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Why the Environmental Justice Movement Should Support the UAW Organizing Drive

By Bill Gallegos and Manuel Pastor - The Nation, March 11, 2024

A progressive version of the right’s Southern strategy could remake our politics—and ensure that the cars of the future, and the batteries they run on, are built by union labor.

While analysts have pointed to a recent slowing in demand for electric vehicles (EVs), the long-term picture remains clear: Annual global EV sales are projected to nearly triple between now and 2030. That trend represents some potential good news for the climate. But it’s also raised concerns—most sharply reflected in last year’s strike by the United Auto Workers (UAW)—about what will happen to both existing and prospective workers.

One big problem: The new “Battery Belt”—prompted by federal policies to move to zero emission vehicles and build an adequate charging infrastructure—is being developed in many Southern states where manufacturers seek to take advantage of low wages, few regulations, and a divided working class.

While we can’t stop the flow of federal climate dollars to those states—a fiscal largesse that seems particularly ironic since so many of their Republican leaders deny climate change—we can and should change the conditions that make them a lure for multinationals seeking to exploit low costs. That, in turn, requires widening the circle of support for a truly transformative move to a clean energy economy.

The combination of worker vulnerability and political division in the South has deep historic roots. The field of exploitative corporate dreams was made possible by a US labor movement that has never been able to follow through on its post–World War II promise to organize the South—a region whose anti-union politics stem in part from a legacy of slavery and racism.

But change may be coming. Even as presidential candidate Donald Trump was trolling autoworkers to persuade them that electrical vehicles would be the end of their jobs, the UAW’s 2023 strike led to contracts that raised wages, did away with two-tier labor systems, and opened the way to unionization up and down the supply chain for electric vehicles.

Labor unions are still giving Democrats climate headaches

By Alex Nieves - Politico, December 4, 2023

One of California’s most powerful unions is not loosening its grip on oil jobs.

Despite the Biden administration and California lawmakers pouring billions of dollars into new climate-friendly industries like electric vehicles, hydrogen and building electrification, a key player in state politics is still defending fossil fuel interests that provide thousands of well-paying jobs.

President Joe Biden’s investment in clean energy sectors through a pair of massive spending bills — which promise lucrative tax credits for projects that pay union wages — was supposed to speed up the labor transition away from oil and gas. That hasn’t happened in deep-blue California, home to the country’s most ambitious climate policies — and most influential labor unions.

“We believe we’re still going to be working in the oil and gas space for the foreseeable future,” said Chris Hannan, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, which represents nearly 500,000 members across dozens of local unions, from pipefitting to electrical work.

Unions’ longstanding — and well-founded — distrust of the renewable energy industry as a reliable source of labor-friendly jobs is slowing the “just transition” that Biden, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders around the country have pushed.

With federal officials trying to get clean energy funding out as fast as possible ahead of the 2024 election, and California politicians cracking down on the fossil fuel industry, unions’ reluctance to relinquish fossil fuel jobs undermines Democrats’ aggressive climate targets, according to a lawmaker who serves both a union- and oil-rich area of the state.

While the union embrace of fossil fuels is unique to California — one of the few blue states with significant oil production — the struggle highlights a larger question over how states can quickly build massive amounts of clean energy infrastructure without undercutting labor.

AW President Shawn Fain on How the Auto Workers Won and What’s Next

By Steven Greenhouse and Shawn Fain - In These Times, November 8, 2023

When Shawn Fain won the presidency of the United Auto Workers last March as an insurgent candidate, promising to transform the union and take on Detroit’s automakers, he spoke with veteran labor journalist and Century Foundation senior fellow Steven Greenhouse for In These Times. Fain laid out a militant agenda.

“We need to run contract campaigns where we engage the membership and go after their demands,” he said. ​“We haven’t done this in my lifetime.”

Six months later, Fain led targeted strikes against Ford, GM and Stellantis that have secured tentative agreements that include a 25% wage increase — more than all the raises that auto workers have received over the last 20 years combined. As UAW members began voting on the agreements, Greenhouse spoke with Fain again on November 5.

Stop Cop City Activists Plan Mass Return to Weelaunee Forest

By Cody Bloomfield - Truthout, November 5, 2023

In April, as the Atlanta Police Foundation erected high fences with razor wire around the site of the planned Public Safety Training Center dubbed “Cop City,” Atlanta organizer Jaye C. began photographing the construction, poking her camera through the chain link fence, documenting as 33 acres of forest became part of a barren expanse. In March, police chased, tasered and arrested activists on domestic terrorism charges until protesters were finally forced to cede the forest that they had occupied for the better part of two years. The fences went up, and Stop Cop City organizers pivoted. Protest continued at public buildings, neighboring parks, and the homes and businesses of contractors. Activists doubled down on legal challenges to the project and launched a campaign to put Cop City on the ballot. But the actual construction site became impenetrable.

A group of Stop Cop City activists aim to change that, to once again put their bodies on the line to block Cop City, to buy time before the Atlanta Police Foundation can destroy the remaining 50 or so acres of forest. A mere week after the RICO indictment of 61 activists, the newly christened Block Cop City wing of the movement issued a call to action to supporters around the country: Show up. Cause trouble (nonviolently, organizers clarify). We’ll see you in the forest.

The mass mobilization will take place in Atlanta from November 10-13. In the run-up to it, Block Cop City organizers embarked on a breakneck speaking tour, visiting over 70 cities in less than two months. They hope that at each place they visit, a few people will decide to come down to Atlanta, culminating in hundreds converging on November 13 to march on the construction site. Organizers have intentionally prioritized making plans for the protest public, and intend for the protest, described as mass nonviolent direct action, to challenge the legitimacy of the state through civil disobedience rather than sabotage. In the decentralized Stop Cop City movement, November’s action is but one tactic. But it’s an important one, particularly now, when Atlanta has ensnared dozens of activists in criminal proceedings while conspiring against democratic resistance.

Auto Union Moves Forward

By Chris Townsend - Marxist-Leninism Today, October 30, 2023

Any knowledgeable observer of the United Auto Workers Union (UAW) over the past 50 years would have inevitably been forced to note that over recent decades the union’s membership had been dramatically slashed by hostile employers and politicians, that both union activity levels and influence had declined massively, and in many quarters the auto union had been transformed into a particularly virulent company union.

So addled and company-captured was the UAW top leadership that by 2014 a series of federal government criminal investigations and prosecutions grew, expanded, and eventually led to the removal of more than 30 national UAW leaders. The resulting U.S. government-ordered union election which produced Shawn Fain as new President of the UAW in March of this year was an earthquake both inside and outside the union.

Auto union old guarders and employers alike both feared the election of Fain. But by the narrowest margins Fain was elected to the top spot, and in just several months the union is already well into an expanding process of renewal. It is still early, and only time will tell, but the current strike struggle is clearly solid evidence of the new leadership’s intention to restore the union to a serious trade union path.

UAW wins for workers and the environment—and knocks down a favorite Trump talking point

By Laura Clawson - Daily Kos, October 30, 2023

“Record profits mean record contracts” sounded like an aspirational slogan as the United Auto Workers went on strike against the Big Three automakers. But it’s what the union made happen over a six-week strike that now ends thanks to a tentative agreement with General Motors. Ford and Stellantis had agreed to tentative deals in recent days. Workers still need to ratify those contracts, but workers are back on the job at Ford and Stellantis and will be heading back to work at GM.

The union made big gains on pay and ending the two-tier system that left newer workers making much less than their longer-tenured coworkers. But that’s not all: The agreements offer both hope for a more just clean energy transition and a rebuttal to the top Republican talking point about the strike.

Former Union Political Director on Biden: We Do Him a FAVOR When We Push Him

Mutual Aid and the movement to Stop Cop City

By Dean Spade - Shareable, October 9, 2023

On August 29, 2023, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr filed an indictment against 61 members of the movement to Defend the Atlanta Forest and Stop Cop City. The indictment alleges a vast criminal conspiracy on the part of the activists, weaving them together in a legal scheme so fantastical that one of the accused is cited for being reimbursed for Elmer’s Glue. 

It’s a patchwork case with Carr — the announced 2026 Georgia gubernatorial candidate — creating a veritable Charlotte’s Web; scrawling words in the web in a desperate ploy for attention. Unfortunately, it also represents a brazen assault on social justice organizers reminiscent of the FBI’s surveillance and attacks on the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the 1960s and 70s. 

In order to justify the harsh charges, each carrying up to 25 years in prison, Carr attempts to link the protestors together based on their shared commitments to collective welfare and mutual aid. In other words, the State of Georgia is currently arguing that participation in mutual aid projects and practicing solidarity constitutes furthering a criminal conspiracy.

If Carr is going to try to make a twisted image of mutual aid tantamount to terrorism, we should all get clear on what mutual aid really is.

No Charges to be Filed in the Police Killing of Manuel Paez Terán

By Atlanta Community Press Collective - It's Going Down, October 9, 2023

Report from the Atlanta Community Press collective on move by the Mountain District Attorney to not file charges against the SWAT team which murdered Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán.

Mountain District Attorney (DA) George R. Christian released a 31-page report on Friday and determined that no charges will be filed against the Georgia State Patrol (GSP) SWAT officers responsible for the January killing of environmental activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán near the site of the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, more commonly known as Cop City.

Six GSP SWAT officers shot and killed Terán on Jan. 18 while participating in a multi-agency raid on encampments set up by activists attempting to stop the construction of Cop City. In a press conference hours after the shooting, then-Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) head Mike Register — who left the GBI over the summer — said that Terán had fired on officers without warning, striking one, prompting the GSP officers to return fire and kill Terán. Activists immediately rejected the GBI narrative and called for an independent investigation, which did not happen. Footage from a body camera worn by an Atlanta Police Department officer nearby to the shooting also cast doubt on the GBI narrative as the officer wearing the body camera can be heard saying “you fucked your own officer up.”

According to a report by the DeKalb Medical examiner, Terán was shot dozens of times, receiving 57 gunshot wounds, including multiple wounds from the same bullets. An independent medical examiners report stated that Terán was likely killed in a cross-legged position with hands raised, palms facing inward. Neither the DeKalb nor independent medical examiners found evidence of gun-shot residue (GSR) on Terán’s hands. A GSR test kit report released by the GBI said analysts found GSR particles but acknowledged, “it is possible for victims of gunshot wounds, both self-inflicted and non-self-inflicted, to have GSR present on their hands.”

The GBI announced an investigation into the fatal shooting on Jan. 18, hours after the death of Teràn. In April, once the GBI’s initial investigation was complete, those findings were passed on to Christian to determine whether to bring charges against the officers. Typically, the decision to bring charges rests with the DA for the area in which the shooting took place, but DeKalb County DA Sherry Boston recused herself from the case on the grounds of her office’s participation in the raid that led to the killing of Terán. The GBI also participated in the same raid, but the office did not recuse itself from the investigation.

UPI: Georgia state troopers who shot, killed ‘Cop City’ protester won’t face charges

By Heather Lee - Global Justice Ecology Project, October 8, 2023

On October 6, 2023, Patrick Hilsman article Georgia state troopers who shot, killed ‘Cop City’ protester won’t face charges appeared on the UPI (United Press International) website.

The article reports that a Georgia court has ruled that state troopers who shot and killed Cop City protester Manuel Teran won’t face charges.

The article states that Manuel Teran, known as “Tortuguita”, was killed on January 18, 2023, when Georgia State Patrol troopers raided an activist campsite near the construction site for Cop City. Investigators had said Teran refused to leave the area and troopers fired “sublethal” rounds of ammunition at Teran’s tent. Teran had 57 bullet wounds, including entry and exit wounds.

The article also states how investigators say Teran had fired on officers, which does not align with an autopsy ordered by Teran’s relatives that showed Teran had their hands raised at the time of the shooting and did not have gunshot residue on their hands. There is also no body camera footage of the fatal shooting.

DA pro tempore for Stone Mountain’s Judicial Circuit Court, George R. Christian, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution “no criminal charges will be brought against the Georgia State Patrol Troopers involved in the shooting of Manuel Paez Teran” and that “The use of lethal (deadly) force by the Georgia State Patrol was objectively reasonable,”.

In April 2023, U.S. House members sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and FBI Director Chris Wray demanding answers on the police response to the protests.

The article can be read in full on the UPI (United Press International) website.

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