Chapter 27 : Murdered by Capitalism

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

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

“They intimidate the workers by fear and that’s why they have him there. Everybody around here is so afraid that if something gets crossed up…lumber gets crossed up…they will try to fix it without stopping the machine for fear of being yelled at by the foreman if they do not stop the machine. It’s a constant environment of fear, totally.”

—Randy Veach, L-P Millworker, interviewed by Judi Bari, August 1992 [1]

“Management doesn’t care about our feelings—it’s insignificant to them. OK? Basically we’re nothing but a paid robot. And we’ve been told…our jobs are graders…both of us we’ve been told graders are a dime a dozen.”

—Don Beavers, L-P Millworker, interviewed by Judi Bari, August 1992 [2]

Earth First! – IWW Local #1 knew about the state of affairs in G-P’s and P-L’s mills, thanks to the efforts of its members, but what were conditions like at L-P? Local 1 had tried, unsuccessfully, to try and get one of their members, Allen Anger—who had relocated from Washington—hired at an L-P mill in order to try and organize the mill from within. [3] Without a willing organizer in the plants, IWW Local #1 had to settle for using information supplied by underground dissidents within the mill to provide a picture of what took place on the inside. Luckily, thanks to the coalition being forged in opposition to L-P’s outsourcing, at least two, Don Beavers (a grader who had once worked in the Potter Valley Mill before it closed) and Randy Veach, were able to reveal that if safety and working conditions were bad enough in the nominally union Georgia-Pacific mill in Fort Bragg, they were substantially worse in Louisiana-Pacific’s nonunion mills. Yet, the L-P workers were least likely to openly declare their opposition to such repression. As Judi Bari explained in 1991, it wasn’t difficult to understand why:

“How does a company as cold and crass as (L-P) keep their workforce so obedient? A look behind the barbed wire fence that surrounds their Ukiah mill might yield some clues.

“‘It’s their little world, and when you step through the gate you do what they say or you don’t stay in their little world,’ says one millworker. The work rules are designed to turn you into an automaton. There’s a two-minute warning whistle, then the start-up whistle. You have to be at your work station ready to go when the start-up whistle blows, or you can be written up for lateness (three white slips in a year for the same offense and you’re fired). You stay at your work station doing the same repetitive job over and over for two and a half hours (two hours in the planing mill and a half hour in the sawmill) until the break whistle blows. Then you get a ten-minute break, except that it takes you two minutes to walk to the break room and two minutes to walk back, so you only get to sit down for six minutes. And don’t get too comfortable, because there’s a two-minute warning whistle before the end of break time, then you have to get back to your station ready to go when the start-up whistle blows again. If you ever wondered what they were training you for with all those bells in public school, here’s the answer—life at L-P.

“In the Land of the Free, democracy stops at the plant gates. The Bill of Rights is supposed to protect against unreasonable or warrantless searches. But not at L-P. Their drug policy reads like the Gestapo: ‘entry onto company property will be deemed as consent to inspection of person, vehicle, lockers or other personal effects at any time at the discretion of management. Employee refusal to cooperate in alcohol and other drug testing, or searches of other personal belongings and lockers are subject to termination [sic].’ And, before you even get hired you have to submit to a urine test and sign a consent form to let them test your urine any time ‘for cause,’ again at the discretion of management.” [4]

Such rules were obviously designed to maximize production and quell dissent, particularly about the lax safety standards, which—had they been stronger—would have threatened Harry Merlo’s “log-to-infinity” profit-oriented forestry.

“Loss of life or limb is a constant danger at L-P, but it doesn’t happen every day. What does happen every day is the mind numbing tedium of the job, and L-P’s constant rush for production. Take the job of lumber grader. Rough cut lumber, 2x12 and up to 20 feet long, comes up on the chain, and the grader has to scan it, turn it over, decide the best way to trim it for length and split it for width, and put the grade marks and trim marks on the board. You have two to three seconds to perform all these tasks, while the chain keeps moving and the next board comes up. All night long. Back injuries, tendonitis, and shoulder strains, common among graders and other millworkers, are caused by turning over the heavy lumber. But the company just wants its production quotas. ‘We broke a production record in our section,’ said one of my sources. ‘We used to get pizzas and beer for that, but this time they just got us one of those six-feet submarine sandwiches. We probably made them $200,000 in L-P’s pocket that night and they gave us a sandwich.’

“...In such a petty, dictatorial atmosphere, some petty dictators are bound to arise. And there is none better known at L-P than Dean Remstedt, swing shift foreman in the planing mill. Remstedt runs his shift with threats and favoritism and is known as a racist. A few years ago he passed out a flyer making racist jokes about Jesse Jackson. It offended some of the millworkers so much they took it to the Ukiah Daily Journal (anonymously of course). Remstedt denied that there was a problem. ‘It was something laying in the break room that we was laughing about,’ Remstedt told the Journal. But Hispanic workers, who make up about one-third of the shift, were not laughing. ‘To me, when I got that, that was from the company,’ One of them told the Journal reporter. And of course, L-P’s upper management did nothing to change that impression. [5]

This wasn't just a case of a petty dictator throwing his weight around however. Evidently such behavior was rampant throughout L-P. For instance, in April 1989, African-American sawblade filer Cigam Nam X sued L-P for five years of racial discrimination he experienced while working at the Samoa mill. In his complaint, he stated that he was routinely called “nigger” and even subjected to images of lynched blacks with the slogan “KKK all the way!” at his workstation. His supervisor dismissed his concerns by telling him that KKK was “just letters of the alphabet.” He was also demoted from his job and told that the company “would make it hard on him” if he complained. [6] Remstedt was the rule rather than the exception, and he did not especially set a good example either:

“Millworkers say Remstedt is ‘a fanatic about production’ and that he ‘intimidates people into taking chances [with safety] for fear of being disciplined or of losing their job.’ He sets the example with his own reckless behavior, which has led to him having several on-the-job accidents himself. He once climbed onto an automatic lumber stacking machine that was not properly turned off, and he was knocked to the ground when the auto-cycle started up and the lumber moved forward, sending him to the hospital with minor injuries. Another time he stood on the forks of the forklift raised to a high position so he could reach something overhead. He fell off and knocked himself out cold. They wrote up the forklift driver for that one, but they never write up Remstedt, even though the injuries to others on his shift have been a lot more serious than his own, including a woman who lost her leg walking between roller cases on a machine that bands lumber.” [7]

Randy Veach and Don Beavers elaborated further a year later when they finally openly criticized the company. According to Veach,

“…A board got crossed up on what’s called the landing table that comes out of the planer. We had to stop the landing table chains to get this cross up fixed. Well, one of the workers was trying to do it, the chains were turned off and he was trying not to get up on the landing table, he was trying to do it from his work station so he wouldn’t have to lock everything out...because he was safe from where he was. (Remstedt) came along and started yelling at that particular employee. He told him, ‘We don’t have all night to run this stuff.’ And that intimidated that employee to jump up there and fix it immediately. And that’s what happened. The employee jumped up on the landing table. Nothing was shut down.” [8]

Under such conditions it was inevitable that someone would eventually be killed, and sure enough, that is exactly what happened.

Socialize the Railways!

By Tom Wetzel - East Bay Syndicalists, November 13, 2023

The downward slide of the major (Class 1) American freight railroads in recent years shows how capitalist ownership of the railway system is dangerous and inefficient — and fails to make use of the potential of the railways as a solution to the global warming crisis.

Downward slide has been accelerated over the past decade due to the adoption of “Precision Scheduled Railroading” (PSR). This has no precise definition but the aim is to reduce costs. As in “lean production” management theory, any expense not directly needed for profit is regarded as “waste.” PSR is a cost-cutting strategy that puts short-term profits for stockholders as the controlling priority. To maximize the rate of return, the railroads cut corners on maintenance, constantly work to reduce the number of railroad employees, and actively discourage shipments that are less profitable for them to haul. To keep Wall Street investors happy, they work to maximize short term profit. To enrich stockholders, the rail companies have poured billions of dollars into stock buybacks rather than invest in system improvements.

Union Busting in Fast Fashion: IWW Cork

By staff - IWW Union Ireland, November 7, 2023

To improve working conditions in the garment industry, we must support organised garment workers in advocating for better conditions for themselves!

This was the main message emphasised by IWW member Kirsten in their presentation to the UCC Global Justice Society in Cork as part of the event "Union Busting in Fast Fashion" on Wednesday 11th October. The Global Justice Society invited a local IWW member to speak about union busting generally and what forms it can take, as well as examples both more locally, in regards to the firing of workers at Saramago in Glasgow, and in the garment industry particularly in Myanmar. While union members face intimidation and various union busting tactics in all countries where fast fashion is produced, the situation is particularly dire in Myanmar where the Federation of General Workers Myanmar (FGWM) are facing repression by the military regime which seized power on February 1, 2021.

The FGWM is an association of (grassroots) unions that are organised primarily by the workers themselves, which makes it even more pressing for IWW members and the public to support them, since they represent the workers on the ground in Myanmar who are standing up to the regime despite great personal cost.

The cause of the FGWM was included as a particularly relevant example because the fast fashion industry directly profits from the worsening of conditions and wages that are keeping production costs low in Myanmar, as union members are directly targeted by the regime and are subject to violent methods of union busting, limiting their ability to advocate for their own conditions.

The Speech Biden Won’t Give

By Dan Fischer - Promoting Enduring Peace, November 2023

Nov. 11. President Biden could prevent many further Palestinian and Israeli deaths by giving this speech insisting on an immediate ceasefire in Gaza along with a release of hostages. It would be widely popular among the two-thirds of eligible voters—including 80% of Democrats, 57% of independents, and 56% of Republicans—who favor a ceasefire. It’s unlikely that Biden will give such a speech, since he sees Israel as an enforcer for the U.S. and global elite. Thus, massacres will likely continue and the “genocide” designation could become less and less ambiguous. If there’s anything that might force Biden to stop the bloodshed, it’s the peaceful uprisings worldwide demanding mutual security and a swift transition to a democracy between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.

Good evening. Earlier this month, I was challenged by one Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg: “Mr. President, if you care about Jewish people, as a rabbi, I need you to call for a ceasefire right now.” I have been thinking about these words ever since.

When I ran for vice president in 2008 and for president in 2020, I promised to be a steadfast friend of the Israeli people. Being a good friend sometimes means stepping up to offer criticism. It means not enabling self-destructive behaviors. As true friends of the Israeli people, we Americans must demand an immediate end to the massacres of Palestinians, a mutual release of all Israeli and Palestinian hostages and prisoners, and a policy shift toward respecting universal human rights as guaranteed under international law.

It’s been nearly five weeks since October 7, and it’s estimated that more than 1,200 Israelis and 11,000 Palestinians are dead. The full death toll may be higher, with many Palestinian bodies lying under the rubble of destroyed and damaged homes, schools, hospitals, mosques, and marketplaces. It is clear that the vast majority of fatalities on each side were civilians. In Gaza, more than two-thirds of the dead are estimated to be women and children.

Frontlines to Big Greens: Stand with us in calling for #Ceasefire now and Justice for Palestine

By Hendrik Voss - It Takes Roots, October 31, 2023

Over 2 million Palestinian people have suffered under a 16 year blockade on Gaza and now endure a complete siege, as Israel bombs, starves, and displaces them. Israel has cut off food, water, and electricity to Gaza and has engaged in bombing of residential buildings, markets, schools, health facilities, and mosques – all with the support of the United States and other governments. Palestinians are forced between two decisions, stay and try to survive, or try to flee into exile, but will never see their home again. Our solidarity as environmental justice and human rights defenders globally is vital, as we are witnessing genocide before our eyes. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance at $3.8 billion a year, totaling more than $260 billion to date. Five of the top six global defense corporations based in the United States are profiting from and enabling the ongoing bombardment against Palestinians in Gaza.

As environmental justice frontline communities that have experienced violence and displacement at the hands of settler-colonialism, we stand in unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian freedom struggle for self-determination and to live freely with their human rights fully intact on their lands.

Our It Takes Roots alliances comprise over 200 groups in more than 50 states, provinces and Indigenous territories across North America, Puerto Rico and Guåhan. Since the beginning of the most recent escalation in the 75-year history of settler-colonialism and violence across historic Palestine, many of our members have drawn upon their extensive grassroots organizing experience and we have taken our grief and outrage to the streets, into the halls of Congress, engaged in direct action, and educated our communities. Together, we continue our practice of international solidarity, and call for an end to the siege of Gaza, and an end to the occupation.

Further, we call on the larger environmental and climate movement to stand with frontline and Indigenous Movements around the world by calling for a ceasefire, an end to all violence and warfare, insisting that Israel allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, and calling on our governments to refuse to send any additional weapons or funding to the Israeli military. Now is the time to build on our cross-sector relationships, and to appeal to all our partners and allies who might still be on the sidelines, to join the international struggle for a free Palestine. We must build momentum to prevent further loss of life.

Life is sacred. We mourn the devastating loss of all Palestinian and Israeli lives, and all casualties of colonialism and rising militarism around the world. It Takes Roots is determined to continue our work for justice and peace at home and globally. Liberation of one is only possible with the liberation of all.

Despite Intimidation, Union Voices Get Louder for Ceasefire in Gaza

By Keith Brower Brown and Caitlyn Clark - Labor Notes, October 31, 2023


Workers from three Chicago hospitals marched October 21. Photo: @lowisiana on X.

In the U.S. and across the world, hundreds of thousands of people have taken the streets to protest Israel’s assault on Gaza, which has killed at least 8,300 Palestinians, including 3,300 children, since October 7. On October 27, the United Nations called for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce.”

In the U.S., those protesting Israel’s attacks have faced a wave of repression by employers.

Management retaliation has struck journalists and academics. Michael Eisen, editor-in-chief of the open-access science journal eLife, was fired after sharing a satirical article from The Onion that criticized media responses to the loss of Palestinian life. Jackson Frank, a sports writer for PhillyVoice, was fired after criticizing a pro-Israel post by the Philadelphia 76ers.

After publishing and signing a letter of prominent artists and critics for a ceasefire, to stop an “escalating genocide,” Artforum Editor-in-Chief David Velasco was fired after 18 years at the magazine and six in that role. Three other editors resigned from the high-profile magazine in protest.

The National Writers Union is documenting such cases—both to connect writers with individual support, and to push for industry-wide reforms.

Meanwhile in Gaza, at least 25 journalists have been killed by Israeli airstrikes.

More Juice?

By x364181 - Industrial Worker, October 19, 2023

Is that all labor needs?

Ever since the sharp decline of unions in the latter half of the 1900s people have been scrambling to “revive” the labor movement. The call to action gained momentum recently during the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopes were rekindled with new Amazon and Starbucks organizing attempts. People shout for more unions, more certification elections, more contracts, more workers organizing, more oomph –We mean it this time, dammit!

Animal Liberation Is Climate Justice

By Laura Schleifer and Dan Fischer - New Politics, Winter 2022

Twenty twenty-one was the Year of the Flood(s)—and droughts, fires, famines, and plague. Floods swelled from Chinese subways to Alpine villages; fires raged from the Canadian-U.S. Pacific Northwest to Greece and Turkey; Madagascar suffered drought-induced famine; locusts ravaged crops from East Africa to India to the Arabian Peninsula; flesh-eating bacteria spawned in the Atlantic; the coronavirus killed millions; and right-wingers began begrudgingly acknowledging the eco-apocalypse, shifting from climate change denialism to increasingly Malthusian, eco-fascistic narratives.1

Meanwhile, world leaders discussed how to save capitalism from global warming. The much-hyped 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) regurgitated reformist policies that aimed to preserve the very system causing this catastrophe. Its accomplishments included pledges to reduce coal usage and end global deforestation by 2030, and a recommitment to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This target (let alone 1 degree, as scientist James Hansen advocates) seems purely aspirational considering our current trajectory toward 3 degrees or higher. Moreover, these voluntary measures may never even materialize at all.

It’s particularly difficult to take such pledges seriously when the discussion at COP26 barely touched on a leading cause of global warming, deforestation, species extinction, water depletion, ocean “dead zones” and plastics, soil erosion, air pollution, world hunger, antibiotic resistance, and infectious diseases—including, most likely, COVID-19.2 The delegates chowed on meat, fish, and dairy-based meals, which comprised 60 percent of the conference’s menu, ignoring these meals’ high carbon footprint. To quote Carl Le Blanc of the Phoenix-based nonprofit Climate Healers: “The cow in the room is being ignored at this COP. Animal agriculture has been taken off the agenda and put on the menu.”3

In accounting for climate change, a focus on cows is essential for several reasons. First, farmed animals—mainly cows raised for beef and dairy—produce roughly one-third of the world’s methane emissions. Despite being shorter-lived than carbon dioxide (CO2), methane is the more potent greenhouse gas by far—by a factor of eighty to one hundred. Second, land used by the cattle industry has a staggering opportunity cost. Scientists found this year that if the world abolished animal agriculture and restored the liberated land to forest and wild grassland, the flora and soil could sequester 772 billion tons of CO2.

Although the UN released a special report two years ago stressing that one of the most effective ways to mitigate warming is a plant-based diet,4 not one day of COP26 was devoted to the issue, in stark contrast to the time dedicated to energy, transport, and finance. Even as protests outside the conference called attention to this issue, the delegates inside ignored it.

One reason cited for the omission was that addressing animal agriculture would unfairly target historically oppressed communities, continuing the Global North’s legacy of dominating and controlling those they’ve colonized.5 While this may seem motivated by the noble impulse to be “sensitive” to colonial dynamics, the knowledge that these same imperialist nations’ delegates also removed from the conference’s concluding agreement the so-called Loss and Damages Finance Facility,6 which mandated compensation be paid to poorer countries for climate damages, should put any uncertainty about their true motives to rest. This is just one manifestation of how the call for sensitivity toward oppressed groups is exploited by those most responsible for current crises in order to avoid making transformative changes within their own societies.7

Unfortunately, the Western left bears some responsibility for this manipulative usage of political correctness, due both to its collective failure to reject the neoliberal exploitation of identity politics, and to its constant smearing of veganism and animal liberation as “middle class and white.”8 While it’s certainly true that vegan and animal advocacy are often conducted in colonial, Eurocentric ways, that does not mean there are no liberatory ways of advancing these goals, or that no marginalized individuals do this type of work themselves. Around the world, Indigenous, colonized, and working-class people engage in praxis that recognizes how the fates of other species enmesh with our own, and that our collective survival depends upon the liberation of humans and other species alike.

Chapter 26 : They Weren’t Gonna Have No Wobbly Runnin’ Their Logging Show

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

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

Now Judi Bari is a union organizer,
A ‘Mother Jones’ at the Georgia-Pacific Mill,
She fought for the sawmill workers,
Hit by that PCB spill;
T. Marshall Hahn’s calling GP shots from Atlanta,
Don Nelson sold him the union long ago,
They weren’t gonna have no Wobbly,
Running their logging show;
So they spewed out their hatred,
And they laid out their scam,
Jerry Philbrick called for violence,
It was no secret what they planned…

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

Meanwhile, in Fort Bragg, the rank and file dissent against the IWA Local #3-469 officialdom grew. Still incensed by Don Nelson’s actions over the PCB Spill, and not at all satisfied with a second consecutive concessionary contract, the workers now had yet another reason to protest: a proposed dues increase. Claiming that the local faced a financial crisis, the embattled union leader proposed raising the members’ dues from $22.50 per month to $29, an increase that amounted to more than a 25 percent rise. Ironically, IWA’s Constitution limited the monthly dues rate to 2½ times the wages of the lowest paid worker. The local’s financial shortage had resulted from a decrease in the wages and the loss members due to G-P’s outsourcing logging jobs to gyppos and automation of jobs in the quad mill. [1] The usual suspects readied themselves to blame “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs” once again.

Nelson presented his proposal in the form of a leaflet posted on the employee bulletin boards and distributed in the employee break rooms throughout the G-P Mill in Fort Bragg. The leaflet stated, “we are voting to maintain the ability of our union to function.” A group of rank and filers, however, led by a mill maintenance janitor, named Julie Wiles and her coworker Cheryl Jones, as well as some of the eleven workers affected by the PCB spill and others who had been most dissatisfied with the recent round of contract negotiations, responded by producing a leaflet of their own opposing the dues increase. Their leaflet stated, “Last year Union officers’ wages plus expenses were $43,622. This year they were $68,315. That’s a whopping 69 percent increase! Considering our lousy 3 percent pay raise, how can the Union ask us for more money?” The rank and file dissidents’ leaflets were quickly removed from the employee bulletin boards. [2] This wasn’t to be the worst of it, though.

United Auto Workers on Strike

By Zachary Guerra - Industrial Worker, October 9, 2023

The UAW is conducting a coordinated strike against the big three.

DETROIT, MI — It’s September 15. I’m stuck in traffic on my way to the UAW rally. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rashida Talib, UAW President Shawn Fain and others will be speaking. There are state police on the road, more than usual. I’m stuck in traffic for 15 minutes–then stuck downtown for another thirty. I miss half of the speakers.

Workers at 3 UAW plants are on strike for a 36 percent four-year pay raise, cost-of-living adjustments, a 32-hour week with 40-hour pay, an end to the tier system, returning their defined-benefit pensions for new hires, and pension increases for workers who have retired. Many of their demands were benefits they previously received before being clawed back by the company and union officials in their 2007 union contract, allegedly due to the recession. The workers are on strike at the GM Plant in Wentzville, Missouri, a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, and a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio. (Stellantis owns Jeep and Chrysler). Their demands track with other strikes occurring around the county, especially for cost-of-living adjustments. It seems that their strategy will be a staggered strike. UAW president Shawn Fain warns that “many more factories may follow.” In total 146,000 workers have walked off the job, and they are feeling fired up.

The UAW is holding the rally outside of the UAW-Ford National Program Center, just under the people mover, Detroit’s raised rail that goes to a few places downtown. It rumbles above, a backdrop to the fiery speeches being delivered.

Many of the workers are afraid of plant closures. As our manufacturing capacity shifts to renewables, many are afraid that without proper retraining programs, these workers will be out of a job. As for the electric manufacturers that do exist, these factories are nonunion, low-wage jobs. 

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