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The Climate Justice Call Echoes Across the Globe

By Danny Katch and Nicole Colso - Socialist Worker, September 22, 2014

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 image depicted here was not part of the original article.

ORGANIZERS HAD hoped it would be the largest climate justice demonstration in history. It was definitely that--and more.

People filled Central Park West in New York City from 59th Street past 86th Street for the People's Climate March on September 21--a massive crowd estimated to be as large as 300,000, maybe more.

Dozens upon dozens of contingents, representing indigenous activists, unions, students, community organizations, political groups and more, showed the broad range of people who want real action against climate change--before it's too late. For some of the marchers, it was three hours before their part of the demonstration stepped off.

And it wasn't just New York City that was in the streets. The main U.S. protest was one of more than 2,600 events held in over 150 countries on the same day. From India to Tanzania to South Africa to Brazil to Germany and Taiwan, people across the globe raised their voices against ecological destruction.

But this expression of dissent and determination is in stark contrast to the attitude of those who preside over the system that is causing climate change.

The demonstration in New York City was organized to issue a challenge from the streets in the run-up to a United Nations climate summit. Such meetings have been little more than a show--with the world's most powerful governments, in particular the U.S., frustrating attempts to set substantive targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

The consequences of putting profits before the fate of the planet are becoming increasingly clear--ever more so by the month.

Meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last week that the months of June, July and August marked the hottest summer on record for the planet as a whole. 2014 is on track to break the record for the hottest year, set in 2010.

At a solidarity demonstration held in rural Papua New Guinea, primary school students marched to a lighthouse that has become partially submerged as a result of rising sea levels. In other threatened spots across the Pacific Islands, solidarity marches calling for "Action, Not Words" had a similar message of real urgency.

Environmentalism as if Winning Mattered: A Self-Organization Strategy

By Stephen D’Arcy - The Public Autonomy Project, September 17, 2014

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.

[Note: This article was first published on the internet as a contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications in 2009, where it seems no longer to be available. This version is substantially revised.]

Many people doubt that the environmental movement can actually defeat its adversaries and achieve its key aims. After all, it seems clear that winning would mean introducing sweeping social change and a new kind of sustainable and socially just economy. But the forces arrayed against this kind of change – including corporations, governments, and many affluent consumers hoping to raise their consumption levels – seem to represent too powerful a force to be overcome by a relatively small and seemingly powerless group of environmental activists.

These doubts about the capacity of environmentalists to win are confined neither to the movement’s self-serving and greed-motivated adversaries in business and government, nor to the many indifferent bystanders who cast an equally skeptical eye on all attempts to transform society by means of popular mobilization from below. As it happens, many environmental activists themselves are no less convinced that failure is all but inevitable.

When this sort of pessimism overtakes environmentalists, they tend to adopt one of several familiar responses. First, there is the response of those who retreat from the movement altogether in favor of “lifestyle” environmentalism, replacing their former activism with “conscious” shopping. Second, there are those who reject activism as naïve compared to their own approach of apocalyptic “survivalism” which leads them to prepare for the day when “civilization” collapses, such as by stockpiling food or learning how to hunt and gather. A third group responds to the apparently bleak outlook for environmental activism not by leaving the movement, but by remaining active while seeking to cultivate “friends in high places,” linking arms with Big Business or the capitalist state in a mode of “mainstream” environmentalism that tries to promote “environmentally friendly” capitalism and “socially responsible” corporations. A fourth group also remains active, but replaces the aim of winning with the more readily attainable aim of making a moral statement, by serving as a “moral witness” or by “speaking truth to power.” Finally, a fifth group also accepts the inevitability of failure but tries to seize every opportunity to put on public display the purity of their own uncompromising and self-righteous (albeit relentlessly impotent) radicalism, as a form of self-congratulatory “posturing.”

There is nothing to be gained by adopting a judgmental or holier-than-thou attitude toward people who adopt such responses. Why condemn such choices, which are all more or less understandable adaptations to the admittedly distressing predicament of contemporary environmentalism?

Nevertheless, we do need to see these stances for what they undoubtedly are: failures (in some cases) or refusals (in others) to develop a strategy for winning. Yet a strategy for winning is precisely what we need. The scale of the general environmental crisis is well known, and needs no special emphasis here: we are only too well-informed about the potentially catastrophic impact of plutogenic (caused-by-the-rich) climate change, the degradation of air quality, the erosion and poisoning of soil, the disappearance of forests and spreading of deserts, the despoliation of both fresh water sources and oceans, the historically unprecedented rates of species extinction, and so on. If nothing is done about any of this, it is not because there is any uncertainty about the gravity of these threats (notwithstanding cynical attempts by Big Business to fund “denial” research from “free market think tanks,” as a transparent ploy to muddy the waters of public discussion).

Something must be done, clearly. And most people certainly want more to be done. Globally, according to a survey of world opinion in 2010, “84 percent of those polled globally said the problem was serious, with 52 percent saying it was very serious. The number of people saying that it was not a problem averaged just 4 percent.” Even in the United States, where public awareness about environmental issues is lower than anywhere else on earth, “in 2010, 70 percent of US respondents described the problem as serious and 37 percent described it as very serious.” According to Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org (which conducted the poll), “most people around the world appear to be impatient that their government is not doing enough to address the problem of climate change.” Indeed, “on average across all nations polled, 60 percent want climate change to get a higher priority, 12 percent want a lower priority.”

Evidently, inaction on the part of governments does not reflect any pressing need to “change attitudes” or “educate the public.” If governments and corporations were even modestly responsive to public opinion, the prospects for implementing real change would be much more favorable for our side than they actually are at present.

The widespread pessimism about the movement’s prospects for success is impossible to explain without relating it to a widely understood insight registered in another recent opinion poll. According to a 2012 Harris Poll, 86% of Americans believe that “Big companies” have “too much power and influence in Washington.” An even higher percentage, 88% of Americans, believe that “political action committees that give money to political candidates” also have too much power and influence. Conversely, a full 78% of Americans believe that “public opinion” has “too little power and influence in Washington.” Americans, it seems, understand the workings of their political process rather better than many people give them credit for.

It should be clear, therefore, that we need a strategy for winning, and we need to develop it sooner rather than later. The approach that I pursue in this article will be to identify strategic objectives for weakening and ultimately defeating the adversaries that stand in the way of doing what science, morality, and good sense dictate must be done: transforming our destructive, unjust and unsustainable social order into a democratic, egalitarian and sustainable one.

Join the People’s Climate March

By Daniel Adam - Socialist Action, September 3, 2014

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 People’s Climate March, scheduled for Sept. 21 in New York City, is poised to live up to its promise of mobilizing the largest number of people that the U.S. has ever seen against the mass production of greenhouse gases. With more than 1000 endorsing organizations, buses scheduled to leave from more than 200 locations, alongside chartered trains (including three leaving from Connecticut and one from San Francisco), over 200,000 Facebook invites, and countless meetings and events around the country, the march will create major advances for the climate movement.

By marching, participants will affirm for all to see that, at root, climate change is not a matter of isolated individual consumer decisions but of institutional forces that refuse to respond to the will of the majority. They will show that climate activists can go beyond local organizing on dispersed projects and can come together to articulate their vision.

The absence of mass demonstrations for many years kept the movement from forging a visible political expression—until the marches against the Keystone XL pipeline in 2012 and 2013. This had allowed climate change to appear like a fringe issue of the relatively well-to-do, or simply something beyond the scope of human intervention. September will mark an advance from the fringes to the mainstream, and from paralysis to action.

In particular, the participation of more than 30 unions presents a ground-breaking opening for labor and the climate movement. Endorsers include the Communication Workers of America, the Amalgamated Transit Union, 32BJ, the United Federation of Teachers, Transport Workers Union 100, US Labor Against the War, and other formations including machinists, electrical workers, farm workers, and a variety of food and service workers.

The participation of unions is a crucial question, given their members’ social position and ability to shift social production from a greenhouse-dependent one to a renewable, even waste-free, one. Such potential was raised at one presentation for a union meeting organized by the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, where participants showed impatience to go beyond discussing the evidence of climate change to working out the steps needed to end it. “We can build anything; what do you want us to build?” one worker asked.

To be sure, the union movement is still largely divided over climate questions. For instance, Pennsylvania mineworker unions have recently organized against milquetoast attempts to reduce coal-plant emissions, in an attempt to preserve their jobs. This strategy of aligning with the bosses to protect job security will only be successfully challenged as the movement grows powerful enough to realistically demand a secure livelihood and employment for workers affected by the transition to renewables and as the movement becomes capable of struggling independently of the boss class.

Still, September’s march will mean a considerable step forward for efforts inside the labor movement to bring climate change to the fore. It will also make considerable progress in awakening climate activists outside the labor movement to the importance of allying with organized workers.

Chapter 26 : They Weren’t Gonna Have No Wobbly Runnin’ Their Logging Show

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

Now Judi Bari is a union organizer,
A ‘Mother Jones’ at the Georgia-Pacific Mill,
She fought for the sawmill workers,
Hit by that PCB spill;
T. Marshall Hahn’s calling GP shots from Atlanta,
Don Nelson sold him the union long ago,
They weren’t gonna have no Wobbly,
Running their logging show;
So they spewed out their hatred,
And they laid out their scam,
Jerry Philbrick called for violence,
It was no secret what they planned…

—lyrics excerpted from Who Bombed Judi Bari?, by Darryl Cherney, 1990

Meanwhile, in Fort Bragg, the rank and file dissent against the IWA Local #3-469 officialdom grew. Still incensed by Don Nelson’s actions over the PCB Spill, and not at all satisfied with a second consecutive concessionary contract, the workers now had yet another reason to protest: a proposed dues increase. Claiming that the local faced a financial crisis, the embattled union leader proposed raising the members’ dues from $22.50 per month to $29, an increase that amounted to more than a 25 percent rise. Ironically, IWA’s Constitution limited the monthly dues rate to 2½ times the wages of the lowest paid worker. The local’s financial shortage had resulted from a decrease in the wages and the loss members due to G-P’s outsourcing logging jobs to gyppos and automation of jobs in the quad mill. [1] The usual suspects readied themselves to blame “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs” once again.

Nelson presented his proposal in the form of a leaflet posted on the employee bulletin boards and distributed in the employee break rooms throughout the G-P Mill in Fort Bragg. The leaflet stated, “we are voting to maintain the ability of our union to function.” A group of rank and filers, however, led by a mill maintenance janitor, named Julie Wiles and her coworker Cheryl Jones, as well as some of the eleven workers affected by the PCB spill and others who had been most dissatisfied with the recent round of contract negotiations, responded by producing a leaflet of their own opposing the dues increase. Their leaflet stated, “Last year Union officers’ wages plus expenses were $43,622. This year they were $68,315. That’s a whopping 69 percent increase! Considering our lousy 3 percent pay raise, how can the Union ask us for more money?” The rank and file dissidents’ leaflets were quickly removed from the employee bulletin boards. [2] This wasn’t to be the worst of it, though.

Where is labor in Ferguson?

By Carl Finamore - Socialist Worker, August 21, 2014

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 WEAKNESS of organized labor is often attributed to its low numbers, and they are low for sure. For example, AFL-CIO membership remained stagnant this year at 12.5 million, even with the whopping addition last year of 1.3 million United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union food and commercial workers.

Nonetheless, I believe the falling numbers are more a reflection than an explanation of labor's decline. Therefore, I do not agree with the prevailing opinion that spending more money on organizing will turn everything around. Our biggest problems are political, not organizational.

Put another way, corporate power looms large because unions are seriously disconnected from the social aspirations of the majority of working-class women and people of color who strive for equality, justice and fair play that cannot be measured or satisfied solely by the size of a paycheck.

It's been this way for some time, but nowhere is this wide gulf more vivid and more tragic than in the AFL-CIO's spineless reaction to the police murder of yet another young, unarmed African American.

The national federation issued a very cautiously worded statement of half a dozen sentences even as 18-year old Michael Brown's grieving family sharply characterized his shooting as an assassination.

This comes on the heels of the AFL-CIO's anemic and lame "take action" recommendations released last year on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 civil rights March on Washington. The federation's bold action plan was to organize a "national symposium," a "scholarship fund" and support for "teaching staff" to educate young people.

This is embarrassing. My multi-vitamins pack more of a wallop.

Steel Jobs and Fracking

By Martin Zehr - Industrial Worker, July-August 2014

The issue of steel jobs in the Monongahela Valley has been an issue for decades. For the last 3-4 decades workers have seen mills shut down and threats of other closings held over the heads of those still working. Workers have seen the mill close in Homestead; USS mills in Duquesne and Clairton closed in 1984. In an eight-year span, from 1979 to 1987, the Pittsburgh region lost 133,000 manufacturing jobs. Today, there is new cry from the steel bosses--XL pipeline and fracking is a “USS right”. “Save Our Steel” jobs. Workers in orange flame resistant suits stand out at the rally in Munhall on May 19, where steel bosses, USW reps and local politicians share the stage and the message.

Some where in the crowd is the IWW. A worker passes by on the way to the rally says: “Good to see the Wobblies here.” Not much time for discussion. But workers remember Homestead 1397 Rank-and-File. They still know the name of 1397’s President Ron Wiesen, who fought the steel bosses and the closing of the Homestead mill. Even the speakers at the rally point to the site where steel workers fought the company’s Pinkerton’s for union recognition in 1892. No promises from the bosses back then, just the exercise of b rutal force.

Everything is packaged today: the bottled water brought to the rally, the bags of chips handed out to rally participants, the speeches from local politicians telling us all how hard they are working to save steel jobs and the promises from USW reps and the AFL-CIO of better days ahead. Speeches speak of US Steel as the source for dynamism in the years ahead. Make US Steel tubes for Keystone XL. Use US Steel in fracking neighboring communities. USW sings the praises of USS with the all too familiar guarantee that “...we’ve had our differences[with USS] in the past” but we’re all in this together. And the question becomes who is “we”? Do they mean our neighbors, friends and co-workers throughout Allegheny, Beaver and Butler Counties whose spring waters are being turned to black? Do they mean the people that our kids have gone to school with and their parents who are getting sick? Always with the USW it’s “Better them than us”, and the them grows, while the US decreases. They keep us in line for USS and they serve no free lunch.

Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch Resolution in Opposition to Single Employee Train Crews

Passed Unanimously on Thursday, August 7, 2014

Whereas, the BLET and the SMART have joined forces and have been working hand in hand to outlaw Single Employee Train Crews; and

Whereas, railroad workers universally support a minimum of two crew members on every train, an engineer and a conductor; and

Whereas, in the wake of the Lac Megantic tragedy and numerous other train wrecks in the last year, we have an historic opportunity to build alliances with community and environmental groups to outlaw single employee train crews;

Whereas, a rogue general committee of the SMART TD has recently announced an tentative agreement, that would, if implemented, eliminate the road conductor on through freight and allow single employee crews;

Therefore, be it resolved, that the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW affirms our opposition to single employee train operations and that we support an engineer and a conductor on every train; and

Be it further resolved, that we condemn the backroom deal recently made between the SMART TD and the BNSF as it would undermine the national union strategy to outlaw single employee operations; and

Be it further resolved, that the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW urge all rail, transportation, and other union members to actively oppose contracts that would allow single employee operations of trains; and

Be it finally resolved, that Local the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW urge trainmen on the BNSF GC-001 in the strongest possible terms to stand up and fight back standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of labor and to vote NO on this tentativeagreement. 

Adopted by the members of the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW on August 7, 2014

Unions That Used to Strike - The ILWU, once known for its militancy and political radicalism, faces a choice between nurturing rank-and-file power and a painful death

By Robert Brenner and Suzi Weissman - Jacobin, August 6, 2014

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 early July, 120 mostly poor and immigrant port truckers set up picket lines at three trucking companies in LA-Long Beach Harbor, extending their longstanding campaign to unionize. The next day, workers from the powerful and historically militant International Longshore and Warehouse Union honored the truckers’ picket by walking off their jobs, immediately shutting down three waterfront terminals.

The dockworkers had found themselves contractually free to refuse to cross the port truckers’ line, when their union’s agreement with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) had expired a short time before.

But almost immediately, a waterfront arbitrator ordered the longshoremen back to work. The ILWU had suddenly and without warning extended their agreement with the PMA for three days. Following the rules of their own contract, the union told its members to cross the truckers’ pickets and return to their jobs.

This action was in line with the ILWU’s informal pact with the PMA to maintain the flow of work after their contract had run out, and it snuffed out any potential the embryonic solidarity of the longshore workers and port truckers might have had to shift the balance of power between themselves and their employers.

In a small way, it encapsulated the two previous years of the union’s evolution.

Worker Safety Questioned as Trains and Accidents Multiply

By Blake Sobczak - Energywire [Paywall Site], August 4, 2014

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 recent surge in oil train traffic along North America’s freight network has been a boon for railroads struggling to cope with falling coal shipments.

But though the crude-by-rail boom has kept workers busy, it has also raised questions about their safety and preparedness following a series of oil train derailments and explosions.

A tentative agreement between BNSF Railway Co. and a major transportation union last month would allow certain trains to operate with just one engineer on board, provided they were outfitted with Positive Train Control. PTC technology allows for the train to be stopped or slowed automatically if it exceeds a speed limit or is on track for an unseen collision.

BNSF spokeswoman Roxanne Butler pointed out that the PTC labor deal would not apply to any trains hauling hazardous materials such as crude oil. The agreement is now being considered by members of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers’ Transportation Division (SMART TD).

But union representatives have worried that the agreement could clear the way to phase out oil train conductors in the future, setting what they consider a dangerous precedent.

“You can’t talk about this issue without mentioning the terrible lessons that we learned at Lac-Mégantic,” said SMART TD National Legislative Director James Stem, referring to a fiery oil train derailment and explosion in Quebec last year that killed 47 people.

The train was not manned when it jumped the tracks in downtown Lac-Mégantic, but it had been operated by a lone engineer the previous night. The worker is now facing charges of criminal negligence for allegedly failing to apply enough hand brakes that could have prevented the train from breaking free from its parking place and hurtling toward town.

In that case, Stem explained, safety “had nothing to do with the size of the tank car — it had to do with management decisions that were made based around the fact that they had a crew of one.”

“Based on our experience and multiple fatalities, a crew of at least two certified employees is necessary for the safe operation of the train,” he said.

The Federal Railroad Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is now crafting regulations that will likely require oil trains to be staffed by at least one conductor and one engineer. An FRA spokesman said the regulator expects to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on the topic by the end of the year.

The U.S. rail industry already uses at least two employees on oil or ethanol trains as standard practice.

But in a statement supporting the FRA’s two-person crew proposal in April, Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department at the union confederation AFL-CIO, noted that railroads’ “previous collective bargaining pursuits have included attempts to employ one-person crews.”

Railroads have sought to use smaller crews in recent decades to cut down on labor costs, arguing that technologies such as PTC and improved operating practices preclude the need for many workers. But regulators and labor groups have maintained that larger crews boost safety.

BNSF Nears Shift To One-Member Crews, Possibly Even on Dangerous Oil Trains

By Cole Stangler - DeSmog Blog, July 19, 2014

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.

For decades, the U.S. railroad industry has successfully shed labor costs by shifting to smaller and smaller operating crews. Now, it’s on the verge of what was once an unthinkable victory: single-member crews, even on dangerous oil trains.

A tentative agreement reached by BNSF Railway and the Transportation Division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) union would allow a single engineer to operate most of the company’s routes. It would mark a dramatic change to a labor contract that covers about 3,000 workers, or 60 percent of the BNSF system.  

It’s not just bad news for workers. The contract has major safety implications—especially amid North America’s dangerous, and sometimes deadly, crude-by-rail boom. Last year’s Bakken shale oil train derailment and explosion in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people, brought increased scrutiny to oil trains. 

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