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Chapter 19 : Aristocracy Forever

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

What do workers hold in common with a labor bureaucrat,
Who’s a class collaborationist and a boss’s diplomat,
With the money from our paychecks he is sitting getting fat,
While the union keeps us down. …

—Lyrics excerpted from Aristocracy Forever, by Judi Bari.

Meanwhile, back in Fort Bragg, there was “trouble in union city”—or what was left of it at any rate. Over the course of the previous four years, IWA Local #3-469 Business Representative Don Nelson had folded under pressure to the collaborationist leadership in the IWA, offered no resistance whatsoever to Georgia-Pacific’s outsourcing of its logging operation to gyppos, refused to offer solidarity to the UFCW in its boycott of Harvest Market, and had essentially bought G-P’s story on the PCB spill hook, line, and sinker. Now those chickens were coming home to roost. It was the middle of June 1989, and the union’s contract with G-P for the workers in the mill had expired, and the prospects for a peaceful round of negotiations or a new and improved contract did not look good to the workers.

The results of the just-expired contract, including its wage rollbacks in exchange for “productivity bonuses,” had been disastrous. G-P had not honored their promise to restore the wages they had cut the previous round of negotiations in 1985. The bonuses had only been paid the previous year and amounted to less than a third of the wage cuts for that year alone. [1]

Capital Blight - Aristocracy Forever

By x344543 - June 12, 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.

When the union leaders' payoffs by the bosses has begun,
There will be no labor trouble anywhere beneath the sun,
For the AFL trade unions and the management are one,
The union keeps us down.

Chorus
Aristocracy forever,
Aristocracy forever,
Aristocracy forever,

--lyrics excerpted from Aristocracy Forever, by Judi Bari

It happens far too often. Big corporate industrial polluters rape and pillage the Earth, whether by tar sands mining, fracking, mountaintop coal mining, offshore oil drilling, clearcut logging, and more. What's more, much of what they extract they export elsewhere, choosing to remove even the economic benefits of local production from the affected community. These corporations claim to be "good neighbors", but they suck up all the wealth (in the form of profits), and they outsource the costs to the community. And the workers who actually do the labor to produce all of this wealth? Not only are they not paid the full value of their labor, they're often the first to bear the brunt of the toxic pollution and chemical poisoning these companies create in their wake.

It's no wonder that time and time again we witness communities organizing and mobilizing opposition to this state of affairs, often assisted by environmental organizations of various types. What's curious, however, is how often the unions (if the workers in these facilities are fortunate enough to have union representation) defend the companies and even promote the companies' messages--even though it's ultimately not in the workers' interest to do so.

A call for unions in BC to defend the province’s and the world’s ecosystem

Statement of the Vancouver Ecosocialist Group, May 28, 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.

Last month, four leaders of the main construction unions in British Columbia issued a statement in support of the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline. The statement is signed by the Teamsters, Plumbers, Operating Engineers and Labourers’ unions. The text is enclosed below.

Now the same four leaders have come out in support of Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline.

These two statements are an occasion to remind ourselves of why we should oppose the climate-wrecking agenda of the fossil fuel industry and its government backers. We believe there is a better way forward for unions and for society.

Climate science is telling us that society must move rapidly to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. That means lessening and eventually eliminating most extraction and burning of fossil fuels. We must end the reckless and excessive production and consumption of ‘things’ that only serves to fill the pockets of large corporations. We believe the unions in BC as well as the political party they support, the NDP, should be developing audacious policies for the alternative economy that is needed. But instead, the opposite is happening:

  • Many BC unions are supporting a key part of the fossil fuel industry agenda—increased fracking of natural gas in the northeast of the province and the creation of an entirely new industry, LNG, on the northwest coast. First Nations in the northeast say that fracking is destroying their air and water as well as the fish and wildlife they have depended upon for millennia. A new report of the prestigious Council of Canadian Academies is another reminder of the dangerous environmental consequences of fracking. We should heed these voices.
  • Another industry—export of thermal coal (mined in the U.S.)—is surging ahead. Instead of more coal, we need more action on transition to a renewable energy economy. Unions have a vital role to play in assuring that new jobs for coal miners and new economies for their communities are created.
  • A third part of the industry agenda is increased transport through communities of highly dangerous trains carrying crude oil, tar sands bitumen and refined fossil fuel products.
  • And finally, there are the two proposed pipelines to carry Alberta tar sands bitumen to the BC coast. Awareness and concern over Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain line is growing, as evidenced by the big rally that took place in Burnaby on April 12, organized by Burnaby Residents Opposed to Kinder Morgan (BROKE). In northern BC, meanwhile, residents of the province might have hoped that Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline will be consigned to the dustbin, once and for all, following the April 12 plebiscite vote in Kitimat against it. The project is already facing the ‘Wall of Opposition’ that First Nations peoples and other residents in northern BC have created. But Enbridge is pressing ahead, and it has the federal government in its back pocket, so we are obliged to continue to organize against it. On May 10, thousands of people rallied in Vancouver and across British Columbia to say ‘no’ to tar sands pipelines.

Trade union and NDP leaders should pay heed to the opposition to Northern Gateway by First Nations, by the citizens of Kitimat (who voted by 58 per cent against the project on April 12) and by growing numbers of citizens in the Lower Mainland and along the pipeline routes.

Chicago IWW Statement on May Day Arrests

Statement by the Chicago IWW - May 5, 2014

It is the official position of the Chicago branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) that the actions of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the marshals affiliated with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) at the May 1st March to Stop Deportations were grossly inappropriate and condemnable. In collusion with the CPD, these marshals singled out and physically restrained two activists, leading to their arrests. While the arrests occurred, the marshals attempted to surround and enclose members of the IWW’s Red and Black Brigade contingent of the march, blocking their freedom of movement. The marshals also directed other participants to move past the enclosed contingent, preventing the other marchers from showing solidarity with the arrestees.

Jose “Zé” Garcia and Anne Meredith Wooton, the activists arrested during the march, have the full support of the Chicago branch of the IWW. Zé was released without charges, and Anne Meredith is facing misdemeanor charges. Zé is an outspoken advocate against ICIRR’s reformist policies, and actively spreads awareness of their tactics against dissenters. They are currently in the midst of fighting their own deportation. These facts, along with witness testimonials, suggest that these arrests may have been politically motivated. ICIRR’s official statement is that it was not their intention for these arrests to occur, while SEIU has not, to our knowledge, commented on the incident.

The actions of the marshals enabled the arrests. It is important that public marches be open to all who wish to participate without fear of state harassment, repression, and persecution. Above all, no one should be singled out for arrest based on their residency status—especially at a march against deportations. Given the historical legacy of May Day, it is crucial that anti-authoritarian and dissenting voices not be silenced by the state or its collaborators. If organizers expect broad participation at marches in the future, they must ensure that marshals do not aid in arrests and that solidarity with anyone who may be arrested is allowed. The IWW will always stand by the principle that an injury to one is an injury to all.

Zé has set up a GoFundMe page where you can read their personal account of the incident and donate to, in their own words, “help me fight my deportation so I can continue my fight against a brutal and illegitimate regime, my fight against the sellouts, my fight against EVERY deportation.”

15 Now Conference Report

By John Reimann - Oakland Socialist, April 30, 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.

On Saturday, April 26, some 400 activists and socialists gathered in Seattle to participate in the national "15 Now" conference. They came primarily from Seattle, but also from all over the country, including from as far away as Mobile, Alabama.

Mood

The conference and Socialist Alternative’s 15 Now campaign should be considered in its context. For decades now, there has been a general mood of resignation within the US working class – a feeling that nothing can be done to reverse the general course of things. This ranges from the most obvious issue of income levels and economic security to other issues like poisoning of the environment. In 2012, one of the first warning signs of a new movement sprang to life in the form of the Occupy movement. According to one person I talked with here (who is not a member of any socialist group), Socialist Alternative was really the only socialist group that was very present in Occupy Seattle and consistently sided with the left wing of that movement. Most prominent of the Socialist Alternative members in Occupy was Kshama Sawant, and that played an important role in Socialist Alternative and Sawant winning a base among the radicalized youth.

It is also clear that Sawant’s election victory has helped the consciousness here in Seattle. For instance, I was in a coffee shop here and got to talking with a young mother sitting next to me. This was a pretty middle class woman, but she was definitely aware of Sawant (she liked her “passion”) as well as the issue of the fifteen dollar minimum wage. She had some doubts about it, but those doubts were easily put to rest. Although Socialist Alternative had been hoping for up to 1000 at the fifteen now conference, even 400 is not a bad outcome and would not have been possible had Sawant not won the election. (Probably close to 200 were Socialist Alternative members.)

Involving Low Wage Workers

However, the conference also showed that the campaign has not really made any major headway in breaking into exactly that sector who most need a $15 per hour minimum wage – single working parents, black and Latino youth, etc. From the outside, it is impossible to know for sure if this is because of the orientation of Socialist Alternative or because it is exactly these layers who feel the most depressed and abandoned. Whatever the reason, it must be admitted that the orientation and strategy of Socialist Alternative – who run “15 Now” – does not help.

Wine and Milk vs. Oil and Gas: Existing Industries Go Up Against Fossil Fuel Job Promises

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, April 15, 2010

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.

Ken Stanton’s 400-cow dairy farm lies in the path of the proposed Constitution Pipeline, which would carry fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York.

Three generations of Stanton’s family spoke in opposition to the pipeline during a packed public comment session at a hearing at Cobleskill-Richmondville high school on March 31.

“The pipeline would cut through my land. With eminent domain, there’s nothing I can do. It doesn’t feel like America anymore,” Stanton told the Daily Gazette.  

It’s people like Stanton who stand to lose in the face of new fossil fuel developments, despite the job-creation claims of industry.

Until recently, new projects were justified in the name of American energy independence, but with the new push to lift the Jones act to allow for crude oil exports and the big PR effort to ramp up liquid petroleum gas (LPG) exports, the new spin is job creation. 

The American Petroleum Institute has abandoned the energy independence approach and gone with the new argument about jobs — and the media was happy to broadcast the message.  From CNBC:

By lifting restrictions on crude oil exports, the U.S. economy could generate more than a quarter of a million jobs and save consumers billions in energy costs, the American Petroleum Institute said Monday.

In addition to the promise of jobs, the institute is claiming exporting more crude oil will lower prices for American consumers. This is a bold claim given that this past year propane prices in the U.S. hit record prices, coinciding with an exports increasing by 75 percent.

Open Letter: Union Needs to Back Climate Change Protesters, Not Persecute Them

The Vancouver Ecosocialist Group, including the trade unionists listed below, have issued this open letter to the International Longshore Warehouse Union. It responds to the union’s offer of a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of climate change protesters at the Port Metro Vancouver’s office. The open letter was originally published by the Vancouver Observer. Rankandfile.ca republishes this letter in the interests of open, democratic debate within the labour movement, particularly on issues as important as the environment and government attacks on the right to protest and free speech. – the Rankandfile.ca editors

ILWU Canada President Mark Gordienko announced December 20 on the waterfront union’s website and in the mainstream media the offer of a “$2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of masked intruders who violently occupied Port Metro Vancouver’s office on Monday December 16 and intimidated office staff.”

This action by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has tarnished its own proud history of peaceful civil disobedience by refusing to load ships in support of progressive struggles. Only four years ago a sizable march of ILWU members, supporters, and international guests erected a plaque in Vancouver to the outcome of one such refusal. That one led to a massive lockout and to the 1935 Battle of Ballantyne Pier, where hundreds of dock workers fought police for hours in an attempt to stop scabbing.

Socialists Debate Nuclear, 2: Still No Nukes!

By Michael Friedman - Climate and Capitalism, November 18, 2013: a response to A socialist defends nuclear energy, by David Walters.

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.

Retired nuclear power plant operator David Walters seeks to make a socialist case for nuclear power as the alternative to fossil fuels. Unfortunately, he parts from the unfortunate and worn-out progressive infatuation with capitalist productivism, the technology that it employs and the technological determinism that justifies it and brings forth a host of magic bullet non-solutions for every problem it engenders. This is succinctly confirmed by his assertions that “the center of this discussion can be narrowed down to one technological and scientific issue: the generation, use, and distribution of energy” and “human use of energy set us apart from all other species, including the higher ones such as dolphins and apes.”

These formulations fly in the face of a Marxist understanding of human development, reducing ‘all hitherto existing human history’ to the history of energy development. That is technological determinism, no more. For Marxists, the “center” of this discussion is the capitalist mode of production, and concretely, its method of appropriation of human labor and natural resources.

Driven to privatize and turn the natural world into marketable commodities incorporating human labor, capital rips natural processes such as biogeochemical cycles or trophic webs to pieces in order to isolate profitable components. We are presented with abominations like monocrop agriculture, fracking and Fukushima.

This mode of production and the reductionist, mechanistic worldview attendant upon it, has turned Homo sapiens’ biological connections to the rest of the natural world upside down; under capitalism, humans are not only alienated from their labor, and each other, but from the nature with which they are inextricably bound. This is the cause of the environmental crisis. Global warming is far from the only major element of this crisis. Many ecologists regard the dramatic decline in biodiversity as just as devastating to humans and all life on this planet as global warming. Deforestation, ocean acidification, the proliferation of human waste and toxic contaminants, the introduction of genetically engineered organisms and invasive species, all of these are, of course interconnected consequences of the market economy, but it is meaningless to subsume them under the rubric of “generation, use and distribution of energy.”

The Anti-Democratic Nature Of Big Unions

By Burkely Herrman - Industrial Worker, November 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.

Ten thousand times has the labor movement stumbled and fallen and bruised itself, and risen again; been seized by the throat and choked and clubbed into insensibility; enjoined by courts, assaulted by thugs, charged by the militia, shot down by regulars, traduced by the press,  frowned upon by public opinion, deceived by politicians, threatened by priests, repudiated by renegades, preyed upon by grafters, infested by spies, deserted by cowards, betrayed by traitors, bled by leeches, and sold out by leaders, but notwithstanding all this, and all these, it is today the most vital and potential power this planet has ever known.”  – American union leader and socialist Eugene Debs, 1904

In the age of Obama, unions have had an even more diminished role than before. Despite this, a recent poll from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has shown that a slim majority, or 51 percent, approves of “organized labor…up a full 10 percentage points from two  years ago” and also “labor unions had the highest approval ratings among women, people of color, and young people between the ages of 18 and 29 [but not] whites and retirees.” The right-wing has launched a massive attack on unions as can be seen in the “right-to-work” bills in recent  years and other measures. As a result, the  big unions, part of the labor aristocracy, like the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Federation have backed the Democratic Party, the second-most capitalistic party in American politics. In electoral battles  with the Republicans, the unions fund ads to help out their favored candidates: big business Democrats. Along with the agents of oligarchy, these unions applauded when the Wall Street marketing creation named Barack Obama was elected as U.S. President in 2008, and continued to support him throughout his presidency. Some of the only sticking points have been the protectionist multinational-empowering investor-rights agreements that promote “trade” like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the United States-Dominican Republic-Central  America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the United States–Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), the Panama–United States Trade Promotion Agreement (TLC), the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA), among many others. At the same time, these unions have not tried very hard to reverse trends that have caused unionization in the American economy to be on the decline. From here, it is important to discuss what the subservience of the labor aristocracy means to working-class and middle-class Americans.

Recall the Wisconsin uprising of 2011.  According to his website, Governor Scott  Walker wanted to “create an atmosphere  where business can thrive and success  will follow” and the unions were in his  way. One of the state’s biggest unions decided to back some of the cuts sought  by anti-union stalwart Governor Walker, in the infamous 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, at first, only opposing a provision limiting collective bargaining of public employees. Later, they changed their position after Walker rejected their compromise, as reported in the Milwalkee Journal Sentinel. Numerous protesters demonstrated a different view by calling for the defeat of the whole bill, not just one provision. Once Act 10 had passed, the unions pushed the next step: recalling Governor Walker. Almost a million signed a petition to recall him. However in the primaries, big labor’s favorite candidate Kathleen Falk was defeated by Tom Barrett. Barrett was a Democratic machine politician who Walker had defeated in 2010, but the unions backed him anyway along with corporatists like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. The website watchdog.org reported that Barrett was “sticking  by a plan that could mean up to $14,000 in compensation cuts for state workers…[and] ‘rightsize’…state government and put public-worker pay and benefits more in line with private-sector compensation.” This follows what Barrett planned to do in 2010, as outlined in his report, “Tom Barrett’s Plan to Create Wisconsin Jobs”: “simplify[ing] regulations and streamline the regulatory process to lighten the burden on business.” Additionally, the report “Tom Barrett’s Plan to Put Madison on a Diet” was slated to “introduc[e]…technologies and revising processes to lessen the need for replacement employees…[and] keep…compensation and sick/leave accrual for state employees in line  with the private sector, including wages, health care, pension, retirement age, job security, and overtime pay.” Due to this, he only gave lip service to the unions, making protesters disenchanted along  with conducting a horrible campaign that didn’t mention Act 10. As a result, the propaganda machine, in part funded by the Koch Brothers, propelled Scott Walker to victory. The concentration of capital had sadly won against people power.

Capital Blight: Reflections on the August 3rd, 2013 Protest in Richmond, California

By x344543 - August 11, 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.

On Saturday, August 3, 2013, I--along with approximately 3500 others--attended the Summer Heat: Together we Can Stop Climate Chaos rally, jointly organized by 350.org and a coalition of local environmental and social justice groups.

The coalescing of these forces reflected a confluence of several factors, including:

  • The struggle of a predominantly people of color community to wrangle some justice for the environmental and economic transgressions committed by the Chevron corporation, which has for all intents and purposes run Richmond like a company town (and this corporation's refinery--a piece of the once ubiquitous Standard Oil monopoly--actually existed before the town which we now call Richmond was established);
  • A massive explosion and fire that occurred at the refinery a year previously, which investigations later revealed was due to corroded pipes, which refinery workers complained about to management, but were allowed to let stand, lest the company's profits be lessened by so much as a penny;
  • Chevron's connection to the extraction of tar sands from Alberta and elsewhere which represent a form of "extreme energy" which endangers the environment, workers, and communities along the transport routes of this stuff (whether by train, truck, ship, or pipeline), and has already caused massive devastation and death in Kalamazoo, Minnesota; Lac Megantic, Quebec, and Mayflower, Arkansas, just to name a few places; and
  • The increasing realization that continued unabated use (and increased use) of fossil fuels (and for that matter, capitalism in general) has the human race on a collision course with doom, because (capitalist) human caused global warming--which has already progressed past the dangerous two degrees Celsius threshold that gives 350.org its name--will almost certainly condemn the human race, and quite likely all of the Earth, to a Venus like end, and must be stopped...yesterday.

Due to the participation of my fellow IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus members, Elliot and Ryan, an idea that they planted as a seed blossomed into a sizable labor contingent, composed of over thirty unions--including the Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch--that endorsed the rally and participated as an organized force in one way or another. The idea became so popular within the coalition organizing this particular campaign, that 350.org hired an organizer, Brooke Anderson, to make it happen--which she did to great effect. Ultimately 208 participants, including all three of us, my wife, 350.org spokesman Bill McKibben, ILWU Local 6 president Fred Pecker, and Richmond's mayor, Gayle McLauglin.

The event began with a meet-up at the Richmond BART station--the Bay Area's principal public transit system--an electric heavy rail network, whose union workers--represented by various ATU and SEIU Locals were embroiled in a nasty labor dispute with the agency's management and had (before the date of the rally) engaged in a one-week strike. Due to my efforts, and in no small part because I am a transit worker myself, a ferryboat deckhand at another one of the Bay Area's public transit systems, I suggested to Anderson that she make overtures to the BART workers as workers who work as part of the solution to capitalist fossil-fuel driven climate change; she agreed. At the other end of the equation, as a member of the rank and file opposition caucus, Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, to which several rank and file members from the various BART unions have since joined, I pushed for the committee to reciprocate; they did.

As one would expect, corporate media coverage of the event, while extensive, was overall mediocre to atrocious.

350.org compiled the coverage here.

None of the print media so much as mentioned the sizable labor contingent, though Brooke Anderson provided a fairly detailed account missed by the corporate media.

One of the worst offenders was the San Jose Mercury News who quoted San Jose State Political Science professor Larry Gerston (quite likely out of context) commenting about how people support projects like the Keystone XL pipeline because they're eager for "jobs" (in spite of the substantial proof that Keystone would provide almost no permanent jobs, and our own analysis that more permanent jobs than there are available workers in the US would be created if the full potential of renewable energy were deployed--environmental considerations and all).

Rather than provide yet another lengthy recounting of the march, rally, and planned civil disobedience that followed, I will keep this already lengthy article from becoming that much longer by offering a link a concise and to the point account by Richmond Progressive Alliance members (and rally co-organizers) Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon, published in Counterpunch. To round out the day's happenings, I have also included Ethan Buckner of Forest Ethic's report. Finally, 350.org's official press release (in which I'm quoted), published by EcoWatch gives a glowing account, as one would expect. Likewise, Susie Kagel--who was present at the arrest site, taking statements from the would-be arrestees--covered the demonstration quite thoroughly in Grist.org (of which, Bill McKibben is a board member).

Earth First!, by the way, also wrote glowingly of the event. They actually went as far as to give the IWW the majority of the credit for organizing the labor contingent, which is a refreshing change from the IWW's role in major uprisings being largely ignored. In this case, while Earth First!'s compliment is much appreciated, the IWW cannot accept that credit; we were merely one of thirty labor unions involved--though, of course, we were the only one who explicitly calls for the abolition of capitalism.

On the other hand, Fellow IWW member and rally participant, John Reimann offers this far more critical account.

My opinion of the demonstration falls somewhere between these two poles, and there are some very important lessons revolutionaries need to take from this struggle.

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