The Case for an Ecosocialist Rank & File Strategy in the Building Trades

By Ryan Pollock - The Trouble, November 28, 2019

The building trades have often been one of the more reactionary elements of organized labor in the United States. Even as a tradesman myself—an inside wireman with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)—I had my own doubts about how much support for the Green New Deal (GND) could be garnered from the building trades. 

My recent experience at the 60th Annual Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention shattered that understanding. Not only were many of my fellow trades siblings—plenty of whom work in the fossil fuel industry or represent fossil fuel workers—strongly in favor of the GND at the start of the convention, but the political struggle to get most everyone else on board required minimal effort. In the end, our state AFL-CIO passed a GND-style resolution. This victory is a powerful model for conventions across the country; it shows how resolutions like this one can become a standard labor demand.

In March of this year, shortly after the release of the GND resolution in Congress, the AFL-CIO Energy Committee released a memo harshly criticizing the resolution. Surprised by the response of an organization that I felt the resolution intended to strengthen, I set out to identify their reasons for opposition. In the process, I discovered a pro-GND resolution passed by the Alameda, California Central Labor Council (CLC), a confederation  of union-delegates that make recommendations on local and statewide labor and political issues. 

After reading the Alameda resolution, I wondered if I could pass something similar in my own CLC (Austin, TX), to which I’m a delegate. After tweaking the language of the Alameda resolution to make its references to the crisis in California more relevant to Texans, I submitted the resolution at the July meeting of the Austin CLC. After some explanation and discussion, the resolution passed unanimously.

The next step was the state level—a week after the Austin CLC meeting, the 60th Annual Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention took place, and I was appointed by my union local to attend. 

Soon after the meeting agenda went public, I received a call from my friend Jeff Rotkoff, the Campaign Director for Texas AFL-CIO, letting me know that leadership at Texas AFL-CIO loved my resolution, but that it was also already causing a stir. While they applauded my efforts, they didn’t expect it to get very far. I didn’t blame them at all for their pessimism. I didn’t expect much progress myself. Over the next few days, entire districts of building trades threatened to walk out of the convention if my resolution even made it to the floor. I came ready to fall flat on my face.

When I arrived at the stakeholder meeting that had been set up to discuss my resolution, however, my expectations quickly brightened. I was immediately introduced to Lee Medley, President of a Gulf Coast United Steelworkers (USW) local, who, instead of writing me off as I had expected, showed both good faith and a genuine interest. He asked me if I was familiar with the concept of just transition. As I informed him that the trades defining our own terms for a just transition was exactly what I was trying to accomplish with this resolution, I understood that we were going to be making some serious progress that weekend.

On Climate Action by Jacob Morrison

By Jacob Morrison - Industrial Worker, October 2019.

A speech by the secretary of the Huntsville, AL branch on the nature of individual vs. class-based climate action.

My desire tonight is to connect action on climate change to a working class politics, to directly connect the material interests of the working class to action on this looming issue.

As an exposition, I want to point out some of the way that environmentalist campaigns are framed, and the history of this framing.

I am sure we have all seen the famous picture of the crying Native American in the Keep America Beautiful PSAs. And I’m sure that mostly the feelings that we have regarding that PSA are positive. Don’t literally throw full bags of uneaten McDonald’s food at the feet of a Native American as you drive by — pretty uncontroversial stuff.

But did you know who funded these PSAs? The American Can Company, the Owens-Illinois Glass Co., Coca-Cola, and the Dixie Cup Company.

And here is another question – do you know why they funded this PSA campaign? I am sure that many of us would like to believe, in the classic American sense, that the corporations were simply operating benevolently in the best interest of the country, because they care about the environment and they care about us.

Well, my dear, sweet, naive fellow workers, I regret that I am the one who must inform you of this, but you would be wrong.

You see, originally the conversation around litter and disposable single use products was around production and not consumption. Meaning that there was a strong movement to nip this problem in the bud, rather than stem the tide after the dam broke. In the 1950s, single-use items were fairly new and not nearly as integral to our lives as we see them today. So many people said we should just ban them. Vermont did just that and, following the leadership of Vermont, state legislatures the country round had anti-single-use production bills lined up.

The corporations smelled a threat to their profits. With this ad, and many like it, they were able to change the entire focus of the debate from the producer, the multi-million dollar, international oligopolies with immense political power, to the average, atomized, individual consumer.

So now we have myriad anti-litter laws, but no laws targeting companies, laws like the refillable bottle law in Finland with decreased their garbage output by almost 400,000 tons. We’ve got these anti-litter laws, but no laws remaining like the deposit law that Oregon passed in 1972 targeting corporations that decreased the number of beverage containers used in the state by 385 million.

The rightful ire of the public was  successfully shifted on this issue from the source of power to largely powerless individuals. This phenomenon, turning workers on each other other, convincing them to look to their left or their right but never up, follows a pattern. This happens all the time on any number of issues, whether it be immigration, union versus non union workers, the worker versus the homeless person, and even regarding the subject at hand today, climate change. Capital interests invest huge sums of money to shift the blame from them, from the source of the issue, down to us, so that we are too busy fighting to address the issue, and all the while the capital interests rake in the profits and the working class suffers.

With this frame in place, let’s turn to the topic at hand today — climate change.

The conversation on this topic has been, until very recently, almost exclusively looking at the atomized, individual consumer as the problem. We’ve got websites that will tell us our carbon footprint, but what we don’t have is websites that will tell you how corporations and the monied elite set the structure up such that you must pay them, thus creating the carbon footprint that you do in order to move through the world. We’ve got articles telling us that if we set our thermostats down or up two degrees we would decrease our carbon footprint by so much but next to no effort is spent on why our utility company is still using fossil fuels when we’ve got so many other options.

The through line of much of the environmental talk, the climate change mitigation talk, is that as individual, atomized consumers, we must simply consume less. This talk, as Matt Huber points out in a paper called Ecological Politics for the Working Class, is a recommendation that is hardly likely to appeal to a working class whose wages and living standards have stagnated for almost two generations.

XR call for just transition from North Sea oil to renewable energy

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, September 5, 2019

Extinction Rebellion (XR) Scotland is appealing to North Sea oil workers to support a “just transition” away from oil and towards an energy system based on renewable electricity.

“The current oil and gas workforce can and should be redeployed to replace the fossil fuel that we can no longer afford to produce”, says XR Scotland’s appeal to communities in the north-east of the country that are dependent on oil. “Without a just transition to renewable energy from sun, wind and wave, we are fucked.”

There’s no better way forward for XR than seeking alliances of this kind, in my view. So here’s the whole text of the leaflet. (And if you want to print some off and distribute them yourself, here’s a PDF version.)

Do you think you have skills that could be transferred to the renewables energy industry? YES □ NO □

Do you think that the entirety of the estimated 20 billion barrels of fossil fuel under the North Sea should be produced? YES □ NO □

Do you believe the planet can survive global hydrocarbon reservoirs being drained? YES □ NO □

Do you have children and/or grandchildren? YES □ NO □

Did you think last year, that we would be experiencing a massive fire threat to the Amazon and the Arctic regions, and the loss of the Arctic Sea ice? YES □ NO □

Are you interested in getting involved in the campaign for a planned and just transition to the renewables?

contact neil.rothnie@gmail.com. I’ll put you in touch.

A Real Extinction Rebellion Means the End of Colonialism, Imperialism, and Capitalism

By Jessica Garraway - Common Dreams, September 22, 2019

Land and Water Defender Beginnings

In 2011, as a 20 year old activist new to the environmental movement I joined up with other like-minded people for a retreat in rural Wisconsin to plan and strategize our next steps. As a Black woman, it was painfully obvious that amongst the scores of people in attendance that there were very few people of color present. However, what was even more jarring than the racial disproportionality of the retreat was the attitudes of the white activists.

We were hanging out late at night in the living room of a retreat after a long day of workshops and trainings.

The overwhelming number of white activists and their views on race and the environment came to a head for me when I was asked,

“Damn, how do we get black people to care about the environment?”

This is what a white environmentalist (with dreads no less) asked me years ago. Being new to environmental spaces, I was dumbfounded by this comment. I took a long deep sigh, and thought, aren't I Black? Didn't I spend countless hours turning people out for direct actions? It was at this moment I began to realize that I was scoring points for the organization with frontline folks while within the organization I was in a sea of white people who saw me as a token.

Yet I knew that Black people care about the environment - about lead paint in housing, parks in the neighborhood, clean water and clean air. We have to care because we are disproportionately affected by the processes of capitalist environmental degradation.

Historically “environmentalism” was not the modality through which Black people explicitly addressed these issues. It was only later that I realized the lack of orientation that white-dominated environmental groups had toward people of color, and Black people in particular, helped to reinforce the alienation of marginalized communities from the wider environmental movement.

It is no wonder that so many of our people see environmental issues as largely the concern of privileged white people. Far too often we hear more about the protection of wild places we have little access to and not about the incinerators, refineries and mines that pollute our air and water. Anti police brutality movements such as Black Lives Matter struggles have focused attention on deaths of Black people through police terror, however, it is only recently that cases like Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey, majority Black cities with no access to clean water, have gotten notice.

Because of racist housing practices like redlining, Black people have been forced to live near refineries and incinerators at higher rates compared to white people. According to a recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, white people bear the burden of 17 percent less air pollution than is generated by their own consumption. Meanwhile, Blacks and Latinos experience 56 percent and 63 percent more exposure, respectively, than is caused by their consumption. Even still, it is not the consumption habits of workers that is causing this crisis. It is a political and economic system based on the accumulation of profits and ever expanding markets that is pushing the earth over the edge. Individual actions such as taking shorter showers or passing on plastic straws is not going to change that.

Earth Strike Ireland Rising

By IWW Ireland - IWW Ireland, September 22, 2019.

Millions of people took part in one of the largest international mobilisations seen in a number of decades as Earth Strike generated street protests across the globe from the biggest cities to the smallest of villages and Ireland was no exception.

As an internationalist working class movement, members of the Industrial Workers of the World have played a full role in helping to mobilise the grassroots in the build up to Earth Strike.

In Ireland activists took part in student rallies, street mobilisations and die-ins throughout the country from Cork to Derry at which thousands of people took part to help highlight this emergency call. Thousands including many schoolchildren along with teachers, parents, older supporters, community and trade union organisations came to out on to the streets in a unified global demonstration as part of a world-wide Climate Strike. Villages, towns and cities such as Ennis, Cloughjordan, Letterkenny, Belfast, Dublin, Waterford, Galway, Cork, Sligo, Derry and Athlone added their names to the vast growing list of mass protests and rallies across the country whilst similar demonstrations took part in London, Cardiff, Glasgow and beyond.

During the Earth Strike a spokesperson for the Industrial Workers of the World said that, “for wobblies, today’s actions around the world is one of people power and grassroots activism. Our union in particular has a long history of not just fighting against capital but the protection of our earth. Over the past decades our members have been targeted, arrested and imprisoned for their part played in the fight to save the earth from its destruction by the hand of capitalism. Make no mistake this is a class war in that the business class will stop and nothing in their pursuit of profit, that is the nature of capitalism.

“As a revolutionary grassroots union, it is our fundamental belief, that the only way in which we can stop the destruction of our planet before its too late is to make capitalism extinct. That can only be done by the workers themselves, the working class. Without doubt there is an urgency in that class war but it’s never too late to unionise that fight. What we can’t have now is for all that anger and energy witnessed today to be allowed to slowly evaporate. Widespread and continuing pressure must be increased on those who are killing our planet. On a day such as this, we should take note of the words of one our great troubadours, Utah Philips ‘the earth is not dying, it’s being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.’

Interview With An Earth Strike Organiser

Interview with IWW Member, Sab Cat - Organise, September 12, 2019

Sab is the organiser for Earth Strike UK in the South West. He’s an active and well known voice in Bristol’s syndicalist and Environmental movements. He kindly took the time to meet us down the pub for a chat about Earth Strike and the upcoming Global Climate Strike.

Organise: Could you start by giving us an introduction to Earth Strike?

So, Earth Strike is a grass roots organisation, that is creating a worker led movement to tackle climate change. We believe that the most effective way of doing that is to organise both in unions and in autonomous groups, and build towards a global general strike to shut down capitalism. Thus removing peoples participation in the system that is fundamentally the cause of ecological crisis.

Why should people get involved?

I actually really like this question. I’ve come up with a way of putting it. I think anyone, no matter what their background, whether they are a workplace activist, or environmental activist, or totally new to organising, should take a moment to ask themselves three questions.

Firstly, do you think we’re in an ecological crisis? It doesn’t take very long if you look around to realise we are. Our air is polluted, it’s estimated air pollution kills 300 people a year just in Bristol. The Amazon is on fire, Siberia is on fire. A heck of a lot of shit is on fire. A worrying amount of shit is on fire. Species are disappearing at a rate not seen since the last mass extinction, sea levels are rising. Even the United Nations is freaking out a bit at this point. The science around it has been clear for a long time now. So I think most people would say yes to this, if not well… they need to take a long hard look around them.

Statement of the Hospital and the Refinery

By John Kalwaic - Philadelphia IWW, September 10, 2019

We, the Philadelphia General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World, condemn the eventual closing of Hahnemann Hospital in Center City, Philadelphia, as well as the safety and environmental negligence that led to the explosion at the Energy Solutions Refinery in South Philadelphia on June 21st.

The assets of Hahnemann Hospital have been gradually stripped away by a private equity firm, which did not seek any improvements or reinvestments in the hospital. Patients in the United States continue to deal with private insurance companies that do not cover the total costs of their clients’ health care. Real estate developer Joel Freedman bought the hospital and has plans to sell the building for the development of high-cost real estate. Hahnemann Hospital provides care for many low-income and unhoused patients; these patients are to be moved to other area hospitals, which may burden and disrupt Philadelphia’s healthcare networks and the working class people they serve. Hahnemann employs doctors, nurses, cleaning staff, record keepers, security guards and other workers to maintain the hospital and provide care for patients; these workers will lose their jobs and livelihoods in the event of a closure. We support the efforts of unions such as the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, or PASNAP, along with other unions and supporters in taking action against the closing of the hospital. The Philadelphia GMB, however, is wary of politicians that promise to stop the closure, or who use the cause to strengthen their campaigns. This is only one of many hospital closures in urban and rural areas in the United States for similar reasons.

The explosion at the Energy Solutions refinery in Southwest Philadelphia was partially caused by the company’s neglect of basic safety and environmental standards. The company should compensate both the community members affected by the explosion and the hazardous chemicals that were released, and the workers who will be made jobless due to the destruction of the plant. The Philadelphia IWW GMB calls for the company to liquidate itself to pay for these damages, and rejects calls for the plant to return to the hazardous fossil fuel industry. The workers in these industries, including those who formerly worked for the Energy Solutions Refinery, should be retrained to work in less hazardous industries.

Both of these closures represent a glaring failure and the inability of the capitalist system to meet the needs of the people and workers. The price of healthcare necessities has risen unchecked and basic safety precautions in a potentially deadly plant are phased out as too costly, all while CEOs and the stock market make record profits. These are not isolated incidents: this is the logical outcome of a system that demands continuous growth. This system must be stopped and the workers themselves, not politicians or NGOs, are the only ones with the power to do so. We must organize now for the abolition of wage slavery and the preservation of what is left of our environment.

Earth Strike – 20 September

By EUC Dan - Bristol IWW, August 14, 2019

A lot has been going on as the Environmental Union Caucus works towards a strike on 20 September. This summer we’ve been picketing and passing out flyers, writing a Green Charter for a just transition for workers, and holding meetings with local union and activist leaders to discuss the mechanics of striking this September.

You can get up to date information for the strike event on the Bristol event page. And download and share our leaflet to help get the word out. For questions about striking in your workplace ask at an upcoming branch meeting, stop by the EUC’s Monday organizing meeting, or email sw@earth-strike.co.uk to contact our local organizer.

Right now, business as usual is not solving climate change. As workers, we have the power to disrupt and change business so that it does. Join us in building that movement. It’s time to strike back!

A Look At the Miners’ Blockade Stopping Coal in its Tracks

By Earth First! Journal - It's Going Down, August 14, 2019

When I heard news of the coal miners’ railroad blockade in Harlan County, I knew it presented a real chance for growth, especially for movements like Earth First! who are at the intersection of various struggles, including eco-defense, anti-capitalism, climate justice, and prison abolition.

Though I spent most of my life in flat swampy Florida, stories of Harlan County, Kentucky, were burned into my head as a teenage anarchist in circles of Earth First!ers and IWW-types singing labor songs by fireside.

One of the most famous of union ballads, “Which Side Are You On?,” about miners’ resistance in the Kentucky coalfields, includes the line, “They say in Harlan County there are no neutrals there…” Even before the development of climate-focused mass movement, it has always been Big Coal vs. the rest of us.

Over the years, I must have heard dozens of knock-offs of that song for campaigns all across the country. We’d replace Harlan with whatever county we found ourselves in at the time, facing off with corporate raiders of all types.

And now the barricades have come full circle: back to Harlan, a locale of near-mythical significance for it’s legacy of resistance to corporate greed. The miners there have stopped a coal train operated by the company Blackjewel LLC, which filed for bankruptcy and secretly stopped paying the miners while they were still working.

IWW WISERA Statement of Support for 20th September Earth Strike

By Administration - IWW WISERA, August 2019

Note: this resolution was passed specifically by the IWW WISERA (UK).

The IWW supports the call for Earth Strike on September 20th 2019 and the international dimensions of the action. The IWW will mobilise its members to take action on the day and will support its members in taking strike action.

The IWW sees Earth Strike as an important contribution to the engagement of unions in the climate crisis and in particular it highlights the need for workers action to confront and destroy capitalism to avoid extinction.

To further these aims the IWW has voted to establish an Environmental Committee to develop the union's policy and educate, agitate and organise for a mass worker-led ecological movement.

A long standing aim of the IWW has been to abolish wage slavery and create a new world where we can live in harmony with the earth. With the climate crisis revolution is now more necessary than ever before. System Change not Climate Change!

In Solidarity
Russ Spring, IWW Secretary (WISE-RA)

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