Just Transition for Auto Workers: The Answer to Auto’s Race to the Bottom

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 6, 2023

Organized labor and the climate movement, often portrayed as opponents, have made an auspicious start toward cooperation in the autoworkers strike. The UAW, eschewing Trumpian blandishments to attack the transition to electrical vehicles (EVs), have instead endorsed the transition to climate-safe cars and trucks. One hundred climate organizations, rejecting the blandishments of auto industry allies that low wages in the non-union South will make EVs cheaper and therefore help fight global warming, have instead signed a letter of solidarity with UAW workers and are organizing to support union picket lines.[1] The purpose of this Commentary is to explain the context of this convergence and to indicate the elements of a “just transition” for the auto industry that can provide a joint program for the labor and climate movements.

Chapter 25 : Sabo Tabby vs. Killa Godzilla

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

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

Between 1914-18, when the IWW openly advocated ca’canny (better known as “sabotage”), it often used the symbol of an angry black cat, with claws borne, fur standing on end, and a bottlebrush tail, as visual code. Indeed, the “sabo-cat”, (which may have originally been a tabby to provide a visual play-on-words, i.e. “sabo-tabby” for “sabotage”) designed by none other than Solidarity Forever songsmith and IWW organizer Ralph Chaplin [1], is still used today by the IWW, Earth First!, and the admirers of both—sometimes to specifically encourage direct action, but generally as a totem. [2] And though the IWW and Earth First! may have openly advocated sabotage at different times during their existences, as Earth First!er George Draffan had pointed out, in actual fact, it was the timber workers themselves who actually practiced it more than anyone else. [3] While this was often welcomed by the members of Local #1, at the same time, it also potentially caused problems as well.

"As opposition to Corporate Timber grew, North Coast activists anticipated a backlash. Already Earth First!ers in Arizona had been set up and framed for “terrorist” acts they didn’t commit. It was only a matter of time before something locally would get sabotaged, blown up, or burned down and the North Coast activists would likely get the blame. Indeed, there were some hints that it had possibly already happened. Take the case of the mysterious burnings of the Okerstrom feller-buncher logging equipment.

Chapter 24 : El Pio

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

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

“The anti-corporate sentiment voiced by the very people who labor in the woods and mills could be a powerful force in the struggle to save forests and local timber jobs. However, the workers lack a militant organization with a coherent strategy for achieving that goal. In that vacuum, a worker-environmentalist alliance has a chance to develop.”

—Don Lipmanson.[1]

“This is the Pearl Harbor to our North Coast, and we’re going to mobilize people. We look forward to mill workers joining us on the line when they realize our interests are theirs.”

—Judi Bari[2]

While the controversy over the spotted owl, The Lorax, and Forests Forever continued to escalate, at long last, LP’s actual reason for the closures of the Potter Valley and Red Bluff mills came to light. The mill had closed in April and there were hopes and rumors that the mill would be sold to another operator and reopened, but it was not to be.[3] No sooner had L-P been fined by the California State water quality agency to clean up contamination of the Russian River caused by its Ukiah mill[4], when the Los Angeles Times broke to story that the company was in the final stages of negotiating an agreement with the government of Mexico to open up a secondary lumber processing facility at El Sauzal, a small fishing village near Ensenada in Baja California.[5] This new 70-100 acre mill would serve as a drying and planing facility that would process raw logs shipped out of California and elsewhere. However, it was also evident that the Mexican Government had jumped the gun in revealing the details of the proposal before L-P had crafted their P.R. strategy.[6] Caught red handed, L-P reluctantly admitted what timber workers and environmental activists had suspected might be true for several months, that the company was engaged in cut-‘n-run logging.

According to the article, the company’s application was part of the growing move by multinational corporations to take advantage of the maquiladora program—a forerunner to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—which was designed to allow them to take advantage of favorable, liberalized investment laws there. Likewise, corporations would also benefit from much laxer environmental regulations and substantially cheaper wages, averaging approximately $0.50 per hour, for example for mill workers, as opposed to $7-$10 per hour in nonunion facilities in California. L-P had planned to export as much as 300 million board feet of unprocessed “green” lumber for processing in Mexico, where they would employ 1,000. Had those jobs stayed in California, they would have kept the laid off millworkers employed. [7]

Solidarity Can End Toxic Gold Mining in the Sperrins

By staff - IWW Union Ireland, September 10, 2023

The Industrial Workers of the World took part in an Environmental Delegation to the Greencastle People’s Office (GPO) in the Sperrin Mountains, Co. Tyrone, the epicentre of a mammoth ‘David and Goliath’ fight between a multinational gold mining company and the people of a small rural community in the North West of Ireland.

Members of the IWW representing the Ireland branch, the Environmental Committees and Earth Strike where welcomed into the heart of the community as part of a fact finding delegation. Representatives engaged in a lengthy questions and answers sessions before a tour of the area, noted for its outstanding natural beauty which is still under threat from Dalradians potential toxic gold mining industry.

A spokesperson for the IWW Environmental Committees spoke following the visit stating: “Firstly on behalf of everyone who traveled to Greencastle as part of this group visit, I would like to thank them for traveling to the Sperrins to try and learn more about the desperate situation directly affecting the people of Greencastle and the population of the wider North West. The multinational corporation, Dalradian, has plans to effectively decimate the landscape surrounding us with a toxic gold mining plant. The people of Greencastle has shown great resolve in facing down increasing attacks and intimidation over the last number of years. Their bravery is an example to us all and the people of this beautiful area for preventing anyone to pollute and destroy all for the sake of greed and profit.

Direct Unionism: A Different Approach to Union Activity

By Allan Hansen - Industrial Worker, August 31, 2023

It is no secret that the strength of labor unions in America has been waning in recent years. Union representation in the labor market has hit an all-time low, labor laws are more and more being drafted in favor of employers rather than workers, and employer-driven anti-union activity has all led to our unions growing weaker and unable to stand up for workers’ rights in the workplace. Despite these weaknesses, most people support unions in principle, and so we must discuss how to advance the labor movement in the face of these challenges. One such tool workers have at their disposal for such action is Direct Unionism. 

When most people discuss unionism they tend to think about it in a very contractual and bureaucratic way, and this is largely how unions operate today. Union activity is focused on the election of union officials and the passing of contracts. This idea of unionism faces several limitations. For starters, with a focus on collective bargaining, contract change can often be a lengthy process, and change can only be implemented when the time comes for a contract negotiation, which usually lasts for several years, and since the bosses are aware of when the contract ends and when negotiations are to happen they know when to expect an uptick in union organizing and activity, thus the workers’ bargaining power is diminished as a result of this predictability. If an issue of mistreatment arrives but no such policy is outlined in the contract, the union usually can’t do much to address the issue or seek restitution from the employer. The best the union can do in such cases is to fight for it during the next contract negotiation. The importance of the election of union officials also presents some potential problems in the advancement of union causes. While there are many honest and hard working people involved in labor unions, it must be addressed that our union leaders are not infallible. Many union leaders make a staggering amount of money more than the workers they represent. While this is not to say that union leaders do not do good work, the further that union officers get away from the workers they represent, the more they run the risk of being alienated from the realities that these workers face. It is also much easier for employers to put anti-union pressure on a handful of individuals, than an entire workforce. 

Chapter 23 : Forests Forever

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

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

“We have to act now…Less than five percent of the original old growth forest remains, and a lot of wildlife and plant species are going to extinction in the next five years if they don’t get this protection. We can’t wait. The forest destruction here is just as bad as in the Amazon rain forest. But we don’t have as much forest left as they do. This is our last chance to save what’s left.” [1]

— The Man Who Walks in the Woods.

“While current law calls for protection of the environment and the sustained yield of high quality timber products, it frustrates any attempt to actually achieve these goals.

Under current law, actual forest practice rules are written by a state board of forestry completely dominated by timber industry representatives. And administration of the law is left exclusively to the California Department of Forestry, an agency that one local judge has called a ‘rubber stamp’ for logging companies The current rules that regulate logging practices would not protect the resource even if they were enforced. And they are not being enforced. CDF has systematically prevented other state agencies from playing a role in reviewing timber harvest plans submitted under the act.” [2]

—Richard Johnson, Mendocino Country Environmentalist.

At the same time the “Laytonville Lorax War” was taking place, the continuing legal battles against Maxxam raged on. Woody and Warren Murphy as well as Suzanne Murphy-Civian, represented by their friend Bill Bertain, sued Maxxam and Charles Hurwitz yet again, this time alleging that Drexel Burnham Lambert (DBL) working through Ivan Boesky had engaged in illegal stock parking. According to the suit, prior to Hurwitz’s tender offer to the P-L board of directors in October 1985, Boesky effectively owned as much as 10 percent of the company’s stock, thus violating the Hart-Scott-Rodino act of 1984. This information had not been revealed until findings by the SEC were made public in 1988. Had the shareholders known about this, they would have had a stronger case against the merger originally. The Murphys’ suit demanded $18 million in damages to all of the shareholders who owned stock prior to the sale, charging that had the directors known of Boesky’s and DBL’s activity, they would have valued the company’s stock at roughly $70 per share instead of the $40 finally offered by Hurwitz. [3]

Meanwhile, having been rebuffed by the NLRB, and having lost the support of a great many formerly enthusiastic employees, Patrick Shannon chose to take a different route to try and realize what many had concluded was a pipedream. The ESOP organizer now proposed that a initiative be placed on ballot for November 1990 that would seize ownership of Pacific Lumber from Maxxam and place it in the hands of the company’s workers. The measure, tentatively called the Timber Bond Act, would raise $940 in bonds and pay Maxxam for the purchase of the firm. It also called for the setting aside of 3,700 acres of old growth redwoods including Headwaters Forest. Under the plan, the employees would recompense the taxpayers of California by repaying the bonds at 9 percent interest. The measure allowed 40 years to complete that process, but Shannon estimated that this would require a total of 15 years at most. After that, should the purchase be paid in full, additional moneys raised would be deposited into a revolving account from which other potential ESOP campaigns could seek loans. [4]

As was expected, Corporate Timber did not respond favorably to Patrick Shannon’s effort. Pacific Lumber spokespeople framed the initiative as a backdoor attempt at “Communism”, knowing full well that such efforts would have little support in the dying days of the Soviet Union and the latter’s waning political influence over Eastern Europe.

The Working Class Stake in the Fight Against Global Warming

By Tom Wetzel - Workers' Solidarity, August 22, 2023

I’m going to suggest here that the working class has a unique role to play in the fight against global warming because the owning and managing classes have interests that are tied to an economic system that has an inherent tendency towards ecological devastation whereas the working class does not.

In its “Code Red for Humanity” warning in 2021, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse‑gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth…” With wreckage from intensifying storms and people dying from heat waves, it might seem that everyone has a stake in the project of ecological sustainability, and bringing a rapid end to the burning of fossil fuels. As we know, however, various sectors of the owning and managing classes pursue profits from fossil fuel extraction, refining, and burning fossil fuels. They protect sunk investments in fossil fuel-based infrastructure (like gas burning power plants) or propose highly implausible strategies (like carbon capture and storage). Thus many sectors of the top classes in our society are a roadblock to ecological sustainability.

The working class, on the other hand, have a stake in the fight for a livable future, and also have the potential power to do something about it. The working class is a large majority of the society, and thus has the numbers to be a major force. Their position in the workplace means workers have the potential to organize and resist environmentally destructive behaviors of the employers.

To The CEOs of General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis:

By various - Labor Network for Sustainability, et. al., August 16, 2023

(Mary Barra, Jim Farley, and Carlos Tavares)

We, the undersigned climate, environmental, racial, and social justice organizations, stand in solidarity with auto workers and their union the United Auto Workers (UAW) in their upcoming contract negotiations with the “Big 3” automakers: General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis. We firmly support the UAW members’ demands and believe that the success of these negotiations is of critical importance for the rights and well-being of workers and to safeguard people and the environment. Only through meeting these demands will the United States ensure a just transition to a renewable energy future.

Lack of fair wages, job security, and dignified working conditions have left workers and our communities reeling. Worse, in recent months, workers and their communities have experienced unprecedented extreme heat, smoke pollution, flooding, and other disasters. The leaders of your companies have historically made decisions that exacerbated both of these crises over the past few decades — driving further inequality and increasing pollution. That is why we are standing in solidarity with the UAW and all workers and communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis and the necessary transition.

Within the next few years — the span of this next contract — lies humanity’s last chance to navigate a transition away from fossil fuels, including away from combustion engines. With that shift comes an opportunity for workers in the United States to benefit from a revival of new manufacturing, including electric vehicles (EVs) and collective transportation like buses and trains, as a part of the renewable energy revolution. This transition must center workers and communities, especially those who have powered our economy through the fossil fuel era, and be a vehicle for economic and racial justice. We are putting you on notice: Corporate greed and shareholder profits must never again be put before safe, good-paying union jobs, clean air and water, and a liveable future.

Laid-off Sierra Club Staffers: ‘We Can’t Give Up on United Fronts’

By Brooke Anderson, Hop Hopkins, and, Michelle Mascarenhas - Convergence, August 8, 2023

For the last decade, climate justice organizers have seen the Sierra Club as a critical lever for moving a climate agenda that centers equity and just transition. It has the largest grassroots base outside of labor, the most substantial infrastructure of any national green group in the US, and roots in a movement that at times was not afraid to go toe-to-toe with large corporations or development-oriented pro-business government entities.

But beginning in May, the organization accelerated a restructuring process that included layoffs of the entire equity and environmental justice teams and of senior staffers, several Black women and other women of color among them. At the same time, numerous new executive-level staff with high salaries were brought on to usher in a new organizational direction. This move, led by new BIPOC executive leadership, pulls back years of steady progress towards aligning the organization with the more progressive climate agenda. It is a harbinger of a shift away from equity and towards green capital just as the 2024 election nears—and reflects an anti-woke backlash occurring in liberal organizations across many sectors of the movement.

To better understand these shifts, movement journalist Brooke Anderson interviewed two longtime climate justice organizers and veteran social movement strategists, Michelle Mascarenhas and Hop Hopkins. Prior to being laid off from the Sierra Club this spring, Mascarenhas was its national director of campaigns, and Hopkins resigned as its director of organizational transformation.

Hopkins and Mascarenhas had been working to align the Sierra Club with the frontline-led climate justice movement, as part of an intentional effort to shift the organization from its racist roots and practice. Founded in 1892, the organization led the creation of the National Park Service, expanding on a legacy of dispossession and genocide of Indigenous peoples by insisting that protecting land meant removing it from Indigenous stewardship. “The Population Bomb,” which the Sierra Club published in 1968, was weaponized against poor people and people of color. It placed blame for the global ecological crisis on those least responsible: poor women of color and immigrants. This contributed to the anti-Black, anti-immigrant, anti-single mother attacks that continue to this day. 

The sophisticated analysis Mascarenhas and Hopkins offer of “what time it is on the clock of the world” (to borrow from the late, great Grace Lee Boggs) doesn’t just speak to happenings inside the Sierra Club. Rather, it holds deep-rooted and durable wisdom for left organizers attempting to make critical interventions in larger, liberal or centrist spaces in the non-profit industrial complex—and clarifies the sides and the stakes in today’s debates over climate policy. 

Book Review: The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

By Dan Fischer - Interface Journal, August 5, 2023

David Graeber and David Wengrow, 2021, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (750 pp., hardcover, $35).

In The Dawn of Everything, the late anthropologist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow reexamine societies of the deep past and revisit unjustly neglected theories of feminist scholars to produce a riveting account of human societies from the Paleolithic to the Enlightenment.

The book’s main contentions are that “human societies before the advent of farming were not confined to small, egalitarian bands” and that agriculture didn’t “mark an irreversible step towards inequality” (4). The authors remind us that it’s only been within the last two percent or so of our existence as homo sapiens that we became stuck in year-round hierarchy. The implication, of course, is that we can become unstuck. Graeber and Wengrow revel in examples of part-time, seasonal, and temporary leveling of social relations.

However, they infuse the volume with needless pessimism regarding the possibility of a truly egalitarian future. Although Graeber used to defend horizontal organizing as a way of treating each other as responsible adults, this volume conflates egalitarianism with childishness. While Graeber previously emphasized the necessity of human mobility for freedom, he and Wengrow now make this linkage unnecessarily vague.

By not delving deep enough into the past, The Dawn of Everything unnecessarily dismisses anthropological understandings of humanity’s egalitarian origins, and portrays ancient cities and civilizations as more hierarchical than they may have actually been. Despite their intentions to write a “new history of humanity,” the authors disappointingly gloss over humanity’s African origins in order to center foragers who lived in Europe well after humanity’s dawn.

Graeber used to describe his politics as a logical outcome of hearing his father recount serving in the International Brigades in Anarchist-run Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War:

“[A]lmost anyone who believes that anarchism is a viable political philosophy—that it would actually be possible to have a society without states or classes, based on principles of voluntary association, self-organization, and mutual aid—is likely to feel that wouldn’t be a bad idea. If most people have a problem with anarchism (That is, those who actually have a clear idea what anarchism is) it’s not because they don’t think it is an appealing vision, but because they have been taught to assume that such a society would not be possible” (Graeber 2007, 6).

The trajectory from believing egalitarian anarchy is possible to believing it’s desirable is central to prevailing accounts of humanity’s origins. Consider the explanation given by Christopher Boehm, in a study cited by Graeber and Wengrow:

“Once one band, somewhere, invented an egalitarian order, this radical change in social ways of doing things would have become visible to its neighbors […] One would expect a gradual cultural diffusion to take place, with attractive egalitarian traditions replacing despotic ones locally” (1999, 195).

The Dawn of Everything’s bibliography is rife with references to works that theorize Paleolithic egalitarianism by writers including Chris Knight, Sarah Hrdy, and Pierre Clastres. Hrdy notes that “[v]irtually all African peoples who were living by gathering and hunting when first encountered by Europeans stand out for how hard they strive to maintain the egalitarian character of their group” (2009, 204). Furthermore, the archaeological record shows a decreasing size difference between male and female hominids and a decreased sharpness of teeth, suggesting a turn from domination to persuasion as we became human (Shultziner et al 2010).

The latest evidence for a transition toward equality includes early red ochre traces corroborating a “female cosmetics coalitions” hypothesis, in which women collectively used mock menstrual blood to conceal ovulation patterns and therefore thwart male attempts to maintain chimpanzee-like harems and dominance hierarchies. Anthropologist Camilla Power explains that it was women who spearheaded the “revolutionary” transformation to egalitarianism that “made us human” (2019).

One might expect Graeber and Wengrow to welcome the understanding that most of our species’s history involved treating each other like equals. Instead, they assert that egalitarian-origins theorists believe in a “childhood of man” (118).

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