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Chapter 29 : Swimmin’ Cross the Rio Grande

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.Corporate Timber’s strategy for defeating popular resistance on the North Coast, whether union organizing, environmentalism, or citizen ballot initiatives depended heavily on keeping its would-be watchdogs and critics pitted against each other, or focused on a specific scapegoat. As the minutes of 1989 ticked away into 1990, the timber corporations were finding this an increasingly difficult prospect, and sometimes all it took to fracture whatever consensus they could muster was a perfect storm of indirectly related events. The arrogance of Louisiana Pacific in particular undermined Corporate Timber’s ability to keep an increasingly fearful workforce focusing their blame for all that was wrong on “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs.” In spite of all of the footwork done by Pacific Lumber with the help of TEAM and WECARE to manufacture dissent against the environmentalists’ campaign to block THPs and draft measures like Forests Forever, the catalyst that lit the opposing prairie fire was Louisiana-Pacific’s plans to outsource productions.

In December, the Humboldt and Del Norte County Central Labor Council, representing 3,500 union members from over two dozen unions in both counties rented billboards imploring the L-P not to move to Mexico. [1] Suggesting that the unions were forced to look beyond mere bread and butter issues, some of the billboards read, “Please don’t abuse our community and our environment.” L-P, who routinely paid for full page ads in the local press claiming to be “a good neighbor” touting their alleged pro-worker and pro-environmental policies, responded by claiming in their latest such entries that they were not exporting logs to Mexico, just green lumber for drying and planning. Although the handwriting should have been on the wall seven years earlier when L-P had busted the IWA and WCIW in the mills throughout the Pacific Northwest, there were several other unions which had a relationship with the company in various capacities. Hitherto they had been unwilling to bite the hand that fed them, and many wouldn’t have even considered making an overture of friendship to Earth First!, but now, all of a sudden, the leadership of various AFL-CIO unions based in Humboldt and Mendocino County finally awakened to the possibility that their enemy wasn’t, in fact, “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs.” [2]

A Sustainable Jobs Blueprint, Part II: Putting workers and communities at the centre of Canada’s net-zero energy economy

By Megan Gordon and Alex Callahan, et. al. - Pembina Institute, December 14, 2023

Canada has 26 years remaining to achieve net-zero by 2050. The focus of energy experts and government officials to date has been on the technical solutions needed to achieve deep emissions reductions. What is becoming increasingly clear is that a shift of this magnitude cannot happen without the participation of the workers and communities that drive Canada’s economic engine and who will drive its decarbonization efforts. Engaging Canadian workers and communities in the transition to net-zero requires a broad, systems-focused, and wholistic approach.

Reducing emissions without a plan for workers leaves workers and industries with unanswered questions. The Sustainable Jobs Blueprint series co-developed by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the Pembina Institute aims to offer a pathway to ensure industrial change and decarbonization is informed by social dialogue focused on creating new, good jobs, ensuring workers have a clear path forward.

This second report offers advice on the tactics the federal government can use as it makes investments and develops programs, with the goal of better and more fair outcomes for present and future workers as well as communities. We recommend the federal government take steps to advance the following seven worker- and economy-focused actions, discussed in greater detail in the report.

Download a copy of this publication here (Link).

Working for Climate Justice: Trade unions in the front line against climate change

By Ben Crawford and David Whyte - Institute of Employment Rights: Centre for Climate Crime and Climate Justice, November 23, 2023

For further background, visit this site.

Co-authors of the report, David Whyte, Queen Mary University of London and Ben Crawford, The London School of Economics, argue that the transition away from a carbon-based economy relies on the collective action of workers and their organisations, challenging an economic system focused on extracting value at any cost. While the primary analysis addresses the British context, the authors acknowledge the global nature of ecological sustainability and its transformation of social existence both within and outside the workplace.

Focusing on the economic sphere of production as the engine of climate change, the authors contend that the future of the planet relies heavily on workers' power and collective action. Contrary to decisions made in boardrooms and cabinets, they stress that a sustainable transition depends on workers and their communities organising a new social and economic system.

Co-author of report Professor David Whyte, and Director of the Centre for Climate Crime and Climate Justice, Queen Mary University of London explains: “Time is running out for us. We don’t have time to wait politely until employers decide to do the right thing. This is why a transition to a low carbon economy has to be led by workers taking action in their workplaces. A sustainable planet has to be based on sustainable jobs and sustainable ways of working and living.”

Trade unions, historically not prioritising climate change in bargaining, have a rich history of environmentalism and struggles against the commodification of labour. The pamphlet argues for a "secret solidarity" between workers and nature, emphasising the shared interest in slowing down production processes causing social and environmental harm.

To achieve a transition at the necessary scale and pace, the pamphlet proposes priorities for the trade-union movement:

  1. Empowering Members: Workers must put climate change on an industrial footing, building a grassroots power base through coordinated workplace representatives and political education.
  2. Integrating Climate Bargaining: Climate bargaining should be integrated into campaigns for employment rights, demanding a statutory basis for the right to bargain on climate and ecology.
  3. Allocating Resources: Trade unions must allocate greater resources to climate campaigning, countering the false dichotomy between jobs and a green economy and advocating for public ownership of key sectors.
  4. Engaging Globally: Unions should organise and recruit along global supply chains, recognising the need for international coordination and bargaining.

The report concludes by urging a transformative approach to just transition, where workers and trade unionists rethink the production and purpose of value, ensuring products and services align with socially useful and sustainable goals. The call is clear: workers must harness their collective power to lead the way towards a low-carbon economy.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

National Climate Change and Biodiversity Service: A PCS workers’ plan for an alternative civil service

By staff - Public and Commercial Services Union, October 25, 2023

The UK civil and public services have been under a decades old drive to reform in the name of efficiency savings and cost cutting. This is from both Labour and Tory administrations, and the ConDem coalition.

The reality of this for workers has been a relentless attack on their pay, jobs, terms and conditions. With increasing privatisation of public services and outsourcing, it has weakened the services they deliver and led to an ideological rolling back of the welfare state.

Today we have multiple crises facing us from the costs of living and energy crises, to public health and climate change. The twin impacts of Brexit and Covid-19 revealed two important things that were not surpising to those working in the UK civil and public services at least.

In the case of Brexit, the extent of which the hollowing out of expertise and experience showed that major transformations to our economy cannot be done on the cheap without both financial and human resources. In terms of the Covid-19 pandemic, the extraordinary commitment and adaptability of civil and public service workers illustrating just how vital they are to the economic, political, and social well-being of the nation.

Covid-19 gave a glimpse of what could be possible when the vital role of the civil and public services was briefly recognised. It also showed how the state can be transformative, act with urgency, and coordinate resources for the public good. Key civil service departments had to rapidly adapt for example in delivering the Coronavirus Job Retention or furlough scheme and benefit changes. Factory production lines, in consultation with unions, were quickly repurposed to produce ventilators or PPE equipment.

Now there is also the increasingly pressing challenge to respond to of climate change and biodiversity loss. Unfortunately we have politicians so hostile to public and democratic institutions, that it promotes inefficiency and profit making at the expense of organising the civil and public services in a way that can lead on the rapid and far reaching action that we need to address the climate crisis.

This is why we urgently need to develop an alternative vision and call for a radical rethink about how the machinery of government is configured to achieve our climate change and biodiversity targets. At the heart of this is the proposal for a National Climate Change and Biodiversity Service which for the rest of this pamphlet we will refer to simply as the National Climate Service (NCS).

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

As UAW Strike Heats Up, Allied Groups Plan National Day of Action, Activating Members to Rally Alongside Workers

By Public Citizen - Common Dreams, October 2, 2023

Environmental, advocacy, consumer, and civil society groups, including Public Citizen, Labor Network for Sustainability, Greenpeace USA, Jobs with Justice, Sunrise Movement, Democratic Socialists of America, 350.org, Working Families Party, Evergreen Action, and Green New Deal Network, today announced plans for a national day of action on October 7, aimed at supporting striking auto workers and urging the Big Three automakers—Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis—to meet the demands of 150,000 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW).

Participating groups will rally their supporters to advocate alongside UAW members for a fair contract that protects worker rights and prioritizes workers in the United States as the vehicle fleet transitions towards electric vehicles.

“The transition to EVs must not be a race to the bottom that exacerbates harm to workers and communities,” said Erika Thi Patterson, auto supply chain campaign director for Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “We need a just transition to EVs that protects our planet and people. That’s why 130+ groups representing millions of people are ready to partner with UAW in a national day of action to stand with auto workers. The implications of this strike could drastically raise standards across the auto industry and broader supply chain.”

The national day of action, planned for October 7, 2023, will mobilize members and grassroots activists to attend active picket lines where UAW members are on strike, and to join the UAW’s nationwide “community canvass,” where advocates will offer the public informational leaflets about why they support the auto workers in front of Big Three auto dealerships.

“Now is a decisive moment in whether the Green New Deal’s promise of creating millions of good-paying, union jobs will be fulfilled–or not.” said Sydney Ghazarian, a Labor Network for Sustainability organizer who has been coordinating UAW solidarity work. “UAW’s fight for an economically and socially just EV transition is our fight too.”

California Workers’ Climate Bill of Rights

By staff - California Labor for Climate Jobs, October 2023

Climate change is forcing a massive restructuring of our economy; a worker-led transition provides a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape our economy for working people and our communities while limiting climate dangers. Labor rights are a climate solution: we must increase workers’ voice on the job in all sectors through unionization, and invest in our public sector to build the democratic, clean, green economy we need. Massive investments in our infrastructure, agriculture and public sectors are moving us towards meeting California’s climate goals and can create a million new union jobs for pipefitters, carpenters, manufacturers, electricians, cable layers, public transit operators, agricultural workers and others. Expanding the public services our communities need to cope with extreme weather and climate disasters will create jobs for nurses, care workers, public sector workers and more, while providing new opportunities for workers who have been trapped in low-wage jobs.

A worker-led transition means fighting to support fossil-fuel dependent workers and communities, including wage and pension guarantees and retraining, rather than leaving it to the whims of the oil CEOs to dictate the terms of the transition. From West Virginia to Los Angeles, we have seen how unplanned closures and economic shifts have devastated workers and the communities where they live.

Transition is inevitable, but economic and racial justice are not. If labor takes the lead, we have a historic opportunity to grow the labor movement and create a cleaner, more equitable, and climate-safe economy that provides high-road, family-sustaining, union jobs.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

A Sustainable Jobs Blueprint, Part I: Governance recommendations to support Canada’s clean energy workforce and economy

By Megan Gordon - Pembina Institute, September 25, 2023

The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly clear, and countries are beginning to react. To mitigate further climate change while maintaining economic stability, the demand for lower-carbon energy is growing — and workers in high-emitting sectors must be supported through this transition to a clean energy economy. Governments need to help the regions most impacted by the transition prepare for what is already underway and take proactive steps to avoid stranded assets and stranded workers. Other countries including Germany, Spain, Scotland, New Zealand, the United States and Denmark have already modelled components of successful governance to support the transition to sustainable jobs.

In 2023, Canada produced its first federal Interim Sustainable Jobs Plan. This was followed by the tabling of the Sustainable Jobs Act in June 2023 which outlines an approach to creating a prosperous net-zero future for all Canadians. This act represents the beginning of a framework to ensure that workers and communities are at the table, not on the menu. A variety of labour and environmental organizations have endorsed this act as a promising step to centre workers in the conversation; they maintain, however, that amendments must be made to ensure the implementation lives up to its potential. As echoed in the aftermath of less successful transitions, workers want to see a practical plan so that they can make informed decisions about their future. Workers need to see policies that speak to their concerns, and more than ever they must hear about effective solutions from trusted messengers. Workers need to be on-board for transition to be successful.

An energy transition will indisputably result in socioeconomic changes in Canada. In fact, it already has — workers with skills that are transferable to low-carbon industries are increasingly sought after to support these emerging pathways. Climate regulations and policy decisions represent only one driver of change. In a globalized, rapidly warming, and technologically advancing world, many trends affect jobs and the economy. In addition to climate change, this includes demographic change, human migration, and technological innovation. Proactive and responsive governments can put in place the foundations for stability through transitions that empower worker and community resiliency and ensure those socioeconomic changes are positive. These foundations include key enabling factors and mechanisms for collaboration, accountability, and implementation.

Download a copy of this publication here (Link).

The Climate Contradictions of Gary Smith

By Paul Atkin - Greener Jobs Alliance, September 21, 2023

In agreeing to be interviewed by the Spectator under the title the folly of Net Zero GMB General Secretary Gary Smith lets his members down; not least because remarks like these from a leading trade unionist help give Rishi Sunak encouragement to accelerate his retreat from the government’s already inadequate climate targets.

The phrase “the folly of Net Zero” makes as much sense as “the folly of getting into the lifeboats when the ship is sinking”

Difficulties in making a transition to sustainability does not mean that making it isn’t essential, and the faster we move the less damage is done. We can see that damage all around us even now. 

Gary doesn’t seem to get this, any more than Rishi Sunak does, and he latches on to some of the same lines as the PM does, albeit with a more pungent turn of phrase. To go through these point by point, quotes are either directly from Gary Smith or the Spectator.

California’s Climate Investments and High Road Workforce Standards: Gaps and Opportunities for Advancing Workforce Equity

By Sam Appel and Jessie HF Hammerling - UC Labor Center, September 20, 2023

California continues to lead the nation in charting a path to economy-wide decarbonization. On this path, the state has committed to pursuing a high road transition that prioritizes the development of a sustainable economy grounded in equity for workers and communities.

In our 2020 report Putting California on the High Road: A Jobs and Climate Action Plan for 2030 (JCAP), commissioned by the California Legislature in Assembly Bill 398 (Garcia, 2017), the UC Berkeley Labor Center offered guidance for policymakers on how to ensure an equitable energy transition for workers in California. That report describes clear, proven strategies for maximizing the creation of high-quality jobs across the low-carbon economy, broadening opportunities for workers of color and workers from historically marginalized communities, delivering the skilled workforce needed to achieve California’s climate targets, and protecting workers in transitioning industries.

This report presents a current snapshot of the state’s progress in implementing several of these strategies by examining the integration of high road workforce standards across California’s climate investments. Specifically, we review existing high road standard policies in California, and assess the reach of high road standards across the state’s proposed climate investments in California’s 2022-23 state budget.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

How the shift to electric vehicles is fueling the UAW strike

By Akielly Hu and Katie Myers - Grist, September 18, 2023

At the stroke of midnight on Friday, in three automotive factories across the Rust Belt, nightshift workers left their posts and poured out onto the streets to join whistling, cheering crowds. TV news footage from the night showed picketers intermingled with cars honking in support as R&B blared from sound systems on the sidewalks in front of the factory gates. For the first time in history, the United Auto Workers union, or UAW, initiated a strike targeting all of the Big Three automakers: Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, which owns brands like Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge. 

The strike marks a breaking point after months of negotiations failed to result in a deal to renew the union’s contract with Big Three automakers, which expired on Friday. For now, the strike covers only 13,000 workers at a General Motors plant in Wentzville, Missouri; a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio; and a Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan. But the three closures could be just the beginning. UAW president Shawn Fain has warned that all 146,000 union workers are ready to strike at a moment’s notice. “If we need to go all out, we will,” said Fain Thursday night on Facebook Live. “Everything is on the table.” 

If the work stoppage goes on for more than 10 days, analysts estimate it could cost automakers over $1 billion and hurt plans to push new electric vehicles onto the market.

EVs, and what they mean for the future of union labor in the automotive sector, loom large over the picket line. Automakers say meeting the union’s demands would threaten their ability to compete with nonunionized EV producers like Tesla, adding burdensome labor costs just as they’re making expensive investments in EVs. Workers, meanwhile, worry that billions in EV investments aren’t translating into good-paying, union jobs.

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