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A “Green New Deal”?: The Eco-syndicalist Alternative

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas and Action, April 15, 2019

Capitalist dynamics are at the very heart of the current crisis that humanity faces over global warming.

When we talk of “global warming,” we’re talking about the rapid — and on-going — rise in the average world-wide surface and ocean temperature. Thus far a rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, two-thirds of this temperature increase has occurred since 1975. A one-degree rise in temperature might seem like no big deal. As the NASA scientists point out, however, “A one-degree global change is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much.”

We know that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels is at the heart of the problem. For many centuries the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ranged between 200 and 300 parts per million. By the 1950s the growth of industrial capitalism since the 1800s had pushed this to the top of this range — 310 parts per million. Since then the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen very rapidly — to more than 410 parts per million by 2018. This is the result of the vast rise in the burning of fossil fuels in the era since World War 2 — coal, petroleum, natural gas.

The problem is rooted in the very structure of capitalism itself. Cost-shifting is an essential feature of the capitalist mode of production. An electric power company burns coal to generate electricity because the price per kilowatt hour from coal-fired electricity has long been cheaper than alternatives. But the emissions from burning coal travel downwind and cause damage to the respiratory systems of thousands of people — including preventable deaths to people with respiratory ailments. This is in addition to the powerful contribution to global warming from the carbon dioxide emissions. But the power firm doesn’t have to pay money for these human costs. If the firm had to pay fees that would be equivalent to the human cost in death, respiratory damage and contribution to global warming and its effects, burning coal would not be profitable for the power company.

Firms also externalize costs onto workers, such as the health effects of stress or chemical exposures. The “free market” pundit or hack economist might deny that companies externalize costs onto workers. They might say that wages and benefits paid to workers for each hour of work measure the cost of labor. But the human cost of work can be increased without an increase in the compensation paid to workers. If a company speeds up the pace of work, if people are working harder, if they are more tightly controlled by supervisors, paced by machines or software, this increases the cost in human terms.

Toxic chemicals used in manufacturing, in agriculture and other industries pose a threat to both the workers and to people who live in nearby areas. Usually working class people live in neighborhoods near polluting industries, and often these are communities of color. This is another form of capitalist cost-shifting.

State regulation of pesticides or air pollution often ends up acting as a “cover” for the profit-making firms. Despite the existence of pollutants generated by leaky oil refineries and pollutants emitted by other industries in industrial areas in California — such as the “cancer alley” of oil refineries in the Contra Costa County area  or the similar refinery zone in Wilmington — the government agencies set up to deal with air pollution in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County protected polluters for years by focusing almost exclusively on pollution generated  by vehicle exhaust. In this way the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have been an example of “regulatory capture” by corporate capital.

Power firms that generate vast amounts of carbon dioxide emissions — and firms that make profits from building fossil-fuel burning cars and trucks or from the sale of gasoline and diesel and jet fuel — have not had to pay any fees or penalties for the growing build up of the carbon dioxide layer in the atmosphere. The global warming crisis thus has its explanation in cost shifting and the search for short-term profits and ever growing markets — features that are at the heart of the capitalist system.

If global capitalism continues with “business as usual”, the warming will have major impacts — killer heat waves, more ocean heat pumping energy into hurricanes and cyclones, rising ocean levels from melting of ice in the polar regions and melting of glaciers, destruction of corals in the oceans, and a greater danger to the survival of many species of living things.

Yellow Vest Movement Struggles To Reinvent Democracy

By Richard Greeman - Popular Resistance, April 13, 2019

Act 21 While Assembly of Assemblies Meets, Macron Cranks Up Propaganda and Repression

After five months of constant presence at traffic circles, toll-booths and hazardous Saturday marches,  the massive, self-organized social movement known as the Yellow Vests has just held its second nationwide “Assembly of Assemblies.” Hundreds of autonomous Yellow Vest activist groups from all over France each chose two delegates (one woman, one man) to gather in the port city of St. Nazaire for a weekend of deliberation (April 5-7).

After weeks of skirmishing with the municipal authorities, the local Yellow Vests were able to host 700 delegates at the St. Nazaire “House of the People,” and the three-day series of general meetings and working groups went off without a hitch in an atmosphere of good-fellowship. A sign on the wall proclaimed: “No one has the solution, but everybody has a piece of it.”

Their project: mobilize their “collective intelligence” to reorganize, strategize, and prolong their struggle. Their aim: achieve the immediate goals of livable wages and retirements, restoration of social benefits and public services like schools, transportation, post offices, hospitals, taxing the rich and ending fiscal fraud to pay for preserving the environment, and, most ambitious of all, reinventing democracy in the process. Their Declaration ends with the phrase “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I often wonder if they know who coined it.

The Ecological Limits of Work: on Carbon Emissions, Carbon Budgets and Working Time

By staff - Autonomy, April 2019

Faced with accelerating technological progress and a deepening ecological crisis, a growing discussion sees a reduction in working hours as a multiple dividend policy, increasing, among other things, individual wellbeing, productivity and gender equality whilst simultaneously potentially contributing to a reduction in unemployment and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. One cannot help but feel reminded of some earlier sociotechnical visions of a society in which productivity gains would be shared broadly to allow for radically shorter working hours and thus a qualitatively better life.

Read the report (PDF).

Communism Without Workers: An Anarcho-syndicalist Critique Of The Communisation Current

By Ivysyn - LibCom, March 31, 2019

The communist, socialist, and Marxist movement has undergone a fundamental change since the late 1960s (as has the global capitalist system itself). While Stalinists, Trotskyists, and social democrats continue to hang around like a bad headache, much newer tendencies that claim to be innovative in theory and practice have cropped up to jockey for the position of interpreting communism through the modern capitalist system and it's adaptations since the late 20th century. Once such tendency which has gained some intellectual fan fair is "communisation". Various things go under this label, but this discussion will focus on the the tradition of "ultra-left" Marxism this label is often used to describe. Since the uprisings of 1968 by workers across the world (especially in France) and their repression by capitalist forces and, shockingly (depending on how you look at it), leftist parties and governments, certain Marxism oriented activists and thinkers have tried to redraw the lines of struggle for a communist society.

These militants have gone back to Marx's theory of value to emphasize value (in Marx's sense) as a social relation at the base of capitalism, and taken a critical stance toward the leftist efforts of the past from Leninist, to Anarchist, to social democratic. The basis of this "communisation current" is threefold; a critique of capitalism along with a critique of the existing left, from which fallows "communisation", or the strategy purposed by the "communisation current" for achieving communism. We will address all of these in order to evaluate communisation's ability to really provide a winning strategy for attaining a communist society. We start from the conclusion that a communist society is not only desirable, but necessary. For this reason we shall define communism to generally outline the fundamental necessity of it's success.

Energy Democracy: Taking Back Power

By Johanna Bozuwa - Next System Project, February 27, 2019

Executive summary

Electric utility (re)municipalization is gaining popularity as a strategy to shift away from a reliance on fossil fuel extraction in the context of combating climate change. Across the world—from Berlin to Boulder—communities have initiated campaigns to take back their power from investor-owned (private) utilities and create publicly owned and operated utilities. Moreover, such efforts are increasingly taking on the perspective and language of energy democracy.

Energy democracy seeks not only to solve climate change, but to also address entrenched systemic inequalities. It is a vision to restructure the energy future based on inclusive engagement, where genuine participation in democratic processes provides community control and renewable energy generates local, equitably distributed wealth (Angel, 2016; Giancatarino, 2013a; Yenneti & Day, 2015). By transitioning from a privately- to a publicly owned utility, proponents of energy democracy hope to democratize the decision-making process, eliminate the overriding goal of profit maximization, and quickly transition away from fossil fuels.

Utilities are traditionally profit-oriented corporations whose structures are based on a paradigm of extraction. Following the path of least resistance, they often burden communities who do not have the political or financial capital to object to the impacts of their fossil fuel infrastructure. Residents living within three miles of a coal plant, for instance, are more likely to earn a below-average annual income and be a person of color (Patterson et al., 2011); similar statistics have been recorded for natural gas infrastructure (Bienkowski, 2015).

These utilities are in a moment of existential crisis with the rise of renewables. From gas pipelines to coal power plants, their investments are turning into stranded assets, as political leaders and investors realize that eliminating fossil fuels from the energy mix is paramount to creating healthy communities and stemming climate change.

Unfortunately, often publicly owned utilities in the United States have similar energy generation profiles to their privately owned counterparts (American Public Power Association, 2015). This paper explores the extent to which publicly owned utilities are reticent to take on the new energy paradigm and evaluates their ability to provide energy democracy compared to investor-owned utilities.

Socialist Dog Catchers (or Presidents) Won’t Save Us

A four-day working week is within our grasp

By Eleanor Penny - Red Pepper, February 1, 2019

Whenever the government fumbles around desperately for the story they can sell as success, they often reach for the following statistic: that since the Conservatives took power in 2010, unemployment has dropped, and more people than ever are in work. But this simple story conceals a much more worrying truth – that work simply doesn’t guarantee a decent standard of living any more. Official statistics gloss over the effects of semi-employment, self-employment, self-unemployment, zero-hours contracts and a shrinking in real wages, leaving four million people in in-work poverty. The sluggish growth of the apparent recovery is distorted by financial markets, and concentrated largely in the hands of the wealthy – particularly in the South of England. What growth does trickle down to the average worker is eaten up by inflation and falling wages. In other words, UK workers are in dire need of radical change to deliver a more just economy. And with automation promising to turf more jobs onto the scrapheap, maybe it’s time to stop thinking about how to “Get Britain working” – but how to share out labour more fairly across the workforce.

The think tank Autonomy have published a report detailing how shortening the working week from five days to four could be beneficial for the UK’s exhausted workforce, for employers and for the economy as a whole. Our current model of work relies on a toxic mix of over-work and under employment – where many are slogging through eighty hour work weeks, with others on precarious zero-hours contracts. And this is without counting the millions of hours of unpaid domestic and care work – performed largely by women – on which the economy depends. Politicians have reliably responded to crises of employment by slashing wages and putting more power in the hands of bosses to hire and fire at will. But in reality, this offers little hope of returning a better quality of life to working people, the country’s real wealth-creators. And absolutely no hope of responding to the larger structural crises our economy is facing; from climate crisis to  .

Instead, Autonomy’s report advocates a package of pragmatic steps to ensure the rollout of a shorter working week, without a reduction of pay. Such steps include six extra bank holidays, and an adoption of a four-day work structure across the public sector – which would act as an innovator and benchmark for best practise. This would be coupled with a ‘UK Working Time Directive’ to set a limit on the maximum of weekly hours worked, aiming for a cap of 32 hours by 2025. The legal approach needs to be bolstered by worker power to hold bosses and stakeholders to account; the report prescribes sectoral collective bargaining structures, expanding worker representation to “increase equality and security in the years to come”

Counter-power and self-defense in Latin America

By Raúl Zibechi - ROARMag, January 29, 2018

In much of Latin America, the state does not protect its citizens. This is particularly true for the popular sectors, indigenous peoples, people of color and mestizos, who are exposed to the onslaught of drugs trafficking, criminal gangs, the private security guards of multinational corporations and, paradoxically, from state security forces such as the police and the army.

There have been several massacres in Mexico, for instance, such as the killing of 43 students in Ayotzinapa in September 2014 — and they are no exception. There continues to be impunity for the 30,000 who have disappeared and 200,000 who have died since Mexico declared its “war on drugs” in 2007. Slight differences aside, the current situation in Mexico is replicated across the region. In Brazil, 60,000 people meet a violent death every year, 70 percent of them of African descent, mostly youths from poor areas.

Against this backdrop of violence that threatens the lives of the poorest, some of the most affected have created self-defence measures and counter-powers. Initially, these are defensive, but ultimately develop power structures in parallel to the state. Since they are anchored in community practices, these self-defense groups are key to forming a form of power that differs from the hegemonic powers centered around state institutions. This essay examines them in more detail in order to understand this new trend in Latin American social movements.

Some Notes On Mass Refusal: Kim Kelly Interview with IGD

By staff - It's Going Down, January 25, 2019

Recently, It’s Going Down was asked by Kim Kelly (who we have interviewed on our podcast) to talk about the history and impact of general strikes within the United States, as well as the possibilities of its current applications for an op-ed in the pages of Teen Vogue. You can read the finished article here. What follows is our complete responses.

KK: Historically speaking, how successful of a tactic is the general strike?

In the American context general strikes have historically been very important, leading to not only the winning of key demands or beating back this or that attack, but also in fundamentally changing society, and at times, creating a potentially revolutionary situation, as workers have used them as a staging point for the taking over of cities and regions, and large sections of industries, and running them themselves.

One of the most successful general strikes, as noted by Black liberation and socialist author W.E.B. Du Bois, was when millions of enslaved Africans during the Civil War in the American south left plantations en masse and headed for the North, crippling the economy and the war machine. This, coupled with mass desertion of poor white Confederate soldiers, led to a crippling of the Confederacy, as many poor whites refused to die for the rich, white planter class, who was excused from fighting if they owned enough slaves. This combined desertion and mass general strike, played a key role in the collapse of the Confederate State, and also highlights the power of mass refusal under a neo-colonial power structure that thrives on a regimented caste system.

In the contemporary period, in 2006, a wave of wildcat strikes and school walkouts began in response to HR-4437, a bill that attempted to criminalize both undocumented people but also anyone that willingly offered them aid; for instance teachers at school could be charged if they did not turn in undocumented students. Starting from schools and growing to include strikes at workplaces, this mass movement that was largely self-organized and not led by political parties and unions, culminated in a massive May 1st demonstrations that saw a general strike of immigrant workers under the banner, “A Day Without An Immigrant.” The legislation was defeated soon after.

The immigrant general strike of 2006 also revived in the US popular lexicon the importance of May Day, which began as a celebration of the anarchist Haymarket Martyrs, who were executed by the State for their role in strikes in support of the 8-hour work day and against violent attacks on strikers. In this struggle, a variety of tactics were used, including mass strikes, which finally secured the right to the 8 hour work day.

But beyond simply attacking unjust legislation or as a means to win a reform, general strikes have also been the kicking off point for workers in the US to go about seizing the means of existence; in some cases, entire cities and regions.

A Response to “Crafty Ghosts”

By anonymous contributor - It's Going Down, January 10, 2019

Another response and continuation of the discussion around syndicalism, work, civilization, and the anarchist movement.

I’ve been reading some of the debates that have been going on lately around the topic of workplace-organizing, economics, ecology and the future. I think its not bad that this is being discussed at all, but the matter is leaving me more and more puzzled due to the way things are being brought up.

There is some kind of contradiction being brought to the forefront that at least in my opinion is not really there. This especially visible in the latest response of the 28th of December called “Crafty Ghosts: A Critique of Entryist Trajectory.” It’s a little related to the actual article “Nothing to Syndicate” and I do recon that by responding to this very article in a way I am adding to the drifting from the original subject. But with such an article actually being published I find it necessary to add a short response. First and foremost the anonymous author of “Crafty Ghosts” is having a different opinion on the value of open organization with membership and organizing that has a nation-wide (or beyond) reach – like for instance the IWW. There can be flaws made with this way of organizing for sure. For instance when the main goal is getting as many people to sign up. But that would be a caricature of the IWW. If there would be a problem around this there is hardly anything being put forward what could be helping to overcome this issue. The concept of membership seems to be just dismissed as a whole.

Instead there author claims that “Anarchist projects like antifa crews, Books to Prisoners, Anarchist Black Cross (ABC), and more [are] […] objectively superior to the GDC and IWOC’s approach.” This is quiet a subjective statement as it is put here and I’d like to see that substantiated. I’ve been an active anarchists for years and I’ve seen many autonomous initiatives over the years by very good comrades. But as far as I know these collectives are subject to very similar problems. I do not see how these initiatives function so much better in terms of E.G. being more productive or easier accessibility. I would suggest they are above all complementary and adding another modus operandus that fits better to certain people. The overcoming of the problems attributed to formal organizing and membership-organizing that the author of “Crafty Ghosts” puts forward, has little to do with membership itself, but more with the question of how a certain organization (formal or informal) is being filled.

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