You are here

IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus

No New Runways!

By Ella Gilbert MSc - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 30, 2016

Last week thirteen members of UK direct action group Plane Stupid were found guilty of aggravated trespass and unlawfully entering a restricted area of an aerodrome for their part in an action last July. The #Heathrow13 occupied Heathrow airport’s northern runway for a record-breaking 6 hours, preventing hundreds, if not thousands, of tonnes of CO2 from being emitted. The action took place shortly after the release of the Davies Report, a government-commissioned report on airport expansion in the Southeast that recommended a third runway be built at Heathrow.

There are many issues here: for one thing, the Prime Minister David Cameron promised in a pre-election manifesto not to build a third runway, “no ifs, no buts”. The recommendation for a third runway therefore represents another massive U-turn on the part of the Conservative government, who also once claimed to be part of the ‘greenest government ever’. Meanwhile, the Tories have scrapped subsidies for wind energy, removed feed-in tariffs and support for small-scale community energy projects and given the go-ahead to grant fracking licenses. All of their actions are in direct opposition to the Climate Change Act 2008, a radical piece of legislation that requires the UK to reduce emissions by 80% relative to 1990 by 2050. If we are to meet these (legally binding) targets, aviation cannot be allowed to continue to emit as it does. 

Yet Heathrow is just part of the problem. Building a runway anywhere in the UK will be massively damaging to the environment. Indeed, the Davies Commission investigated three options for expansion, none of which was not to expand at all. This is revealing of the government’s priorities: they would rather lock up peaceful activists and profit from human suffering than lose out on the £7bn a year that Heathrow apparently contributes to the UK economy.

Aviation cannot be readily decarbonised, and is one of the most polluting industries around. The emission of pollutants at cruising altitude makes their effects more pronounced and contributes considerably to climate change. On the ground, emissions of air pollutants like particulate matter and NOx cause severe respiratory illnesses and deaths in the local area. Within the 32km surrounding Heathrow, 31 deaths per year are directly attributable to emissions of NOx from aircraft.

Flying is also a preserve of the wealthy – in the UK, 70% of flights are taken by 15% of people, and only 5% of people globally have ever flown at all. This is a clear demonstration of global and national inequality. The whims of rich leisure flyers are prioritised over the lives and livelihoods of poor people who have to breathe toxic pollutants and lose their homes to rising seas. Aviation also enjoys a privileged status – aviation is not included in any climate negotiations or legislation and aircraft fuel and tickets are exempt from VAT. Imagine that – we live in a country where tampons are considered a luxury item and taxed as such, while a flight to a ski resort is not. The cost of meeting climate targets is never passed on, and airlines continue to get a free ride for exploiting us.

Exploitation is big business. Exploitation of the environment, of resources and of workers. Corporations like Heathrow Airport Ltd. are making billions from an industry that is contributing to premature deaths in the local area and around the world. And of course, it is the poorest people who get hit the hardest, and hit first.

In a capitalist society, a few people control the means of production, and they use this to exert their influence on the majority of people, profiting from their labour. This is a story of inequalities: Heathrow has the power and clout of the judicial system, financial backing, and a PR company behind them, whereas ordinary people have nothing but their bodies and their intellect at their disposal. Direct action is one way of redressing this vast imbalance and wresting back some control.

It scares those in power to think that people might begin to take things into their own hands and make change. That is why an example is being made here. The #Heathrow13 may soon be the first UK climate prisoners, but they certainly won’t be the last. To paraphrase Howard Zinn - action outside the law is essential to democracy. You’ll never change outdated laws without breaking them. We must challenge the capitalist status quo that abuses natural resources and people in equal and devastating measure with what means we have. It will take the sacrifices of thousands of normal people to break oppressive structures that exploit people and the environment, but the tide is turning.

Well, If You Ask Me: By the time I get to Oregon

By Dano T Bob - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 10, 2016

So, I guess I gotta weigh in on this whole Oregon wildlife preserve/bird sanctuary/stolen native land takeover thing. Jeez, what a spectacle! I guess that is what the “wanna be militia” wanted, though, right? I’m just not sure why we are obliging to give it to them, but it is a bit too late to stop that.

My first thought upon hearing about it was to ignore it, not give them my media attention. No, I don’t think they should be ignored period, at the risk that they turn out to be dangerous and harmful to the land and people, etc. But, media-wise, I wish that we collectively didn’t believe the hype, which I don’t personally.

A couple of good reads have summed up a lot of my thoughts on this. The irony of bourgeois white men talking about this collectivized land as “stolen” from them, while ignoring it was stolen from indigenous peoples, as Earth First so correctly points out. Yeah, the Paiute are probably first in line if anyone has dibs to this land first stolen from them by the government and then set aside and reserved for the public, and for endangered birds.

Oh, and poor ole Ammon Bundy! Sure, government oppression is real and fucked up, but getting a $53,000 dollar Small Business Administration loan, and refusing to pay public grazing fees for your cattle at below market rate prices, is not exactly my idea of “oppression” at all, more like class warfare from those with money, privilege and resources refusing to pay for the collective good of our society to use public land to make more money for themselves, at our expense. And yes, you read that right, Oregon ranchers are getting a 93 percent discount from the going market rate, according to 538.com, to use OUR public land for their own benefit and cattle grazing.

I will say, though, that Jacobin did have a very thoughtful article on the real problem with those calling for state violence or crackdown on these “occupiers.”

I quote, “But what we must not do is call for the police to move in with the tear gas and rubber bullets of Ferguson and Baltimore, or the live rounds of MOVE or Wounded Knee, because equal injustice is not justice done.

I complete agree, and hope that more rational minds and more radical attitudes come to favor this view. The rest of the article is gold and I want to quote it at length.

Labor Rallies Against Fossil Fuel At Climate Rally In Oakland on November 21, 2015

By Steve Zeltser - Labor Video Project, November 21, 2015

Trade unionists from Northern California rallied and marched on November 21, 2015 against fossil fuel and further carbons in the planet. The march and rally was endorsed by the bay area labor councils. IBEW 595 officials also talk about the Zero Carbon building the union has built in San Leandro to train apprentices and their members on technology and energy efficiency.

Tony Mazzocchi Lives: Blue-Green Organizer Takes Up ‘Just Transition’ Mantle

By Mark Hand - CounterPunch, October 20, 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.

Union and environmental activist Alex Lotorto believes environmentalists should be working more closely with organized labor and following the advice of some of labor’s more enlightened leaders.

When Lotorto speaks with his friends and neighbors who work in the shale gas fields of northeast Pennsylvania, they generally do not have favorable things to say about environmental groups. And when he meets with his fellow environmental activists, solidarity with workers is often missing.

“Hardly anywhere in the conversation do you hear the question, ‘How do we bring the workforce into the picture and how do we make sure that the communities that are losing these well-paying, family-sustaining jobs have something in the end?'” Lotorto, who lives in Scranton, Pa., said in an interview.

There have been attempts in recent years to bridge the gap. For example, the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle featured “Turtles and Teamsters” coming together to oppose corporate-managed globalization. The BlueGreen Alliance was created in 2006 to unite large labor unions and Big Green groups in a more lasting manner, with the goal of addressing environmental challenges while maintaining quality jobs.

And yet, the ties forged between labor unions and environmental groups remain fragile. Lotorto sympathizes with extractive industry employees, including coal miners in the bituminous coal fields of southern West Virginia, many of whom blame federal regulators for their worsening job prospects. “There is a war on coal. And it’s been led by Beltway, nongovernmental organizations,” Lotorto emphasized, referring to the Big Green groups who have made shutting down coal-fired power plants a top priority. “We’ve missed the fact that removing coal from the picture in Appalachia is devastating.”

The federal government is offering some help to the hardest-hit communities in coal country. The Obama administration on Oct. 15 announced the federal government will be giving $14.5 million to 36 programs designed to help coal country communities cope with the economic hardships from the coal industry’s decline. The grants will be used to spur economic development and workforce training to move coal communities away from coal reliance.

Lotorto views these efforts as an attempt by he Obama administration to throw a “bone to labor and a bone to Appalachia.”

Post Carbon Radio Episode 93: Flood Wall Street West and Greywater Systems

By Karen Nyhus - KWMR, September 30, 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.

Karen interviews activists (including two members of the Bay Area IWW) at Flood Wall Street West ... in the San Francisco Financial District, who were taking direct action against institutions profiting from dirty energy. We then speak with Laura Allen, Executive Director of Greywater Action and author of The Water-Wise Home: How to Conserve, Capture and Reuse Water in Your Home and Lands, about greywater systems and best practices.

Capital Blight: Common Cause or a Neighborhood "Linch"-Mob?

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 19, 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.

Recently, a member of the IWW EUC posted a link to a May 27, 2015 editorial by four anonymous members of the Common Cause anarchist-communist federation, titled, Active Corrosion: Building Working-class Opposition to Pipelines, and I must say, it's very thought provoking. They definitely raise some important issues and ask some pertinent questions, but ultimately their criticisms of the IWW EUC and the conclusions they draw based on that fall far off the mark. Furthermore, although I share many of their criticisms of the environmental movement across the spectrum from mainstream NGO to radical direct-action eco-radical, I find their proposed remedies, while well intentioned, to be insufficient and, quite frankly, formulaic.

Who Misquoted Judi Bari?

Perhaps it's best to begin with their rather shallow understanding of the current orientations within Earth First!. In section II of their piece, (The Lay of the Land), they declare:

There are the assertions of Earth First!-types, as expressed by the organization’s co-founder Dave Foreman that it is “the bumpkin proletariat so celebrated in Wobbly lore who holds the most violent and destructive attitudes towards the natural world (and toward those who would defend it).”

It's interesting that they would reference that particular statement of Foreman's, since it was made almost twenty-five years ago, in a debate with Murray Bookchin, conducted as Dave Foreman was dropping out of the Earth First! movement in response to the latter incorporating class struggle into its radical ecology perspective (due, in no small part, to the influence of Judi Bari whom they so quickly dismiss--but more about that later). Many of Foreman's supporters within Earth First! who held similar views would soon follow within the next few years, and for the most part, most of them never returned to the fold. These days, Earth First!, while far from consistent or perfect on matters of class struggle or workers issues, is significantly more inclusive of them. If one were to read, for example, any of the rather detailed articles by Alexander Reid Ross, and they would see that some Earth First!ers have a fairly deep and extensive understanding of workers' issues. While it is true that there is also a strong primitivist--as well as a persistent insurrectionist--streak within that movement (one that I am often willing to criticize when he deems it necessary), these leanings do not preclude social anarchist perspectives.

Moving on from there, the editorialists opine:

In contrast, there is the commitment of the Wobblies’, otherwise known as the Industrial Workers of the World, Environmental Unionism Caucus to strategize about, “how to organize workers in resource extraction industries with a high impacts [sic] on the environment”, which lacks a broader vision of addressing industries which cannot exist in their current form or at all, if we are to prevent crisis.

Perhaps before making this rather sneeringly dismissive comment, the authors might have--perhaps--read some of the texts and articles on our site, ecology.iww.org, such as the numerous texts arguing against extractivism, including this statement by the South African Mine and Metal Workers' Union (NUMSA), this article by Jess Grant, or this series of articles arguing against "socialist" apologies for Nuclear Power, including my own pieces (Part 1; Part 2), just to name a few. Better yet, would it have been asking too much for the writers to actually contact us and ask us our opinions on the matter? You'll please forgive us if we regard such lack of due diligence as mentally lazy.

Pages