Bows and Arrows: Indigenous Workers, IWW Local 526, and Syndicalism on the Vancouver Docks

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom.Org, February 17, 2021

Few may be aware that the first union on the waterfront of Vancouver was organized by Indigenous workers, mostly Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh. And it was organized on an explicitly syndicalist basis as Local 526 of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW group would become known as the Bows and Arrows, a name that spoke to their active and more politically militant perspective and commitment to Indigenous solidarity. The Bows and Arrows organized on a multicultural/multiracial foundation of class solidarity.

While the lifespan of IWW Local 526 was brief (formally only a year while informally for about seven years) it had a lasting impact on working class organizing on the waterfront, anti-racism and racial solidarity on the docks, and on political organizing in Indigenous communities. It also showed the pivotal role of organizing within the logistical chains of global capitalism in sabotaging resource extractive industries, while providing a model of work organization that sustained community relevant work and work cycles rather than the single career monoculture of industrial capitalism at the time.

As historian Andrew Parnaby suggests, the Bows and Arrows:

"Join[ed] in the broader upsurge of support for the Wobblies that took place among loggers, miners, railroad workers, and seafarers prior to the Great War…Reformers, rebels, and revolutionaries: collectively, they were responsible for a level of militancy on the waterfront that was unmatched by most other occupations, provincially or nationally. Vancouver waterfront workers went on strike at least sixteen times between 1889 and 1923; the four largest and most dramatic strikes were in 1909, 1918, 1919, and 1923." (2008, 9)

While Local 526 would finally be broken through battles with waterfront employers that have been described as titanic, these workers provided important and lasting examples of working class militance, workplace organizing tactics, racial solidarity and anti-racism, and cultural defense. They offer a critical model of syndicalism in diverse workforces and changing economic conditions within a context of settler colonial capitalism.

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.

Just Transition and Extractive Industry Workers

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 26, 2021

In some ways it might be easier to establish dialog and find common ground with resource extraction workers (on issues such as climate change, just transition, and the Green New Deal) than we think. In other ways it may prove more difficult than we expect. That’s not as contradictory as it may sound, however:

First, let’s acknowledge that we’re primarily discussing decarbonization of the energy system and the economy, particularly fossil fuel capitalism, specifically coal, oil, and gas.

We’re discussing entire supply chains, from exploration and extraction to transportation and refining, to distribution, power generation to marketing and sales.

Extraction includes all forms of mining.

Transportation includes rail, road, ship, aircraft, and pipelines. It also includes storage, distribution hubs, and control centers.

Refining is a highly specialized and labor as well as capital intensive process.

How it might be easier than we think:

Most of the jobs involved in the aforementioned supply chains are not directly related to fossil fuels themselves:

For example:

  • Exploration (ie search for new “deposits” could instead be repurposed for siting renewable energy sites;
  • Offshore oil rig workers could be retrained as offshore wind power technicians (and many of the ancillary jobs, such as transportation of workers to and from sites, dispatching workers (or power), clerical work, etc. is directly transferable);
  • Transportation of goods and commodities can be utilized to transport alternative goods and commodities (eg grain rather than coal);

Where jobs may not be directly transferable, they can be retained for the repurposing or decommissioning of infrastructure or the restoration of damaged ecosystems. Such efforts often require years or decades, thus providing enough job-years for mature workers (often those with the highest seniority, wages, and benefits anyway) to last until retirement, or at least, allow sufficient time for just transition;

Failing that, many of these jobs can be made much “greener” without decommissioning, if a wholistic approach as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach is utilized, and transition efforts focus on the “low hanging fruit” (such as retiring older, more polluting facilities first, etc.);

The Prospects for Revolutionary Green Union Led Transformation

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 8, 2020

The evidence becomes more and more clear with each passing day: in order to avoid climate catastrophe and the irreparable destruction of our planet's biosphere, we need nothing less than a revolutionary green transformation of our civilization from stem to stern. These are sobering truths. The reassuring news is that the number of people that realize this, and are prepared to act, is growing day-by- day, throughout our world, in spite of the threats of resurgent fascism, capitalism's perpetual melt downs, and pandemics caused by the likes COVID-19.

The evidence can be seen by the following:

  • A growing number of people willing to take direct action to protect the earth from ecological destruction, climate catastrophe, and capitalist extractivist projects;
  • Increased awareness of the inseparability of ecocidal capitalism, colonialism, racism, and misogyny; this has corresponded with the growth of intersectionality.
  • The decline of climate change denialism;
  • The cancellation of numerous pipeline and other fossil fuel mega projects;
  • Persistently high levels of support for transformative frameworks, like the Green New Deal, limited and reformist though it may ultimately prove to be;
  • And, notable among these trends are growing levels of class consciousness among the climate justice and ecological movements, as shown by the rapid growth and widespread calls for just transition for workers affected by the transitions and transformations the current crises demand.

These developments are welcome, and they point to both the broadening and deepening of an anti-capitalist green transformational movement. However, no transformation can occur without the active support of the working class, and such support is but the beginning of what is needed to motivate the transformation. No revolutionary green transformation can occur without the participation of workers organized at the points of production and/or destruction, because it is precisely there where the capitalist class maintains its economic stranglehold of power over our civilization.

Is achieving such organized power even remotely possible?

The good news is the answer is "yes"; the not so good news is that getting to "yes" will be challenging.

Towards a Global Climate Strike

By John Molyneux - Global Ecosocialist Network - July 13, 2020

The IWW has not yet decided whether to endorse this call. This is posted here for information purposes only.

The Global Ecosocialist Network (GEN) is asking its members and affiliated organisations to popularise the idea of a global climate strike coinciding with the COP 26 Conference in Glasgow in November 2021.

To avoid misunderstanding it should be said at the outset that GEN is not itself presuming to call such a strike but we hope to spread the idea and be part of assembling a broad coalition that can issue such a call. Also the idea of a strike in November next year is not counter posed to any actions or struggles that may develop in the meantime but would complement them.

What follows are some comments on why I think this is a good idea and on some of the political thinking behind it.

First, the obvious. The issue of climate change has been overshadowed by the Covid pandemic but in fact the scientific evidence shows catastrophic climate change, particularly in the form of bouts of extreme heat, is developing even faster than the experts had predicted and making existing responses even more inadequate than they already were. It is vital that we put this question back at the centre of political debate.

Second, the mere fact that COP 26 was postponed for over a year shows that this issue is not really an urgent priority for the world’s rulers and therefore it is essential to build the mass popular movement to put them under pressure.

So why a global strike? The broad environmental movement will invest a great deal of energy into COP 26 both in terms of trying to exert influence within the Conference and in terms of mobilizing people to be on the streets of Glasgow and at various counter summits etc. But the fact is that the mass of ordinary people in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Oceania and even in Europe, will not be going to Glasgow and the idea of a climate strike offers a framework within which people can become engaged everywhere.

The idea of a climate strike next November provides a strategic goal which we can work towards in a multitude of ways over the next year. There will be innumerable conferences and organising meetings held by bodies ranging from NGOs and Charities (War on Want etc) to Extinction Rebellion and ecosocialist groups to radical political parties in the coming period. The goal of a global climate strike day can be canvassed at all of them in order to build momentum. It is something which, hopefully, everyone except the most conservative wing of the movement can support and combined with numerous other forms of action relevant to particular countries and situations.

Is it possible? It is, of course, by no means guaranteed but it IS possible. In the not too distant past the idea of a global strike on anything, let alone climate, would have seemed outlandish and akin to those tiny left sects that repeatedly called general strikes to zero effect. But times have changed. Most obviously we have seen the inspirational school strike movement launched by Greta Thunberg On 15 March 2019, the schools strikes exploded internationally. Here are some of the high points: Australia – 150,000; Germany – 300,000; France – 195,000; Italy – 200,000; Canada – 150,000; UK – 50,000; Austria – 30,000; Luxemburg – 15,000; Ireland – 16,000. There were also smaller strikes and protests in places as far flung as Reykjavik, Slovenia, Cape Town, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Overall, about 2,200 events took place in about 125 different countries, with more than a million participating worldwide. In 2019 there were strikes in the USA by McDonald’s workers against sexual harassment and prison strikes against unpaid labour. In India in 2016 an estimated 160 to 180 million public sector workers went on a 24 hour general strike against privatisation and government economic policies. It was hailed as the largest strike in history. In Spain on International Women’s Day, 2019, approximately 5 million held a strike against gender inequality and sex discrimination and this strike was initiated by feminists outside the official trade union movement. In the course of the fight for abortion rights there were important right-to-choose strikes in both Poland and Ireland. And there are Black Lives Matter strikes planned for the US on 20 July.

The proletarianisation of white collar work, the globalisation and multicultural diversification of the working class has facilitated the adoption of the quintessentially working class form of struggle – the strike – by people a long way from the traditional stereotype of the industrial worker.

Future Beyond Fossil Fuels: California’s Just Transition

By staff - Sunrise Movement, May 1, 2020

You may have heard the term ‘Just transition’ floating around, but what does it mean? This webinar will focus on what a just transition means for workers in California, and how the vision of a Green New Deal can guide the much-needed economic recovery from the COVID crisis.

This video features IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus cofounder, Steve Ongerth, speaking on workers, unions, and just transition in Northern California.

Going Slowly to 100% Renewables … by 2025?

By Dan Fischer - Peace News, April 5, 2020

It has been 55 years since the social ecologist Murray Bookchin argued that “wind, water, and solar power” (hereafter, WWS) could “amply meet the needs of a decentralized society” and eventually replace all fossil, nuclear, and bioenergy sources. The alternative, he warned, would be a future of “radioactive wastes,” “lethal air pollution,” “rising atmospheric temperatures,” “more destructive storm patterns,” and “rising sea levels.” Having declined to tear down its smokestacks, society has entered Bookchin’s dreaded scenario and, according to today’s scientists, accelerates toward “hothouse Earth,” “doomsday,” and even an “annihilation of all life.”

The urgency for reaching 100% WWS can’t be overstated. Leading climate scientists report that “tipping points could be exceeded even between 1 and 2°C of warming,” and today’s level is already at 1.2° and rapidly climbing. Moreover, society has pushed Earth past four other “planetary boundaries.” While all energy sources have an impact, small-scale WWS sources are by far the cleanest option available, and they also doesn’t involve nuclear power’s existential weapons proliferation risks.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that many Green New Deal supporters call for 100% WWS by 2030 or sooner. Activists in the United States and the United Kingdom are calling for zero emissions nationally by 2025, a stringent deadline that requires a very rapid phase-out of fossil and bioenergies and that necessarily excludes the lengthy construction of new nuclear power facilities and large-scale hydroelectric dams. The journalist Hazel Healy has even written about achieving zero emissions worldwide by 2025. To be sure, these targets are mind-bogglingly ambitious compared to, say, Joe Biden’s mid-century target. But if anything, 2025 is already pushing our luck from a climate and ecological perspective.

Wondering about the potential for rapidly reaching 100% renewable energy, I reached out to two of the most optimistic and two of the most pessimistic scholars on the technologies. Based on these conversations, I offer the following suggestion. Achieving 100% WWS within five to ten years, if it can be done at all, would likely require slowing down the industrialized world. It would mean abandoning what Michelle Boulous Walker calls today’s “culture of haste” and “relentless demand to decide, respond and act.” Instead of a frantic construction of hydrogen-powered airplanes and concrete-intensive high-speed rail, it would mean making most production local and most travel leisurely-paced. It would mean switching from full-time jobs to part-time crafts and hobbies, from patenting technology to sharing it, and from GDP to something like the Indigenous Environmental Network’s proposed “Index for Living Well.” While it’s common to read of “roadmaps” to WWS, we would probably get to the destination sooner with maps of biking trails and bus routes.

Know the Union: Steve Ongerth

By Editorial Collective - Industrial Worker, Fall 2019; IWW leaflet hand drawn by Judi Bari, October 1989.

How would you like your name printed? (Options include first and last, first and last initial, first, X-number, etc. It’s completely up to you)

Steve Ongerth

What are your pronouns?

He/Him

What branch or local are you affiliated with?

Bay Area IWW GMB

Do you hold a local or national office? If so, what is it?

No

Why did you join the IWW?

I was inspired to join by reading the work of Judi Bari (“Timber Wars”) and greatly appreciating her green syndicalism (she was also an IWW member) in 1995.

Why have you stayed?

I believe in what the IWW stands for and its potential (in spite of its imperfections and limitations).

Is there a wobbly (current or historical) you most admire? 

Judi Bari (of course! And I actually was friends & comrades with her from the time I met her and joined the IWW in May 1995 until she passed away in 1997).

The revolution is over, the wage system is abolished, we installed whatever post-capitalist system you prefer. What are you doing Saturday?

Hiking in the woods or along the Bay (which hopefully isn’t drowning the SF Bay Area due to climate change and sea level rise)

What are you working on right now (union-wise)?

I am one of the cofounders of and active organizers of the IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus (I also maintain its webpage https://ecology.iww.org) I am also the Bay Area IWW Tabling Coordinator.

Union Members Support Coal Phase Out at Levin Terminal in Richmond

By Steve Morse, Martha Hawthorne, Jonathan Kocher, Jud Peake, and Steve Ongerth - Open Letter, January 2020

We are rank-and-file union members who support Richmond’s proposed ordinance to phase out coal and pet coke export from the city.

Others supportive of the ordinance who were present at the December 3rd meeting of the Richmond City Council, include members of unions representing nurses, educators,  and city and county workers. 

The Richmond City Council has been debating an ordinance to phase out coal and pet coke transport from the Levin Terminal over three years. It will finally come to a vote on Tuesday, January 14. We support this ordinance, and Richmond residents’ demands, because we support healthy, vibrant communities with clean air that are free from coal dust.

We also support good, well-paying jobs – union jobs – and the right to bargain collectively and organize for ourselves and our communities.  And we support full employment and a just transition for all workers displaced by the rapid transition away from fossil fuels toward clean and renewable energy that can protect us from climate disaster.

As union members, we call on other union members to oppose the fossil fuel corporations’ agenda -- which callously divides workers, community members and environmentalists -- so that we can’t effectively fight for our common interests and protect the health and safety of our families.

We ask all people to be fully part of the fight for protecting and expanding green union jobs. We all must work for a commitment to a just transition that goes beyond vague support.

We can have good jobs, healthy communities and environmental justice. With real unity, we can halt the power of the oil and coal industries to pollute our neighborhoods, and to pollute our planet.

The Green New Deal offers us a way forward. At the local, state and national level, it is our best strategy for jobs, community health and climate justice. A poll by Data for Progress shows that 62% of working union members favor a Green New Deal, while only 22% are in opposition. We want the collective voice of union workers to reflect this sentiment.

While just transition is a strategy to fully compensate and retrain workers displaced from the fossil fuel economy, the task at Levin Terminal is simpler. The workers can retain their jobs, their wages and benefits. They can retain their representation by the Operating Engineers and the other unions. By shifting terminal operations to handling materials that are compatible with community health and a sustainable world, their jobs can be sustained as well.

We commit ourselves to joining with community health and climate justice activists to create one or more viable fleshed-out plans to change the materials that are stored and shipped at the terminal.  At UC Berkeley alone, there are many resources, including the Labor Center, that could help hone this plan.

We ask Levin and the unions to commit to ongoing meetings with the Richmond community and to work in good faith to make this transition happen.  We also ask Levin to withdraw the threat that they made at the Dec. 3 City Council meeting that they would litigate if the ordinance passed. After all, this ordinance doesn't call for an immediate ban, and it includes an option to return to the council if replacement commodities genuinely cannot be found.

The Richmond City Council voted to push the vote on the ordinance to this Tuesday.  The clock is ticking, and the health and safety of the people here in our community is at stake. How much longer will workers and Richmond residents have to endure the worst air quality in the Bay Area?

The Industrial Workers’ Climate Plan: A Great Green Charter

By various - Bristol IWW, 2019

An ecology movement that once seemed jaded is budding and blossoming beautifully. The fantastic efforts of the school strikes’ movement and groups like Extinction Rebellion, Earth Strike and the Green Anti-Capitalist Front have forced green issues back into mainstream public debate. This achievement has been marked by declarations that there is a ‘climate emergency’, first by the Welsh and Scottish governments and then, fittingly on 1st May, by the UK Parliament. A fortnight earlier, the University of Bristol had become the first UK university to declare a climate emergency. So successful have these campaigns been that there is now a broad consensus that something must be done. It is essential to build on this achievement and keep up the momentum. We urgently need to continue the conversation about what do to now.

Alongside the general strikes for climate action in September 2019, Earth Strike is therefore proposing that a Great Green Charter would be a powerful rallying document for the environmental crisis of the Twenty-First Century. The nineteenth-century movement called Chartism inspired the idea of a Great Green Charter. The Chartists drew up clear and agreed points which they pursued with a mix of political, economic and cultural approaches. Chartism became the largest reform movement of its time, taken up by thousands of ordinary people across the United Kingdom. The Chartists were successful, in as much as most of the points listed on ‘The People’s Charter’ were eventually attained, and even exceeded. While this was not within the years of Chartism, and achieved only after great struggle, the Chartists defined the terms of political reform for the decades to come.

Read the report (PDF).

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