Railroading Quebec

By Jonathan Flanders - Reproduced from Counterpunch, August 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 bad news for the beleaguered trackside inhabitants of Lac Megantic, Quebec, continues to roll relentlessly downhill, just as the The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway(MM&A)  train did before it exploded in their town, incinerating more that forty of their citizens. After MM&A CEO Edward Burkhardt assured them that his railroad would pay for all the expenses of a cleanup, in the more or less immediate period after the crash(he took a few days to show up), his railroad has sought bankruptcy protection both in Canada and the US, and it has been revealed that it had only 25 million dollars in liability insurance. This is a fraction of what the ultimate cost will be to remediate the environmental disaster created by the wreck. Never mind making whole the families of the dead in Lac Megantic.

According the CBC “ “Burkhardt said that the railway wishes to continue to work with municipal and provincial authorities “on environmental remediation and cleanup as long as is necessary, and will do everything within its capacity to achieve completion of such goal.””

Evidently this railroad’s capacity only extends as far as hiring lawyers, since it has welshed on its bills for the cleanup so far, leaving Lac Megantic and Quebec to step in to pay cleanup workers. And as we know, once the corporate lawyers start circling  a disaster, the settlement will take years, not months.

Reinventing the Wheel - The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

By x356039 - August 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.

In the discussions of climate change one item often overlooked is one of the most surprisingly obvious: food. Without any doubt the modern industrial food system is incredibly destructive to the environment. The carbon emissions, runoff from feedlots, use of pesticides and other toxins, and the impact of genetically manipulated frankenfood on ecosystems are all proven environmental consequences of factory farming. In spite of these factors industrialized food is often very far down on the list of mainstream environmental activists' priorities.

The relative lack of emphasis is not surprising. When it comes to climate change the first targets of efforts are usually the fossil fuel industry and rightfully so. It is thanks to their activities we are facing a climate crisis in the first place. On top of that agribusiness and their supporters have for decades made the case their methods are what the world needs to keep everyone fed. These claims often go unchallenged with food activists focusing more on the health consequences and nutritional benefits of natural, organic food over factory food. Thanks to these factors the mainstream discourse is not whether or not we should ditch fake food but seeking the best balance between factory food & real food.

This status quo suit agribusiness just fine for a very simple reason. Contrary to their most strident claims organic farming can not only feed the entire world, In some cases it can do it better. According to a report released by the United Nations FAO in 2007 organic farming techniques, when implemented in a comprehensive fashion, are capable of yielding as much in terms of crops as “traditional” factory farming. Quite contrary to the claims by more moderate voices it is very possible to do this without the use of any chemical fertilizers, pesticides, genetically mutilated crops, or any of the other dubious hallmarks of fossil fuel farming. Even more impressively organic farming performs up to 60% better in drought-prone areas like Ethiopia than high cost, high maintenance, highly destructive factory farming.

Capital Blight: Reflections on the August 3rd, 2013 Protest in Richmond, California

By x344543 - August 11, 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.

On Saturday, August 3, 2013, I--along with approximately 3500 others--attended the Summer Heat: Together we Can Stop Climate Chaos rally, jointly organized by 350.org and a coalition of local environmental and social justice groups.

The coalescing of these forces reflected a confluence of several factors, including:

  • The struggle of a predominantly people of color community to wrangle some justice for the environmental and economic transgressions committed by the Chevron corporation, which has for all intents and purposes run Richmond like a company town (and this corporation's refinery--a piece of the once ubiquitous Standard Oil monopoly--actually existed before the town which we now call Richmond was established);
  • A massive explosion and fire that occurred at the refinery a year previously, which investigations later revealed was due to corroded pipes, which refinery workers complained about to management, but were allowed to let stand, lest the company's profits be lessened by so much as a penny;
  • Chevron's connection to the extraction of tar sands from Alberta and elsewhere which represent a form of "extreme energy" which endangers the environment, workers, and communities along the transport routes of this stuff (whether by train, truck, ship, or pipeline), and has already caused massive devastation and death in Kalamazoo, Minnesota; Lac Megantic, Quebec, and Mayflower, Arkansas, just to name a few places; and
  • The increasing realization that continued unabated use (and increased use) of fossil fuels (and for that matter, capitalism in general) has the human race on a collision course with doom, because (capitalist) human caused global warming--which has already progressed past the dangerous two degrees Celsius threshold that gives 350.org its name--will almost certainly condemn the human race, and quite likely all of the Earth, to a Venus like end, and must be stopped...yesterday.

Due to the participation of my fellow IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus members, Elliot and Ryan, an idea that they planted as a seed blossomed into a sizable labor contingent, composed of over thirty unions--including the Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch--that endorsed the rally and participated as an organized force in one way or another. The idea became so popular within the coalition organizing this particular campaign, that 350.org hired an organizer, Brooke Anderson, to make it happen--which she did to great effect. Ultimately 208 participants, including all three of us, my wife, 350.org spokesman Bill McKibben, ILWU Local 6 president Fred Pecker, and Richmond's mayor, Gayle McLauglin.

The event began with a meet-up at the Richmond BART station--the Bay Area's principal public transit system--an electric heavy rail network, whose union workers--represented by various ATU and SEIU Locals were embroiled in a nasty labor dispute with the agency's management and had (before the date of the rally) engaged in a one-week strike. Due to my efforts, and in no small part because I am a transit worker myself, a ferryboat deckhand at another one of the Bay Area's public transit systems, I suggested to Anderson that she make overtures to the BART workers as workers who work as part of the solution to capitalist fossil-fuel driven climate change; she agreed. At the other end of the equation, as a member of the rank and file opposition caucus, Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, to which several rank and file members from the various BART unions have since joined, I pushed for the committee to reciprocate; they did.

As one would expect, corporate media coverage of the event, while extensive, was overall mediocre to atrocious.

350.org compiled the coverage here.

None of the print media so much as mentioned the sizable labor contingent, though Brooke Anderson provided a fairly detailed account missed by the corporate media.

One of the worst offenders was the San Jose Mercury News who quoted San Jose State Political Science professor Larry Gerston (quite likely out of context) commenting about how people support projects like the Keystone XL pipeline because they're eager for "jobs" (in spite of the substantial proof that Keystone would provide almost no permanent jobs, and our own analysis that more permanent jobs than there are available workers in the US would be created if the full potential of renewable energy were deployed--environmental considerations and all).

Rather than provide yet another lengthy recounting of the march, rally, and planned civil disobedience that followed, I will keep this already lengthy article from becoming that much longer by offering a link a concise and to the point account by Richmond Progressive Alliance members (and rally co-organizers) Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon, published in Counterpunch. To round out the day's happenings, I have also included Ethan Buckner of Forest Ethic's report. Finally, 350.org's official press release (in which I'm quoted), published by EcoWatch gives a glowing account, as one would expect. Likewise, Susie Kagel--who was present at the arrest site, taking statements from the would-be arrestees--covered the demonstration quite thoroughly in Grist.org (of which, Bill McKibben is a board member).

Earth First!, by the way, also wrote glowingly of the event. They actually went as far as to give the IWW the majority of the credit for organizing the labor contingent, which is a refreshing change from the IWW's role in major uprisings being largely ignored. In this case, while Earth First!'s compliment is much appreciated, the IWW cannot accept that credit; we were merely one of thirty labor unions involved--though, of course, we were the only one who explicitly calls for the abolition of capitalism.

On the other hand, Fellow IWW member and rally participant, John Reimann offers this far more critical account.

My opinion of the demonstration falls somewhere between these two poles, and there are some very important lessons revolutionaries need to take from this struggle.

PG&E "Union" Mounts Attack on Clean Power SF

By Tim Redmond - San Francisco Bay Guardian, September 11, 2012

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. This article is published in accordance with "Fair Use" guidelines

The union that represents PG&E workers -- and has opposed every single public-power initiative in modern San Francisco history -- just launched an attack on Clean Power SF. And the union's business representative is having a hard time explaining exactly why he's working with PG&E to try to undermine this modest step toward public power.

Hunter Stern, with IBEW Local 1245, sent a press release out Sept. 11 announcing the start of a campaign to convince the supervisors not to approve the Clean Power SF plan. The line of attack: Shell Energy, which got the contract to supply sustainable energy to customers in the city, in competition with PG&E. The pitch:

San Francisco city government is considering a proposal to partner with Shell Energy of North America to inaugurate SF’s so-called “clean power” program. If the Board of Supervisors approves the proposal, San Francisco would pay millions to Shell, one of the most notorious environmental violators in business today.

Shell's a pretty bad company. So is PG&E. So is just about everyone in the energy business. Not justifying Shell's behavior, just noting: If you want a contractor to deliver electricty to San Francisco, you aren't going to get a cool independent small business. You aren't even going to get Google. These folks are evil, all of them.

Oh, and by the way: Shell Energy also sells power to PG&E (pdf). Stern's boss has a contract similar to what the city is going to get. So the PG&E power we all pay for today is in part Shell power. And as Sup. David Campos points out, it wasn't as if the city chose Shell over some better competitors: There was no other company out there anywhere in the world that responded to the city's bid process and offered to work with Clean Power SF.

The key point here is that Clean Power SF is going to use Shell as a bridge -- the private outfit will deliver power generated at renewable facililities to the city's power operation, which will resell it to customers ... for a while. The goal is to use the revenue stream from the sales of power to back bonds that will allow the city to build its own renewable energy system. Five, maybe ten years down the road, San Francisco will have solar generators on city property (including large swaths of Public Utilities Commission property in the East Bay), wind generators, maybe at some point tidal generators, and will be able to sell cheap, clean, local power to customers. Shell will be gone.

We're Getting Tanked: New EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Loosens Frack Tank Rules

By x362102 - Originally posted at We Are Power Shift, August 6, 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.

In 2012, the Obama's EPA Air Division under newly installed EPA Adminstrator Gina McCarthy issued new rules for emissions from natural gas production, specifically, the wastewater and condensate tanks present on the well pads after hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" has taken place. The new restrictions required gas companies to reduce the amount of harmful Volatile Organic Compounds and cancer-causing chemicals like benzene up to 95 percent.

The deadline to do so was October 15, 2013, but not anymore.

Condensate tanks in shale gas operations collect liquids that come up from a fracked well and are separated using a glycol separator onsite before the gas is sent into transmission pipelines. Those liquids form a toxic brine that is trucked to EPA-permitted Class 2 injection wells, waste "treatment" facilities, or "recycled" for the next fracking operation by removing the solids which are sent to landfills as "frack cake".

Many of these condensate tanks are present in rural people's yards, where their children play, and the technology to control the tanks' emissions has been available for years, but has not been put into use largely because the oil and gas industry would rather avoid the cost and generate extra revenue for their shareholders.

Today, Gina McCarthy, who has also extended the deadline for gas well flaring until 2015, supported massive subsidies for natural gas vehicles, and proposed sub-par CO2 emission standards for natural gas power plants, gave another hand out to her friends in the trillion dollar oil and gas industry. The EPA says it's because they claimed hardship during the public comment period for these new frack tank rules.

The EPA is now allowing operators to wait until as late as April 15, 2015 to comply, an 18 month extenstion.

Don't "Stand With Gina" on Natural Gas

By x362102 - Originally posted at We Are Power Shift, July 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.

I drafted this open letter to SaveOurEnvironment.org's board and staff because they are the predominant source of social media praising new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. From their website, their coalition partners include: American Rivers, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Environment America, Environmental Defense, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters – Education Fund, National Audubon Society, Pew Environment Group, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, The Ocean Conservancy, The Wilderness Society, Union of Concerned Scientists, and World Wildlife Fund.

Letters like these, expressing environmental justice concerns to Big Green organizations, should never have to be written. When conference room decisions are being made to endorse candidates, policies, and plans of action in their Washington, New York, or San Francisco headquarters, attention should be paid to the consequences for frontline communities, especially those of us in the shalefields. Enough has been said and written about how our communities' concerns have been ignored or sacrificed by these national environmental groups in the past. It's time that those words materialize into action, and that should start with their approach to Gina McCarthy and the Obama administration's dead end climate plan that emphasizes dirty energies as false solutions.

Book Review: Green Syndicalism - an Alternative Red/Green Vision, by Jeff Shantz

By x344543 - 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.

I have known of Jeff Shantz now for several years, having been an IWW member since 1995, having also been a subscriber to (and for half a decade the web administrator for) Anarcho-Syndicalist Review (to which he was a frequent contributor), and having run in radical environmentalist circles during the last years of Judi Bari's life (1995-97).

Neither he nor I have crossed paths until just recently, and that is largely due to the emergence of the IWW's Environmental Unionist Caucus (EUC). In forging the IWW EUC, we looked primarily to four sources for our inspiration:

(1) The IWW and its rich history, which--according to our late Fellow Worker Franklin Rosemont--has a good deal of nascent "green syndicalist" tendencies which are not well studied (and Rosemont did a fair share of his own);

(2) The pioneering efforts of Earth First! - IWW Local #1, organized and led by the late Judi Bari, which put what Jeff Shantz calls "green syndicalism" into the most advanced practice known about in the redwood forests of northwestern California from 1988-98;

(3) The Australian Green Bans of the early 1970s; and

(4) Contemporary movements in opposition to fracking, tar sands, and mountain top removal coal mining, with particular attention paid to the indigenous peoples' leadership of these campaigns.

I have also suggested we look to the efforts of three additional inspirations, these being Chico Mendes, Helen Keller, and Karen Silkwood, because there are many insights we can gain from their experiences, and far too little has been written about them.

In his book, Green Syndicalism - an Alternative Red/Green Vision, Shantz focuses primarily on Local 1 and Judi Bari, describing her work as representing one of the only examples of fully developed "green syndicalism" put into practice, even if on a limited scale.

To Shantz, "green syndicalism" succeeds where all other environmental movements and class struggle tendencies fail, because it alone addresses the shortcomings of the others.

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.

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