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Response to Greg Butler's critique of the Green New Deal and the Rank-and-File Strategy

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, February 7, 2021

As stated in our standard disclaimer (at the end of this editorial), the opinions expressed in this text are those of the author alone and do not represent the official position of the IWW or the IWW Environmental Union Caucus. This piece includes very strongly worded opinions, therefore the author deemed it best to emphasize that point.

There are certainly plenty of constructive, comradely criticisms of the Green New Deal, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Kim Moody's "Rank-and-File Strategy", The North American Building Trades Unions, and Jacobin (none of which are either mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive). Unfortunately, Greg Butler's The Green New Deal and the "Rank-and-File Strategy", published on December 17, 2020, by Organizing Work, is not a good example. In fact, Butler's piece is little more than a sectarian swipe at a number of targets which are only indirectly related to each other, and worse still, it's full of inaccuracies and unfounded claims that have no evidence to support them.

The Rank-and-File Strategy isn't What Butler Claims it is

The "Rank-and-File Strategy" is an idea proposed by Kim Moody of Labor Notes, and while members of DSA have debated the idea, sometimes on the Jacobin site, sometimes elsewhere, the three organizations and/or publications are not the same thing. Not every member of DSA agrees with or supports the "Rank-and-File Strategy" (some, like the Build and Libertarian Socialist caucuses do, some don't (here and here), or at least they don't without major criticisms, and even some in the endorsing caucuses dissent) nor does every contributor to Jacobin endorse it. Further, it goes without saying, just because members of an organization or a publication discuss or provide information about a strategy, organization, tendency, technology, union contract, or movement, does not in any way mean they are promoting it. In claiming otherwise, Butler is trying to apply "guilt-by-association".

Likewise, the claim that the Trotskyist sect Solidarity is closely affiliated with the publication Labor Notes is vastly overstating the case. It's true that some members of Solidarity helped establish Labor Notes, and some continue to maintain close ties to it, the fact is that Labor Notes is more than the titular publication; it is a coalition of rank and file union members (as well as a few putatively progressive officials) from various unions, including the Building Trades as well as many others. In fact, a good number of IWW members belong to Labor Notes as well. One could just as easily argue that the latter is a front group for the IWW, but that wouldn't make it any less ridiculous. And, for what it's worth, not everybody in Labor Notes agrees with the Rank-and-File Strategy either. This is more guilt-by-association.

Butler briefly describes the Rank-and-File Strategy as follows:

Basically, the rank-and-file strategy is supposed to be a way for socialist groups to win workers to their ideas and then use those radicalized workers to (as Labor Notes liked to say) "put the movement back in the labor movement."

Reading this, one could be forgiven for mistakingly believing, as Butler apparently does, that the Rank-and-File strategy is little more than a form of Trotskyist entryism (and it's likely that some members of Solidarity as well as other entryists have attempted to use it for precisely that purpose), but that is a gross oversimplification of the idea, which is far more complex and nuanced. It would've been a lot more helpful to the reader had Butler offered a link to the original document, but he declined to do so (or, perhaps, the editors of the Organizing Work blog didn't include it). Either way, it's easy to misrepresent or caricature a position, when one doesn't adequately present it.

Kim Moody maintains (see here and here) that his idea is primarily geared toward building working class power through organizing workers at the point of production, instead of recruiting workers to cadre organizations, contrary to Butler's implicit framing. If that weren't the case, then Moody wouldn't waste time offering it as an appeal to multiple organizations, including Solidarity, DSA, Labor Notes, or in the pages of Jacobin.

One can debate the merits of either the Rank-and-File Strategy (and to be certain, revolutionary unionists and socialists have from multiple directions, including syndicalist, heterodox socialist, Marxist, and Trotskyist, the last of which is ironic given Butler's insistence that Moody and the Rank-and-File Strategy are, themselves, "Trotskyist"), Labor Notes, or both, but it's best to do so with actual facts and not sectarian influenced half-truths.

Butler's (Over)use of the Pejorative Term "Middle Class"

Greg Butler does raise a few cogent points in his otherwise rambling editorial. The first of these is the sober recognition that "only 6% of private sector workers are unionized", a dismal truth that nobody in the working class (and/or among the left) doesn't consider a problem that needs urgent attention, but then he throws in a baseless and largely meaningless comment about how the "left" (which is anything but monolithic) is oriented primarily "towards the middle class". Correct me if I am wrong, but I was under the impression that "the middle class" was a fiction created by the employing class to fool the working class into thinking they could climb the social ladder and escape the yoke of working class toil "by being hard working and industrious" without that messy business of engaging in class struggle. Perhaps Butler is suggesting that the vast majority of people on "the left" have fallen for that employing class propaganda, but I don't think so.

A number of people have informed me that Butler uses the term "middle class" as a pejorative to describe anyone he disagrees with politically (and I have noticed this myself, including in direct previous debates with him). He's been known to dismiss syndicalists, and even the IWW that way (the latter of which is ironic, given the fact that some years ago, Butler sung the praises of "striking on the job" as a tactic--which he also does in the aforementioned editorial--in the pages of the Trotskyist publication Socialist Worker, but neglected to mention that it was the supposedly "middle class" syndicalists of the IWW who first used the tactic to great effect in the great Pacific Northwest Lumber Strike of 1918 (see here, here and here).

Butler doubles down by sneeringly dismissing DSA's New York membership as being "largely middle class" (how does he know? Did he conduct a detailed survey of the membership of the New York chapter of DSA, or is this merely a condescending dismissal of people Butler disagrees with politically? The evidence would suggest the latter). Even used as a criticism, "Middle Class" is a loaded term. A syndicalist comrade who has debated Butler on more than one occasion stated,

I just had a little debate with him pointing out that Target store managers are not working class even though they sell their labor, precisely because they're part of the top down managerial hierarchy to control workers. but he insists they're working class. on the other hand when talking DSA he says the teachers are "middle class".

(This debate took place on Facebook, and I can confirm that this is more or less the gist of the exchange). As far as I am concerned, anyone who is eligible to join the IWW is a member of the working class, and that would include teachers, but not Target store managers.

Butler's Ignorance on the Green New Deal

Butler continues with the following statement:

It seems that for a supposed “rank-and-file strategy,” the DSA and Jacobin aren’t particularly interested in the problems, concerns or goals of rank-and-file construction workers. Instead, their main objective is to promote the Green New Deal, a political program of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, among the leaders of construction unions. Apparently, the goal is to give the Green New Deal the appearance of having official labor support.

Clearly, Butler doesn't know what he's talking about. The Green New Deal (GND) is anything but "a political program" of the Democratic Party, progressive wing or otherwise. Indeed, the GND isn't even a single political program! While it's certainly true that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has opportunistically glommed onto it in early 2019, it's certainly not their creation. While the claim that the GND is their creation, the Democrats--with a few exceptions, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez--only embraced it after grassroots movements and organizations, most notably The youth led Sunrise Movement (who's staff have recently unionized with the CWA) and Youth vs Apocalypse (a another youth led organization whose adult supporters and mentors include rank-and-file union members), organized sit-ins at prominent Democratic Party politicians' offices. Two of the most prominent targets were Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein, neither of whom were supportive of the GND at all, and in fact expressed dismissively condescending attitudes towards the youth organizers. The only reason why the Democrats have increasingly come around to supporting the GND, is because it enjoys growing popular support, but the grassroots advocates are not so easily fooled into thinking that they've completed their task, and keep pressuring the Democrats to put their money where their mouths are.

And this is just the latest iteration of the GND. Thomas Friedman claims to have hatched the idea, though his version favors "market-based" approaches to dealing with climate and jobs, which is substantially different from what the current GND advocates demand (in spite of doctrinaire sectarian left claims to the contrary). Likewise, the Green Party USA has long advocated for a Green New Deal, but evidently lacked the organizational capacity to make the concept go viral, because they had little interaction with the Sunrise Movement's initial efforts, and to some extent, some members of the Green Party have pooh-poohed the current manifestation of the GND, because they argue that it's a watered down version of their own program, but are largely overstating the case, because there are numerous different versions of the GND, and it's just as likely that the Greens are bitter about getting caught flat-footed and having their thunder stolen (Full disclosure: the author is a registered member of the Green Party and has been for more than two decades).

While it's true that DSA, for the most part, does advocate (various versions of) the Green New Deal, there is a major push within DSA, which includes many rank and file union members (including members of the IWW), to advocate a much more radical version, called the Ecosocialist Green New Deal, which includes elements of the Red Nation's Red Deal.

As for union members, they don't need DSA's urging to support the GND, because polls consistently show that support for it is actually higher among unions members than the general public, which is why there is growing institutional support among unions for the Green New Deal.

(For the record, the IWW has taken no official position on any of the various versions of the Green New Deal, nor has the IWW Environmental Union Caucus advocated for doing so. The caucus has compiled a large number of articles about the GND, some of them supportive, some of them constructively critical of it from the left, for information purposes as we explain in our Content Posting Guidelines.)

Tilting at Windmills While Failing to Keep Up With the Jones (Act)

Next, Butler singles out DSA member Paul Prescod's recent Jacobin article, as being demonstrative of the alleged fallacies inherent in the Green New Deal, Jacobin, DSA, and the Rank-and-File Strategy (except, of course, those four things aren't the same thing, nor is the overlap as great as Butler alleges it is). The article waxes positively about a recent Project Labor Agreement between the Building Trades and the Danish company Ørsted to staff all of the latter's (Atlantic Coast) offshore wind construction with union labor, which Butler dismisses as "a backroom deal".

Butler describes the agreement as follows:

The article describes the deal as "winning building trades workers and unions to an environmentalist agenda that also benefits them," and claims that the agreement will create 83,000 jobs and "guarantees that the building of these offshore wind turbines will be done with union labor at prevailing wages." However, if you actually read NABTU’s press release, Ørsted merely agreed that they would think about using union labor at some point for some of the 15 windmills they plan to build along the East Coast of the US.

This dismissivness is entirely unwarranted. Even though Butler links to the press release (as have we) he evidently either didn't read it very carefully or he read too much into it, because at no point does the press release say anything like Ørsted "would (merely) think about using union labor". And yes, Butler, does say "15 windmills" and later adds, "Fifteen windmill developments isn’t a lot of jobs", but again he isn't paying very careful attention, because the press release actually mentions "15 active commercial leases for offshore wind development" (emphasis added). Such developments can consist of anywhere from one to hundreds of wind turbines (his use of the quaint term "windmill" betrays further ignorance of the situation, especially since these devices generate electricity rather than milling grain). Further, these are merely the current developments. There's a good chance there will be additional developments in the future.

He likewise demonstrates that he has no clue how many jobs these developments will create. This is demonstrated by the following statement:

The press release describes the agreement as patterned after the Block Island Wind Farm (BIWF) that Ørsted operates in Rhode Island, saying “more than 300 union workers were employed.” That’s not a lot in any case, but according to this Workforce Development Institute report, that 300 included professionals like “project managers, engineers, scientists [and] lawyers.” Breaking down the numbers in the trades, “100 local workers” were involved in the 18-month foundation assembly, 60 “hired to work at the temporary manufacturing facility to assemble the components and tower sections,” “forty workers including electricians, ironworkers and pipefitters assembled the turbines. Almost 20 pile drivers installed the five foundations.” That is not a ton of workers, and not all were union. As for ongoing jobs, a study by the New York Energy Policy Institute estimates that a 250 MW wind project – double the output of BIWF – only produces 22 jobs (full-time equivalents) per year.

This is, again, highly inaccurate. According to both the study he cites, as well as an analysis published by the Center for American Progress, both the percentage and overall number of union jobs was much higher. Quoting the latter:

The state and Deepwater Wind took additional steps at the project’s outset to maximize the benefits to Rhode Island trades workers. The 2009 contract between the two parties included a provision requiring Deepwater to establish a project labor agreement for the firms it hired for the construction and operation of the Block Island Wind Farm, which directly benefited local workers. Deepwater also took proactive steps to ensure that its local contractors were unionized firms, which it perceived as being an investment in building a well-trained workforce that would reduce development costs over the long term (for details see here and here).

The results for Rhode Island workers validated the upfront effort by state policymakers and the developer. According to Scott Duhamel of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, more than 300 local, unionized workers were employed in the assembly and installation of the facility. This included more than 200 skilled construction and trades workers from across nine distinct labor unions, including carpenters, electrical workers, ironworkers, plumbers, pipefitters, and stevedores. Assembly and installation of the project also required more than 100 logistics workers for the transport of turbine components and crews—including truck drivers, captains, and crew for tugs, barges, crew boats, and project-monitoring vessels. The developer relied on four different Rhode Island ports for construction activities and hired broadly among Rhode Island unions, contractors, and businesses. The wages of the union workers that assembled and installed the wind farm ranged from $28-to-$40 per hour plus benefits, union representatives told the Cape Cod Times.

Butler's final, dismissive comment about the number of jobs not being very impressive is either a red herring or more ignorance. A 250MW windfarm is relatively modest, and in any case, it's typical for projects constructed by Building Trades workers to be of limited duration, whether it be a windfarm, fracked gas pipeline, or high rise office building. However, the facts about wind power, both offshore and on, are pretty well established. Quoting again from the aforementioned Center for American Progress analysis,

Constructing an ocean wind farm is ... labor-intensive and requires highly skilled workers across logistics, construction, and maritime industry trades. In 2014, European Union countries achieved the installation of 7.5 gigawatts of total generation capacity. The manufacture, installation, and maintenance of offshore wind facilities supported approximately 75,000 full-time-equivalent workers across the continent that year...the current offshore wind project pipeline—most of which is guaranteed by state government policy or executive order—foretells a looming eruption of demand for tens of thousands of workers like those who built America’s first offshore wind farm.

Additionally, (again, lacking any supporting evidence) Butler makes the following claim:

Even if jobs do materialize out of this vague project labor agreement, it’s helpful to point out that, in union construction, “project labor agreement” means that the job will be “open shop” (partly non-union) and this is probably going to be an “international agreement” job, with a union scale lower than regular New York scale.

However, if the Standard Project Labor Agreement template featured on the Building Trade's website is any indication, this isn't so. Article III (Union Recognition) reads (in its entirety):

The Contractors recognize the signatory Unions as the sole and exclusive bargaining representatives of all craft employees within their respective jurisdictions working on the Project within the scope of this Agreement.

Furthermore, Article VIII (Subcontracting) reads (again, in its entirety):

The Project Contractor agrees that neither it nor any of its contractors or subcontractors will subcontract any work to be done on the Project except to a person, firm or corporation who is or agrees to become party to this Agreement. Any contractor or subcontractor working on the Project shall, as a condition to working on said Project, become signatory to and perform all work under the terms of this Agreement.

Granted, it's been a good deal of time since I did any work covered under a Building Trades Union agreement (In addition to being a card carrying Wobbly in good standing since May 1995, I have been a card carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades Local 510 in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1997 as well, though--since I am primarily a union marine transport worker, and that is my primary source of employment, and has been 1998--I've not had the need) so my information may be out of date, and the there are many aspects of the proposed PLA template which do leave a lot to be desired, particularly "No Strike"[1] and "Management's Rights" language, which absolutely do limit the amount of direct action the unions can legally engage in (though some unions working under such agreements find clever "below-the-radar" workarounds anyway, particularly if they're well enough organized to do so). And it's entirely possible that the Building Trades could have done exactly as Butler suggests, i.e. sign a concessionary Project Labor Agreement with Ørsted, but there are two reasons to doubt that he has any solid evidence to support that claim, either.

To begin with, Butler also makes the following statement:

Windmills are installed from specialized ships – only 137 of them exist in the world currently. None of these wind turbine installation vessels are registered in the United States – two thirds are registered in Europe with the remainder based in China. With no US flag wind turbine vessels currently existing, and Ørsted having its own vessels and shipyards in Denmark, it seems unlikely that many American workers will be hired for these wind farm installation jobs at all, especially since, unlike the vague memorandum of understanding with NABTU, Ørsted has a binding collective bargaining agreement with CO-Sea, the Danish Union for Seafarers, covering its Denmark-based offshore vessels. (emphasis added)

While I may be rusty about the inner workings of the Building Trades, I know for a fact that if Ørsted did as Butler suggests, they'd be in violation of the Jones Act, something any union mariner would quickly point out (and if there were any doubts about this, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently confirmed that the Jones Act does apply to offshore wind projects).

In fact, the wind energy capitalists have been struggling to address the very thing Butler mentions, namely the lack of US flagged Jones Act compliant vessels capable of handling offshore wind installation, and for a time, there was talk about using a work-around (though this would have still required union labor), but that loophole has since been closed, and compliant vessels are now, in fact, being constructed. [UPDATE: the first of these vessels, the Charybdis has been completed.]

Robert Collier, formerly of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, who has been working diligently to bring unions into the process of securing robust Project Labor Agreements for offshore wind on the Pacific Coast offered some further relevant information:

On December 8, 2020 the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report on Jones Act compliance for offshore wind. It discussed jack-up and crane vessels in detail. However, the GAO’s discussion of the permissible use of a foreign-flagged vessel seems about to become obsolete. In Congress, the current National Defense Authorization Act of 2021...includ(ed) a clause extending the coverage of the Jones Act to the offshore wind sector. It will include all jack-up vessels on the East Coast. (As for) subsea transmission cables, (they have) been ruled to be exempt from the Jones Act...(however) cable laying is a highly technical task and the US has few contractors that can do the job; this will no doubt change in the future as the US offshore industry grows, but for now it is reality. In my opinion, NABTU is taking a realistic initiative that will help them unionize the whole East Coast offshore wind industry in coming years. (emphasis added)

Furthermore, the amount of union jobs and agreements stretches far beyond the development itself. Various offshore wind projects, including the aforementioned Ørsted developments, have induced the construction of "industrial wind facilities in two ports in Brooklyn, (including) the nation's first turbine tower manufacturing facility, a staging facility, and a maintenance hub". The developments have also resulted in PLAs with the IBEW to construct transmission lines, and the revitalization of a defunct steel mill at Sparrow's Point, Maryland, both of which will create 1000s of additional union jobs. Undoubtedly, these examples represent the mere tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The second reason to doubt that Butler has inside knowledge about the PLA between the Building Trades and Ørsted, is that other rank and filers from the Building Trades who happen to know him argue that he lacks credibility, and his claims to speak on behalf of the rank and file in his union is overblown (I happen to know these rank and file members from efforts to network with other union members supportive of green unionism. They say that he rarely, if ever, attends union meetings, sometimes confuse one union official for another (and wind up challenging the wrong individual), and get much of their (mis) information from still other union officials anyway).

Therefore while it's conceivable that Butler is correct about his claims about the Ørsted PLA, the evidence would tend so suggest otherwise, and given the fact that his editorial is chock full of inaccuracies and poorly researched claims (if they were even researched at all), one would do well to remain skeptical about that.

And it's almost definitely true that the Building Trades are far from perfect in matters of both internal union democracy, their willingness to organize the unorganized, or consistency in taking principled stands on climate and environmental issues, matters which the IWW EUC continues to document on its web site, but Butler doesn't take a deep dive into those issues at all, preferring to focus his denunciations on those trying to push the Building Trades in a greener more progressive direction.

Preaching to the Choir

Having thoroughly chopped down the straw "windmill" he erected, Butler proceeded to lecture his readers about the urgent need to:

  • Organize the 83% of the construction industry in New York City and even larger percentage of trades workers in the south who're currently non-union; (though, according to my rank-and-file sources, Butler's census of who are and who aren't union members in the industry in New York City is wildly off the mark according to other rank-and-file members, whose research showed that the nonunion workers comprise 10-33% at most);
  • Focus particularly on nonunion immigrant workers in the building trades whose employers, "frequently use the threat of deportation to impose low pay and abusive working conditions on them";
  • Address the problem of "Latino and Black construction workers (who) frequently experience racial discrimination, and both sex discrimination and sexual harassment (that) are common abuses faced by the few women in the industry"; (though, according to the aforementioned rank and file members, Butler hasn't been particularly stellar in that regard himself);
  • Deal with the matter of the roughly one thousand construction workers who die on the job annually and the quarter of a million-plus who are injured each year, many of whom struggle to remain employed after they recover; and
  • take seriously the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the layoffs and furloughs of many workers.

These are absolutely sensible suggestions, but nobody with an ounce of sense is arguing against them, not Paul Prescod, not Kim Moody, not most DSA members (from what I've seen), not anyone who advocates for the Green New Deal, nor anyone else who gives a damn. In fact, many of the above recognize that one of the most effective ways to address the above, particularly the matter of those workers hit hard by the pandemic induced recession is a just recovery that incorporates many of the demands included in the better versions of the GND. Yet, in what can only be described as a sectarian stance, Butler evidently believes these are mutually exclusive approaches. This is an opinion not shared by most people in the working class, including most rank and file union members.

Butler might want to spend more time attending union meetings or conversing with other rank and file members, because several of them have informed me that many of them, in addition to advocating for the Green New Deal within their union through various means, and pushing for their unions to take renewable energy work seriously, are doing just that. And while it's true that DSA invests a good deal of its organizational energy on electoral politics (which isn't necessarily an effective strategy), they also do engage in union organizing, such as with the campaign at Anchor Steam Brewery in San Francisco.[2]

Everything's Bigger in Texas.

The most telling proof that Butler was primarily motivated by sectarian impulses was the fact that he conflated Paul Prescod's favorable assessment of the PLA between Ørsted and the Building Trades (which was not connected to Kim Moody's Rank-and-File Strategy) with Ryan Pollock's article The Case for an Ecosocialist Rank & File Strategy in the Building Trades (which isn't specifically connected with the aforementioned Rank-and-File Strategy either, but that doesn't seem to be a matter of significance to Butler. His primary evidence for drawing a connection seems to be that both Prescod's and Pollock's articles were published by Jacobin, but in actual fact, the latter was first published by The Trouble, and syndicated by Jacobin, with a completely different title, A Green New Deal Can Win, Even Among Building Trades Unions, two days later. This is yet another case of sloppy research and "guilt by (loose) association", by Butler.)

Pollock's article details how he managed to convince the Texas AFL-CIO State Labor Federation to adopt the demands of the Green New Deal without actually calling it such.

Butler dismisses this as an example of "policy from above" and further makes the absurd argument that.

(T)hose familiar with the labor world know that Central Labor Council and State Federation of Labor resolutions are essentially meaningless and have virtually no impact on the real world. Getting a resolution passed in a labor body involves log rolling and deal making with other union delegates, and nothing to do with mobilizing workers. It is the opposite of rank-and-file activism.

Again, Butler hasn't the slightest clue about what he's talking about. To begin with the claim that such resolutions are "the opposite of rank-and-file activism" is pure horseshit. One would be absolutely justified in saying that "resolutions are no substitute for rank and file organizing, particularly at the point or production and/or on the shopfloor", but the opposite? At best, this is hyperbole, because the actual opposite of rank-and-file organizing is the stifling of such initiatives by the business union officialdom (usually with the complicity or collaboration of the employing class. The CIO's purging of its left "red" bloc by its right "white" bloc in the late 1940s comes to mind). There's no evidence whatsoever that passing resolution stifles rank-and-file activity (of course, many sectarian left ideologues offer the largely fatalistic argument that essentially says "successful reformist efforts lull the masses into bypassing genuinely revolutionary alternatives", but one can easily counter that argument by asking why the "genuinely revolutionary alternatives" didn't enjoy popular support to begin with? The usual answer to that latter question is generally, "objective conditions didn't make them viable", though it's also often true that those championing the "genuinely revolutionary alternatives" lack the skill to build the organization capable of realizing them, in no small part because said putative revolutionaries act like assholes. Also, if the initial claim is true, then taking that to its logical extreme, one would find themselves advocating for fascism, because the latter would theoretically whip up the masses into a revolutionary counterforce. History doesn't bear this out, however.)

Furthermore, not all resolutions are created alike. Many are indeed little more than feel-good statements that offer official union bodies to take low risk, low effort positions on matters of social significance and involve little or no rank-and-file activity, even if rank-and-file members propose them. Such resolutions don't amount to much. However, some are reflections of much deeper nuts-and-bolts organizing and activity and have more significance than simply being a set of nice sounding words that say all of the "politically correct" things. I happen to have intimate knowledge that Pollock's resolution is an example of the latter.

In his article, Pollock reveals that he based the resolution adopted by the Texas AFL-CIO as being modeled on the similar Green New Deal passed by the Alameda County (California) AFL-CIO Central Labor Council. The history behind the latter is worth explaining, and it is entirely relevant to this matter. The committee that brought and motivated the resolution is the Climate and Labor caucus of the Alameda County CLC. The reason why that very caucus even exists is because of the involvement of union members in the No Coal in Oakland campaign (which began in 2015), and the fact that 21 unions (including the Bay Area IWW and four ILWU locals) endorsed the efforts to oppose the shipment of coal through a oversized bulk commodities terminal, which is still under construction. Some of the union involvement in that campaign happened because of the RailCon15 conferences which took place in Richmond, Olympia, and St Louis (also in 2015), which were largely organized by rank and file railroad workers through Railroad Workers United, including some IWW members (the author of this article was involved in both efforts, and these were anything but "policy from above"). None of the resolutions that Butler so quickly dismisses would've happened without years of effort by rank and file union members doing precisely what Butler advocates.

Butler might counter with the argument, "big deal; it's just a resolution" anyway, but even that argument is wrongheaded, and this ties in with the Ørsted PLA as well. Butler connects these two distinct efforts by claiming that they're somehow the product of "middle class DSA professional union bureaucrats naively pretending that their efforts to work with the progressive wing of the Democrats to pass the Green New Deal with the collaboration of Jacobin represents some sort of attempts to build socialism with the phony label 'rank-and-file strategy'" (which is about as concise a distillation one can make of his rambling argument), but the actual connection between these two otherwise unconnected efforts runs much deeper, and this is the fundamental point he misses:

The seriousness of the climate emergency--and make no mistake, we are in an emergency, and any arguments to the contrary stray into denialism and pseudoscience--necessitates that the world's energy system must be decarbonized as rapidly as possible; full stop.

This will require the phasing out of most, if not all of the fossil fuel supply chain and its replacement with clean alternatives. Renewable energy, particularly wind power, is an essential part of this equation. This can either be done with or without the involvement of unions. I think nobody among us would argue that it should be done without them (the capitalists might think differently). Further, while some think this transition can be done through market forces and reformist efforts that leave capitalism in place, this author and most of the aforementioned people and organizations that Butler denounces wholeheartedly disagree. In fact, it is my belief that even if there were an attempt to carry out the necessary energy transition using primarily capitalist initiatives, it would fail, because the fossil fuel wing of the capitalist class won't willingly agree to this, and so they'll double down on their intransigence (in fact, this is precisely what they've done through climate denialism and, failing that, attempts at false solutions to the crisis). The green capitalists will push back, because they will recognize that the efforts of the former are a threat to their profit margin. One may counter by suggesting that the fossil fuel capitalists could simply corner the renewable energy market as well, thus keeping everything under their banner, but that's not as easily said as done; the two industries simply do not scale the same way and have radically divergent supply chains, plus attempts by fossil fuel capitalists to diversify and expand into cleantech have been limited or utter failures.

A side effect of these capitalist machinations is that the bosses in both wings will try to convince the workers that they have interests in common with their employers. The capitalist class as honed the art of propagandizing the jobs and environment issue to an art form for well over a half century. The fossil fuel capitalists attempt this each and every time community opposition arises to continued and expanded fossil fuel extractivism in their communities, and often the officialdom of more conservative business unions particularly the Building Trades have tended to be willing collaborators (albeit for complex reasons, not all of them necessarily unjustified, as described here and here). Those familiar with the efforts of our late comrade and fellow worker, Judi Bari, will know that she figured out some very effective strategies for countering it. One of these is denying the capitalists the ability to use the workers in their employ as pawns in this game, and the strength of both the Ørsted PLA as well as union issued Green New Deal resolutions is that they attempt precisely that! Yes, it's entirely true that that is not enough to completely counter, much less abolish, capitalism (whether it's fossil fuel or so-called "green"). Those of us advocating such things have no illusions about this, but we also know that doing as Greg Butler suggests (which we also support) is a lot more easily said than done, takes much longer, and isn't something that can often be easily or readily publicized (for the obvious reason that doing so would risk reprisal from the employing class). As one of my rank-and-file Building Trades union contacts relates:

You can't (just) walk into a meeting snap your fingers and have backing. You would have to build trust, with your members and leaders and work towards a common agenda, even if it's not your personal agenda.

Further, one is tempted to ask Greg Butler "what has he done to advance the goals he advocates using the methods he favors?" The aforementioned rank-and-file Building Trades members suggest that he's achieved very little, thus far.

This includes Ryan Pollock, who's had a good deal of rebuttals to Butler's shoot-from-the-hip accusations, particularly in response to the latter's accusations that Pollock was an opportunistic bureaucrat pushing "policy from above" in an effort to legislate socialism within his union:

I was a union electrician before I called myself a socialist officially. This is legitimately a good job and a step up for every single DSA member who has joined my local. Nobody in Austin DSA has left some cushy job. They had a shitty job and wanted a better one, so they might as well get a better one that is organized and also has structural power.

In response to Butler's claim that the Green New Deal resolution that "calls for the elimination of the oil industry in a state (Texas) where much of the manufacturing and construction union membership is composed of oil, gas and refinery workers" was anything but rank-and-file activism, Pollock responded:

(you think) the Green New Deal isn’t a problem or concern of rank and file construction workers?! Buddy, I was a rank and file construction worker when I started talking about this! You think construction workers in Houston aren’t concerned about their houses getting flooded? You want to ask a construction worker in Lake Charles if he gives a shit about the two hurricanes that just wiped out his home? How about my IBEW brothers and sister in 479 who get cancer at very high rates from working in oil refineries? How about my brothers and sister in Local 66 who have nowhere to go, no plan for a just transition, as the City of Austin divests from their coal fired power plant? You think they don’t care that they’re about to get royally screwed?...I have no illusions about the Green New Deal advancing socialism...What I know is that Houston is under water, there 180,000 oil workers out of work in the Gulf South since this year, and there are fossil fuel power plants closing left and right. I know that the environmental movement needs to start building ties with labor and mending that historical rift. I know that if you talk with workers about these issues, they’re way more about it than people like you give them credit for.

Texas may be a major oil state, but it also has more installed renewable energy capacity than any other US state (like they say, everything's bigger in Texas). I would also point out that while California has a reputation for being a "deep green" state, it actually ranks third behind Texas and Alaska, in order of states that produce the most oil, but that hasn't stopped many union members, including several Building Trades locals from supporting the Green New Deal here.

No Shit, Sherlock!

Butler concludes his polemic by arguing:

What needs to happen in the construction industry is for it to be organized from the ground up. Recruit workers on a city- or area-wide basis, and organize them to fight for their needs. Building construction is a business where speed is of the essence: developers build with money borrowed from the bank short term at high interest. Any delay in work leads to millions of dollars being lost and the risk of bankruptcy. Shut the jobs down, and don’t let work restart until the workers’ needs and demands have been addressed. Widespread strike activity is the only leverage construction workers, or any workers, have. It’s only by developing that capacity that any kind of new deal is going to be struck. if any of us, including the aforementioned individuals, have any disagreement with that assessment whatsoever. Of course, Butler is trying to counterpose this strategy with the Ørsted PLA (which he presumptuously dismisses as "a backroom deal" even though he has no evidence whatsoever to support this claim) or the grassroots efforts by rank and file union members to orient their unions in support of the Green New Deal, as if the latter two are somehow contradictory. They're not, and to claim otherwise is to argue from the position of "scarcity politics". In reality, it's not as hard to "walk and chew gum simultaneously" as Butler would have others think. And while it's true that neither the Green New Deal nor the Ørsted PLA are perfect (indeed, they have flaws, and many of us have pointed these out, including on this site, and we'll continue to do so), but if one is going to criticize them, they best do so with factual information. Butler doesn't do this. He merely makes baseless assumptions based on sectarian impulses. Further, while what he says about the real power lying with the workers at the point of production, (sometimes) manifested through rank and file strike activity is absolutely true, actually organizing that as far more easily said than done. And every single person that Butler criticizes in his article, plus numerous people mentioned in this article who've debated Butler in other contexts, has done their damnedest to build the organizational capacity to do precisely that. What has Greg Butler accomplished, apart from publishing sectarian rants? Very little, evidently.

One final point must be raised: Organizing Work is no more an official organ of the IWW than the IWW Environmental Union Caucus. They may publish what they like from whomever they like. Neither I nor any other member of the IWW Environmental Union Caucus has any desire to bicker with them. However, if they're going to present opinions on matters relevant to our work (which includes researching these issues very deeply), they might want to ask us, first, if what they intend to publish represents an informed opinion with any factual basis. We don't expect them or anyone else to agree with our opinions on such matters, but frankly, passing off such poorly researched polemics as cogent organizing advice is an embarrassment. The IWW is a union of the working class (and that includes members of DSA), not just members of the working class that they deem to be worthy (based on shallow assessments and lazy assumptions), as suggested by the entirely baseless distinctions Greg Butler attempts to make.


More Project Labor Agreements have been signed:

These offshore wind developments have induced the creation of local, union manufacturing jobs:

...And the construction of Jones Act compliant vessels:

...As well as more wind jobs in general:

As predicted, attempts by employers to circumvent the Jones Act have met with union opposition:

End Notes

[1] Some readers might be quick to point out that in the 2020 IWW referendum, the author supported the IWW Burgerville Workers Union proposal to allow for case-by-case exemptions to the organization's constitutional language prohibiting IWW recognized shops from agreeing to "no strike" language in union contracts, but a case- by-case exemption to a prohibition is not the same thing as a blanket embracing of no-strike language. For the record, the author is a union member of well over a quarter century, and routinely works to oppose "no strike" and "management's rights" provisions from his own workplace union contracts, but the ability to do so is determined by the organized strength of the workers at the shopfloor level, not some lofty and purist prohibition in a union constitution which has no legal power (let alone organized shopfloor power) to compel an employer to abide by it.

[2] The author was not involved in this organizing drive other than public support.

The author is a dues paying member of the IWW of 26 years (snce mid 1995), and a dual card, rank-and-file member of the San Francisco Bay Region of the Inland Boatmens Union (IBU), an affiliate of the ILWU (and has been since 1998) as well as the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades, Local 510 (since 1997). He is also registered with the Green Party (off-and-on, since 1994) and is a member of the East Bay Chapter of DSA (since 2018) but does not participate in electoral campaigns. He routinely attends his union meetings, engages in organized workplace actions, and spends much of his spare time researching the issues discussed in this editorial text. He cofounded the IWW Environmental Union Caucus in 2013 with two other IWW members and has maintained its website since then. He also drafted the IBU International resolutions supporting Just Transition and (a very robust version of) the Green New Deal. Additionally, he has helped involved the ILWU in shaping the offshore wind PLAs on the Pacific Coast (the matter is still ongoing).

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.

The Fine Print I:

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