Kite Line: Appalachian Prison Resistance

By Kite Line - It's Going Down, November 3, 2017

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This week, we speak with Lill, a resident of Whitesburg, Kentucky. Whitesburg is located in Letcher County the proposed home to a new federal prison to be built on a mountaintop removal site. We have previously covered the strong local organizing in Letcher County that had helped put a stop to this toxic proposal. In light of recent efforts by the Bureau of Prisons to put the prison back on the table, we wanted to go in depth with a local organizer to help us understand the current situation and how others can support the struggle there.

Unions, Trade and Nationalism

By Tom Crofton - CounterPunch, October 31, 2017

A recent statement from the AFL-CIO regarding a rejection of NAFTA and other corporate/globalist trade agreements unfortunately only skims the surface of the issues working people face.

As the dominate union leadership in America, the AFL-CIO and its member unions need to take a deeper look at their historical behavior, and their role in enabling the evolution of the corporate state with its current right wing/anti labor swing.

American unions never were interested in taking responsibility for production. American unions developed to confront management but not to replace it. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was the only organization that tried to organize horizontally across all sectors to create a “new world in the shell of the old”. The vision of workers building a society where prosperity was available to all and artificial class barriers would dissolve was never a popular theme in American labor. We have always felt that we needed the owners, agreeing at least subliminally that capital has more power than basic human needs; that human weakness, pettiness, and laziness would wreck any sort of money-free effort to exchange services; that hierarchies of wages and benefits were natural and that those at the bottom were there due to their own fault.

The evolution of trade unions cemented in place these hierarchies, leaving the least skilled workers unorganized until the CIO attempted to fill the need while organizing mine workers and African Americans during the Great depression. The following era of war-induced prosperity, and the ongoing economic expansion during the Cold War, created a phony, unsustainable sense of American prosperity for a growing middle class, where 5% of the world’s population consumed 80% of its resources. The AFL-CIO was active in this period wrecking third world union organizing attempts as a front for a CIA run, right-wing sponsored, American style Imperialism. On the home front, a rising middle class of workers were happy to build low quality products, for good wages, as the disposable society offered an endless supply of the “latest” consumer goods. Conspicuous consumption and keeping up with the Jones’s did not include the working poor or the third world.

Over and Over, the Government’s own witnesses prove that Harding and Labrie weren’t the cause of the Lac-Mégantic Wreck

By staff - The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy, October 30, 2017

Two days after a runaway train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, exploding and killing 47 people, Transport Canada inspector Alain Richer found another train belonging to the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) railway parked in nearby Vachon hadn’t been properly secured.

Richer, now retired, testified Monday at the trial of Thomas Harding, 56, Jean Demaître, 53, and Richard Labrie, 59. The three former MMA employees are charged with 47 counts each of criminal negligence causing death in connection with the 2013 rail disaster.

According to Richer, when he and another Transport Canada employee went to inspect the 89-car train, they noticed it had been secured with only five handbrakes.

“They hadn’t met the minimum required,” Richer testified.

He said MMA’s own internal regulations showed the train should have been secured with double that number of handbrakes.

One Big Union, One Long Fight

By Robert Young - Monthly Review, November 2017

The Wobblies, a film directed by Stewart Bird and Deborah Shaffer (1979; Docurama, 2006), 89 minutes, color, DVD.

Fred W. Thompson and Jon Bekken, The Industrial Workers of the World: Its First Hundred Years (Cincinnati: IWW, 2006), 247 pages, $15, paperback.

In recent decades, both the U.S. and global economy have become mired in a prolonged stagnation. As a shrinking number of large corporations dominate a greater share of industries and sectors, business investment has slowed and wage growth has stalled. Although the economy has been on this trajectory for quite some time, a series of financial bubbles has obscured the trend. The collapse of the most recent of these, and the subsequent Great Recession of 2007–09, has laid bare this overall macroeconomic condition, to the point that even mainstream economists such as Larry Summers openly recognize “secular stagnation” as the economy’s dominant course.1

A stagnating economy is most immediately characterized by a general decline in business investment, static or falling wage levels, and deficit spending by governments trying to reignite sustained growth. In the wake of each burst bubble, the economy makes a weak “recovery,” without returning to its earlier strengths.2 Thus, over time, although specific sectors may experience some growth, the overall economy continues to slow in terms of investment, jobs creation, and wage increases, and appears increasingly fragile in each of these spheres.

The longer-term implications of an economy caught in stagnation are quite serious. As the situation continues to worsen, both corporations and the general public demand that steps be taken to stimulate economic growth. Politically this pressure has yielded two possible—and very distinct—paths. The first is a sharp turn to the right, as has happened in the United States and elsewhere in the advanced capitalist core. This reactionary tendency scorns liberal democracy as weak and inefficient, embracing chauvinist and conservative attitudes and vilifying the poor and marginalized. The other path is a shift to a more progressive politics based upon solidarity, community, and innovation, one that seeks to remake the economy on new foundations of justice and equality.

The stagnation in real wages described above has been compounded by a historic decline in job security, as flexible employment, temporary work, informal labor, and short-term contracting replaced steady, full-time, “family-wage” work. Together, these factors are transforming great swathes of the workforce into a newly precarious proletariat, or a “precariat”: not an “underclass” of the unemployed or unemployable, but people with job experience, education, and some assets, who must often work several part-time positions to make ends meet.

The question, then, is how to organize politically and economically to revive economic growth and strengthen equity, fairness, and democracy, and how is this to be done in the face of an increasingly globalized, monopolistic economy with a fragmented, precarious workforce. After decades of declining union membership among U.S. workers, where should we seek effective strategies for organizing the unemployed and under-skilled?

The best starting place might be the earlier labor history of the United States. Before the establishment of the National Labor Relations Board, sanctioned collective bargaining, and other labor legislation, the country’s situation at the turn of the twentieth century was strikingly similar to today’s. Corporations were growing exponentially in political and economic strength. Workers were largely unorganized, especially those without specialized skills, and unions, however active, represented only a small fraction of the workforce. Unorganized workers often had to work on short contracts or with no job security at all—a tableau not unlike the conditions facing many workers today.

Into this highly precarious situation stepped the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), whose history and experience offer insight into how to grapple with these problems today. Founded in Chicago in 1905 by a veritable who’s-who of the era’s leading labor militants, including Mother Jones, Eugene Debs, and “Big Bill” Haywood, the IWW sought to build “One Big Union,” uniting workers across industries and sectors as a counterforce to an emerging monopoly capitalism. The key to this strategy was to organize industrially, as opposed to the then-dominant practice of organizing workers on the basis of specific crafts, the approach promoted by the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The IWW (or Wobblies, as they became known) saw the self-defeating nature of the AFL strategy: when workers were organized by craft under separate contracts, employers often pitted one group of workers against another. AFL activists also sought only to organize skilled workers, leaving the vast majority of the workforce out of the equation.

True to their vision, the Wobblies set out to organize any and all members of the working class, skilled and unskilled, in manufacturing and service industries, black and Latino as well as white, women as well as men. To do so, IWW activists lit out across the country (and eventually around the world) organizing workers wherever the jobs were. From logging and mining operations in the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin, to the dock yards along the east and west coasts, to the auto industry, wheat fields, and orchards of the Midwest, the Wobblies began agitating for higher wages, safer and more dignified working conditions, and ultimately industrial democracy.

Paperwrenching Prisons and Pipelines

By Panagioti - Earth First! Journal, October 28, 2017

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If your the type who likes to cut to the chase, here it goes: There are two open comment periods for Environmental Impacts Statements (EIS) that you should know about. One for the Sabal Trail Pipeline and another for the Letcher County federal prison. So take a few minutes to submit a comment ASAP using those links embedded up there. For those who prefer some background and deeper analysis, read on…

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Last year I co-authored “From Prisons to Pipelines” with a former-prisoner and Lakota friend from the Pine Ridge Reservation. We were moved to write by the #NoDAPL and #PrisonStrike grassroots organizing efforts that were sweeping the nation, particularly in ways that hit close to home for us.

Since that was published, a prison in Appalachian East Kentucky and a pipeline through the springlands of North Florida both became hotspots on the unofficial map of eco-resistance. Right now, there are opportunities in both of these efforts to significantly broaden the base of support for these two fights and build the long-term foundation for effective resistance.

“Paperwrenching” an EIS approval is the one of the most effective strategies for securing environmental victories, and it is essential groundwork for campaigns that escalate to direct action (especially for folks who might try to use a necessity defense in court following an action, and want to show documentation of their efforts prior to facing criminal charges).

Final Straw: Autonomous Northern California Fire Relief Efforts

By Final Straw - It's Going Down, October 18, 2017

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I’d like to share a Final Straw Radio mini-episode, a conversation with Emilio of the currently unofficial Sonoma County IWW, or Industrial Workers of the World. This chapter doesn’t yet have an official charter but they were in the process or organizing one when the fires in Northern California started last week and have used this as a platform for fund-raising and trying to work out solidarity relief in Santa Rosa, the seat of Sonoma County.

For this chat, Emilio and I talk about the weather patterns of northern coastal California, relief efforts by the Red Cross and other NGO’s around shelter and care distribution, what their nascent chapter of the IWW is trying to do and related topics. To find more about their chapter, you can go onto Fedbook and stay tuned in the conversation for their relief phone number, a few material needs you can provide from a distance and ways to get involved if you’re in the area.

Left And Right Have Nothing In Common On NAFTA

By Stephanie Basile - Popular Resistance, October 11, 2017

Contrary to popular belief.

Washington, DC – Today, the fourth round of renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are taking place in Washington, DC. Protests are planned at multiple locations around DC, including a petition delivery of over 360,000 signatures to Congress demanding the elimination of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). United under the threat from continually expanding corporate power, the fight against NAFTA has brought together a cross-section of social movements, including unions, community groups, land reform movements, environmentalists, food safety groups, and internet rights organizations.

NAFTA, in effect since 1994, is an agreement between the US, Canada, and Mexico. There has been much written about the original deal that need not be repeated here, but suffice it to say that local economies have been eviscerated under a deal that expands the rights of corporate profits at the expense of working people in all three countries. Renegotiations of NAFTA began this past August, with each session rotating to take place in each of the three member countries.

Today’s negotiations are largely focused on the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which allows corporations to sue local governments in secret tribunals. What this translates to is taxpayers literally paying corporations for any unrealized profits due to such basic protections as clean water ordinances or other common sense legislation. Over the years, lawsuits brought by corporations against governments have forced taxpayers to pay billions of dollars to these corporations.

While most of these cases have been settled with little public scrutiny, the ISDS has had some notable moments in the spotlight, such as when UPS sued Canada for $156 million due to unfair competition from the Canadian Post Office, or John Oliver’s memorable 2015 segment critiquing the absurdity of the ISDS system.

President Trump’s presidential campaign made much fanfare over his opposition to free trade, and the media largely accepted the premise that his opposition to free trade would logically result in more jobs and better working conditions for US workers. Furthermore, the reporting on free trade often conflated Trump’s position with the leftist position, saying that they are both “anti-globalization.”

Clearly, the language used to discuss trade poorly captures its reality. The terms “free trade” and “globalization” conjure up ideas of multiculturalism and unity across borders. However, those ideas are not reflected in the actual policies that have been pursued by both major political parties over the last 30 years. Innocuous terms like “free trade” and “globalization” have become synonymous with global capitalism, a capitalism that is supported by international structures that work to greatly expand corporate power while limiting the rights of workers, consumers, and residents who are most affected by those very policies.

The debate is often framed as US corporations and US workers vs foreign corporations and foreign workers, giving the idea that a worker somehow has more in common with a corporation of their home country than with a fellow worker of another country. This allows Trump to favor corporations and pretend as though he’s favoring workers. The media seems to mostly accept this framework in its coverage of trade deals. The media also conflates global capitalism with openness and tolerance, as if the arrival of Coca-Cola in your country obviously leads to democracy.

Instead, the leftist position sees workers around the world, both in the US and abroad, sharing the same interests with each other, and being in opposition to corporate interests, whether that corporation is in the US or abroad. The dominant narrative that the far right and far left share similar positions on trade is wrong and it sorely misses the substance of the left’s critique. At its core, a leftist approach to the trade debate centers working and marginalized people in its analysis, regardless of what country they live in. The right’s pursuit to push US corporate interests at the expense of workers and the environment is in direct contrast to the left’s goals, of which protecting workers’ rights and the environment are fundamental.

Leftists understand the limitations of adopting the typical “Buy American” theme, including strategic errors both in its failure to address the problem of declining wages and working conditions, and in its more insidious implications in fueling xenophobia. If working standards are declining all over the world, products could be made in the US and still be made under sub-par working conditions. Leftists support organizing and pushing standards up for workers all over the world, as a means to improve conditions everywhere, including the US. As for what Trump wants for workers, when he announced plans to renegotiate NAFTA during his “Made in America” week this past July, Lori Wallach of Public Citizen went on Democracy Now to point out that what little we know of the re-negotiations is so vague as to be impossible to tell what it would actually mean for workers and the environment.

The leftist analysis sees that those with power at the top are breaking down borders for the purpose of more aggressively exploiting the people, land, and resources around the world, not for any interest in lofty multicultural goals. Money, goods, and intellectual property flow freely across borders, while the people at the whim of such corporate power face increasing restrictions in their movement, facing resistance in the form of both restrictive laws and the rise in xenophobic violence.

Leftists seek to go to the roots of the problem by critiquing the political and economic structures that work to further enrich a tiny ruling elite at the expense of everyone else. A leftist approach that prioritizes people at the grassroots level requires building an international working-class movement in which working and oppressed people across all countries challenge corporate power everywhere.

The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons goes International!

By FightToxicPrisons.org - Earth First! Newswire, September 16, 2017

We’re Hitting the Road with the U.K. “End Toxic Prisons” Tour. Check out dates and details below.

This Autumn, the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons will be touring the UK with Community Action on Prison Expansion.

All over the world prisons are toxic environments causing social and ecological harm. Folks from the US have been organizing resistance at the intersection of mass incarceration and the environment, successfully delaying the only current Federal prison construction for over 2 years!

Through grassroots organizing, advocacy and direct action they have been challenging the prison system which is putting prisoners at risk of dangerous environmental conditions, as well as impacting surrounding communities and ecosystems by their construction and operation. Learn about their strategy and tactics, as well as broader struggles of prison abolition, anti-racism, and environmental justice.

Information will then be shared about resistance to the six new mega-prisons in England and Wales, which themselves are proposed for toxic sites, including radiological contamination and asbestos pollution, as well as habitat destruction at every site. Learn how you can get involved!

The Image Seen 'Round the World

By Judy Hodgson - North Coast Journal, December 1997; with contemporary IWW EUC Commentary by the Ramblin' Dude

[Trigger Warning! - the embedded video depicts scenes of young women being tortured by police]

We present this retrospective article and video to illustrate a point:

You know what's really HILARIOUS about these self-shot videos of neo nazi assholes reacting to being pepper sprayed as though they had received grievous trauma wounds in battle?

Twenty years ago, a group of protesters, most of them small, young women, peacefully occupied (Republican Congressman, Frank Riggs's) office (in Eureka, California). Police were called, and eventually they swabbed law enforcement grade pepper spray directly in to the eyes of the peaceful protesters. The protesters held on. Many of them were swabbed multiple times. They held on. Even while their eyes were being pried open and swabbed, they didn't flail, kick, or bite. They held on. Several did not release until they had been picked up and carried outside.

These supposed "manly men" who are out to save America were bested by a group of hippie girls twenty years ago.

Prisoners and Climate Injustice

By Natalia Cardona - 350.Org, August 8, 2017

Recent headlines are full of dire warnings about heat-related deaths. Just the other day a headline in the Washington Post stated that a third of the world’s people already face deadly heat waves. And it could be nearly three-quarters by 2100.

Recently I came across disturbing footage from a St. Louis jail showing inmates without air conditioning calling for help from inside the stiflingly hot facility. This is not the first time these type of headlines have showed up in the news this summer.

In June of this year, deadly heat waves in the Southwestern United States also led to prisoners facing inhumane conditions due to extreme heat. In Arizona, while the weather channel warned that locals should stay indoors and temperatures climbed upwards of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, 380 prisoners were left living in tents in unbearable heat.

The impacts of climate change add to the layers of injustice prisoners already face. The U.S. holds the largest number of prisoners per capita in the world. Since the 1970’s the U.S. has seen a 700% increase in the growth of prisons. Prisons are already at the frontline of injustice, because of the criminalization of people of color through failed policies like the “war on drugs”. Not only that, holding large numbers of people in enclosed facilities leads to health hazards and human rights violations. Prisons and prisoners also find themselves on the frontlines of environmental injustice. The toxic impact of prisons extends far beyond any individual prison.

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