Who Stole the Four-Hour Workday?

By Nathan Schneider - Vice, August 5, 2014

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’s.

Alex is a busy man. The 36-year-old husband and father of three commutes each day to his full-time job at a large telecom company in Denver, the city he moved to from his native Peru in 2003. At night, he has classes or homework for the bachelor’s in social science he is pursuing at a nearby university. With or without an alarm, he wakes up at 5 AM every day, and it’s only then, after eating breakfast and glancing at the newspaper, that he has a chance to serve in his capacity as the sole US organizer and webmaster of the Global Campaign for the 4 Hour Work-Day.

“I’ve been trying to contact other organizations,” he says, “though, ironically, I don’t have time.”

But Alex has big plans. By the end of the decade he envisions “a really crazy movement” with chapters around the world orchestrating the requisite work stoppage.

A century ago, such an undertaking would have seemed less obviously doomed. For decades the US labor movement had already been filling the streets with hundreds of thousands of workers demanding an eight-hour workday. This was just one more step in the gradual reduction of working hours that was expected to continue forever. Before the Civil War, workers like the factory women of Lowell, Massachusetts, had fought for a reduction to ten hours from 12 or more. Later, when the Great Depression hit, unions called for shorter hours to spread out the reduced workload and prevent layoffs; big companies like Kellogg’s followed suit voluntarily. But in the wake of World War II, the eight-hour grind stuck, and today most workers end up doing more than that.

The United States now leads the pack of the wealthiest countries in annual working hours. US workers put in as many as 300 more hours a year than their counterparts in Western Europe, largely thanks to the lack of paid leave. (The Germans work far less than we do, while the Greeks work considerably more.) Average worker productivity has doubled a couple of times since 1950, but income has stagnated—unless you’re just looking at the rich, who’ve become a great deal richer. The value from that extra productivity, after all, has to go somewhere.

It used to be common sense that advances in technology would bring more leisure time. “If every man and woman would work for four hours each day on something useful,” Benjamin Franklin assumed, “that labor would produce sufficient to procure all the necessaries and comforts of life.” Science fiction has tended to consider a future with shorter hours to be all but an axiom. Edward Bellamy’s 1888 best seller Looking Backward describes a year 2000 in which people do their jobs for about four to eight hours, with less attractive tasks requiring less time. In the universe of Star Trek, work is done for personal development, not material necessity. In Wall-E, robots do everything, and humans have become inert blobs lying on levitating sofas.

During the heat of the fight for the eight-hour day in the 1930s, the Industrial Workers of the World were already making cartoon handbills for what they considered the next great horizon: a four-hour day, a four-day week, and a wage people can live on. “Why not?” the IWW propaganda asked.

Industrial Workers of the World - Gender Equity Committee Statement / Call to Action

By the IWW Gender Equity Committee
August 1, 2014

Events of harassment, sexual violence, abuse and misogyny have transpired in many branches and projects of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). A recent job survey showed that 1 in 6 people experience sexual harassment in the workplace. This survey goes on to say that 51% of those harassed say it was from a peer, not their boss. However grassroots and radical our union's purpose, as a union made up entirely of peers, without bosses, we are not exempt from societal norms—such as the subjugation of people based on sex, gender identity, race, disability, sexual orientation and class. Women and gendered minorities within this union are intensely and disproportionately affected and victimized by these incidents which are without a doubt the rotten fruit of patriarchy.

The result is often the resignation and continued disenfranchisement of valuable and capable fellow workers. These fellow workers are lost to our cause because of our union's frequent inability to enact compassionate healing and judicial processes.

The IWW Gender Equity Committee (GEC) strongly recommends that EVERY branch of the Industrial Workers of the World make the active resistance of patriarchy, sexual violence and other forms of oppression a priority for their branch and the members within. We encourage our fellow workers to diligently develop and effectively implement official practices and policies that address incidents of injury where terms of immediate relief, punitive action, and transformative justice prioritize the needs of the survivor(s). We also encourage branches and members to thoroughly familiarize themselves with the existing complaints procedure and conflict resolution policies outlined in Article III of the IWW Constitution’s General Bylaws as well as any additional relevant policies that may already exist within your branch.

Seattle Activists Blocking Oil Trains Include City Council Member

By Jay Burney - Climate Connections, August 6, 2014

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’s.

Rising Tide Portland blogger Mike M posted that five protestors including  Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, and a candidate for the State House of Representatives Jess Spear, occupied railroad tracks in order to call attention to the proliferation of oil trains also known as “bomb trains” running through the streets of Seattle and throughout the Northwest. The protest took place at tracks along the Seattle waterfront near the Olympic Sculpture Park. Four were arrested, but not Sawant.

The protest was launched in part as a reaction to a July 24 derailment of a 100 car train carrying Bakken Oil.

Spear is quoted in the Rising Tide blog as saying:

“These oil trains running right through the downtown area pose a huge risk to life and to the environment. Luckily, last week’s derailment did not spill any oil; but we cannot rely on luck. We cannot stand idly by while these bombs on wheels roll through Seattle”.

Ms Sawant was quoted in another Seattle publication, The Stranger,  as saying that she is

“in solidarity with the three activists who have the courage of their convictions. It’s an enormous sacrifice to be arrested to raise awareness… I’m also here as someone who is on the city council and who takes the task of governance seriously. This is a matter of emergency that needs to be addressed”.

In a prepared statement read before the protest Ms. Sawant told those assembled:

One year ago, a similar train derailed and destroyed half the downtown area in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and led to 42 deaths. The fact that these train tracks run right by the stadiums, and through Belltown, where tens of thousands of people regularly gather, mean that there is potential for major catastrophe.

Jail Time for Boss Who Ordered Employees to Dump Fracking Waste in Ohio River

By Andrea Germanos - EcoWatch, August 7, 2014

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’s.

The owner of a Youngstown, Ohio-based company was sentenced on Tuesday [August 5, 2014] to more than two years in prison for ordering his employees to repeatedly dump toxic fracking waste into a local waterway.

Between Nov. 1, 2012 and Jan. 31, 2013, employees of Hardrock Excavating LLC, which provided services to the oil and gas industry including storing fracking waste, made over 30 discharges of fracking waste into a tributary of the Mahoning River. Sixty-four-year old Benedict W. Lupo, then-owner of Hardrock Excavating, directed his employees to dump the waste, which included benzene and toluene, under the cover of night into the waterway.

According to reporting by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “employees tried to talk Lupo out of it, but he refused. [The judge] also pointed out a prosecutor’s pictures that detailed six weeks of clean-up in an oil-soaked creek.”

Unions That Used to Strike - The ILWU, once known for its militancy and political radicalism, faces a choice between nurturing rank-and-file power and a painful death

By Robert Brenner and Suzi Weissman - Jacobin, August 6, 2014

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’s.

In early July, 120 mostly poor and immigrant port truckers set up picket lines at three trucking companies in LA-Long Beach Harbor, extending their longstanding campaign to unionize. The next day, workers from the powerful and historically militant International Longshore and Warehouse Union honored the truckers’ picket by walking off their jobs, immediately shutting down three waterfront terminals.

The dockworkers had found themselves contractually free to refuse to cross the port truckers’ line, when their union’s agreement with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) had expired a short time before.

But almost immediately, a waterfront arbitrator ordered the longshoremen back to work. The ILWU had suddenly and without warning extended their agreement with the PMA for three days. Following the rules of their own contract, the union told its members to cross the truckers’ pickets and return to their jobs.

This action was in line with the ILWU’s informal pact with the PMA to maintain the flow of work after their contract had run out, and it snuffed out any potential the embryonic solidarity of the longshore workers and port truckers might have had to shift the balance of power between themselves and their employers.

In a small way, it encapsulated the two previous years of the union’s evolution.

The Truth About Natural Gas: A ‘Green’ Bridge to Hell

By Naomi Oreskes - EcoWatch, July 28 2014

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’s.

Albert Einstein is rumored to have said that one cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that led to it. Yet this is precisely what we are now trying to do with climate change policy. The Obama administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many environmental groups, and the oil and gas industry all tell us that the way to solve the problem created by fossil fuels is with more fossils fuels. We can do this, they claim, by using more natural gas, which is touted as a “clean” fuel—even a “green” fuel.

Like most misleading arguments, this one starts from a kernel of truth. That truth is basic chemistry: when you burn natural gas, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced is, other things being equal, much less than when you burn an equivalent amount of coal or oil. It can be as much as 50 percent less compared with coal, and 20 percent to 30 percent less compared with diesel fuel, gasoline, or home heating oil. When it comes to a greenhouse gas (GHG) heading for the atmosphere, that’s a substantial difference. It means that if you replace oil or coal with gas without otherwise increasing your energy usage, you can significantly reduce your short-term carbon footprint.

Replacing coal gives you other benefits as well, such as reducing the sulfate pollution that causes acid rain, particulate emissions that cause lung disease, and mercury that causes brain damage. And if less coal is mined, then occupational death and disease can be reduced in coal miners and the destruction caused by damaging forms of mining, including the removal, in some parts of the country, of entire mountains can be reduced or halted.

Those are significant benefits. In part for these reasons, the Obama administration has made natural gas development a centerpiece of its energy policy, and environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, have supported the increased use of gas. President Obama has gone as far as to endorse fracking—the controversial method of extracting natural gas from low permeability shales—on the grounds that the gas extracted can provide “a bridge” to a low carbon future and help fight climate change.

So if someone asks: “Is gas better than oil or coal?” the short answer seems to be yes. And when it comes to complicated issues that have science at their core, often the short answer is the (basically) correct one.

As a historian of science who studies global warming, I’ve often stressed that anthropogenic climate change is a matter of basic physics: CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which means it traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. So if you put additional CO2 into that atmosphere, above and beyond what’s naturally there, you have to expect the planet to warm. Basic physics.

And guess what? We’ve added a substantial amount of CO2 to the atmosphere, and the planet has become hotter. We can fuss about the details of natural variability, cloud feedbacks, ocean heat and CO2 uptake, El Niño cycles and the like, but the answer that you get from college-level physics—more CO2 means a hotter planet—has turned out to be correct. The details may affect the timing and mode of climate warming, but they won’t stop it.

In the case of gas, however, the short answer may not be the correct one.

Utility Trade Group Funds ALEC Attack on Americans Using Solar

By Nick Surgey - PR Watch, July 30, 2014

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’s.

As the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) prepares to meet in Dallas this week, the Center for Media and Democracy has uncovered new evidence that Edison Electric Institute (EEI) -- the trade association for the U.S. utility industry -- has been funding ALEC's legislative assault on solar energy.

Although ALEC recently proclaimed that it was being falsely portrayed as "anti-clean energy," these latest revelations confirm that ALEC continues to pursue a polluters' wish list, despite its PR pronouncements.

"Solar Is Dumb," says ALEC Legislator

As documented by Suzanne Goldenberg and Ed Pilkington in The Guardian late last year, ALEC has been peddling legislation designed to increase costs for Americans who have invested in solar panels for their homes and businesses, which ALEC's rep attempted to label as “freeriders.” Through ALEC's bill and campaign, the group has been pushing changes to state laws that would increase costs for homeowners with solar who sell excess energy back to the grid, known as “net metering.”

The CMD documents underscore what Gabe Elsner of the Energy & Policy Institute has uncovered, which is that EEI is a prime player in ALEC -- footing the bill and calling the shots on the anti-renewable agenda. This shows that some powerful utilities -- which include public and private entities -- are backing ALEC's extreme agenda, not just global coal and oil corporations.

Interview - The Politics of Going Green

Chris Williams and Robert Pollin interviewed by Jessica Desvarieux - The Real News Network, July 30, 2014

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’s.

Biography

Chris Williams is a long-time environmental activist and author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis. He is chair of the science department at Packer Collegiate Institute and adjunct professor at Pace University, in the Department of Chemistry and Physical Science. His writings have appeared in numerous publications, including TruthOut, Z Magazine, Green Left Weekly, Alternet, CommonDreams, ClimateAndCapitalism, ClimateStoryTellers, The Indypendent, Dissident Voice, International Socialist Review, Socialist Worker, and ZNet. He reported from Fukushima in 2011 and was a Lannan writer-in-residence in Marfa, Texas over the summer of 2012, where he began work on his second book. He was awarded the Lannan 2013-4 Cultural Freedom Fellowship to continue this work. He has just returned from four months in Vietnam, Morocco and Bolivia, examining the impact of economic development and climate change in relation to energy, food and water issues.

Robert Pollin is professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is the founding co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI). His research centers on macroeconomics, conditions for low-wage workers in the US and globally, the analysis of financial markets, and the economics of building a clean-energy economy in the US. His latest book is Back to Full Employment. Other books include A Measure of Fairness: The Economics of Living Wages and Minimum Wages in the United States and Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity.

Warren Buffett Really Likes Oil Trains - Despite the Explosions

By Eric de Place - Vice News, July 29, 2014

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’s.

Watch the VICE News documentary "Bomb Trains" here.

The people in the Musi-Café had no idea what hit them. At about 1am on July 6, 2013, a train parked on a slope a couple miles away slipped its brakes. Seventy-two tank cars loaded with crude oil accelerated into the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and began to tumble off the tracks, detonating and burning with a force so powerful that it leveled several city blocks. Forty-seven people were killed — most of whom were inside the Musi-Café.

In the months that followed, Lac-Mégantic became a rallying cry, a bloody shirt waved by activists across North America who were growing increasingly concerned about a relatively new phenomenon: ultra-long trains loaded with a peculiar variety of crude oil.

Months later, after several other oil train accidents, Warren Buffett went on CNBC claiming that oil train explosions were “very, very, very, very rare.”

If Buffett sounded defensive, it may have been because he is the single most important person in the world of oil-by-rail, an industry that he dominates and that has proven to be highly profitable for oil companies and railroads — and singularly dangerous to the public.

Worker Safety Questioned as Trains and Accidents Multiply

By Blake Sobczak - Energywire [Paywall Site], August 4, 2014

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’s.

The recent surge in oil train traffic along North America’s freight network has been a boon for railroads struggling to cope with falling coal shipments.

But though the crude-by-rail boom has kept workers busy, it has also raised questions about their safety and preparedness following a series of oil train derailments and explosions.

A tentative agreement between BNSF Railway Co. and a major transportation union last month would allow certain trains to operate with just one engineer on board, provided they were outfitted with Positive Train Control. PTC technology allows for the train to be stopped or slowed automatically if it exceeds a speed limit or is on track for an unseen collision.

BNSF spokeswoman Roxanne Butler pointed out that the PTC labor deal would not apply to any trains hauling hazardous materials such as crude oil. The agreement is now being considered by members of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers’ Transportation Division (SMART TD).

But union representatives have worried that the agreement could clear the way to phase out oil train conductors in the future, setting what they consider a dangerous precedent.

“You can’t talk about this issue without mentioning the terrible lessons that we learned at Lac-Mégantic,” said SMART TD National Legislative Director James Stem, referring to a fiery oil train derailment and explosion in Quebec last year that killed 47 people.

The train was not manned when it jumped the tracks in downtown Lac-Mégantic, but it had been operated by a lone engineer the previous night. The worker is now facing charges of criminal negligence for allegedly failing to apply enough hand brakes that could have prevented the train from breaking free from its parking place and hurtling toward town.

In that case, Stem explained, safety “had nothing to do with the size of the tank car — it had to do with management decisions that were made based around the fact that they had a crew of one.”

“Based on our experience and multiple fatalities, a crew of at least two certified employees is necessary for the safe operation of the train,” he said.

The Federal Railroad Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is now crafting regulations that will likely require oil trains to be staffed by at least one conductor and one engineer. An FRA spokesman said the regulator expects to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on the topic by the end of the year.

The U.S. rail industry already uses at least two employees on oil or ethanol trains as standard practice.

But in a statement supporting the FRA’s two-person crew proposal in April, Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department at the union confederation AFL-CIO, noted that railroads’ “previous collective bargaining pursuits have included attempts to employ one-person crews.”

Railroads have sought to use smaller crews in recent decades to cut down on labor costs, arguing that technologies such as PTC and improved operating practices preclude the need for many workers. But regulators and labor groups have maintained that larger crews boost safety.

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