Lac-Mégantic and the Presumed Innocence of Capitalism

The Lac-Mégantic disaster shows once again that capitalists  are self-interested, uncaring, anti-social actors, not worthy of presumptions in their favor.

By Harry Glasbeek - Reposted from Climate and Capitalism, July 24, 2013

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.

“If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who creates the darkness.”

-Victor Hugo, Les Misérables-

It is always the same.

First the shock and horror, then the anger. A terrible environmental disaster inflicted by Beyond Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico; a horrendous explosion at Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant; a mine disaster, burying people at Westray in Nova Scotia; a factory building collapsing in Bangladesh; a train’s cargo exploding and incinerating people and the city of Lac-Mégantic.

Each time there are the same questions:

  • Why was anyone allowed to engage in this activity, given its known risks?
  • Why, more specifically, were people with poor reputations in respect of safety and/or people with little experience allowed to run these risky activities?
  • Why did governments not have better laws and regulations?
  • Why did governments not have better monitoring and policing of such laws and regulations they had enacted?
  • How dared the leaders of these risk-creating entities try to blame their hapless underlings?
  • How could they be so cavalier, so callous, so arrogant? Who was to pay for the compensation?
  • Should anyone go to jail?

The reasons for the shock and anger are obvious: the burned bodies, destroyed lives and livelihoods, ravaged environments, disrupted communities, misery all round. And each time, sombre-looking politicians and policy-makers walk around the sites, solemnly promise to learn from the event, assuring the stunned public that they will not let it happen again, that heads will roll if legal justice demands it.

Each time people are shocked and horrified because they believe that they live under a regime of a mature and civilized political economy.

They have been told that for-profit entrepreneurs care about their health and safety; they are taught that their elected governments will force entrepreneurs to put health and safety and environments ahead of profit-maximization.

Going Green at the Cost of Workers’ Safety

By Emmett J. Nolan - Reposted from Recomposition Blog, July 17, 2013

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 issue I’m writing about may seem rather trivial to some readers. To be honest, I too was shocked that my co-workers and I had to fight so hard to be heard on such a small and seemingly obvious issue. The issue which management picked to draw a line in the sand over was providing a trash can in the dining area of the café I work at. Yes, a trash can. Something most customers and workers take for granted. Rightfully so, because who could imagine a counter service café with a bus your own table practice operating without a trash can?

In an effort to make the company more green, a composting service was hired and new compostable packaging materials were chosen. Now, compostable items were separated from recycling and garbage. A part of this change included removing all four of the trash cans within the dining and patio area of the café. The cans weren’t replaced with a sorting station like many other businesses had done. Instead the company replaced them with a sign that read:

[COMPANY'S NAME]

Composts & Recycles

Please Put Everything

In the Bus Tubs (Dishes, Trash, Recycling & Food)

We’ll take care of the sorting.

By not having a sorting station or a at least a trash can, management claimed it could ensure that all items would be properly sorted and that items that could be composted would not be mixed in with the garbage or vice versa. This was to demonstrate the company’s commitment to green business practices. Even though we were in a hyper-green-conscious city in which residents are trained to sort, recycle and compost whereever they go or otherwise feel guilty about not doing so, the company didn’t think its customers were capable of sorting their own garbage.

Capital Blight: Alliances Between Workers and Environmentalists Must be Built from the Ground Up

By x344543 - July 12, 2013

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.

It's a commonly expressed hope among younger, radical environmentalist activists that Judi Bari's vision of "green syndicalism" (worker lead reorganization of the new world within the shell of the old into a post capitalist, post technocratic, biocentric society) will manifest itself by big AFL-CIO unions--such as the building trades, UMWA, Teamsters, etc., refusing to build or operate the machinery that is destroying the environment, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline or the trains transporting coal, or the ships exporting that coal to China.

They recall the "Teamsters and Turtles" coalition that sprang up during the anti-WTO demonstrations on November 30, 1999 in Seattle; they might mention the Earth First! alliance with the United Steelworkers (at Kaiser Aluminum) against Maxxam the previous year; some invoke the Australian "Green Bans" that saved Kelly's Bush in Hunter's Hill (New South Wales) in the early 1970s, where construction workers refused to construct a building that would destroy one of the last remaining open spaces in that community.

These are all real examples to be sure, but they represent the exception--not the rule--and that realization leaves some wondering why, while others--like Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman--simply write the workers off.

Both views are wrong in my opinion, because both fail to understand the depths of the problem. They might respond by asking how Judi Bari was able to succeed, including co-founding what came to be known as Earth First! - IWW Local #1, made up of environmentalists and timber workers, where others failed, and why others cannot simply replicate her efforts. I am certain others can, but we must recognize what made Judi Bari's efforts so special and unique to begin with: she correctly recognized the union officialdom (not to mention the leadership of the mainstream environmental organizations) as typically being part of the problem and not the solution.

“Pipeline on Rails” Plans for the Railroads Explode in Quebec

By Jonathan Flanders - Reproduced from Counterpunch, July 12, 2013

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 boom in oil fracking and tar sands has lured the great and small to the rails in search of profits and jobs.

The great include Bill Gates, who took time from the virtual world of software to acquire controlling interest in the Canadian National railroad(CN), part of the real world of steel rails, mile long trains and the rumble of linked diesel locomotives pulling tar sands oil out of Alberta.

The not so great, like Edmund Burkhardt, CEO of Rail World, which controls the short line “Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway” saw the boom in rail transported petroleum as a way to make his mini-empire of short lines profitable.

And of course the “small people”, railroad employees of the “Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway” like Tom Harding, the engineer of the train that blew up, found steady workrunning the endless strings of crude oil tankers across Canada and the US to refineries. Harding, by the way, is now being blamed by CEO Burkhard for the disaster.

Railroad industry watchers have predicted even more exponential growth for the “pipeline on rails” booming on in the shadow of the stalled Keystone pipeline plans still awaiting Obama’s signature.

Now all these plans are up in the air, after the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train’s engine caught fire, was shut down, which might then have been the cause for the brakes to leak off, sending fully loaded oil tank cars careening down the grade into Lac Megantic, Quebec where they exploded, incinerating dozens of people.

Bay Area IWW Endorses August 3rd "Summer Heat" Action in Richmond, California!

At its July business meeting, the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW endorsed the following event:

This May marked an ominous milestone on our rush past the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  As CO2 exceeds 400 parts per million, the moment has come to do “hard, important, powerful things” to stop the large-scale burning of fossil fuels. These are the words of the organizers of 350.org’s national Summer Heat campaign—Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Winona LaDuke, Sandra Steingraber, and Rev. Lennox Yearwood, who are asking that we turn up the heat, show up and speak out “to the industry that’s wrecking our future.”

As part of Summer Heat events all across the country (see JoinSummerHeat.org), 350.org and its allies invite you to come together in a momentous West Coast mass action to declare our collective resistance to fossil fuels. We hope this will be one of the largest climate justice protests ever. Please join 350 Bay Area, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, No Keystone Action Council, Idle No More, San Francisco Solidarity, Urban Tilth, and Gathering Tribes on August 3rd and 6th to stand with the people of Richmond, California who are in the frontlines in our common fight for the health and safety of our communities, and against accelerating climate change.

On August 3rd, three days before the one-year anniversary of the Chevron refinery explosion and fire, we will gather at 10am at the Richmond BART to march to a spirited rally with national and regional leaders in the fight against climate catastrophe.  (Full schedule is at JoinSummerHeat.org/bay; bus available for non-walkers.) The rally will be followed by a march to the gates of the Chevron refinery with the following demands:

  • NO KEYSTONE XL TAR SANDS PIPELINE.
  • NO MORE LIFE-THREATENING HAZARDS. Chevron and other Bay Area refineries shall prevent future spills, fires and explosions by retrofitting with the best and safest technology available.
  • NO REFINING OF DIRTY CRUDE.  Refining high-sulfur, low-quality tar sands and fracked oil increases greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollutants. It also seriously corrodes refinery machinery, which contributes to major industrial accidents.
  • NO MORE CORPORATE TAX EVASION.  Chevron shall pay its fair share of taxes to City, County, State and Federal agencies, and stop all frivolous litigation relating to these matters.
  • NO MORE POLLUTING OUR DEMOCRACY.  Chevron invests more in lobbying and manipulating elections with outrageous campaign contributions than it does in plant safety. Big Oil’s injection of mega-bucks into the political process ensures its continuing domination of energy policy.
  • A JUST TRANSITION FROM DIRTY FOSSIL FUELS TO UNION JOBS IN CLEAN ENERGY.              Government and Big Oil shall invest in high-quality union jobs in clean energy for local residents. Chevron needs to support Richmond’s long-term transition to a renewable energy-based economy that’s good for people and the planet.

By Rail or Pipeline: Can Tar Sands be Safely Transported at All?

By Jonathan Flanders - Reproduced from Counterpunch, July 8, 2013

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.

My last years working as a railroad machinist were spent working on locomotive air brakes. In most situations, the system is fail safe. I always chuckle when I see a movie where a train separates, as it did in the latest James Bond thriller, and  both ends of the train keep going. This is close to impossible in real life, the air brake system automatically will go into emergency braking if there is a break in two. When a locomotive engineer applies the brakes to a train, he or she makes a “reduction”

of the equalizing or control air, which then triggers a brake application. This reduction of equalizing air, in the case of a break is the key to emergency brake applications. There is much more to the system, of course as it was refined over time, but its all based on this concept.

What we know so far in Quebec, is that the oil train was parked on a grade. The brakes were set by the crew, at some point the brakes came off, and the train rolled into the little town of Lac-Megantic, derailed and exploded, leaving many dead and the town devastated.

Earth First! and the IWW, Part 3 - Tree Spikes and Wedges

By x344543 - Industrial Worker, July 2013

When Greg King and Darryl Cherney cofounded Southern Humboldt County Earth First! in 1986, the principle target of their actions was the now Maxxam controlled Pacific Lumber Company. Sensing that the 800-plus Pacific Lumber workers--of which almost 350 had made it known in a full page ad that they opposed the Maxxam takeover--and the environmentalists shared a common adversary, King and Cherney tailored their campaign to the workers as well as the forest itself. Their earliest demonstrations conveyed the message that this particular Earth First! group at least, was concerned for the future of the loggers and millworkers as much as they were for the redwoods and the flora and fauna that depended on it.

A good number of the workers welcomed this show of solidarity, and a handful of them, including shipping clerk John Maurer, millworker Kelly Bettiga, mechanic Lester Reynolds, and company blacksmith (whose job primarily consisted of forging specialized logging equipment needed for the cutting of the unique redwoods), Pete Kayes--who would eventually join the IWW, engaged in regular, amicable dialog with the environmentalists.

At first, Maxxam largely ignored the protests and dissidents but as Earth First!'s efforts gained momentum and support, and as more workers began to grumble about their mandatory overtime and question the now rapacious timber harvesting efforts, the bosses began to take the growing grassroots resistance more seriously. An unprecedented spate of successful legal challenges by a local environmental watchdog group called EPIC under a hitherto inconsistently enforced California forestry practices act was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Using the PR Firm Hill & Knowlton and stoking the ego of the more conservative "scissorbill" employees, Maxxam fomented the creation of a "timber worker" front group known as Taxpayers for the Environment and its Management (TEAM). The organization initiated an intense propaganda campaign accusing the environmentalists of being "unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs" whose sole aim was to destroy the economic well being of the humble residents of Humboldt (and Mendocino) county(s). TEAM claimed to be composed entirely of timber workers, but it was ACTUALLY largely made up of low level managers, gyppo operators, and assorted ranchers, many of whom belonged to other, similar front groups, such as one called WECARE, that had previously exaggerated the differences between workers and environmentalists.

Reinventing the Wheel - The Question of “Rare” Earths

By x356039 - June 26, 2013

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.

Rare earths often have the same effect on a conversation on renewable energy as a bucket of cold water to the face. With China's near-total monopoly on their production and refinement coupled with their necessity for producing green energy technology such as wind turbines many see rare earths as a question of trading Saudi oil barons for Chinese mining magnates. Others decry the environmental damage done by the mining and refinement processes, arguing the cost outweighs any benefit from green energy. In the eyes of many the issue of rare earths makes solar and wind power dead ends, effectively short-circuiting any green energy revolution. Such preconceptions are based on incomplete, inaccurate, and insufficient reporting on the real story behind rare earths.

Capital Blight: Old Wine in New Bottles; Why Obama's "Bold" Announcement on Climate Change Gives the Fossil Fuel Industry Just About Everything it Wants.

By x344543, June 25, 2013.

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.

Count me as being among those  who find little to cheer about in Barack Obama's so-called "bold" speech on Climate Change.

Yes, it's true that he called for an end to big oil tax subsidies, but he offered no specific plan on how he would make that happen (and very likely the US Congress and Senate, who are the bodies that actually craft the budgets the President must sign into law, most of whose members are deeply indebted to the fossil fuel industry for campaign contributions are not going to bite the hands that feed them).

Yes, he called for an end to public financing for new coal plants overseas, but he said nothing about putting an end to public financing of new domestic coal plants, nor did he say anything about regulating coal exports.  

According to the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC):

"He directed the Environmental Protection Agency to put an 'end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution' from new and existing power plants. IF EPA comes up with a good regulation for existing power plants, this will be exceptionally good news and long overdue. If this regulation takes a political eternity to adopt and doesn’t require significant reductions or allows broad exemptions, then this regulation won’t be worth the paper it is written on."

I agree and want to add to that that both the EPA, OSHA, and other regulatory agencies whose mandates are to regulate the environmental, labor, and business practices of such activities are either routinely understaffed or under the directorship of capitalist representatives of the very businesses that are supposed to be regulated. It's been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you cannot leave the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Reinventing the Wheel - Kicking the Oil Habit

By x356039 - June 17, 2013

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.

Oil. It is the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room at every discussion of climate, energy, and the economy. Our society is unquestionably addicted to it, with the United States consuming a whopping 19.1 million barrels of oil every day. When the total energy used is converted from barrels of oil to watt hours the figure is staggering. Running in at 31 terawatt hours per day, this massively dwarfs all energy consumed in the electric grid which runs in at a much smaller 4 terawatt hours daily. Much of this goes to running our transportation networks, providing fuel for trucks, ships, trains, and airplanes across the country before we even start looking at military consumption. With how incredibly ubiquitous oil is for our economy it is no surprise mainstream environmentalists talk of slowly phasing it out as opposed to going cold turkey on the black stuff, implying one more hit won't put us over the edge.

This is all based on the assumption that we do not have the means to go off of oil. Even renewable energy production is caught in its sticky web. Yet there is hope. The current potential for renewable energy is so great that if we implemented it on a sufficiently large scale even the massive demand for energy the oil economy supports could be met. As was established in a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study released in 2008 if 7% of all commercial and residential rooftops in the United States were fitted with photovoltaic solar panels our electric power demand of 4.05 terawatt hours per day would be completely satisfied. Now granted oil does provide for 33.8 terawatt hours of energy per day so how could solar meet that demand? If we increased the number of solar panels to cover 65% of all residential and commercial rooftops in the United States the massive thirst for oil would be quenched by clean, free sunlight.

Pages