Beating the Climate Clock: Workers, citizens and state action in the UK

By Hillary Wainright - Transnational Institute, February 21, 2024

It’s April 2020. In the UK, the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height. Ventilators were running out. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was calling for ‘Our Great British Companies’ to come to the rescue and manufacture emergency supplies. Apart from existing producers of ventilators, there was little response. But at the Airbus factory in North Wales, the well-organised Unite branch representing over 4,000 workers, took matters into their own hands and, in a matter of weeks, led the conversion of the factory’s research and development facility into an assembly line producing components for up to 15,000 ventilators for the National Health Service (NHS).

‘Without the union’, commented the Unite convenor, Darren Reynolds, ‘it would have been chaos, lots of problems without any procedure to resolve them. We’ve built up a tried and tested organisation and established procedures for solving them’. He cites the all-important role of workers’ elected health and safety representatives in turning the Welsh government-funded Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (part of the Airbus site) into an adapted sterile environment. ‘Our 60 health and safety reps have been able to pre-empt the problems and solve them in advance’, he explains.

In this way, 500 Airbus workers, previously producing aircraft wings, turned their skills to producing ventilator parts, meeting social needs, securing jobs, and strengthening their union organisation in the process.

The organisation of the conversion process, the speed at which it was achieved, and the capacity of the workforce to collaborate to meet the challenge, were impressive. This was largely due to the role of the union branch and its shop stewards who organised the aircraft-turned-ventilator workers and their determination to extend collective bargaining beyond wages and conditions to change the product on which they worked. 

Moreover, in the context of a crisis in the supply of ventilators to meet the needs of COVID patients, and a call from a Conservative Prime Minister for companies to make them, management could hardly resist the union’s public-spirited efforts to find a solution. Finally, and especially significant for today’s climate emergency, this worker-led experience of successful industrial conversion also offers a glimpse of the potential role of workplace trade unions in moving from a high-carbon to low-carbon economy without job losses. At the very least, the experience points to the importance of a well-unionised workplace for the achieving such a transition.

Chapter 32 : Now They Have These Public Hearings…

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

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

Now back in Sacramento town sits the Board of Forestry,
And they log their land, they work their ranches, and they teach in the universities,
And the nine who sit in judgment as they massacre the trees,
Are Russ and Rose, Small, Berridge and Barnes, Atkinson, Shannon, Walt and Yee…

—lyrics excerpted from the Board of Forestry Song, by Darryl Cherney, 1989 [1]

Now they have those public hearings where they ask our point of view,
Like what do ya think of this here thing on page 4,002,
And they're so easy to get to if you just know how to drive,
And you don't work and you've got no kids and your rich uncle just died…

—lyrics excerpted from the Ballad of BLM, by Darryl Cherney, 1986 [2]

As the “Timber Wars” heated up, it was not uncommon to see counterdemonstrators at Earth First! protests bearing signs which read, “Earth First! is the problem, not the solution.” At these same events counterdemonstrators were quick to bandy about several Corporate Timber talking points. Four widely held notions were parroted in particular: First, corporations were “good neighbors” that supported ecology and contributed to the community. Second, they asserted that harvesting old growth forest stands was beneficial to the environment because removing the older trees allowed quicker growing (not to mention, managed) younger trees to flourish thus removing more CO­­2­ from the atmosphere. Third, they claimed that California had the most stringent forestry laws in existence, namely the Z’berg-Nejedly Forest Practices Act and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and these were already restrictive enough to make logging almost unprofitable. Lastly, government agencies had been hijacked by radical environmentalists, and for this reason the proposed listing of the spotted owl as threatened was merely an attempt to appease an out of control, overly vocal but tiny minority. However, in February and March of 1990, a series of unrelated events debunked all four such claims thoroughly.

Chapter 31 : Spike a Tree for Jesus

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

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

In spite of all of the Corporate Media’s claims that both Redwood Summer and Forests Forever could potentially polarize timber dependent communities into opposing “green” and “yellow” camps, and despite all of the efforts by Corporate Timber to manifest those divisions, Earth First! – IWW Local #1 continued to slowly gain support and influence among rank and file timber workers on the North Coast. As a result, Judi Bari was invited to participate in a “Labor and the Environment” workshop, called “Bridging the Gap” at the Public Interest and Environmental Law Conference in early March in Eugene, Oregon. [1] Several Earth First!ers from the Pacific Northwest were invited to participate and did, including Karen Wood from an Oregon Earth First! chapter; George Draffan, Mitch Friedman, and Mike Jakubal from various Washington Earth First! groups; as well members of the Save Opal Creek, the Eugene Springfield Solidarity Network (ESSN), and Jeff Debonis of Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (AFSEEE). Oddly, however, no rank and file timber workers received invitations. [2]

The Labor and Environment Panel consisted of Judi Bari, a university professor whose area of study was physics, and “the owner of a company who (made) fancy yuppie houses out of old growth wood and doesn’t want the old growth eliminated.” Bari felt that the panel wasn’t representative enough, so she gave the organizers the name of a certain rank and file mill worker from Roseburg, Oregon, with whom she had happened to have been corresponding. Gene Lawhorn had recently been speaking publically for the preservation of the Spotted Owl, against the yellow ribbon campaign, and in defense of union timber workers, and Bari intended to cede some of her time to him, because the organizers had not thought to include any actual timber workers on the panel, and they had refused to let Lawhorn be on the panel. [3]

A week before the conference it seemed as if the AFL-CIO intended to keep both Bari and Lawhorn off of the panel. Bari received a phone call from Paul Moorhead of the Western Council of Industrial Workers (WCIW) who identified himself by name, and said, nastily, “You better not think that you can come to Oregon because you won’t find a welcome…If any member of my union talks to you, they’ll be out of a job.” [4] Moorhead also contacted the conference organizers and the University of Oregon and told them that Bari was an inappropriate speaker for the panel. [5] He had no real grounds to complain, however, because the WCIW no longer represented any workers in Mendocino County, as its last bargaining unit had been eliminated in 1986. In response to his threats, Bari notified the press and conference organizers. She also contacted the WCIW and requested that they openly debate the issue with Bari (and Lawhorn) at the conference. The conference organizers agreed to the debate, but the WCIW declined the invitation. [6]

Gene Lawhorn would get his chance to speak. There was just one small problem, however. In between the time that Bari had extended the invitation to Lawhorn (who accepted) and the conference, an IWW member in Oregon gave the latter a copy of Darryl Cherney’s album, They Sure Don’t Make Hippies Like They Used To, which has four songs on it that include references to tree spiking, all of which are favorable to the tactic. In spite of the fact that Cherney had declared two years earlier that he “would never spike a tree (himself)” [7], at the same time he had written “pro spiking” songs, including Earth First! Maid (set to the tune of Union Maid), They Sure Don’t Make Hippies the Way They Used To, Ballad of the Lonesome Tree Spiker (coauthored with Mike Roselle), and Spike a Tree for Jesus. [8]

Chapter 30 : She Called for Redwood Summer

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

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

Now Judi Bari is a feminist organizer,
Ain’t no man gonna keep that woman down,
She defended the abortion clinic,
In fascist Ukiah town;

Calvary Baptist Church called for its masses,
Camo-buddies lined up in the pews,
You can see all of their faces,
In the Ukiah Daily News;

And they spewed out their hatred,
As Reverend Boyles laid out their scam,
Bill Staley called for violence,
It was no secret what they planned…

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

“Our managers know they have to perform. I like to say they have one testicle on deposit.”

—T Marshall Hahn, from Glacial Erratic, Winter, 1990

The timber wars were escalating on the North Coast and far beyond as well. Echoing Maxxam’s takeover of P-L, in early 1990, Georgia-Pacific seized Great Northern Nekoosa (GNN) in a hostile takeover making G-P the largest forest products corporation in the world at the time, with annual sales in excess of $14 billion, and the largest owner of timber acreage in the United States. G-P had also been charged with at least 114 violations of water quality laws, most of them concentrated in the years leading up to its takeover of GNN. The company was responsible for five major spills into the St Croix River in 1989 alone. The director of water pollution enforcement efforts for Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection had said that the company had violated “just about every provision of its license at one time or another.” G-P also imported over 150,000 tons of finished hardwoods from the endangered tropical rainforests. The company’s labor practices were equally atrocious. In response, Earth First! and the Rainforest Action Network organized a nationwide boycott of G-P, following the pattern of a similar, successful boycott of Scott Paper Company in the Fall of 1989. [1] To service the debt from their takeover, they too would likely accelerate their harvests throughout their holdings. If Corporate Timber had hoped to quell dissent, they were sabotaging their own efforts due to their own hubris.

Meanwhile, in Humboldt County, Pacific Lumber was attempting, once again, to log in Headwaters Forest, and as before, they encountered yet another roadblock the week of January 7, 1990. The company had filed two THPs, 1-89-762 and 793 that proposed logging 564 acres in the dead center of the contested grove. [2] A report filed by Ken Moore, the assistant biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game office in Eureka, determined that there was insufficient data regarding the potential cumulative impact of potentially imperiled wildlife, including the marbled murrelet, in the proposed THPs. As a result, the CDF official responsible for determining the fate of the THPs in Santa Rosa, Len Theiss, instructed the company to file a written response by January 18, including any steps they planned to take to protect the affected wildlife or minimize the impact of logging on it. [3]

This was unprecedented, and having already faced several years of lawsuits and even a few rejected THPs, Pacific Lumber management, particularly John Campbell and Robert Stephens were quick to accuse the CDF of being politically motivated, and accused the DF&G of aiding radical environmentalists in an attempt at a “land grab” of Headwaters. “It certainly appears to us that Fish and Game is abusing their regulatory processes in order to appease Earth First! and their supporters,” declared John Campbell. “Part of this package was a request for additional wildlife studies to be designed by a biologist in my employ. They requested these surveys knowing full well they would require up to a year to complete,” added Robert Stephens in a letter to the CDF. [4]

Theiss—who, like Partain, was, was no Earth First!er—didn’t take too kindly to being green-baited and steadfastly insisted that he was merely doing his job. He argued that the recommendation from Fish and Game were an unexpected, “shot out of the dark,” that caught him and Joe Fassler, the chairman of the review team, by surprise. [5] However, he also declared, “My job is to chose the least damaging of any feasible alternatives, and that’s what I intend to do.” He even recommended to P-L, that in lieu of costly wildlife surveys of Headwaters Forest, they could instead harvest old growth trees from smaller, isolated stands, return to its pre-Maxxam harvest rates, or stop selling logs on the open market and instead mill them in Scotia. Theiss even reminded P-L that if he accepted the recommendations by the DF&G, the company could always appeal to the State Board of Forestry in Sacramento, which was politically quite favorable to Corporate Timber. [6] Instead, Pacific Lumber requested, and was granted, a two-week extension, at Theiss’s suggestion, to respond to DF&G’s recommendations. [7]

There were few who would dispute that the fight over Headwaters Forest was the most important, but by no means the only battle in the timber wars, and that its fate would ultimately determine the future of logging throughout the entire Pacific Northwest. Pacific Lumber denied this, of course. Robert Stephens opined that on a scale of one to ten, Headwaters rated a “four” in terms of old growth redwoods, neglecting to clarify if that was measured in biological diversity or dollar signs. Considering that the 288 acres Headwaters in the contested THPs could produce up to $38.5 million in lumber and $1 million in timber tax yield, Stephens likely meant the latter. Greg King, on the other hand countered that the contested groves were among the world’s most important biological remains, and Robert Sutherland concurred, stating, “To say that Headwaters is not one of the very best stands is also misleading.” A coalition of Congressional Representatives, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Wilderness Society, and Save the Redwoods League seemed to agree and joined EPIC and Earth First! in organizing to oppose its cutting. [8]

Of course, a bigger battle centered around the three proposed environmental initiatives, Big Green, Forests Forever, and the Timber Bond Act. “No matter where people live, they consider the redwood forests their own and they’re not going to stand for more logging of the last trees,” declared Betty Ball. Indeed, the sense was among many on all sides of the struggle that at least Forests Forever had a good chance of winning, and that alone was enough to prompt the Timber Association of California, the chief state lobbying group for Corporate Timber, to follow John Campbell’s suggestion and draft its own counter-initiative to undermine it. [9] That proposition would, if passed, not only counteract Forests Forever should the former receive more votes, it would loosen up the already lax enforcement existing under the status quo even further. As a result, California Attorney General Van de Kamp, a chief sponsor of a much more sweeping ballot initiative that was supported by many of the same interests as Forests Forever, Big Green, began referring to the TAC initiative as “Big Stump”. All of this was intensified by the momentum building behind William Bertain’s latest lawsuit against Maxxam. 100 former shareholders and several businesses including the San Francisco chapter of the Red Cross, Washington Mutual Savings Bank, Food Mart Eureka, and the Samuel Merritt Hospital Retirement Fund had signed on. [10]

Chapter 29 : Swimmin’ Cross the Rio Grande

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

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.Corporate Timber’s strategy for defeating popular resistance on the North Coast, whether union organizing, environmentalism, or citizen ballot initiatives depended heavily on keeping its would-be watchdogs and critics pitted against each other, or focused on a specific scapegoat. As the minutes of 1989 ticked away into 1990, the timber corporations were finding this an increasingly difficult prospect, and sometimes all it took to fracture whatever consensus they could muster was a perfect storm of indirectly related events. The arrogance of Louisiana Pacific in particular undermined Corporate Timber’s ability to keep an increasingly fearful workforce focusing their blame for all that was wrong on “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs.” In spite of all of the footwork done by Pacific Lumber with the help of TEAM and WECARE to manufacture dissent against the environmentalists’ campaign to block THPs and draft measures like Forests Forever, the catalyst that lit the opposing prairie fire was Louisiana-Pacific’s plans to outsource productions.

In December, the Humboldt and Del Norte County Central Labor Council, representing 3,500 union members from over two dozen unions in both counties rented billboards imploring the L-P not to move to Mexico. [1] Suggesting that the unions were forced to look beyond mere bread and butter issues, some of the billboards read, “Please don’t abuse our community and our environment.” L-P, who routinely paid for full page ads in the local press claiming to be “a good neighbor” touting their alleged pro-worker and pro-environmental policies, responded by claiming in their latest such entries that they were not exporting logs to Mexico, just green lumber for drying and planning. Although the handwriting should have been on the wall seven years earlier when L-P had busted the IWA and WCIW in the mills throughout the Pacific Northwest, there were several other unions which had a relationship with the company in various capacities. Hitherto they had been unwilling to bite the hand that fed them, and many wouldn’t have even considered making an overture of friendship to Earth First!, but now, all of a sudden, the leadership of various AFL-CIO unions based in Humboldt and Mendocino County finally awakened to the possibility that their enemy wasn’t, in fact, “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs.” [2]

Earthworkers Unite!

By members - Earthworks Unite, January 17, 2024

The following statement was issued on September 12, 2024

We, the eligible staff of Earthworks, are excited to announce that we have formed a union with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Earthworkers Unite. We ask that the Leadership Team (LT) and Board recognize Earthworkers Unite and agree to come to the bargaining table with us immediately. We currently have 21 workers signed up in the union, which we believe represents at least 77% of eligible staff.

We have formed this union in solidarity with our fellow workers, colleagues, and partners. Core to creating a just world is deep democracy and we cannot work towards this future without first modeling it within our own organization. We deserve a workplace where we are respected, empowered to create the strategy which determines our work, and know that when there is conflict there is a just and impartial process available to us. We believe deeply in the work we do and love the communities we work with, and have organized this union to do this work more sustainably and equitably. This announcement is an invitation for Earthworks to continue to align its actions with its mission to promote a just future and address systems of oppression both within and outside the organization.

We know Earthworks can and must be better for its workers and for the communities we serve. We can only effectively organize, advocate, or support partners when we are respected and supported by our workplace. We unionize in solidarity with peer organizations including the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, and the League of Conservation Voters, and the more than 9,000 workers IWW represents in the so-called United States. The next great labor movement is here, and we are proud to be a part of it.

IWW Stop COP CITY and its investors

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

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Eco Union Caucus, Revised January 16, 2024

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).

Chapter 28 : Letting the Cat Out of the Bag

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

Download a free PDF version of this chapter. At their first meeting, the members of IWW Local #1 had agreed upon a policy that they would not consent to interviews in the press because—while Earth First!ers could be open about their militant radicalism, since they didn’t have a direct economic relationship with the big timber companies or the gyppos—the workers, on the other hand, risked the loss of their job, or even their standing in the community if they spoke out. The G-P mill workers hit by the PCB spill were the exception, of course, because by the time they had turned to IWW Local #1, they had already had their standing taken away from them, and some—such as Treva Vandenbosch and Frank Murray—had been forced to quit. On the other hand, the P-L dissidents—such as Kelly Bettiga, Pete Kayes, Les Reynolds, and Bob Younger were already under intense scrutiny for the ESOP campaign and their unsuccessful appeals to the NLRB—and the L-P workers feeding information to Bari—including Don Beavers and Randy Veach, all could be fired in a heartbeat if they were linked to the “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs.” [1]

After the FBI sting operation that entrapped five of their comrades in Arizona, North Coast Earth First!ers were understandably wary of their dealings with the press, with good reason. With the region increasingly resembling a pressure cooker on overdrive due to the Corporate Timber reaction to Earth First!’s direct actions, EPIC’s lawsuits, the potential listing of the spotted owl as endangered, L-P’s outsourcing, and several ballot initiatives, the bosses were more likely than ever to ramp up their propaganda mill. The added pressures of underground IWW union organizing activity required especially tight security from the activists. Sometimes even the left-liberal press, small and limited though its circulation tended to be, could cause more harm than good. Judi Bari was especially aware of this fact.

Even if a press interview was sympathetic to the efforts of IWW Local 1 and the workers’ privacy respected, there was a sense that reporters might sensationalize the matter. In December of 1989, freelance reported Julie Gilden, whose articles often ran in publications such as The Village Voice approached Judi Bari about conducting just such an interview with her and timber-worker members of IWW Local #1. Bari informed Gilden of the branch’s aforementioned policy, and the latter claimed to agree to respect the IWW members’ wishes, but wanted to ask Bari some background questions on the IWW’s history and the local culture of Humboldt and Mendocino County. Bari consented, assuming that Gilden was completely forthright. She wasn’t. [2]

Heat Waves and Wildcat Strikes

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom, January 4, 2024

Green syndicalism puts the connectedness of ecological crises and crises of working-class life at the center of analysis—as outcomes of capitalism. It emphasizes ways in which exploitation of labor and the exploitation of nature go hand in hand and develop together. It also centers the importance of working-class resistance in ending the capitalist social system that causes, and thrives on, both.

Climate crises, which have moved beyond crisis to pose an existential threat to numerous life forms on the planet, disproportionately impact the working class—especially the poorest, most precarious, racialized sectors of the working class globally. Appropriately, heat waves have become a focus of labor action in a range of industries.

According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 53 workers died in the US due to temperature extremes in 2019, and the climate crisis is creating more, and new, hazardous conditions for workers, as heat waves, heat domes, and extreme heat become more regular and extensive. Between 1992 and 2017, heat stress killed 815 US workers while seriously injuring more than 70,000. Extreme heat kills more people each year than floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes, all of which are also becoming more frequent, in the US, according to the National Weather Service. On the whole, about 700 people die from heat-related illnesses each year. And the situation is only getting worse.

The number of “hot days” recorded in the United States has been increasing over decades. The 2018 National Climate Assessment, a major scientific report by 13 federal agencies, found that the frequency of heat waves increased from an average of two per year in the 1960s to six per year by the 2010s. It is not only the frequency of heat waves that is increasing, but the duration of each heat wave. The National Climate Assessment concluded that the season for heat waves is now a full 45 days longer than it was in the 1960s.

The impacts of capitalist climate crises, which disproportionately harm working class people, impel new strategies and tactics for working class organizing, as well as novel deployments of tried-and-true actions—such as wildcat strikes. Notably, we are seeing a revival of walkouts and wildcats against unsafe and unhealthy working conditions in the context of heat waves and heat domes, especially as these become more intense and more frequent.

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