He introduced a draft of a letter for board approval to be addressed to California Senators Allan Cranston and Pete Wilson as well as California Governor Deukmejian, with copies to be sent to Bosco, Keene, and Hauser. The letter addressed L-P’s move and the threat that caused to local timber jobs, the potential for the loss of jobs and local timber related operations to jeopardize the Eureka Southern Railway, and preserving the timber industry (as opposed to the pulp industry), and the potential banning of log exports. Supervisor Nelson Redding, consistently a voice for corporate timber was noticeably absent. [41] Supervisor James Eddie focused on the effect changing L-P industrial focus would have on county tax revenue. Recently elected Supervisor Liz Henry, in her first year of service, proved herself to be a stark contrast to her predecessor, and she stated that the conflict was really about ethics and treating people with dignity, including the County, the workers, and the Mexican people.[42]

When the public comment period commenced, it became readily apparent why Wheeler had elected to appear two weeks previously. During the public comment period, speaker after speaker denounced the corporation’s proposed move.[43]

Bill Johnson decried the “loss of local control and the loss of resource base,” and he denounced Merlo’s “logging to infinity” brand of forestry.[44]

Larry Sheehy, representing the Mendocino Environmental Center (MEC), cited precedent involving closing steel mills in Pennsylvania in 1986, suggesting that the board could exercise the power of eminent domain to seize L-P’s holdings locally.[45]

Herb Blood excoriated L-P for pollution the Russian River.[46]

Local timber operator Bill Mannix scoffed at L-P’s professed reason for its establishment of a plant in Mexico, namely the climactic advantages for drying boards by pointing out that San Diego offers the same climate. Mannix instead submitted that the company’s real motivation was cheap labor.[47]

Naomi Wagner, an environmental activist who was concurrently involved in a David-versus-Goliath struggle by her Sherwood Road Protective Association (SherPA) against L-P for unpaid road assessments, stated that it was quite clear that the corporation was not negotiating in good faith. She argued that L-P had been blocking all attempts by the County appointed Mendocino County Forest Advisory Committee to gather key figures upon which to base a realistic inventory of the company’s resources.[48]

Class issues were a major focus of the discussion as well. Willits resident Jack Reynolds elaborated on the matter of labor conditions, noting that L-P could save as much as $30,000 annually per worker by relocating to Mexico, where the average hourly wage was $0.88. He cited examples of 700 businesses, like L-P, who had followed suit already.[49] He further went on to state that L-P’s actions were not “un-American” as many critics had previously claimed, suggesting instead that the corporation was “as American as apple pie and motherhood” when it came to capitalism. He then referred to the long and bloody history of employing class exploitation of workers, particularly Chinese laborers at the turn of the 20th Century. He described the working conditions in Ensenada, Mexico as “abysmal” and the shantytowns in which the workers lived as “sinkholes.” “The enemy of job security is greed,” he said, “not spotted owls or tree sitters.”[50]

Ludie Cardwell, who claimed to own 220 acres of forest with 700 trees ready to be cut, was the only speaker to support L-P’s planned move, and insisted that the rest of the speakers were nothing more than “socialists and communists,” and that they would not scare him off. Like so many other apologists for corporate plunder, Cardwell argued that he didn’t blame the corporation for its attempt at capital flight, citing local hostility as a justifiable excuse for such actions, and denounced the banning of exports as “un-American.” Supervisor de Vall responded by explaining that the United States banned the exports of many resources, adding that if the issue were one of National Security, and redwood products were deemed necessary for military purposes, their exports would have already been banned.[51]

Judi Bari offered a stark contrast to Cardwell. She accused L-P of holding Mendocino County hostage and offered her support for the eminent domain idea. She also stated that L-P treated its workers as badly as it did the forests, which brought an angry response from Supervisor Marilyn Butcher, the board’s most outspoken Corporate Timber apologist. Butcher parroted the (by now hackneyed) argument that Earth First! was anti-worker, and cited the Cloverdale tree spiking incident as proof. Bari attempted to respond, but was interrupted repeatedly by Butcher, the latter evidently convinced that she had scored a rhetorical victory, but also apparently unwilling to face a potential challenge from Bari. “Let her speak!” shouted many voices from the audience, until Butcher became silent. Bari responded by reminding everyone that Earth First! had not spiked the tree that had injured Alexander, and that the fault lay with L-P, because of their lax safety standards, and that the company had knowingly sent the log through the mill, even though it knew it had been spiked. She also noted that not all Earth First!ers—herself included—endorsed tree spiking.[52]

If Bari’s retort had taken the wind out of Butcher’s sails, she was soon to be outdone by her partner, Darryl Cherney, who—outfitted in a Mexican serape and sombrero—was tuning his guitar, and announced that he was about to offer a somewhat differently styled testimony, “to stimulate the crowd’s ‘right-brain’ activity.”[53] Butcher looked noticeably perturbed as Cherney began singing the following song:

He came from the clearcut hills of Roma,
To rape the redwoods of Sonoma,
He could clearcut forest like no other,
He said he learned his from his butcher and his mother.

El-l-l-l Pio…
What have you done to Mendocino

Now El Pio took his orders straight from the divinity,
Who said to him, “El Pio, thou shalt log to infinity!”
Then El Pio gets this great idea and he says, “AHA!”
I’ll move my entire milling operation down to Ba-JA!!!!

El-l-l-l Pio…
What have you done to Mendocino

Then one day he gets a phone call from his brother, G-Pio,
Who says to him, “I think I’m down to my last tree-o,”
But El-Pio says to him, “No problem, just scrape-a’ the forest floor!
Grind it up, glue it back to together, make-a’ wafer board!”

El-l-l-l Pio…
What have you done to Mendocino

Then one day he gets news that causes him a-great pain,
When the Supervisors showed some courage and declared eminent domain!
And reality hits him like some bad dream-a,
When he finds a note that says, “No compromise, Tierra Prima!”

El-l-l-l Pio…
What have you done to Mendocino [54]

The mostly partisan audience loved it, and many joined in on the last chorus, which brought the house down. Supervisors de Vall and Henry even smiled, though Butcher and Eddie were visibly exasperated. The board ultimately voted to send the letter suggested by de Vall by a vote of 3-1, with Butcher the only dissenting voice.[55]

The reaction in Humboldt County only slightly less dramatic. A week after the Mendocino County supervisors’ meeting, at the Humboldt County Board of Supervisor’s meeting on October 18, 1990, Cherney, similarly dressed, repeated his performance of El-Pio. He also asked why the company simply didn’t open the new facility in the old mill in Potter Valley. The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors were somewhat more responsive, voting 5-0 (Sparks and Pritchard included) to send a letter to L-P admonishing the corporation to drop their plans for their Mexican expansion. The letter read, in part:

“Humboldt County workers could and would occupy the jobs L-P intends to create in Mexico if the remanufacturing plant were sited here instead. We entreat you to bear in mind Humboldt’s first-rate workforce and the willingness of local leaders to work with you to create a feasible Humboldt County option.”[56]

The normally knee-jerk reactionary Anna Sparks downplayed her willingness to challenge L-P declaring, “All the letter says is that we’d like to talk to Merlo. I would support anything that looks at keeping the jobs here,” though she added (in reference to Cherney’s serenade), “It’s better to talk than to protest.”[57] This seemed to match the attitudes of their fellow supervisors representing the county on their southern border. That same day, Mendocino County Supervisor Eddie proposed sending an equally ineffectual letter to Keene and Hauser, asking for the state officials to draft legislation to support the local timber economy.[59] And that “deal” heralded a disturbing trend.

No sooner had L-P’s Mexican adventure been revealed when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that several other timber corporations, including Georgia-Pacific, were exploring the possibility of setting up shop in Russia. When confronted with reporters G-P spokesman David Odgers would only state that the company pursued business opportunities anywhere it could find them, including the “international marketplace.” This brought a response from Darryl Cherney who declared,

“In their attempts to modernize the Soviet Union, the Russians are making a mistake in thinking that current American forestry technology is good. Maybe we’ll need to establish an Earth First! branch in the Soviet Union. (It’s kind of ironic that) when we are holding demonstrations, the counterdemonstrators tell us to ‘Go to Russia!’ Look who is going to Russia.”[60]

Within weeks, L-P broke ground for their new facility in Mexico.[61]

At this point, mere talk was cheap. The notion of eminent domain, though ignored by the Supervisors in both Humboldt and Mendocino Counties, wouldn’t go away, however. The idea horrified L-P as well as other representatives of corporate timber. Shep Tucker described the idea as “scary”, while Bill Dennison, president of the Timber Association of California stated, “Every property owner should be shaking in their shoes at the idea…it sounds like 1930s Germany to me.” Betty Ball, on the other hand, suggested the idea was entirely within the realm of American history, even if it was not currently popular. She declared:

“Politicians aren’t touching it with a 10-foot-pole…They’re not even going to openly discuss it. They will if they see a grassroots groundswell, but not until then… (however) I’ve seen a dramatic change in the past six months, with the escalation in logging, the mill closures, Harry Merlo’s comment that he wants it all and he’ll take it all, (Louisiana-Pacific’s) plans to build a plant in Mexico…

“People are really changing their ideas about private property rights. With a right goes a responsibility and the corporations are being totally irresponsible…They may own the land, but on that land are streams, creeks and wildlife that are part of the public trust, not their personal property.”[62]

Ball’s taking of the local community’s political pulse was not unrealistic. Corporate Timber’s manufactured consent was slipping away minute-by-minute.

[1] “Opinion”, by Don Lipmanson, Mendocino Commentary, October 5, 1989.

[2] “Baja Timber Plan Sets Off Cry of Protest”, by Mike Geniella, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, September 16, 1989.

[3] “PV Mill Closure; Sawmill Expected to Run Out of Logs Later This Week”, by Keith Michaud, Ukiah Daily Journal, April 24, 1989.

[4] “State Fines L-P $10,000; Holds $300,000 Hammer Over Local Lumber Company’s Head”, by Keith Michaud, Ukiah Daily Journal, August 25, 1989.

[5] “L-P Negotiating Deal for Baja; Lumber Producer to Build Plant”, by Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times, reprinted in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, September 15, 1989.

[6] “LP Plans Mexico Expansion”, by Richard Johnson, Mendocino Country Environmentalist, September 15, 1989.

[7] “Jobs Automation and Exports”, by Eric Swanson, Mendocino Country Environmentalist, July 22, 1992.

[8] “Mexico Lumber Remanufacturing Raises Furor”, staff report, Willits News, September 20, 1989.

[9] “Baja Timber Plan Sets Off Cry of Protest”, by Mike Geniella, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, September 16, 1989.

[10] “L-P Exports Jobs to Baja”, by Tim McKay, EcoNews, October 1989.

[11] Geniella, September 16, 1989, op. cit.

[12] “Local Officials Condemn L-P Move”, by Marie Gravelle, Eureka Times-Standard, September 26, 1989.

[13] “L-P Plan Under Attack Again”, by Keith Michaud, Ukiah Daily News, September 27, 1989. Emphasis added.

[14] Geniella, September 16, 1989, op. cit.

[15] “Kenneth O. Smith and Walter Smith: Gyppo Partners, Pacific Coast Timber Harvesting”, Interviewed by Beth Bosk, New Settler Interview, Issue #21, June 1987.

[16] Lipmanson, October 5, 1989, op. cit.

[17] “Local Officials Condemn L-P Move”, by Marie Gravelle, Eureka Times-Standard, September 26, 1989.

[18] “Mexico Lumber Remanufacturing Raises Furor”, staff report, Willits News, September 20, 1989.

[19] Gravelle, September 26, 1989, op. cit.

[20] Johnson, September 15, 1989, op. cit.

[21] “Mexico Lumber Remanufacturing Raises Furor”, staff report, Willits News, September 20, 1989.

[22] Geniella, September 16, 1989, op. cit.

[23] “L-P Finds a Short Cut to Orange County”, editorial, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, September 16, 1989.

[24] “Over the Edge: Business Decision Dictates Location”, editorial by Glenn Simmons, Humboldt beacon and Fortuna Advance, September 28, 1989.

[25] Johnson, September 15, 1989, op. cit.

[26] Lipmanson, October 5, 1989, op. cit.

[27] “Proposed L-P Mexico Plant Angers Supervisors”, by Keith Michaud, Ukiah Daily Journal, September 20, 1989.

[28] “L-P Roasted in Abstentia: the Opposition Makes its Case”, by Rob Anderson, Anderson Valley Advertiser, October 11, 1989.

[29] Michaud, September 20, 1989, op. cit.

[30] “Tempers Flare in L-P Mexico Deal”, by Keith Michaud, Ukiah Daily Journal, September 26, 1989.

[31] Lipmanson, October 5, 1989, op. cit.

[32] “L-P Plan Under Attack Again”, by Keith Michaud, Ukiah Daily News, September 27, 1989.

[33] “Mexico Lumber Remanufacturing Raises Furor”, staff report, Willits News, September 20, 1989.

[34] Michaud, September 27, 1989, op. cit.

[35] Lipmanson, October 5, 1989, op. cit.

[36] “Mexico Lumber Remanufacturing Raises Furor”, staff report, Willits News, September 20, 1989.

[37] Lipmanson, October 5, 1989, op. cit.

[38] Interview with Anna Marie Stenberg, held October 18, 2009.

[39] “L-P-Mexico Protesters Set to Rally”, by Lois O’Rourke, Ukiah Daily Journal, October 9, 1989.

[40] Rob Anderson, October 11, 1989, op. cit.

[41] “County Seeks State, Federal Help to Prohibit Raw-Lumber Exports”, by Mike Beeson, North Coast News, October 19, 1989.

[42] Rob Anderson, October 11, 1989, op. cit.

[43] Rob Anderson, October 11, 1989, op. cit.

[44] Rob Anderson, October 11, 1989, op. cit.

[45] Rob Anderson, October 11, 1989, op. cit.

[46] Rob Anderson, October 11, 1989, op. cit.

[47] Rob Anderson, October 11, 1989, op. cit.

[48] Rob Anderson, October 11, 1989, op. cit.

[49] Beeson, October 19, 1989, op. cit.

[50] Rob Anderson, October 11, 1989, op. cit.

[51] Beeson, October 19, 1989, op. cit.

[52] Rob Anderson, October 11, 1989, op. cit.

[53] Rob Anderson, October 11, 1989, op. cit.

[54] El Pio, lyrics by Darryl Cherney, music by Darryl Cherney and George Shook, from the album Timber, 1991; Cherney actually wrote this song for Judi Bari’s two daughters. The last verse was later altered, and the first two lines were changed to: “Then one day he gets news that causes him great concern-o / When he finds out that both of his feller bunchers have been sterno-ed.” The reasons for this change are described several chapters later.

[55] Rob Anderson, October 11, 1989, op. cit.

[56] “Board Urges L-P to Drop Mexico Plan”, by Marie Gravelle, Eureka Times-Standard, October 19, 1989.

[57] Gravelle, October 19, 1989, op. cit.

[58] Beeson, October 19, 1989, op. cit.

[59] Gravelle, October 19, 1989, op. cit.

[60] “Article Says G-P is Going to USSR”, by Lois O’Rourke, Ukiah Daily Journal, October 22, 1989. Emphasis added.

[61] L-P Breaks Ground In Mexico; Critics Lash Out”, UPI Wire, Eureka Times-Standard, November 8, 1989; and “L-P Says Mexico Plant Won’t Coast North Coast Jobs”, by Charles Winkler, Eureka Times-Standard, December 19, 1989.

[62] “Attempts to Retake Forest Under Way”, by Judy Nichols, North Coast News, October 19, 1989. Dennison didn’t think too highly of preservationists or environmentalism, as he was an ardent Christian Fundamentalist, and had, in June of 1988 issued a document, written by fellow Fundamentalist H. L. Richardson, declaring holy war on the “heathen left.” (see “Timber's Holy War”, by Darryl Cherney, Country Activist, August 1988 for details).

Tags: Redwood UprisingSteve OngerthJudi BariDarryl CherneyRedwood SummerIndustrial Workers of the World (IWW)Earth First!Earth First! - IWW Local 1timber workersgreen unionismgreen syndicalism

Solidarity Can End Toxic Gold Mining in the Sperrins

Sun, 09/10/2023 - 00:00

By staff - IWW Union Ireland, September 10, 2023

The Industrial Workers of the World took part in an Environmental Delegation to the Greencastle People’s Office (GPO) in the Sperrin Mountains, Co. Tyrone, the epicentre of a mammoth ‘David and Goliath’ fight between a multinational gold mining company and the people of a small rural community in the North West of Ireland.

Members of the IWW representing the Ireland branch, the Environmental Committees and Earth Strike where welcomed into the heart of the community as part of a fact finding delegation. Representatives engaged in a lengthy questions and answers sessions before a tour of the area, noted for its outstanding natural beauty which is still under threat from Dalradians potential toxic gold mining industry.

A spokesperson for the IWW Environmental Committees spoke following the visit stating: “Firstly on behalf of everyone who traveled to Greencastle as part of this group visit, I would like to thank them for traveling to the Sperrins to try and learn more about the desperate situation directly affecting the people of Greencastle and the population of the wider North West. The multinational corporation, Dalradian, has plans to effectively decimate the landscape surrounding us with a toxic gold mining plant. The people of Greencastle has shown great resolve in facing down increasing attacks and intimidation over the last number of years. Their bravery is an example to us all and the people of this beautiful area for preventing anyone to pollute and destroy all for the sake of greed and profit.

“We have heard first hand accounts for grassroots community activists in what they and their community have been subjected to and how they continue to resist in order to protect the earth that we stand on for tomorrow and future generations. We have recorded and documented the solidarity this community of Greencastle has received both nationally and internationally. How they too have learn and educated themselves and countless many others as to the destructive nature of toxic gold mining.

“What is for sure is that this community will continue to remain strong and defiant in the face of adversity. Be that from the multinational corporations such as Dalradian and that of those they employ to carry out their dirty work, from the politicians and the state itself. The opposition to toxic gold mining has increased. Environmental and trade union solidarity remains vocal and adamant that our opposition will continue in reject and call-out those who seek to profit from the destruction and poisoning of our land, our rivers and our communities.

“For ourselves as a revolutionary environmental union, we believe that only community and trade union solidarity can end toxic gold mining. We will continue to assist the community of Greencastle and the activists of the GPO as their struggle against toxic gold mining grows stronger by the day. Our message to those corporations such as Dalradian is that, you will never defeat the strength and resolve of the people who oppose you and your toxic gold mining plants. We echo the call from this protest camp and demand that you pack up and leave, once and for all.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

Tags: green unionismBritish Isles IWWIrelandminingextractivismcapital blightIndustrial Workers of the World (IWW)

Direct Unionism: A Different Approach to Union Activity

Thu, 08/31/2023 - 00:00

By Allan Hansen - Industrial Worker, August 31, 2023

It is no secret that the strength of labor unions in America has been waning in recent years. Union representation in the labor market has hit an all-time low, labor laws are more and more being drafted in favor of employers rather than workers, and employer-driven anti-union activity has all led to our unions growing weaker and unable to stand up for workers’ rights in the workplace. Despite these weaknesses, most people support unions in principle, and so we must discuss how to advance the labor movement in the face of these challenges. One such tool workers have at their disposal for such action is Direct Unionism. 

When most people discuss unionism they tend to think about it in a very contractual and bureaucratic way, and this is largely how unions operate today. Union activity is focused on the election of union officials and the passing of contracts. This idea of unionism faces several limitations. For starters, with a focus on collective bargaining, contract change can often be a lengthy process, and change can only be implemented when the time comes for a contract negotiation, which usually lasts for several years, and since the bosses are aware of when the contract ends and when negotiations are to happen they know when to expect an uptick in union organizing and activity, thus the workers’ bargaining power is diminished as a result of this predictability. If an issue of mistreatment arrives but no such policy is outlined in the contract, the union usually can’t do much to address the issue or seek restitution from the employer. The best the union can do in such cases is to fight for it during the next contract negotiation. The importance of the election of union officials also presents some potential problems in the advancement of union causes. While there are many honest and hard working people involved in labor unions, it must be addressed that our union leaders are not infallible. Many union leaders make a staggering amount of money more than the workers they represent. While this is not to say that union leaders do not do good work, the further that union officers get away from the workers they represent, the more they run the risk of being alienated from the realities that these workers face. It is also much easier for employers to put anti-union pressure on a handful of individuals, than an entire workforce. 

An example of such pitfalls can be seen in my own experience in the workplace. I work in a manufacturing plant under a typical union with representatives and a contract. Our previous contracts drew a line between the workers through a tier system where employees that were hired prior to a certain date are “Tier 1,” while those hired after are “Tier 2,” with the Tier 1 employees being paid more than the employees that fell under Tier 2, which was the vast majority of employees. This creates an immediate problem, if a union’s strength comes from the unity of its members, then by dividing the workers the company has already dealt a massive blow to employee solidarity. Furthermore, all the union representatives are Tier 1 employees. At the beginning of the negotiations the bargaining committee had no interest in abolishing the tier system, when pressed on this matter during union meetings, which are also primarily attended by Tier 1’s, the secretary of the union defended this lack of action by stating “in a few years us Tier 1’s will be retired and then you can do what you will.” This presents a clear conflict of interests, the bargaining committee wanted to keep the tier system in place since they benefited from it, at the detriment to the union as a whole. And since the union leadership does very little in encouraging participation from union members, in an effort to keep their power, the majority of the Tier 2 employees were unaware of the committee’s stance on the tier system until the first contract vote, which was overwhelmingly voted against until the committee and the company relented and abolished the tier system in the new contract, albeit they abolished it in such a way that the pay gap would decrease each year until finally evening out by the final year of the current contract. All of this effort to abolish a policy that never should have been accepted in the first place, and it still takes the course of the entire contract to actually end, all at the behest of union leadership.

Direct Unionism takes a different approach to unionism, focusing instead on direct action being done by workers to implement change. Instead of relying on contracts that are negotiated between employers and union representatives, Direct Unionism calls for workers to do the work of making change on their own. If workers are able to organize themselves, without concern with being seen as an official union by the employer, workers can mobilize themselves to take direct action towards their employers and fight for the necessary change to improve their working conditions. 

Perhaps the most prominent example of direct action can be seen in the strike. When workers refuse to work the bosses feel it in the one place that matters most to them, their bottom line. As much as they might try to deny it, employers are well aware that it is the labor of their employees that generate wealth for the business, which is why employers fight so ardently to prevent workers from going on strike. We can see this happening in real time with the current SAG-AFTRA strike. Writers and actors in the entertainment industry have been striking against the production companies that need their work to thrive, over several grievances ranging from unfair pay to streaming service residuals, to the role of artificial intelligence in productions. One such studio fighting the strike was Universal Pictures. Right before the workers were set to strike during a particularly hot week,the studio trimmed the trees the picketers were walking underneath for shade, in an attempt to dissuade workers from picketing in such harsh conditions. Strikes have long been the most effective tool in the workers’ arsenal in implementing change, so it’s clear why bosses fight so hard to discourage strikes. It is for this reason that workers need to begin to look at this type of direct action as a legitimate method of union action, regardless of contracts or representative permission. 

Of course direct action does not always need to be a strike, and in many instances there may be little reason for workers to escalate their action to such a high-risk endeavor. Any time workers get together and make their demands known is, in essence, direct action. Sometimes a large group of workers simply speaking to the boss about some desired change could be enough, as previously mentioned, employers tend to want to avoid strikes, so if they see a high amount of workers banding together over some issue could be sufficient enough threat. 

One example is the “slowdown,” where workers do not technically go on strike, but instead fulfill their job at a slower rate, resulting in less work being done. In 1899, dock workers in Glasgow Scotland did just this. The workers had just returned to work after they unsuccessfully striked for a ten percent pay increase. Instead of listening to the demands of the workers, the bosses brought in scabs from the agricultural sector. These agricultural workers were not as efficient as the unionized dock workers, so when the workers came back they worked as slow as the agricultural workers and after a few days the bosses relented and granted the ten percent raise. A mental hospital in New England was able to get a fired union member rehired, when many workers planned on calling in sick at the same time, the supervisor got the hint and rehired the worker in a tactic that has been referred to as a “Sick-in”. In New York City I.W.W. Restaurant workers were able to have their demands met after an unsuccessful strike; upon returning to work by charging customers less than what they ordered and giving them more food than usual, resulting in profit loss for the bosses. In all of these examples the workers did not go on strike, but collectively they took action that negatively impacted the companies they worked for and when faced with a loss of profit, they had no choice but to meet the demands of the workers.

Direct Unionism calls on workers to take a more active role in the labor movement. Rather than rely on contracts or representatives to speak for them, Direct Unionism calls on the workers of the world to take matters into their own hands and secure the changes they seek in the workplace for themselves. The strength of unions has never come from heavily litigated contract agreements, or in elections that decide which members get to have a seat at the negotiating table. The strength of unions comes from the solidarity of its members, and when workers band together for any cause in any form of action, it makes little difference whether they have hats or badges, their collective voice will be heard.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

Tags: Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)strategy and tacticsclass strugglesolidarity unionismanti-capitalism

Chapter 23 : Forests Forever

Thu, 08/24/2023 - 18:17

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

“We have to act now…Less than five percent of the original old growth forest remains, and a lot of wildlife and plant species are going to extinction in the next five years if they don’t get this protection. We can’t wait. The forest destruction here is just as bad as in the Amazon rain forest. But we don’t have as much forest left as they do. This is our last chance to save what’s left.” [1]

— The Man Who Walks in the Woods.

“While current law calls for protection of the environment and the sustained yield of high quality timber products, it frustrates any attempt to actually achieve these goals.

Under current law, actual forest practice rules are written by a state board of forestry completely dominated by timber industry representatives. And administration of the law is left exclusively to the California Department of Forestry, an agency that one local judge has called a ‘rubber stamp’ for logging companies The current rules that regulate logging practices would not protect the resource even if they were enforced. And they are not being enforced. CDF has systematically prevented other state agencies from playing a role in reviewing timber harvest plans submitted under the act.” [2]

—Richard Johnson, Mendocino Country Environmentalist.

At the same time the “Laytonville Lorax War” was taking place, the continuing legal battles against Maxxam raged on. Woody and Warren Murphy as well as Suzanne Murphy-Civian, represented by their friend Bill Bertain, sued Maxxam and Charles Hurwitz yet again, this time alleging that Drexel Burnham Lambert (DBL) working through Ivan Boesky had engaged in illegal stock parking. According to the suit, prior to Hurwitz’s tender offer to the P-L board of directors in October 1985, Boesky effectively owned as much as 10 percent of the company’s stock, thus violating the Hart-Scott-Rodino act of 1984. This information had not been revealed until findings by the SEC were made public in 1988. Had the shareholders known about this, they would have had a stronger case against the merger originally. The Murphys’ suit demanded $18 million in damages to all of the shareholders who owned stock prior to the sale, charging that had the directors known of Boesky’s and DBL’s activity, they would have valued the company’s stock at roughly $70 per share instead of the $40 finally offered by Hurwitz. [3]

Meanwhile, having been rebuffed by the NLRB, and having lost the support of a great many formerly enthusiastic employees, Patrick Shannon chose to take a different route to try and realize what many had concluded was a pipedream. The ESOP organizer now proposed that a initiative be placed on ballot for November 1990 that would seize ownership of Pacific Lumber from Maxxam and place it in the hands of the company’s workers. The measure, tentatively called the Timber Bond Act, would raise $940 in bonds and pay Maxxam for the purchase of the firm. It also called for the setting aside of 3,700 acres of old growth redwoods including Headwaters Forest. Under the plan, the employees would recompense the taxpayers of California by repaying the bonds at 9 percent interest. The measure allowed 40 years to complete that process, but Shannon estimated that this would require a total of 15 years at most. After that, should the purchase be paid in full, additional moneys raised would be deposited into a revolving account from which other potential ESOP campaigns could seek loans. [4]

As was expected, Corporate Timber did not respond favorably to Patrick Shannon’s effort. Pacific Lumber spokespeople framed the initiative as a backdoor attempt at “Communism”, knowing full well that such efforts would have little support in the dying days of the Soviet Union and the latter’s waning political influence over Eastern Europe.

David Galitz said bluntly, “It’s totally inappropriate in any democratic society to ask the government to force somebody out of business. We’ve done nothing unlawful,” which of course, was purely a matter of opinion. [5] Nobody was proposing that either Pacific Lumber or Maxxam be “forced out of business.”

The local Corporate Press was equally derogatory in its denunciation. The Eureka Times-Standard called it “pure fantasy” and further opined,

“Such a plan might make a lot of sense if P-L really were about to cut the last old growth redwood tree in the world, but that is not the case…The state has no business using its legal authority to intrude in the affairs of a private firm legally engaged in its operations. If Shannon gets away with his plan for a takeover of P-L with the state as the middle man, than any company becomes fair game—and the state’s taxpayers will be in deep trouble.” [6]

The Humboldt Beacon and Fortuna Advance was even more blatant, resorting to old fashioned red baiting to denounce the measure, declaring:

“The proposal certainly is not a solution because there isn’t a problem, except for the disgruntled ESOP few who failed in their vain attempt to gather support for a worker buy out (sic) of PALCO…

“The idiotic initiative proposal is the one the old guard in Moscow may be able to relate to, but not Americans who pride themselves on individual initiative and free enterprise. In a democratic society, one that is exporting its democratic ideals to socialist countries mired in the shallowness of socialism, it is outlandish to consider having the government purchase a private business…

“Look again. Look at Poland, East Germany—where thousands have fled from in recent weeks, the Slavic states, etc., etc., etc.

“The true Goliath is government power used in an unjust manner; a manner that stifles the individual, where private initiative is not rewarded but penalized.” [7]

This was, of course, a complete mischaracterization of the proposal—and it was once again a verbatim regurgitation of P-L management’s spin on the most recent attempt at populist reform. For instance, John Campbell declared:

“If you look at current events and history, I think Mr. Shannon is from the wrong era. If you take a good look at what is happening in Eastern Europe today, you can see people don’t want an enormous government. They want freedom—freedom to travel, freedom to move about freely. To have the government come in and take over private property is at least 40 years out of step.” [8]

Nowhere had Shannon, an avid capitalist himself, proposed anything remotely resembling actual socialism, let alone the discredited political dead end of Stalinism. Naturally, both Campbell and Simmons omitted the past precedent of the Tennessee Valley Authority and other specifically American intervention by the state on behalf of the public or a small group of them under the concept of Eminent Domain. Shannon countered:

“The right of eminent domain is the right of the people, outlined in the Constitution, to assert dominion over any land or property on account of emergency and for the public good. The people have the sovereign right to exercise eminent domain when there is a need to correct an injustice or an abuse.” [9]

Such abuses included the countless examples of deals between the USFS and Corporate Timber for THPs on public lands, a form of state intervention of the highest degree. Apparently it was only “socialism” if it didn’t benefit the bottom line of the employing class.

However, Campbell and his ministers of propaganda had gambled correctly that both Shannon’s unpopularity and the emerging consensus declaring the “decline” of “communism” and the “end of history” would be effective. Shannon’s proposal had little support among the P-L workers, including many of the one-time ESOP supporters, who had lost faith in Shannon since he had proposed a “partnership” with Maxxam and Hurwitz in April. His sudden second apparent reversal could only served to reinforce the notion that Shannon was an opportunistic snake oil salesman who could not be trusted with their futures. Furthermore Shannon’s disdain for unions translated into a lack of experience in communicating with the workers, even those likely to be sympathetic to such a measure. As a result, he had no support for the ballot initiative among the P-L employees and Maxxam used that to their advantage. [10]

Indeed, Shannon’s poorly organized and quite desperate “Hail Mary” pass opened up the door for TEAM, who had been losing support since the ESOP campaign, to regain prominence among the P-L workers. TEAM supporter Michael J Eglin opportunistically manipulated the bitterness over Shannon’s ESOP failure into opposition to the Timber Bond Act, which culminated in a full page advertisement in the Eureka Times Standard, signed by 900 P-L employees (which was a far greater number than the 350 that had signed the November 17, 1985 ad opposing Hurwitz, and included several dozen of the signers of the original ad). [11] Supporters of Eglin’s effort initiated a barrage of letters to the editor repeating the standard Corporate Timber talking points, including the hackneyed shifting of the blame to “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs.” [12] This was to be expected, of course, but it actually greatly reduced the potential for other efforts, such as an IWW organizing drive, to take root among the P-L workers. Furthermore, it allowed Campbell—using TEAM as a front group—to conflate Shannon’s well intentioned, but poorly planned measure with other, better conceived efforts.

* * * * *

One such effort was the Forest and Wildlife Protection and Bond Act of 1990, which would soon become to be widely known as Forests Forever. That effort had resulted directly from what environmentalists perceived to be L-P’s and G-P’s abusive treatment of Mendocino County and Maxxam’s treatment of Humboldt County. In September 1989, a coalition of local activists from Mendocino and Humboldt Counties, including EPIC, the Save the Redwoods League, the Sierra Club, and others drafted the initiative and submitted it to the office of the California State Attorney General in mid October. If passed by the voters, the initiative would reform state forestry law for the first time since the Z’Berg Nejedly Forest Practice Act was enacted in 1973.

The original Forest Practices Act had once been considered the strongest piece of forestry legislation in existence, but now, according to one Forests Forever’s principle authors, The Man That Walks In The Woods, it was little more than a paper tiger. It was readily apparent that Z’Berg Nejedly was inadequate. According to Gail Lucas of the California Sierra Club’s State Forestry Practices Commission, the measure was conceived, because no matter what the Forest Practices Act stipulated, it was never seriously enforced by those charged with the state forests’ stewardship. The Board of Forestry was under the control of Corporate Timber by virtue of Corporate Timber friendly governors having appointed compliant members to this body. The CDF, under the BOF’s direction, had minimized conservation in favor of economic considerations and the long term results had been continued clearcutting, and deforestation, not to mention the loss of timber jobs due to corporate profiteering. [13]

The new law would provide permanent protection for most of the state’s remaining old growth forests and require sustained yield, uneven-age managed forestry on all private timberland. Clearcutting over two acres in area as well as raw-log exports would be banned, and $742 million would be set aside for buyouts of more sensitive old growth stands, including Headwaters Forest. Specific highlights of the proposed law also included the following:

“Section 6(m) of the initiative would reconsti­tute the nine-member state board of forestry to include five members from the general public” one from a environmental organization, one timber county su­pervisor, one timberland owner with less than 500 acres, and one from the corporate timber industry. A ninth seat could be filled by a represent­ative of Na­tive American or labor concerns. In ad­dition, new restrictions would prevent conflicts of interest on the board of forestry.

“Section 4 would put severe restrictions on CDF approval on plans for the removal of timber from old growth ancient forests, of which there are only a few left in Mendocino County. If feasible mitigations of logging plans could not assure the protection of wildlife in these ancient forests, the department of fish and game would be given au­thority to negotiate with the landowner for the tim­ber rights. Appropri­ate mitigation measures are spelled out in the law, and the owner could appeal any determination of state agencies.

“To protect workers, provisions are made in the initiative for the reemployment of loggers and mill­workers laid off as a result of old growth buyouts.

“Section 6 would require that all timber harvests on private timberlands meet strict requirements de­signed to assure sustained yield. Clearcuts more than two acres are banned, and timber operators given three years to make a plan for maximum sus­tained yield on their holdings. In the meantime, some thin­ning and shelterwood removal would be allowed under the act.

“In 150 years, only the selective harvest of ma­ture trees would be allowed under the new law. For redwood trees, the standard of maturity is from 90 to 120 years of age. And for Douglas fir, the stan­dard is from 60 to 80 years of age.

“In addition, protections for lakes, streams, and watercourses are strengthened, and logging roads and decks would be more strictly regulated.

“Section 8 creates the Ancient Forest Protection Fund and authorizes $742 million in bonds for the acquisition of old growth forests.” [14]

The advocates of this measure faced a challenging uphill climb. To begin with, in order to ensure that the initiative needed 600,000 voters’ signatures to place it on the November 1990 ballot. [15] It was not, at any time, a project of campaign proposed by Earth First!, as the radical environmental movement had no process for such endorsements, nor did a majority of Earth First!ers know about it, let alone participate in its drafting, yet Corporate Timber went to great lengths to associate it with Earth First! and others they could readily scapegoat as “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs” on the one hand, or “elitist-Volvo-driving-three-piece-suit-wearing-bureaucrats” on the other. There were even a few who simply dismissed the effort—indeed all forestry regulation—as “communism!”. [16] All three of the North Coast’s major timber corporations hired Hill & Knowlton to manage a multimillion dollar propaganda campaign against the measure. [17] The city councils of various timber dependent communities were no exception. [18] On March 5, 1990, the City of Fortuna voted to go on record opposing the measure. Eureka’s city council followed suit just two days later. [19]

John Campbell lead the challenge in Humboldt County. He promised that the opposition to Forests Forever would include not only Corporate Timber, but landowners and sawmill owners as well, and that they would “use everything at their disposal to combat the initiative, including advertising campaigns and perhaps even a counter initiative.” In an interview with the Eureka Times-Standard, the Pacific Lumber executive said of Forests Forever:

“It’s a very sweeping document (which) takes the professional management of the forest out of the hands of the foresters. The potential job loss at P-L could be as high as 800 jobs (out of 1300) the reason is that we operate three old growth sawmills that depend on the type of timber most impacted by the initiative. ” [20]

This was an incredibly dubious argument given the fact that P-L had operated for over three quarters of a century with two of those three mills using the very sort of logging practices called for in Forests Forever with no apparent economic doldrums, and the third such facility—the former L-P mill in Carlotta which had been purchased six months after the Maxxam takeover could either be retooled or sold just as easily as it had been purchased. Nevertheless, it was accepted as credible, in particular by the Humboldt Beacon and Fortuna Advance, which further opined:

“Environmental groups have created a melodrama, wherein they distort reality. They cast, in a negative multimedia light, good companies like P-L as marauders, rapists of the awe-inspiring virgin redwood forests. It is an emotional issue, an issue that can be presented to millions of California voters in an unrealistic, melodramatic manner. It is an issue the groups can seize on to gain support, and to gain funds.” [21]

Again, the opinions expressed by the Humboldt Beacon and Fortuna Advance almost exactly matched those of John Campbell who declared:

“I think the environmental movement in the United States has become a big business. They have large stocks (sic), large budgets; they are highly organized, and they need a lot of funding, so they need a popular cause for people to focus on. I think it just happens to be Pacific Lumber’s turn. The redwoods are certainly majestic. They have sort of an aurora about them in the United States.” [22]

It seemed to be no leap of logic for Corporate Timber to excoriate their critics of being ‘socialistic” on one hand and “too capitalistic” on the other (though Campbell offered no clue on which stock exchange shares in environmentalist organizations could be traded), and yet a good many gullible people accepted such statements with little question. The Humboldt Beacon and Fortuna Advance editorial then trotted out the all-too-familiar talking points, including the claim that hundreds of thousands of acres of old growth redwoods were already preserved in parks, in no small part due to the efforts of Pacific Lumber [23], which was technically true, but no distinction was made by the editors between the company pre- and post- Maxxam—as if there was little or no significant difference. Indeed, such statements also echoed Campbell’s essentially word for word. [24]

Louisiana-Pacific’s Shep Tucker, as was expected, lead that corporation’s propaganda campaign in opposition to the initiative, and in doing so, also spoke for WECARE. Meanwhile, in Mendocino County, Corporate Timber—Georgia Pacific in particular—found a ready and willing spokesperson against Forests Forever, and that was IWA Local 3-469 Union Representative Don Nelson. The union official, who had supported similar—albeit more local—measures in the past, issued a scathing attack on the new initiative, which he sent to virtually every newspaper in every community in Humboldt and Mendocino Counties in December of 1989. He warned voters not to sign the ballot petition, “unless (they) were in favor of total wilderness, isolation, and unemployment.” [25]

Eric Swanson, a 52-year-old mechanical engineer and Forests Forever supporter quickly countered Nelson. Swanson suggested that the embattled union official was either incapable of understanding the initiative or had not bothered to actually read it, stating:

“This Initiative will protect some of the remain­ing prime old-growth wildlife habitat left on private lands. Reliable estimates put the total Amount of old-growth remaining on private lands in California at about 450,000 acres. CDF’s Forest and Rangel­and Resources Assessment Program (FRRAP) lists the statewide productive forest land base at 16,531,000 acres. Thus, even if all the pri­vately held old-growth in the state was purchased by this act the productive land base would be reduced by only 2.7 percent Since only a fraction of the total old-growth could be pur­chased by this Act, the actual impact will be sub­stantially less than 2.7 percent. This is hardly ‘total wil­derness’.” [26]

Nelson had also echoed the Corporate Timber talking points predicting economic apocalypse:

“This Act would only allow logging of ‘mature forests’ which were covered by a ‘sustain­able fore­stry program’ which each owner of tim­berland would be required to have filed on his lands within 6 years of this act even if the timber were too small to harvest! It would require land owners to harvest less than their potential growth and it would not allow them to encourage faster growth on their timber­lands. It makes the planting of young trees difficult if not impossible because it bans brush burning, a common practice and one that is part of the nature’s process of redwood forest regeneration. A mature forest would be at least 120 years old. Only then could logging occur. Since most of Cali­fornia private timber stands are less than 60 years old, it would cause at least 60 years of unemploy­ment for the log­gers and mill workers in California today.

“The section on worker’s protection pro­vides that for certifiable job losses caused by the acquisi­tion of timberlands under this Act there would be compensation for employees identified by the em­ployer as affected but only if the employer agrees to rehire those employees when their posi­tion be­comes reavailable! It does nothing for those unem­ployed because of the harvesting restrictions in the Act.

“No employer laying a worker off due to this Act could guarantee to rehire that employee be­cause there would be no jobs available in the em­ployees’ lifetime in the lumber industry.” 11.0pt; [27]

Swanson’s response to Nelson stated:

“This Initiative mandates sustained yield, some­thing Don has advocated for years. Simply put, we won’t be able to cut more than we grow. Don’s alle­gation that the Initiative would result in 60 years of unemployment is absurd. The Initiative does require the sustainable harvest of mature trees (that is, trees which have reached their peak lumber pro­duction) by the year 2140. That’s 150 years from now! Even more time would be allowed for poor growing sites. The Initiative specifically states that periodic har­vests are to continue throughout this period. As the lands are restored to maximum productivity the harvest will steadily increase.

“According to FRRAP, the projected growth in California for the 1990-2000 time frame is 3,667,211 MBF per year. The projected harvest for the same period is 3,992,569 MBF. Thus, if we re­duced the harvest by 6.5 percent statewide, we would achieve sus­tained yield. That hardly sounds like 60 years of un­employment.” [28]

It was obvious in any case that the actual reason for the widespread timber industry opposition to Forests Forever had little to do with potential job losses, because the industry had already, through their own profit-oriented practices, downsized the workforce significantly since the passage of Z’Berg Nejedly. The real danger to Corporate Timber was that the initiative would undermine their economic and political stranglehold on California’s forests. The “Timber Wars” were already running hot. Now they were likely to explode.

[1] “Forest Protectors Take the Initiative”, by Richard Johnson, Mendocino Country Environmentalists, November 1, 1989.

[2] Johnson, November 1, 1989, op. cit.

[3] “Ex-Owners Sue Over P-L Sale”, Eureka Times-Standard, September 7, 1989.

[4] “Shannon Wants Initiative to Seize P-L from Maxxam”, by Mark Rathjen, Eureka Times-Standard, September 6, 1989.

[5] Rathjen, September 6, 1989, op. cit.

[6] “PL Takeover Plan No Statewide Issue”, Eureka Times-Stan­dard, September 12, 1989.

[7] “Over the Edge: Initiative Proposal is No Solution”, editorial by Glenn Simmons, Humboldt Beacon and Fortuna Advance, September 14, 1989.

[8] “PALCO President Attacks Initiatives”, by Glenn Simmons, Humboldt Beacon and Fortuna Advance, December 7, 1989.

[9]“Expropriate Pacific Lumber”, letter to the editor by Patrick Shannon, EcoNews, November 1989.

[10] “Timber Wars: Footloose Wobs Urgently Needed”, by Judi Bari, Industrial Worker, October 1989 and “Earth First! in Northern California: An Interview with Judi Bari” by Douglas Bevington, reprinted in The Struggle for Ecological Democracy; Environmental Justice Movements in the United States, edited by Daniel Faber, New York, NY and London, Guilford Press, 1998

[11]“P-L Employees Get no Response”, letter to the editor by Michael J. Eglin, Eureka Times-Standard, February 25, 1990.

[12]“Shannon Must Look Elsewhere”, letter to the editor by Dave Shamblin, Eureka Times-Standard, February 25, 1990.

[13] “Lost in the Woods”, by Greg Goldin, Los Angeles Weekly, September 7, 1990.

[14] Johnson, November 1, 1989, op. cit.

[15]“P-L’s Old Growth May be on Ballot”, by Andy Alm, EcoNews, October 1989.

[16] “Lumber Industry Knows its Job”, letter to the editor by Charles Anderson, Eureka Times-Standard, January 7, 1990.

[17]“The Judi Bari Bombing Revisited: Big Timber, Public Relations, and the FBI”, by Nicholas Wilson, Albion Monitor, May 28, 1999.

[18]“Fortuna to Lobby Against 3 Timber Initiatives”, by Ed Lion, Eureka Times-Standard, March 6, 1990.

[19]“Eureka Council Opposes Measure Cutting Harvests”, Eureka Times-Standard, March 8, 1990.

[20] “Face-to-Face: Initiative Could Devastate Local Timber Industry”, John Campbell interviewed by the Eureka Times-Standard, December 28, 1989.

[21] “Environmentalists Send Frightening Message”, editorial, Humboldt Beacon and Fortuna Advance, December 14, 1989.

[22] “PALCO President Attacks Initiatives”, by Glenn Simmons, Humboldt Beacon and Fortuna Advance, December 7, 1989.

[23] Editorial, December 14, 1989, op. cit.

[24] Simmons, December 7, 1989, op. cit. Much of the Corporate Timber opposition to both Forests Forever and the Timber Bond Act was reflexive. For example, John Campbell publically admitted, as late as November 30, 1989, that Pacific Lumber had not reviewed either measure closely, adding, “We at Pacific Lumber do not think it is correct to turn over the entire system outside of the legislative process,” in Simmons, December 7, 1989, op. cit; If Campbell preferred the legislative process he wasn’t enthusiastically singing the praises of it when Democratic Congressman Fortney “Pete” Stark introduced a bill to designate Headwaters Forest as a federally protected “wild and scenic” study area. In announcing his bill, Stark declared, “This legislation is intended to stop any logging [in Headwaters] until we can determine if this outstanding area should be preserved.” P-L spokeswoman Mary Bullwinkel declared that the measure represented a “taking” of private property and added, “It also takes with it the jobs that go with private property,” to which Stark rebutted, “P-L doesn’t care about the redwoods, the land, or people’s jobs. They only care about paying interest on junk bonds.” Stark’s fellow representative, Doug Bosco, was equally disdainful of the measure, declaring, “If the people in my district decide they want that area designated as wild and scenic, I’ll do it. I don’t appreciate another member sponsoring legislation for my district.” Bosco might have wanted to clarify exactly which people in his district he meant, because both Robert Sutherland and Darryl Cherney, who lived in his district, welcomed Stark’s proposal, but as critics of Maxxam, evidently they were nonpersons, as detailed in “PL Land Target of Late Bill: Headwaters Forest Study Angers Bosco,” From staff and Washington Bureau reports, Eureka Times-Standard, November 22, 1989.

[25] Letter to the editor, by Don Nelson, Anderson Valley Advertiser, December 6, 1989 ( “Don Nelson Says No”), Mendocino Commentary, December 14, 1989, Mendocino Beacon, January 4, 1990 ( “Read it Completely”), and Eureka Times-Standard, January 7, 1990 (“Forest Measure Would be Disaster for the North Coast”).

[26] Letter to the editor, by Eric Swanson, Anderson Valley Advertiser, December 27, 1989 (“Sustained Yield and Don Nelson’s Credibility”), Ukiah Daily Journal, December 28, 1989 (“Assertions are Ridiculous”), and Mendocino Beacon, January 4, 1990 (“Disagrees With IWA’s Don Nelson”).

[27] Don Nelson, December 6, 1989, op. cit.

[28] Swanson, December 27, 1989, op. cit.

Tags: Judi BariSteve OngerthRedwood UprisingIndustrial Workers of the World (IWW)Earth First!timber workersEarth First! - IWW Local 1Don Nelson

The Working Class Stake in the Fight Against Global Warming

Tue, 08/22/2023 - 00:00

By Tom Wetzel - Workers' Solidarity, August 22, 2023

I’m going to suggest here that the working class has a unique role to play in the fight against global warming because the owning and managing classes have interests that are tied to an economic system that has an inherent tendency towards ecological devastation whereas the working class does not.

In its “Code Red for Humanity” warning in 2021, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse‑gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth…” With wreckage from intensifying storms and people dying from heat waves, it might seem that everyone has a stake in the project of ecological sustainability, and bringing a rapid end to the burning of fossil fuels. As we know, however, various sectors of the owning and managing classes pursue profits from fossil fuel extraction, refining, and burning fossil fuels. They protect sunk investments in fossil fuel-based infrastructure (like gas burning power plants) or propose highly implausible strategies (like carbon capture and storage). Thus many sectors of the top classes in our society are a roadblock to ecological sustainability.

The working class, on the other hand, have a stake in the fight for a livable future, and also have the potential power to do something about it. The working class is a large majority of the society, and thus has the numbers to be a major force. Their position in the workplace means workers have the potential to organize and resist environmentally destructive behaviors of the employers.

The Basis of the Environmental Crisis

There is a fundamental problem here: The dynamics of capitalism have an inherent tendency towards ecological devastation. To understand why this is so, we need to look at how firms are constantly searching for ways to minimize their expenses. This is how they ensure the firm can make the maximum in profits. Because capitalism is made up of relatively autonomous firms, they are in competition. If a firm doesn’t continuously seek ways to make profits, they won’t be able to expand their business, move into new markets, invest in new technology. Other firms will out-compete them. And minimizing expenses is central to the pursuit of profits. Thus minimizing expenses is central to survival for the capitalist firms. And to do this, firms do cost-shifting at the expense of both workers and the environment.

First, companies try to keep compensation to workers as low as they can get away with. They may look to cut taxes that support services working class people rely on. They try to find new forms of technology or new ways to organize the work that reduces the number of worker hours it takes to produce a unit of output. They might automate a production operation with robots, or they will seek ways to intensify work through “lean production” methods. For example, they’ll use computer tracking of a warehouse worker picking items for an order so that they have no rest time after finishing an order but are pushed to a new task through computer control. Work intensification and computer monitoring puts workers under more stress which can have damaging health effects over time. This means the employers are imposing a human cost on workers. If workers in a furniture factory are constantly breathing in finishes or paints being sprayed on furniture in the open, or electronics assemblers are breathing in solder fumes, these are also cases where capital is shifting costs onto workers. And these are cases where the costs could be avoided. For example, there are soldering tools that have a vacuum to suck off solder fumes so workers don’t breath it, but a firm may not want to pay the expense of installing that equipment. These are examples of how the capitalist mode of production tends to shift costs onto workers.

Second, emissions into the air and water are another form of cost-shifting. A utility firm may burn coal to generate electricity. This creates emissions that damage the respiratory systems of people in the region and also contributes to global warming. But the power firm is not required to pay anything for these damages. These costs to others from emissions are “external” to the market transaction between the power firm and its customers who pay for electricity. This is an example of a “negative externality.” Externalities are a pervasive feature of the capitalist mode of production. The fossil fuel industry generates many “negative externalities.” Fracking operations insert chemicals underground which can pollute the underground water sources. A large gas field or leaky oil refinery will generate large amounts of volatile organic compounds — including carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Studies of gas fields show effects in the surrounding area such as goat herds and barn cats losing the ability to have viable offspring, due to the endocrine disruptors. Gas fields also contribute to global warming by leaking large amounts of methane. Contrary to gas industry claims, gas power plants contribute as much as coal-fired power plants to global warming due to all the methane leaks.

You’ll notice here that I’m focusing on how environmental devastation is rooted in production — not consumption. Some environmentalists try to suggest that we should understand the global warming problem by looking at consumption practices, and they use ideas like a person’s “carbon footprint” to focus on personal consumption. But consumers of electric power don’t have control over the decisions of power firms on the methods of electricity generation, or what technology firms rely on to move cargo around in the global supply chains.

Another useful concept here is throughput. The throughput of production consists of two things: (1) All the material extracted from nature for the production process, and (2) all the damaging emissions (“negative externalities”) from the production process. In addition to the damaging emissions into the air and water, capitalism is an extractivist regime with a long history of land-grabbing to minimize expenses — as in the US government handing over mineral wealth to mining companies, lands for commercial ranching and extraction of logs and wood debris from forests for the lumber and paper industries. The search for short-term profits can lead to unsustainable practices such as clear-cutting of forests or use of huge nets to scarf up all the fish in a coastal region without regard to the future of that fishery.

With the concept of throughput, we can define a concept of ecological efficiency. If a production process is changed in ways that reduce the amount of damage from emissions (or amount of extracted resource) per unit of human benefit, then that change improves ecological efficiency. And here is a basic structural problem of capitalism: It has no inherent tendency towards ecological efficiency. If nature is treated as a free dumping ground for wastes, there will be no tendency to minimize damaging emissions per unit of human benefit from production. Also, there will be no tendency to minimize materials extracted from nature except to the extent firms have pay for these resources.

A production system that could generate increasing ecological efficiency would tend towards reductions in pollution and resource extraction. This would require a non-profit, non-market type of eco-socialist economy where production organizations are held socially accountable — required to systematically internalize their ecological costs. Capitalism’s tendency to ever greater environmental devastation happens because firms have an incentive to not internalize their costs, but dump them on others.

The devastation wrought by the cost-shifting dynamic of capitalism is not limited to global warming. Capitalism has favored the evolution of agricultural practices that aim at highest output at lowest financial cost to the firm. Intense competition has led to ever-greater concentration in ownership of farm land. The capitalist setup allows the growers to rely on labor contractors to pay laborers as little as possible and get rid of workers who try to organize. Growers often own lands in various locations and pursue different crops to minimize their risks. With encouragement from the chemical industry, growers have adopted industrial production of a single crop in a large field with increasing usage of pesticides and inorganic fertilizer over time. Inorganic fertilizers typically provide some mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium. Over-use of these fertilizers has led to excessive runoff, polluting water courses and leading to ocean “dead spots” around the mouths of rivers. Destructive effects on fisheries is thus one of the negative externalities from capitalist agriculture.

Since World War 2 chemical pesticide production world-wide grew from 0.1 ton to 52 million tons in 1976 and 300 million tons in 2015. Pesticides produced by the chemical industry are damaging to the health of farm workers, and pollutes water courses, and leaves residues on food. Pesticide overuse also destroys the natural predators of insects and breeds pesticide-resistant pests. This leads a kind of agricultural arms race as more and more pesticide is needed. As Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams report in Creating an Ecological Society, pesticides also reduce “presence in the soil of organisms that stimulate plants to produce chemicals to defend themselves.”

As with pesticides the chemical industry has also vastly pumped up the production of petroleum-based plastics which do not biodegrade but end up as vast scourge of pollution in the oceans. Plastic bags have grown in use because they take a lot less energy to produce than paper bags, and thus cost less. Production has increased from less than 5 tons in 1950 to over 340 million tons by 2014, according to the Plastics Europe trade association. At least a third of all plastic produced is not recaptured, but mostly ends up in the ocean where it is destructive to living organisms. The plastics industry does not have to pay for the negative effects on living things in the oceans.

If we bring in our definition of throughput, pollution and dumping of wastes are one aspect, but we need to also look at the destructive extractivist tendencies in capitalism, such as clear-cutting of forests or over-fishing. According to a 2003 study, “90 percent of all large fishes have disappeared from the world’s oceans in the past half century,” since the onset of industrial fishing with huge nets in the 1950s. “”Whether it is yellowfin tuna in the tropics, bluefin in cold waters, or albacore tuna in between, the pattern is always the same. There is a rapid decline of fish numbers,” according to Ransom Myers, a fisheries biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax. To address the problem, many countries have banned long drift nets and untended longlines, and have instituted elaborate systems of licensing, and have instituted quotas and third party observers working on boats. Nonetheless, capitalist fishing outfits frequently ignore or evade these rules.

The Working Class Ecological Interest

The working class has a distinct class interest in ecological sustainability which puts the working class at odds with capital. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Workers often bare the brunt of the effects of pollution and global warming. For example, the increase in wild fires means fire-fighters are affected by breathing the smoke. Transport workers such as truck drivers are subjected to intense heat in cabs as employers refuse to provide air-conditioning.
  • The cost-shifting dynamic which is the fundamental cause of global warming and environmental devastation is also destructive to workers in various ways: stress from work intensification, inadequate safety standards, refusal to acknowledge health impacts such as lung disease caused by dust in work environments, polluting emissions from industry that flow into nearby working class neighborhoods, and chemical exposures such as poisoning of farm workers with pesticides and herbicides. This gives workers an interest in pushing back against this dynamic.
  • The capitalist search for minimizing expenses also leads to damaging extractivist practices in the search for short-term profits. For example, practices damaging to worker health in mining and smelting industries, over-fishing with huge nets that scarf up everything in an area of the ocean or clear cutting of forest lands — practices that undermine the long term employment in fisheries and forestry. Workers in these industries have a stake in more sustainable practices.
  • The long-term damage from the increased cooking of the earth is a threat to humanity in general. So why a specific working class interest? The problem is the sunk investments the capitalists have in fossil fuel reserves, electrical generating facilities and other equipment that relies on burning of fossil fuels. This leads major sectors of capital to drag their feet against the rapid technological conversion that is needed. Moreover, recognizing the source of the global warming crisis in the normal functioning of the marketized capitalist economy with its cost-shifting dynamic is seen as a threat to the capitalist regime. The working class does not have this kind of stake in defending capitalism.
Unionism as a Source of Resistance

The working class has a direct stake in building resistance to employer power over us in the workplaces. In other words, workers have an interest in the struggle over the control of production. To the degree workers can build power in this struggle — through the building of unions and collective worker campaigns and actions that resist management — this power can also be used also to resist the environmentally destructive actions and policies of the employers. Green unionism is a logical expression of the distinct working class ecological interest.

The working class is the majority of the society and our work is essential for continuing profits flowing to the employers. As such workers have potential power to resist environmentally damaging practices of the employers. We can already see forms of this emerging as time goes on.

As I write these lines, the members of the United Electrical Workers Union at the Erie Locomotive Works of Wabtec (formerly owned by GE) are on strike. They are demanding a re-instatement of their right to strike over grievances during the life of their labor agreement. But they are also demanding that the company work with them in shifting to the production of green locomotives. This would include more efficient diesel-electric engines that produce fewer emissions as well as battery-operated electric engines to do switching in yards.

The struggle for lower transit fares in Germany in March was backed by both the climate “Fridays for the Future” protests and the German transit worker union, which supported the demand in its one-day warning strike seeking higher pay for transit workers. “We’re standing side-by-side with Fridays for Future,” said Mathias Kurreck of the union that represents public transport transit workers.

This past June fishing industry workers on Spanish and French fleets fishing on the African coast went on strike. According to the Guardian, “in an unprecedented action involving 64 vessels and roughly 2,000 crew from Senegal and Ivory Coast, 80% of the EU fleet in the Gulf of Guinea and the Indian Ocean went on strike.” The EU had allowed the Spanish and French fleets to hire West African workers for the grueling work on the ships, which were fishing for highly valuable tropical tuna. But the fleets were paying very low wages (as little as $54 a week) and were violating EU rules for sustainable fishing. Observers who collect data on the catch were often missing. The workers were protesting against the over-fishing practices which would damage the sustainability of the West African fishery. The huge Spanish tuna fishing outfit Albacora SA, in particular, has been named by the Financial Transparency Coalition as one of the top ten companies engaged in illegal fishing practices.

These are all examples of green unionism in practice.

Does the Global Warming Fight Conflict with Worker Interests?

Some people argue for a conflict between protecting jobs and protecting the environment, and thus a conflict between the struggle for environmental sustainability and worker interests. If coal mines are shut down or fracking is banned, don’t workers lose jobs? To reply to this, we have to look at the larger picture — a picture that takes account of the damage to worker health from capitalist practices, the immense potential damage from global warming, and the jobs that will open up under a green transition. 

The loss of jobs is indeed a threat from closures of polluting industries. But this is where the demand for a “Just Transition” comes into play. This phrase was first coined by Tony Mazocchi — an official of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union. This is the idea that the cost of the shift away from polluting industries should not be borne by the workers in those industries, through the loss of their jobs, or lower pay in “green” projects. If fracking is shut down, or refineries are scaled back or coalmines are shut down, comparable incomes or jobs for those workers should be guaranteed. If there is going to be a shift to “green” energy projects, we need to make sure that there is a union presence in these jobs, and avoid this being just a new low-wage sector where capitalists can profit off “green” slogans. As I write, this conflict is playing out in the struggle between the United Auto Workers Union and the major auto companies over the conditions and compensation associated with electric vehicle and battery manufacturing. A major fight will be necessary to make the “Just Transition” an actual reality.

The idea of the “Just Transition” is an application of the principle of class solidarity. Just as the working class in general has a stake in resisting pollution of our neighborhoods, chemical exposures at work, and the damaging heat driven by global warming, the working class also needs to act to ensure that displaced workers have income support, retraining and moving expenses, and to make sure that transition to “green” production isn’t used to pay people less or impose worse conditions

From Resistance to Liberation

This direct proletarian ecological interest is key because the working class has the potential power to change the mode of production — to build a different way of generating goods and services from human labor and nature. Given the way capitalism is inherently stuck in an ecologically destructive dynamic, powerful social forces are needed to be able to shift to a more ecologically friendly mode of production. The working class can be a potential social force with the power to do this for two reasons. First, because the working class is a large majority of the society. And, secondly, because of the position workers occupy in the system of production and distribution. By building organizations of resistance in the workplaces and building a movement from fighting boss power day to day, the working class can build its social power or leverage, to act as a force to bend management decisions in a direction favorable to what workers want. And in the process of doing this the workers can and do develop their capacity to fight and their aspirations for change.

This is where the syndicalist strategy comes into play. Through the development of a worker movement that is worker-controlled and developing class consciousness and aspirations for liberation from the capitalist regime, a path is opened up for a direct shift to a different mode of production which workers would be in a position to create “from below,” through their own organized movement.

The syndicalist vision of self-managed socialism provides a plausible basis for a solution for the environmental crisis because a federative, distributed form of democratic planning places power in local communities and workers in industries, and thus they have power to prevent ecologically destructive decisions. For syndicalists, socialism is about human liberation — and a central part is the liberation of the working class from subordination and exploitation in a regime where there are oppressor classes on top. Thus for syndicalism the transition to socialism means workers taking over and collectively managing all the industries — including the public services. This would enable workers to:

  • Gain control over technological development,
  • Re-organize jobs and education to eliminate the bureaucratic concentration of power in the hands of managers and high-end professionals, develop worker skills, and work to integrate decision-making and conceptualization with the doing of the physical work,
  • Reduce the workweek and share work responsibilities among all who can work, and
  • Create a new logic of development for technology that is friendly to workers and the environment.
Being “Realistic”

Some people will argue that this is not a “realistic” strategy for the global warming crisis because of the need to make major moves away from fossil fuel burning in the immediate future. The process of organizing and building a powerful grassroots labor movement is probably going to be quite protracted. Thus various “democratic socialists” will argue that it is more practical to seek reforms through the electoral systems.

But that strategy faces the notorious problem of the inherent tendency of political bureaucracies and politicians to seek accommodation to capitalist interests. Socialists who support the electoralist strategy will concede that they need the potential for mass scale struggle and disruption to push the political leaderships for reform policies such as the “Green New Deal” — pushing for rapid shift of electricity production and transport sectors away from reliance on the burning of fossil fuels. But the best way to build the capacity of the working class to engage in this level of social struggle and disruption is through the kind of grassroots movement building that green syndicalists advocate. So, in fact, our strategy is realistic after all.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

Tags: green syndicalismgreen unionismclass strugglestrategy and tacticslibertarian-socialismanti-capitalismanarcho-syndicalismGreen New Deal (GND)climate changemovements, unions, and organizationslaborUnited Electrical Workers (UE)Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW)just transitionTony Mazzocchi

To The CEOs of General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis:

Wed, 08/16/2023 - 00:00

By various - Labor Network for Sustainability, et. al., August 16, 2023

(Mary Barra, Jim Farley, and Carlos Tavares)

We, the undersigned climate, environmental, racial, and social justice organizations, stand in solidarity with auto workers and their union the United Auto Workers (UAW) in their upcoming contract negotiations with the “Big 3” automakers: General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis. We firmly support the UAW members’ demands and believe that the success of these negotiations is of critical importance for the rights and well-being of workers and to safeguard people and the environment. Only through meeting these demands will the United States ensure a just transition to a renewable energy future.

Lack of fair wages, job security, and dignified working conditions have left workers and our communities reeling. Worse, in recent months, workers and their communities have experienced unprecedented extreme heat, smoke pollution, flooding, and other disasters. The leaders of your companies have historically made decisions that exacerbated both of these crises over the past few decades — driving further inequality and increasing pollution. That is why we are standing in solidarity with the UAW and all workers and communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis and the necessary transition.

Within the next few years — the span of this next contract — lies humanity’s last chance to navigate a transition away from fossil fuels, including away from combustion engines. With that shift comes an opportunity for workers in the United States to benefit from a revival of new manufacturing, including electric vehicles (EVs) and collective transportation like buses and trains, as a part of the renewable energy revolution. This transition must center workers and communities, especially those who have powered our economy through the fossil fuel era, and be a vehicle for economic and racial justice. We are putting you on notice: Corporate greed and shareholder profits must never again be put before safe, good-paying union jobs, clean air and water, and a liveable future.

The EV transition cannot be a “race to the bottom” that further exploits workers. We call on you to honor the demands of the UAW.

These demands include:

  • End Tiers – Equal Pay for Equal Work: Ending the unjust tier system for workers
  • Don’t Leave Workers Behind – Just wage and benefit increases that keep in line with the cost of living and provide a good life for workers and their communities
  • Batteries Included – Workers in sustainable battery production have the same pay and safety standards as under the National Agreements
  • EV Jobs that are Good, Safe, and Union – A robust, fair and just transition into the EV economy with no loss of autoworker livelihood

Right now, President Biden’s administration is poised to infuse billions to boost your companies’ transition to electric vehicle manufacturing and component production. As these billions in taxpayer dollars move into the auto industry, you are also undermining President Biden’s promise of this money creating millions of “good, union jobs.”

General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis – you can either do right by the workers who have sacrificed to keep your companies profitable, or you can face a united labor, environmental, and climate movement standing in solidarity, ready to fight side by side with UAW workers in winning their demands. The choice to preserve and strengthen good union jobs should be as crystal clear as the need to transition to a clean transportation system.

We, and millions of Americans, want what UAW is bargaining for: family-sustaining, community-supporting, union jobs in a green energy economy; one that allows us all to make a living on a living planet.

Signed, (as of August 16, 2023)

Labor Network for Sustainability Greenpeace USA Sunrise Movement Oil Change International Friends of the Earth Climate Justice Alliance Sierra Club Earthworks Fridays for Future US Gen-Z for Change Green New Deal Network Interfaith Power & Light Observatoire d’Etudes et d’Appui à la Responsabilité Sociale et Environnementale (OEARSE) GreenLatinos Center for Biological Diversity Mothers Out Front League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Public Citizen Jobs to Move America The Sunrise Project Climate Organizing Project Climate Mobilization Project Mighty Earth Climate and Community Project Lead the Charge Michigan Interfaith Power & Light Industrious Labs Investor Advocates for Social Justice Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments Evergreen Action Union of Concerned Scientists Climate Hawks Vote Center for American Progress Grand Rapids Climate Coalition Local Progress 198 Methods Breach Collective North American Climate, Conservation and Environment(NACCE) Pacific Environment Sunflower Alliance MOVE Ohio Natural Resources Defense Council Southeast Environmental Task Force Just Transition Northwest Indiana Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment Engage Michigan National Campaign for Transit Justice Alliance for a Just Society Unitarian Universalist Association Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community SolidarityINFOService Action Group on Governance and Environmental Management (AGGEM)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

Tags: automobile manufacturersFordGeneral Motors (GM)StellantisUnited Auto Workers (UAW)green unionismelectric vehiclesjust transitionLabor Network for Sustainability (LNS)350GreenpeaceSunrise MovementOil Change InternationalFriends of the Earth (FOE)Climate Justice Alliance (CJA)Sierra ClubEarthworksFridays for the FutureCenter for Biological DiversityLeague of Conservation Voters (LCV)Alliances of Nurses for Healthy EnvironmentsUnion of Concerned Scientists (UCS)Stand Earth (Forest Ethics)Sunflower AllianceNational Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

The Fine Print I:

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