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Railroads lay off hundreds and close routes in Appalachia

By Jeff Lusanne  - WSWS.org, October 29, 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.

In the rugged, mountainous region of Central Appalachia—covering West Virginia, eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, and Western Virginia—many towns and cities exist because of a particular industry. Sometimes, the name of a town itself shows this: for example, Alloy, WV, where a silicon metal alloy plant is located on the banks of the Kanawha River. Countless towns were built around coal mines, many have which have faded away as mines closed, or become shells of their former prosperity. Indeed, Prosperity, WV is a place, located near the high-quality coal in Raleigh County.

The railroads, built through the challenging terrain of the Appalachian region to transport its valuable resources to domestic and international markets, created railroad towns. The sorting of traffic, maintenance of track and equipment, and administrative tasks created hundreds of jobs in cities across the region.

In the last two months, mass layoffs of railroad workers in response to falling coal traffic have called into question the fate of several towns that are inextricably linked to the railroad industry, where generations of workers have been employed by railroads.

The most severe blow was the sudden October 15 announcement by CSX Railroad that it was effectively ending operations in Erwin, Tennessee, a yard and maintenance base on a major route through the area. Employees of the railroad in Erwin heard the news in the morning at the beginning of their shifts, and then some spent their shift assembling all the equipment in the yard into the last train to leave town. When it did, 300 workers lost their jobs.

On October 20, CSX announced another 180 layoffs of yard and maintenance in Corbin, Kentucky, another major regional terminal. Due to declining coal traffic, the railroad closed the locomotive terminal and car shop, where workers inspect and maintain equipment. A hundred employees will remain and the terminal will stay open.

In both Corbin and Erwin, CSX stated that workers have the option of moving for work outside of the area—which could mean hundreds of miles away. An engineer wrote in the Erwin Record that with the last shift of crews, the conversation was “Where you going, Nashville? Birmingham? Etowah? Tampa?.” Followed by the “It’s been good working with you,” then “the handshakes, the hugs, the misty eyes, the turns and walks away.”

The positions of engineers, conductors, maintainers, and repairman were skilled operating or mechanical jobs with wages that are not commonly available elsewhere in the region, and their loss will have a devastating impact on the local economy and the workers affected.

Unions, Environmental Justice Advocates Say “No!” To Coal Transport through Oakland

By Staff - Emerald Cities Collaborative, October 21, 2015; image by Brooke Anderson

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 Alameda Labor Council was a key player in the nearly 100-member Coal-Free Oakland Coalition of unions, climate justice advocates and environmental groups that has halted the proposed transport of coal through Oakland in its tracks, pending a health impact study by the Oakland City Council.  The coalition includes unions representing nurses, teachers, longshoremen, city workers, recyclers, housekeepers, postal workers, bus drivers, custodians and security officers. City Council staff are to report to the council on their public health study and propose next steps by December.

As part of its strategy, the Labor Council passed a hard-hitting resolution opposing a coal export terminal in the new Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center. Not only was that document key to the coalition’s win, it also firmly aligned organized labor in Oakland with the city’s environmental justice and climate movements. It did so by acknowledging and commending labor’s growing commitment “to environmental justice issues that affect workers, communities and future generations. ”

According to Emerald Cities Oakland Director Tara Marchant, “This coalition and its victory reflect years of work building alliances along environmental justice and labor unions to reject old, polluting energy."

ILWU members tell Oakland City Council to kill coal terminal plan

Press Release - ILWU, October 21, 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.

An overflow crowd at the Oakland City Council meeting on September 21 heard ILWU leaders taking passionate positions against a controversial coal export terminal that developers and coal industry lobbyists want to build on a private dock with public subsidies. Six hundred citizens submitted requests to speak at the hearing which began at 4pm and went late into the night.

Developer hiding

Master developer Phil Tagami was noticeably absent from the public hearing on the coal export terminal which has become a centerpiece of his redevelopment scheme that promised to transform Oakland’s former Oakland Army base into a mix of modern warehouses, intermodal hub and a “state of the art” privately-owned break-bulk dock.

Jobs Promised

To win crucial political support, Tagami claimed his project would create thousands of good-paying jobs, and told community and labor groups that most of those jobs would be union. But many of the groups negotiating with Tagami were unfamiliar with industry employment practices, which may have allowed the developer to use inflated and unrealistic numbers. Now Tagami has hitched his project’s to a controversial coal export terminal, and suggested that the entire project and thousands of jobs depend on the coal deal.

Coal lobbyists & lawyers

Instead of appearing in person at the September hearing, Tagami hired a slew of well-dressed lawyers, lobbyists, businessmen and preachers to make his case for the coal terminal. Lawyers made thinly-veiled threats that lawsuits would be filed if the developers didn’t get their way. One Washington D.C. lawyer declared that the city had no authority to regulate or limit railroads shipping coal to the export terminal.

Buying turnout

But despite hiring big guns, Tagami’s team had a hard time finding actual “concerned citizens” who supported the coal terminal, so they resorted to paying people to fill seats and wear t-shirts. The plan backfired when news reporters interviewed apparent “coal supporters” in the audience who quickly admitted they only came because they were paid. Some even expressed confusion about which side they were supposed to support.

Buying loyalty

The pay-to-play tactics included generous “offers” from the coal lobbyists to local churches and environmental groups – in exchange for backing the coal terminal. A team of former executives from the Port of Oakland reportedly offered church leaders 7 cents for every ton of coal that would be exported; environmental groups were offered a more generous 12 cents per ton. The environmental groups declined the offer; while some church leaders apparently accepted and attended the hearing to praise the proposal.

Labor unity & exceptions

The Alameda County Central Labor Council told City officials that unions had just passed a strong resolution opposing the coal export terminal, because it would provide few jobs, threaten nearby residents and harm efforts to control climate change. Two unions, the Teamsters and Laborers, tried but failed to stop the labor body from adopting the coal terminal resolution.

Both were told by the developer that the good union jobs being promised could not be delivered without the coal terminal. Teamster officials joined developer Phil Tagami in avoiding the public hearing, but lobbied for the coal project behind the scenes.

EcoUnionist News #71 - Don Blankenship on Trial

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, October 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.

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NUMSA fully backs Coal sector strike

By Castro Ngobese - NUMSA, October 5, 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 National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), on behalf of its 365 000 members, pledges its unwavering support and unflinching solidarity with the striking coal workers, as led by two class orientated and anti-capitalist workers formations, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

We call on workers to unite behind their legitimate and genuine demands, irrespective of their union’s logos or t-shirt colours. Furthermore, we call on the striking workers to use this strike to agitate and propagate for coal as a strategic mineral resource to be nationalized, in order to build the required and necessary capacity for the democratic State to supply cheaper electricity to Eskom and the national grid.

The strike is happening amidst the socio-economic burden faced by workers of taking care of the vast number of the unemployed, especially amongst the youth and women, who are ravaged by squalor and poverty in working class communities, informal settlements and rural slums, post the 1994 failed negotiated political settlement. The workers are demanding a fair share of the surplus in the absent of a legislated Minimum Wage, as a stated key socio-economic demand of the Freedom Charter.

The ongoing strike should consolidate working class power from below to challenge the colonial and racist economic dominance and wealth concentration in the hands of a tiny minority. This is against the super remuneration packages and benefits enjoyed mining’s Chief Executives, whilst ordinary workers are paid Apartheid poverty wages. The demands by the unions on behalf of their members will elevate the socio-economic living standard of workers, including a life of dignity.

We call on the workers not to soften their demands when Executives, Shareholders’ salaries, bonuses and perks remain obscene, whilst workers who are producers of wealth are squeezed deeper into abject poverty and economic misery.

Numsa calls on the coal mining oligarchy to concede to the reasonable and affordable demands of workers. In line with workers’ battle slogan: “an injury to one; and injury to all”, Numsa calls on its members and communities to join the picket’s line in solidarity with the striking workers. Through solidarity actions we shall diminish the fictitious wall erected between community struggles and struggles on the shopfloor.

East Bay Unions Don't Want Your Coal

By S.E. Smith - Truthout, September 29, 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.

Coal is the energy source of the past, so what is it doing in plans for our future? It's a question that was asked by labor, environmental and community activists as they learned about plans for a new bulk commodities terminal proposed for Oakland's former army base by developer Terminal Logistics Solutions. The company is backed heavily by major coal producers in Utah looking for a way to get their product to U.S. ports for shipment, and while they thought they could sneak it by quietly, the ever-vigilant community in the Bay Area found out anyway, and the result was explosive. Opposition to the terminal is coming from a variety of angles, but one is particularly important: the labor community.

Oakland's workers, especially its dockworkers, have always been highly active in their community. Many live and work in and around West Oakland, near the city's port, and they have a vested interest in community health and welfare in addition to safe working conditions. They live in the awareness that the region has extremely high rates of respiratory disease and other pollution-related illnesses, something coal shipping would only exacerbate, and that working on a daily basis with the dusty and dangerous commodity would put their health at risk as well. So they had a personal interest in keeping coal out of Oakland, but it went deeper than that.

In a statement issued September 18—immediately before a city council meeting scheduled for the 21st—the Alameda Labor Council put forward a firm case against coal. "The Alameda Labor Council [expresses] opposition to the export of coal through Oakland and specifically the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center at the former Oakland Army Base," they explained, citing environmental and human health risks associated with coal exports. They also noted that the coal industry is notoriously anti-union, and that it doesn't offer as many jobs as work in other commodity industries. Moreover, union advocates argued, they welcomed development of other commodities shipping at the Port of Oakland, as long as it involved less toxic and environmentally harmful products.

Longshore Workers Vote to Oppose Coal Exports in Oakland

Staff Report - ILWU.Org, September 18, 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.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Longshore workers and marine clerks who have moved cargo at the Ports of Oakland and San Francisco since 1934 have rejected a developer’s plan to export coal through former Oakland Army Base. International Longshore and Warehouse Union elected officials say coal is an undesirable, low-value cargo and a broken promise on the part of the developer, and longshore workers are standing by community members who do not want the worry and risks of nine million tons of coal passing through their neighborhoods on trains each year. After much research and discussion, the rank and file members of ILWU Local 10 and ILWU Local 34 have voted to oppose the handling of coal at the site.

“When the developers of the project were seeking tax money and public support to develop the Oakland Army Base, they talked about exporting cargoes like grain and potash,” said Sean Farley, President of ILWU Local 34. “They made a ‘no coal’ promise to workers, the community and elected officials, and they need to make good on that promise. Waterfront space is in short supply on the West Coast, and it would be a mistake to lock Oakland into a decades-long lease with a coal industry that many say is dying. Coal proposals have failed up and down the West Coast, and Oakland shouldn’t become the dumping ground for dirty, low value cargoes that no one else wants.”

After the Oakland City Council granted the California Capital and Investment Group (CCIG) the right to develop the former army base adjacent to the Port of Oakland, CCIG planned to build the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) on the site. CCIG has since turned its “no coal” promise into a “coal or nothing” threat, claiming no other cargo will pay the bills. Meanwhile, other West Coast ports are thriving while exporting products like grain, potash, soda ash, salt, and other commodities and bulk products.

“Coal is not the right way to bring jobs to Oakland,” said ILWU Local 10 Business Agent Derrick Muhammad. “Oakland families are already worried about asthma and other sickness because of highways and port activities. It’s not right to ask them to take on the worry and risk of nine million tons of coal passing through their neighborhoods on trains each year. If the developers haven’t found a cleaner, safer product yet, they owe it to the City of Oakland to make good on their promise and keep looking. They’ll find better cargoes if they are truly committed to bringing good, safe jobs to our community.”

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s Coast Longshore Division represents approximately 25,000 longshore men and women in 30 West Coast ports from San Diego, CA, to Bellingham, WA.

East Bay Labor Unions Say 'No' to Coal in Oakland

By Darwin BondGraham - East Bay Express, September 18, 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 official voice of the labor movement in the East Bay has come out against plans to export coal from Oakland. This morning, the Alameda Labor Council’s executive committee passed a resolution opposing the export of coal from the bulk commodity terminal planned for construction at the city’s former Army Base.

The resolution cites health hazards and environmental harms that are likely to result from shipping and storing coal in West Oakland — hazards that will impact both workers and Oakland residents.

“Jobs involving coal are unhealthy and unsafe due to dust emissions; coal is increasingly an anti-union industry,” states the resolution. “West Oakland residents are already twice as likely to visit the emergency room for asthma as the average Alameda County resident, and are also more likely to die of cancer, heart and lung disease… .”

Terminal Logistics Solutions, the company proposing coal exports from the terminal, has claimed that the facility will be served by covered rail cars to reduce the amount of coal dust that drifts into nearby neighborhoods. TLS recently unveiled sketches on its website depicting dome-covered silos and enclosed conveyor belts that will store and load the coal onto ships for export overseas.

Opponents of the coal plan have said, however, that covered rail cars, silos and chutes are not used anywhere in the United States today, and their efficacy hasn’t been studied.

The Labor Council’s resolution states that despite the unions’ “unified opposition to coal,” they believe that the project can move forward without coal. Their resolutions welcomes commodities such as steel, wood, grains, sand, gravel ,and other "non-hazardous materials."

A special meeting of the Oakland City Council is scheduled for Monday. The city clerk’s office has already received more than three hundred speaker cards from members of the public.

Sept. 4, 1921: Battle of Blair Mountain Ends

By Brandon Nida - Zinn Education Project, September 4, 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.

September 4 marks the end of fighting at the Battle of Blair Mountain, which was the largest example of class war in U.S. history. It was fought over the course of five days in 1921 by 10,000 coalminers. The coalminers were rebelling against inhumane conditions in the West Virginia coalfields. The region led the nation in mine fatalities and the coal companies controlled almost every aspect of mining families’ lives.

The miners had attempted to unionize for decades, but were constantly blocked by a corrupt political system, brutal intimidation for organizers, and other forms of harassment such as blacklisting where union sympathizers were barred from working in the region.

These struggles all came to a head when the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) went on a national strike in 1919. The southern coalfields of West Virginia at this time were the only major coal-producing region that was non-union. The continued production in the region during the strike seriously undercut the UMWA’s position. After the national strike was resolved, the UMWA set their sights on the problematic region.

This began two years of determined efforts on the miners’ part to unionize these fields. The first efforts were focused on Logan County. The union organizers met stiff resistance from the county sheriff, Don Chafin, who was in the employment of coal operators. Chafin used intimidation, beatings, and even murder to keep the union out.

Moving Beyond Protests and Counter Protests; the transition to a renewable economy requires the climate movement and unions to work in solidarity together

By Catherine Nadel - 350.org, August 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.

In the lead up to the Ende Gelände action, that will see a mine shut down in the Rhineland this weekend, there have been rumours of a counter protest organised by the union for RWE employees. This possibility is disappointing for a number of reasons. The climate movement’s mission is not only to respond to the climate crisis by dismantling our reliance on fossil fuels, but to a build a movement that is capable of achieving this in a way that is just and fair. Central to this strategy are workers. It is understandable that the actions of climate activists, such as Ende Gelände can seem threatening to those who rely on the fossil fuel industries for their jobs and livelihoods. It is our hope that the communities that currently depend on these jobs, understand that there is no greater threat to them than the threat of climate change. This is a threat that will fundamentally change the way we live. If we do not work together to confront this challenge and transition to a cleaner, fairer future, we risk not only jobs and livelihoods, but everything.

Research into the fossil fuel industry reveals that the interests of unions and the climate movement are fundamentally aligned. The two groups share many common values; financial stability, job security and strong communities are among the clearest of them. We also share a common challenge, responding to an industry that values profit margins over the safety and security of both their employers and the climate.

RWE is not only the single biggest emitter of CO2 in Europe, it is also one of the continent’s most negligent companies. According to research commissioned by Greenpeace in 2012, RWE’s coal power stations cause over 900 deaths a year in Germany. RWE’s failure to adapt its business model at a time when the rest of Germany is transitioning to a low-carbon economy has caused its share price to drop by 70% since 2007. Predictably, these losses have not fallen on the executives of the company, but on the workers. In 2014 alone RWE slashed over 5000 jobs.

RWE’s business model is founded on disregard for both social and environmental consequences. When Ende Gelände activists walk into the mine tomorrow, their aim will be to disrupt this destructive model. They do this in the knowledge that when the action disrupts RWE’s business tomorrow, it will also be disrupting an ordinary workday for many people. This can justifiably be perceived as inconvenient and inconsiderate to the employees of the mine. This is regrettable, however climate change is disruptive and inconsiderate. It poses a threat to every one of us, a threat that we must respond to together.

It is for this reason that when Ende Gelände calls on RWE to change its ways, it also calls on the German government to invest in a transition to an economy based on renewable energy and sustainable long-term jobs. To us, this means investing time and money in the re-skilling and employment of workers, to rapidly deploy decentralised renewable energy solutions, that support whole communities rather than profits for a few and climate disruption for the rest. We want to extend an invitation to the workers and communities of the Rhineland, to join us in this fight.

The fight for a clean future involves transition for all of us. This includes transition for the workers of fossil fuel industries; this transition must not only be just and fair, it must be lead by workers. This is why the idea of a worker counter protest is so deeply saddening. As a climate movement we know we can do better to put the rights of working people at the centre of our work, but we know that to change everything, it will take everyone. Climate change is not just a siloable environmental issue, it is a people issue; and it is a threat to communities everywhere. That is why it is so important that we move beyond protests and counter protests and work together to build a fossil free future that is centred on fairness and justice for all.

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