The IWW And Earth First! - Part 2: The Crucible

By X344543 - Industrial Worker, June 2013

The IWW connection to Earth First! was, believe it or not, woven in the woof. In fact, as far as the two organizations’ struggles with the timber bosses go, both could be said to have been forged from the same crucible: the Humboldt County town of Eureka in northwestern California, the de facto capital of the Redwood Empire.

Long before the IWW joined in Earth First!’s (ultimately successful) struggles to save Headwaters Forest in Humboldt County, the roots of that struggle began with the workers’ struggles against the timber bosses.

In the formative years of the timber industry in the United States and Canada—the last third of the 19th century—working conditions were abysmal. Then, as now, timber was one of the top five most dangerous industrial jobs in the world. Timber workers were subjected to long hours, dangerous working conditions, unsanitary labor camps, company towns (where the employer was literally the government) and no job security. The bosses, meanwhile, were making a killing on the backs of both the workers and the environment. Vast amounts of standing timber were held by what would soon evolve into modern timber corporations, and not too few of them had acquired their holdings through graft and very questionable homesteading laws.

This was no exception in the Redwood Empire. In Eureka, the California Redwood Company (CRC), whose owners were European capitalists, was one of the worst examples. Workers at the CRC, many of whom were populists—including a butcher by the name of Charles Keller, who was a member of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA)—formed the very first union of timber workers in North America to affiliate with the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Together, they exposed the CRC’s graft, in spite of vigilante mobs organized by the CRC and the other companies as well as yellow jour nalism and slander by the local press. The union didn’t secure recognition, but they did improve working conditions slightly, and the CRC was forced to shut down.

The story of the IWW’s LumberWorkers Industrial Union and its successful fight for the eight-hour day is well documented elsewhere, but what is not well known is that, while the IWW never gained much of a foothold in the Redwood Empire (its successes were concentrated mostly in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana), its influence was felt there nonetheless.

Chevron: Actively preventing a transition to renewable energy.

By x363464 - May 16, 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 1950, Chevron, General Motors, and Firestone were charged and convicted of criminal conspiracy for their part in the General Motors streetcar conspiracy. In this scandal they purchased streetcar systems all over the United States in order to disassemble the industry and create bus lines. They did this to increase the demand for petroleum, automobiles and tires so that they could directly receive business and profits from their scheme.  Later Chevron began investing in alternative industries such as lithium car batteries. Chevron began to be limiting access to large NiMH batteries through its control of patent licenses. Many suspect they did this to remove a competitor to gasoline and suspicions were affirmed when Chevron began a lawsuit against Panasonic and Toyota because they started producing EV-95 batteries for electric cars.

Reinventing the Wheel - The REAL Green Jobs Story

By x356039 - May 2, 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 accepted limits of debate in Washington and Wall Street the main argument by proponents of the fossil fuel industry is the same as its always been: do you want to protect the environment or create more jobs? They argue expanding fossil fuel exploitation, in spite of the proven risks to the environment and public health, is necessary for the sake of job creation. By building Keystone XL across the Great Plains, opening the Powder River Basin to coal interests, expanding offshore drilling, and opening up new lands to fracking the fossil fuel dinosaurs claim our economy will recover & energy independence will be achieved. When confronted with the facts on clean energy sources like wind and solar power fossil fuel proponents argue clean energy is too expensive. They claim it would not be cost-effective to build a green energy economy and that it would lead to a decline in standard of living.

Quite contrary to the boldest of claims made by those dinosaurs the facts show shifting to a clean energy economy would create more jobs, cost less money, and easily exceed all performance needs. Research by the Renewable & Appropriate Energy Laboratory at University of California, Berkeley shows the fossil fuel industry's claims of better job creation rates compared to green, clean energy are vastly overblown. As shown in this chart below renewable energy sources produce as many if not more jobs per megawatt of capacity as traditional dirty sources of electricity:

Capital Blight: It's Past Time to Get Off the Coal Train.

By Steve Ongerth - April 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.

A recent debate took place on my personal Facebook page regarding the matter of jobs and the environment, and there is little doubt that it will not be the last.

As you may (or may not) be aware, I have been combing various environmental and labor news sources for stories about campaigns where class struggle and environmentalism have some degree of intersection (or conflict, though the latter is almost always manufactured vy the capitalist class). Most of these I have been posting on the new IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus Facebook Page, but since much of that happens while the only means of information transfer is a smart phone, so often, due to the limitations of smartphone apps, I have to engage in some klunky work-arounds, and sometimes that means that certain bits of information wind up on my personal page first, but I digress...

Last week, I happened upon a statement from a BLET engineer downplaying the dangers of coal dust drifting from coal trains passing through the southern part of the Seattle metropolitan area, and I immediately regarded this as the thoughts of a scissorbill and I said as much. That statement drew a response from another individual, a Facebook "friend" (a former Wobbly turned low-level ILWU leader, by the way), telling me that the coal dust issue was overstated, that the Sierra Club--who was leading the opposition to coal trains there--was hypocritical (due to the latter's having accepted donations from capitalist Natural Gas interests), and that I was insufficiently "solidaric" with my (business) union brothers and sisters. He informed me that the Sierra Club was only canvassing well-to-do neighborhoods in the area and completely ignoring those working class neighborhoods closest to the potential route, which--by the way--had far more immediate and far more serious environmental issues.

Since I am a transportation worker by trade (I'm a ferryboat deckhand, iu510 you know), I figured I might have fired before aiming, so I decided to dig a little further (pun not intended) and see just what was up.

I needn't have held my fire.

Capital Blight - Green Illusions or Malthusian Miasma?

By Steve Ongerth - April 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.

A recent item on truth-out.org, published on April 8, 2013, features an interview by Steve Horn of Ozzie Zehner, author of the book Green Illusions: the Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism . Titled, “Power Shift Away from Green Illusions” the interview would have been more appropriately named, “Deep Dive into a Vat of Malthusian Miasma.”

The interviewee, author Ozzie Zehner, argues that the public is being offered a false choice between fossil fuel based civilization and a renewable energy / clean tech based alternative, and that “most environmentalists” have “jumped on board the bandwagon”.

In Zehner’s mind these are not choices at all but, in fact, the same choice, because renewable energy technology production, usage, and maintenance cannot exist without fossil fuels coexisting alongside of it throughout its usage cycle, from manufacturing, to deployment, to maintenance, and so forth.

“There’s no such thing as clean energy, but there’s such a thing as less energy,” he says. “There’s a misconception that once alternative energy technologies are off the ground they can fly on their own. But alternative energy technologies are better understood as a product of fossil fuels,” he continues, also declaring, “Our planet has bounded resources and limited capacity to absorb the impacts of human activities.” Zehner goes on to dismiss electric cars as being no better than conventional fossil fuel vehicle, asserting that electric cars “merely create a different set of side effects (than their fossil fuel counterparts). It’s just that those side effects didn’t come out of a tail pipe, where we are accustomed to looking for them." He finishes up by opining that, “Mainstream environmental groups seem transfixed by technological gadgetry and have succumbed to magical thinking about their pet fetishes.”

These arguments are hardly fresh or groundbreaking. They are, in fact, essentially the same that were made by Richard Heinberg in The Party’s Over: Oil, Water, and the Fate of Industrial Society, in 2003, by William R Catton Jr. in Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, in 1973, and by Paul Erlich in The Population Bomb, in 1968, and Zehner expressly considers Heinberg and Erlich his compatriots (though he doesn’t mention Catton).

The IWW And Earth First!: Part 1 - Establishing Roots

By X344543 - Industrial Worker, May 2013. Dedicated to Franklin Rosemont, Carlos Cortez, and Utah Phillips.

Judi Bari was both an Earth First!er and a Wobbly from 1988 to 1993 and during that time there was a close alliance between the two organizations. Although some assume she brought the two together, the truth is more complex. When Judi Bari joined Earth First! and the IWW in the summer of 1988, Earth First!ers and Wobblies were already discussing the idea of forging an alliance. There are many reasons for this, but the overarching explanation is that Earth First! and the IWW are really different manifestations of thesame revolutionary impulse.

The IWW, founded in Chicago in 1905 by radical working class anti-capitalists from veterans of various movements and struggles, united around the idea of forming One Big Union of the working class. They offered a revolutionary alternative to the classcollaborationist American Federation of Labor (AFL). The IWW pledged to organize all workers—regardless of ethnicity, gender or skill level—by industry rather than craft. Instead of the conservative AFL motto, “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” the IWW sought to abolish wage slavery altogether. No longer would workers collectively enable their own oppression by crossing each other’s (craft based) picket lines, they said. The IWW would organize the working class together. This was summarized by the slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all!”

The IWW set out to achieve this creatively, becoming known as much for its “right brain” artistic contributions to working-class culture as well as its “left brain” organizing activities.

The Rich, Radical Life Of Helen Keller

Andy Piascik - The Indypendent, January 28, 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.

Travel north from Bridgeport, Connecticut through Fairfield to Sport Hill Road in the small, upscale town of Easton and you eventually come to Helen Keller Middle School. Go west a few miles to the other side of Easton and you can see the house where Keller lived from 1939 until her death in 1968. If you don’t know the house’s location, however, you’ll never find it, for there is no stone or plaque marking the spot even though Keller lived there longer than anywhere else.

That there’s no marker at the house is a bit surprising, for there was a time when Keller was one of the most famous people in the world, better known even than presidents and kings. Circa 1920, she was perhaps the second most recognizable Westerner on the planet behind only Charlie Chaplin—also a radical who, like Keller, used his brilliance to speak for the unrepresented.

Born in 1880 in Alabama with sight and the ability to hear, Keller lost both senses at 19 months due to disease, most likely scarlet fever or meningitis. Her parents were of some means, and she was thus spared institutionalization, the fate that befell thousands of blind and deaf working-class children of the time. As a young girl, Keller developed a homemade sign language that she used to communicate with those close to her. Treatment options and educational opportunities were few, however, and her quality of life was minimal. Despite the love of her devoted but heartbroken mother, Kate Adams Keller, Helen lived much like an untamed animal.

In 1887, an extraordinary young woman named Anne Sullivan traveled to the Keller home to be her teacher. Severely visually impaired herself, Sullivan’s early life was something out of Dickens or Engels. Orphaned at a young age, she had lived for many years in a Massachusetts institution alongside mentally ill adults who often preyed on the children in their midst. Staff were abusive and apathetic, and the facility was little more than a holding cell which few left alive. Sullivan later recalled that fewer than a fifth of the children there lived to adulthood. Among other horrors, she watched in agony as her younger brother slowly died of neglect despite her best efforts to protect him. Thereafter, she burned with a determination to ensure that other children would not share his fate.

Just 20 years old when she arrived in Alabama, Sullivan began a remarkable relationship with Keller that lasted five decades. In a few months of incredibly intense work, Sullivan drew on teaching techniques she had barely just learned and helped Helen find herself. And the self she helped Helen find contained one of the greatest hearts and minds of that or any other time.

Shocked members of the scientific and teaching communities studied Keller and Sullivan’s innovative techniques. Medical experts were put in the awkward position of having to explain why so many of the great minds of the time had been so thoroughly upstaged by an undereducated woman with a will of iron.      

Some sought to portray Keller’s situation as an unfortunate but ultimately holy burden delivered from on high. Philanthropists pressed in, looking to turn her story into a drawing room freak show. Had she acquiesced and remained polite, virginal and respectable, Keller could have become part of the high society scene. But Helen was having none of that. Although she did for much of her life live, in part, off the largesse of several capitalists, she refused to allow herself to be run up anyone’s flagpole to wave as a testament to the good intentions of the well-to-do. Instead, she spent the rest of her long life standing up for the trod upon.

Renewable Energy and Lucas Aerospace "Workers Plans"

By Dave Elliot and Hilary Wainwright - The Multicultural Politic, October 28, 2011

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.

Over the years the trade union movement has often led radical challenges to existing ways of doing things, including initiatives to improve not just the health and safety of the workforce, but also, during a period of increased worker militancy in the 1970’s, campaigns to change the direction of technological development.

One epic struggle was the Workers Plan movement in the late 1970’s, led off by shop stewards at the 17 plants around the UK run by Lucas Aerospace – which employed around 13,000 people making aircraft systems, many of them defence related. The trade unionists were concerned about job security at a time of recession in the industry- and also cuts defence spending (which they supported in principal).

They involved the workforce in a two year process of developing a detailed plan for switching to what they called ‘socially useful work’. The Plan drew on the expertise of the workforce and the skills they had, and outlined a range of new products they could work on, including medical aids, new transport systems and several renewable energy technologies, like wind turbines, solar panels, fuel cells and heat pumps. They even managed to get some prototypes built.

This was long before these technologies were familiar, and the company was not impressed by trade unionist trying to tell them what to produce. They ignored the plan insisting that only they had the right to manage. The cross-plant shop stewards ‘Combine’ committee was also seen as ‘unofficial’, so it proved hard to get support from the TUC and union bureaucracy, or even from the Labour government.

And when the political climate changed with the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, most of the leading Lucas activists were sacked. Some of them went on to work for left wing local councils, developing similar ideas.

Video: ROCKING THE FOUNDATIONS - A HISTORY OF THE GREEN BANS MOVEMENT

Documentary Film - 1985

For the full documentary, please visit this page (YouTube).

The film "Rocking the Foundations" is about the Builders Labourers' Federation of Australia who fought victoriously for their rights as a union, the rights of indigenous people, against gentrification, and in defense of the environment. They did this by performing the first of what are now known as the "green bans" or an environmental strike.

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