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NGOs

Not-for-Profit, Open for Business

By Sophia Burns - The North Star, December 15, 2016

One summer in college, I got a job canvassing for Greenpeace. We spent the morning getting pumped up by our supervisor about how we were really going to make a difference, then spent the afternoon on the sidewalk downtown asking passers-by for donations. As new hires, we had three probationary days to “make staff”: anyone who didn’t meet the quota would not be kept on, and those who did would be fired if they didn’t continue to deliver.

Every Monday, a new crop of fifteen or so recruits showed up. A week later, all but two or three would be gone. Almost nobody lasted more than a month. There was no union, the training wage was lower than the advertised staff wage, and the large bulk of the money we raised was brought in by trainees who never made staff.

While few nonprofit workplaces have conditions quite so extreme, low pay and long hours are par for the course at most NGOs. Union density in the field is quite low, and many nonprofits expect their employees to accept the conditions they impose in the name of “the mission” and a “nonprofit ethic” of selfless service. Often, members of the activist community see nonprofit jobs as very desirable – a chance to make a living by living their values and to do progressive organizing full-time. And, indeed, on-the-ground progressive politics frequently depends on the resources NGOs offer, including funding, legal infrastructure, and staffers’ time and labor. Certainly, when I worked for Greenpeace, few canvassers complained about the draconian quotas or extreme precarity – at any given time, any given worker would more likely than not be fired within a week, but we were “doing something real.” In comparison, retail didn’t seem to cut it.

Our jobs may have been precarious, but Greenpeace’s funding was not. While Greenpeace does not accept government or corporate contributions, most NGOs do, as well as foundation grants and individual “membership” donations. “Member,” of course, is an ambiguous word. A member of a book club will generally get to help choose the next book, and a member of a labor union will (in theory, at least) get to vote in internal elections and on contracts. However, a “member” of an advocacy group like Greenpeace donates money and doesn’t do a whole lot else. As a canvasser, I certainly wasn’t voting for candidates for the Board of Directors. Neither were the “members” I was signing up. And while Greenpeace is typical of policy-focused nonprofits in that it claims to speak for a broad constituency, it’s also typical in that those constituents don’t really get a say in the organizational and political decisions that determine the group’s activities. For most nonprofits, “joining” means donating (and occasionally receiving a mailer asking for even more donations).

Cultural shifts in the climate justice movement

Kevin Buckland - ROARMag, March 22, 2016

hundred days on, as the climate justice movement looks back to the COP21 Climate Summit to see what may be learned, we reflect on the context of the violent attacks of November 13, 2015 that foreshadowed the unstable and volatile world we will all inhabit for the rest of our lives.

The ensuing crackdown on climate protesters sent shock waves through the Climate Coalition’s (CC21) plans for a series of mass climate mobilizations around the COP21 UN climate summit. This opened fissures at every weak point, revealing the political values dormant beneath and bringing to the front cultures of resistance that had the structural integrity and coherence to be able to thrive under the Parisian “State of Emergency”.

Several underlying trends that characterized successful activism during COP21 indicate an emerging cultural shift in climate activism, especially in places where the call for “system change” was not just being demanded, but enacted by the movements themselves. Three trends in particular can be identified:

  1. The spread and increased role of creativity in activism;
  2. The deepened commitment to indigenous leadership; and
  3. The evolving tensions between rhetoric and form among different organizational models.

What these trends may portend for the future of this growing movement as it begins to inhabit its politics, is that it is tilting from a protest movement towards being a truly revolutionary force.

We Are Mother Earth’s Red Line: Frontline Communities Lead the Climate Justice Fight Beyond the Paris Agreement

By staff - It Takes Roots to Weather the Storm - January 2016

The Paris Climate Agreement of December 2015 is a dangerous distraction that threatens all of us. Marked by the heavy influence of the fossil fuel industry, the deal reached at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) never mentions the need to curb extractive energy, and sets goals far below those needed to avert a global catastrophe. The agreement signed by 196 countries does acknowledge the global urgency of the climate crisis, and reflects the strength of the climate movement. But the accord ignores the roots of the crisis, and the very people who have the experience and determination to solve it.

Around the world, negotiators use the term “red line” to signify a figurative point of no return or a limit past which safety can no longer be guaranteed. Our communities, whose very survival is most directly impacted by climate change, have become a living red line. We have been facing the reality of the climate crisis for decades. Our air and water are being poisoned by fossil fuel extraction, our livelihoods are threatened by floods and drought, our communities are the hardest hit and the least protected in extreme weather events—and our demands for our survival and for the rights of future generations are pushing local, national, and global leaders towards real solutions to the climate crisis.

We brought these demands to the UNFCCC 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) as members of the delegation called “It Takes Roots to Weather the Storm.” Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ), the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), and the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) organized the delegation, which included leaders and organizers from more than 100 US and Canadian grassroots and Indigenous groups. We helped to mobilize the thousands of people who took to the streets of Paris during the COP21, despite a ban on public protest—and amplified the pressure that Indigenous Peoples, civil society, and grassroots movements have built throughout the 21 years of UN climate talks.

The Paris Agreement coming out of the COP21 allows emissions from fossil fuels to continue at levels that endanger life on the planet, demonstrating just how strongly world leaders are tied to the fossil fuel industry and policies of economic globalization. The emphasis within the UNFCCC process on the strategies of carbon markets consisting of offsets and pollution trading created an atmosphere within the COP21 of business more than regulation. The result is a Paris Agreement that lets developed countries continue to emit dangerously high levels of greenhouse gasses; relies on imaginary technofixes and pollution cap-and-trade schemes that allow big polluters to continue polluting at the source, and results in land grabs and violations of human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Our analysis of the Paris Agreement echoes critiques from social movements around the world, led by those most impacted by both climate disruption and the false promises that governments and corporate interests promote in its wake.

“Frontline communities” are the peoples living directly alongside fossil-fuel pollution and extraction—overwhelmingly Indigenous Peoples, Black, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander peoples in working class, poor, and peasant communities in the US and around the world. In climate disruption and extreme weather events, we are hit first and worst.

We are Mother Earth’s red line. We don’t have the luxury of settling for industry or politicians’ hype or half measures. We know it takes roots to weather the storm and that’s why we are building a people’s climate movement rooted in our communities. We are the frontlines of the solution: keeping fossil fuels in the ground and transforming the economy with innovative, community-led solutions.

Paris deal: Epic fail on a planetary scale

By Danny Chivers and Jess Worth - New Internationalist, December 12, 2015

Image, right: 'D12' day of action in Paris, France, 12 December 2015. by Allan Lisner, Indigenous Environment Network

Today, after two weeks of tortuous negotiations – well, 21 years, really – governments announced the Paris Agreement. This brand new climate deal will kick in in 2020. But is it really as ‘ambitious’ as the French government is claiming?

Before the talks began, social movements, environmental groups, and trade unions around the world came together and agreed on a set of criteria that the Paris deal would need to meet in order to be effective and fair. This ‘People’s Test’ is based on climate science and the needs of communities affected by climate change and other injustices across the globe.

To meet the People’s Test, the Paris deal would need to do the following four things:

  • 1. Catalyze immediate, urgent and drastic emission reductions;
  • 2. Provide adequate support for transformation;
  • 3. Deliver justice for impacted people;
  • 4. Focus on genuine, effective action rather than false solutions;

Does the deal pass the test? The 15,000 people who took to the Paris streets today to condemn the agreement clearly didn’t think so. Here’s New Internationalist’s (NI) assessment.

Why NGOs and Leftish Nonprofits Suck (4 Reasons)

By Stephanie McMillan - Skewed News, October 15, 2015

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.

About 20 years ago, in a conversation with a Bangladeshi organizer, the topic of NGOs* came up. He spat in disgust: “I hate NGOs.” At the time, I didn’t really get why he was so vehement about it. I knew NGOs had negative aspects, like siphoning off some revolutionary energy from the masses, but I also still half-believed their claims that their work was more helpful than not. Didn’t you have to be kind of a dogmatic asshole to denounce free health care and anti-poverty programs? But I didn’t yet fully appreciate how terrible they really are.

Since that conversation, NGOs have proliferated like mushrooms all over the world. First deployed in social formations dominated by imperialism, they’ve now taken over the political scene in capital’s base countries as well. They’ve become the hot new form of capital accumulation, with global reach and billions in revenue. So while ostensibly “non-profit,” they serve as a pretty sweet income stream for those at the top, while fattening up large layers of the petite bourgeoisie and draping them like a warm wet blanket over the working class, muffling their demands.

After much observation and experience both direct and indirect, I now understand and share that long-ago organizer’s hatred of NGOs. Just how terrible are they? Let us count the ways:

Senate Bill 4 Regs Will Expand Fracking in California

By Dan Bacher - IndyBay, July 2, 2015

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 Governor Jerry Brown administration, known for its subservience to Big Oil, is gearing up for a massive expansion of fracking and other extreme oil drilling techniques that will contaminate California's groundwater supplies, pollute rivers and streams, and devastate coastal ecosystems, including so-called "marine protected areas" implemented under his helm.

On July 1, anti-fracking, environmental and watchdog groups responded to the release of final fracking regulations developed under Senate Bill 4, pointing out that the rules promote more fracking and pollution of water supplies in the drought-plagued state.

Senate Bill 4, the green light for fracking bill, was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 20, 2013. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the California League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Defense Fund and other corporate "environmental" NGOs provided green cover for the odious legislation. They backed the bill until the very last minute when they finally decided to withdraw support because of amendments from the Western States Petroleum Association and other Big Oil interests that further weakened the already weak legislation.

In a statement, Food and Water Watch said, "Today the Brown Administration finalized regulations on fracking and other dangerous oil extraction techniques that will allow oil and gas companies to continue to conduct these techniques at the expense of California’s water, air, agriculture and public health."

Avaaz’s Climate Vanity

By Patrick Bond - Triple Crisis, June 17, 2015

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.

Who’s not heard the great African revolutionary Amilcar Cabral’s injunction, fifty years ago, “Tell no lies and claim no easy victories”? If, like me, you’re a petit bourgeois who is hopeful for social progress, then let’s be frank: this advice hits at our greatest weakness, the temptation of back-slapping vanity.

The leading framers for the 41-million strong clicktivist team from Avaaz need to remember Cabral. They over-reached ridiculously last week in praising the G7:

Many told us it was a pipe dream, but the G7 Summit of leading world powers just committed to getting the global economy off fossil fuels forever!!! Even the normally cynical media is raving that this is a huge deal. And it’s one giant step closer to a huge win at the Paris summit in December – where the entire world could unite behind the same goal of a world without fossil fuels – the only way to save us all from catastrophic climate change… Our work is far from done, but it’s a day to celebrate – click here to read more and say congratulations to everyone else in this incredibly wonderful community!!

Actually, according to The Economist: no fossil-fuel-burning power station will be closed down in the immediate future as a result of this declaration. The goal will not make any difference to the countries’ environmental policies, since they are mostly consistent with this long-range goal anyway. Where they are not (some countries are increasing coal use, for example) they will not be reined in because of the new promises… the G7’s climate effort raises as many questions as it answers. The group seems to have rejected proposals for more demanding targets, such as decarbonisation by 2050.”

Or Time: “The results were disappointing to say the least… The G7 announced an ‘ambitious’ plan to phase out all fossil fuels worldwide by 2100. Unfortunately, they didn’t make any concrete plans to scale back their own conventional fuel consumption. That’s a big deal when 59 percent of historic global carbon dioxide emissions—meaning the greenhouse gases already warming the atmosphere—comes from these seven nations. Taken as a group, G7 coal plants produce twice the amount of CO2 as the entire African continent, and at least 10 times the carbon emissions produced by the 48 least developed countries as a whole. If the G7 is serious about tackling climate change, they should start at home.”

So what was going on, really? Here’s a talking head from the Council on Foreign Relations (an imperialist braintrust): “The United States has long pressed for a shift away from binding emissions reduction commitments and toward a mix of nationally grounded emission-cutting efforts and binding international commitments to transparency and verification. European countries have often taken the other side, emphasizing the importance of binding targets (or at least policies) for cutting emissions. Now it looks like the big developed countries are on the same page as the United States. The language above is all about binding countries to transparency – and there isn’t anything elsewhere in the communiqué about binding them to actual emissions goals.”

There is an even tougher critique from the left, e.g. from Oscar Reyes of the Institute for Policy Studies, who annotated the G7 climate communique here. He lands many powerful blows, not least of which is that you simply cannot trust these politicians. This is well known in Africa. Exactly a decade ago, Tony Blair led the (then-G8) Gleneagles Summit that made all manner of ambitious redistributive promises for the continent that weren’t fulfilled.

Organizing Against Climate Catastrophe

By Paul Messersmith-Glavin - Institute for Anarchist Studies, April 15, 2015

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 forces responsible for changing the climate and endangering the future of humanity have names. Names such as: Chevron and Exxon Mobil, Saudi Aramco and Petroleos de Venezuela. They are the predominant groups responsible for playing havoc with our collective future. In fact, two-thirds of historic carbon dioxide and methane emissions can be attributed to exactly ninety entities. They are based in forty-three countries and extract resources from every oil, natural gas, and coal rich region in the world. They process the fuels into products that are sold to consumers in every nation on the planet. Of the top 85 emitters, 54 are in industrialized countries and 31 are in developing nations.[2] Knowing who and where they are demonstrates that an end to the problem is within our reach. In order to stop global climate change all we need to do is put pressure on these isolated entities, right?

Wrong. While these are the primary economic forces responsible for climate change, it would be a mistake to think if we stop these particular companies from conducting business as usual, we can solve the problem. They are only the most public faces of a system that goes much deeper.

Naming the responsible parties should not lead to a reformist strategy of regulating or even abolishing these companies. That would not be ultimately effective because they operate within a system that rewards their behavior. Very similar groups would emerge to fulfill these roles. What must be addressed and confronted is the social and economic system of capitalism that makes their work possible. This is the true enemy. The driving force of climate change is the capitalist profit motive and confronting this effectively will require massive grassroots local organizing with an international perspective. It will require developing an extra-legal movement, one that does not play by the rules of established power. It necessitates a revolutionary focus, and attention to how the systems and structures of racism, patriarchy and the nation state intersect with and reinforce capitalist social relations. It will require working with a broad cross-section of the population, learning from folks outside established radical circles, educating ourselves and others, while moving with hundreds, thousands, and ultimately millions of people to fundamentally transform society. The civilization that gets us out of the climate crisis will be different than the one that has gotten us into it.

Many questions arise: what is required to create such a mobilization? How does social change happen, and can it happen quickly enough to prevent further catastrophic change? Simply having access to the science is not enough; activists battle conflicting and politically driven media messages alongside feelings of despair and apathy born of disempowerment. A new, ecologically minded paradigm will require not just information but an expanded and critical economic analysis, as well as shared assumptions about collective power and the experience of working together from the ground up.

In the Pacific Northwest of the US, several organizations have been working on responding to the crisis. Three groups working closely together in Portland, Oregon have been experimenting with new models. These groups offer ideas for organizers through their experimentation with different approaches to outreach, education, and mobilization.

Green Unionism and the IWW

By Martin Zehr - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, October 14, 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.

“Every union should have a vision of the future,” stated Jock Yablonski as he announced his candidacy for the UMWA presidency. “What good is a union that reduces coal dust in the mines only to have miners and their families breathe pollutants in the air, drink pollutants in the water, and eat contaminated commodities?”  

This presentation by Jock Yablonski presents a concise analysis of the relationship between the working class and the environment. Because the environmental issue has been dominated for so many years by NGOs and advocacy groups, there remains a fundamental schism in substance and politics between the working class and sound environmental and resource planning advocates. The much celebrated blue-green unity of Seattle is a fading memory. In the age of the increasing role of the AFL-CIO in promoting corporate profits for jobs, we have seen how unions like the Mineworkers, Boilermakers, Steelworkers and others have adopted a pro-corporate militarization stance. This significance of this collaboration goes beyond simply environmental issues. In fact, it threatens an independent class role for all unions, whether it's quality of life issues or shop floor issues.  

To date, the IWW’s reputation remains in geographical locales and in small retail or commercial local unions. Our presence within the labor movement remains marginal. The re-emergence of an active IWW presents a new stage for workers in the class stage. More than a revival of the sixties mass struggles and beyond the single issue advocacies of the late 20th century, the IWW can play an leadership role given our willingness to consciously analyze our role, our strategies  and our tactics. For example, the drive to organize in basic industry is a task that remains ahead of the IWW. The service economy will provide certain in-roads needed to establish our validity and are important in establishing real credentials that workers can see. But, the task ahead remains in steel, electrical, maritime, auto and other industries that have become open shops, or even non-union (such as auto). Likewise, organizers and political education of organizers need to be developed to a generation that has minimal experiences in the class struggle.  

The Devil's Triangle: How Big Green, Mainstream Labor and the Democratic Party Derail the Struggle to Stop Fracking

By John Reimann - June 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.

Fracking kills.

It kills by poisoning the earth, the water and the air.

It kills by destroying wilderness and open space areas.

It kills by destroying our quality of life.

It kills by releasing methane – a potent greenhouse gas - into the atmosphere.

It kills by diverting investment and resources away from developing renewable energy sources, thus enormously exacerbating global climate disruption/global warming.

And the entire gamut of Corporate America-–from the oil and gas industry to the major financiers-–is lined up to continue to rape, plunder and pillage the environment using this disastrous practice. Covering for them, major environmental NGO's and supposedly environmentally conscious politicians, as well as the mainstream union leaders are pretending that it can be made acceptable if properly regulated.

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