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They Sacrificed to Survive Bankruptcy. They Worked Through A Pandemic. Now, Autoworkers Have Had Enough

By Amie Stager - In These Times, September 28, 2023

Bonita Burns, 50, sits in a camping chair on the lawn in front of Mopar Parts Distribution Center. One of the crutches she uses to get around after her foot surgery leans against the chair. A picket sign leans against the other side. She is scratching off lottery tickets, hoping for some luck. 

“I don’t know how long we’re gonna be on strike,” she says. ​“We need the strike to get our point across and get our demands met.” 

She’s come off medical leave to join on a picket line that started that morning at 11 a.m., when workers at Mopar and 37 other parts distribution centers walked off the job, expanding the UAW’s stand-up strike against the Big Three automakers. 

January will mark 11 years at Stellantis for Burns. She cares for three grandchildren and is hoping a new contract will make it easier for current and future workers to support themselves and their families. She says she’s seen single mothers who had to quit after being forced to work overtime.

“She’s gonna strike it rich!” Brandon Lee, 31, a forklift operator, jokes about Burns’ lotto tickets. He and Alex Tivis, 33, march together around the lawn with picket signs. They were both hired nine years ago at $15.78 an hour. They recall working 90 days in a row during the probationary period, ten hours a day, seven days a week. The paychecks piled up — they didn’t have any time to cash them.

Wisconsin Autoworkers Are Bundling Firewood for a Winter Picket Line

By Isabela Escalona - In These Times, September 25, 2023

On the morning of Friday, September 22, workers at General Motors’ Hudson Parts Distribution Center calmly put away their equipment, gathered their personal belongings and stepped off the job. They’d been selected as a part of the United Auto Workers’ second wave of stand-up strikes against the ​“Big Three” automakers (Ford, GM and Stellantis). 

A line of cars formed exiting the parking lot, filled with workers wearing red UAW shirts. Truck drivers along the industrial road sounded their horns in solidarity. 

The Hudson, Wis., facility, located just over 20 miles from Minnesota’s Twin Cities, last went on strike for 44 days in 2019 as a part of a national UAW strike against GM. Kenny Carrier, a GM worker for 27 years and a rank-and-file leader in his UAW Local 722, reflects that there were many demands that were not won in the 2019 strike, but the new national leadership of the UAW makes him more optimistic this time around. 

Several workers say that while they hope this strike won’t go as long as the 2019 strike, they’re willing to strike for however long it takes. Workers are already contributing to a shed of firewood on the picket line in case the strike continues through the colder months. 

Climate-Safe Energy Production–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2022

Climate-safe energy is being produced locally all over the country in ways that also produce jobs and increase racial, social, and economic justice – fulfilling the basic principles of the Green New Deal.

Protecting the climate requires meeting the original Green New Deal proposal’s goal of 100% of national power generation from renewable sources within ten years.[1] That requires greatly expanding climate-safe sources of energy. It involves an unprecedented transformation of the energy system, and that requires national investment and planning. But much of the transformation will actually be composed of local building blocks – and those can begin right now. Indeed, hundreds of local initiatives around the country, ranging from community solar to municipal ownership to local microgrids, are already expanding renewable energy production.

Sunlight, Jobs, and Justice

Solar gardens are sprouting up all over Denver.

On November 3, 2020, Denver voters overwhelmingly approved Ballot Measure 2A, the Climate Protection Fund, to raise approximately $40 million per year dedicated to climate action. As stated in the ballot measure, the intent of this fund is to “fund programs to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and adapt to climate change. Funding should maximize investments in communities of color, under-resourced communities and communities most vulnerable to climate change.”[2]

Community solar gardens use photovoltaic (PV) panels to produce electricity from sunlight for an entire neighborhood. Now such solar gardens are dotting sites owned and financed by the City of Denver, including rooftops, parking lots, and vacant lands. The power generated from the solar gardens will be shared between city facilities, income-qualified residents, and publicly accessible electric vehicle charging stations.

In accord with the principles of the Green New Deal, Denver’s solar garden program has a strong justice dimension. Since Denver owns the project, it can set its own standards. Ten percent of the energy generated by the solar gardens is allocated to low-income housing through the Denver Housing Authority. An additional 10 percent will be allocated to low-income households through Energy Outreach Colorado, and will be exempt from subscription fees. A paid workforce training program available to Denver residents will provide 10 percent of the city and county’s solar workforce.

The solar gardens are designed to contribute to the goal of Denver’s “80 x 50 Climate Action Plan” to transition Denver to 100 percent renewable electricity for municipal buildings by 2025; achieve 100 percent community-wide renewable electricity by 2030; and reduce Denver’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent, as compared to a 2005 baseline, by 2050.[3]

A Brief Recap of the Fight Against Line 3

By Les P - Washington Socialist, September 2021

On August 23, a DC protest against construction of the Line 3 pipeline rallied against Joe Biden and his Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, calling on the administration to cancel the pipeline. Two days later, on August 25, Indigenous leaders led more than 2,000 to the Minnesota state capitol to make the same demand of Governor Tim Walz. As construction on the pipeline nears completion, it feels necessary to recount the history of Line 3’s development in order to consider how socialists might commit to the fight against its completion.

In 2014, Enbridge Inc. — a multinational oil and gas pipeline company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta — proposed an expansion to its existing Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline. The pipeline begins in Alberta and is set to end in Superior, Wisconsin — cutting across greater areas of Canada, North Dakota, Wisconsin and (pending construction completion) northern Minnesota; that includes three different Indigenous reservations in Minnesota and land that, according to the Treaty of 1855, Ojibwe people have the right to use for hunting, fishing and gathering wild rice.

Ever since Enbridge submitted its proposal, Indigenous organizers and activists like Winona LaDuke, along with tribal governments, climate justice activists and Minnesota DSA chapters, have fought furiously to stop the additional construction of a pipeline that, in 1991, was the culprit of the worst inland oil spill in American history. More than 600 people have been arrested or received citations related to protests against Line 3 according to a recent Guardian report, with Native water protectors leading the charge. Protesters have blocked key roads on Enbridge’s pipeline route, chained themselves to construction equipment and stood up to Minnesota law enforcement which received $750,000 in order to police Line 3 protesters back in April.

Throughout the last nine months, activists have persistently called on Governor Walz and President Biden to cancel the pipeline. Importantly, this is within their powers and not without precedent: Biden took similar action against the Keystone XL pipeline early in his term, and in May, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a plan to revoke the easement granted to Enbridge for another pipeline, Line 5. But in a too-predictable concession to the fossil fuel industry, both Walz and Biden have allowed Enbridge’s permits to stand. The Biden White House has supported the Trump administration’s federal approval of the project, and despite once tweeting that “any line that goes through treaty lands is a nonstarter for me,” Walz, too, has approved the pipeline’s construction.

Proponents of Line 3, including Walz, argue that replacing an aging pipeline is an environmentally responsible move. To make that argument during the same month that the IPCC released its climate report — which states, not with any subtlety, that we needed to move away from fossil fuel energy yesterday — is laughable. If completed, Line 3 will carry enough oil to produce approximately 170 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to around 50 coal power plants. Pipeline development also indicates a broader state commitment to fossil fuel dependency: a devastating policy decision with ramifications for our planet and the generations to come. We don’t need a new pipeline; we need there to be no pipelines.

States of Change: What the Green New Deal can learn from the New Deal In the states

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, November 2020

With the likelihood of a federal government sharply divided between Republicans and Democrats, states are likely to play an expanded role in shaping the American future. The aspirations for a Green New Deal may have support from the presidency and the House, but they are likely to be fiercely contested in the Senate and perhaps the Supreme Court. Bold action to address climate and inequality could emerge at the state level. Are there lessons we can learn from the original New Deal about the role of states in a highly conflicted era of reform?

The original New Deal of the 1930s was a national program led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But states played a critical role in developing the New Deal. The same could be true of tomorrow’s Green New Deal.

There is organizing for a Green New Deal in every one of the fifty states. But our federal system is often ambiguous about what can and can’t be done at a state level and how action at a state level can affect national policy and vice versa. The purpose of this discussion paper is to explore what we can learn about the role of states in the original New Deal that may shed light on the strategies, opportunities, and pitfalls for the Green New Deal of today and tomorrow.

Read the text (PDF).

Union leader discusses organized labor’s role in preventing climate change

By Matt O’Connor - The Badger Herald, September 11, 2017

350 Madison, a non-profit organization that advocates for climate prevention and social justice issues, hosted a speaker to discuss the intersection of unionized labor and climate change prevention.

The speaker, Kevin Gundlach, president of the South Central Federation of Labor with the AFL-CIO, spoke about how unionized labor will play an important role in the trajectory of climate change and global warming in future years, and how unions are the key to advocacy for all progressive issues.

“If they bust organized labor first, they can go after everything else even more intensely than before,” Gundlach said with regards to those who oppose progressive political issues.

Gundlach said those who are in unions are statistically more likely to be supportive of progressive political issues, which is why he said it is of the utmost importance to preserve and protect unions and their members.

This fact is proven, Gundlach said, by the fact that states with the most union members are also the states that are most supportive of progressive politics.

Coincidentally, Lundbach said, on average, northeastern and northwestern states have the highest union membership and southern states have the least union members, with New York and South Carolina having the highest and lowest membership, respectively.

One of the reasons so many working class people have voted for Republicans in recent Wisconsin elections is because people will always fight for their job over fighting for something abstract, like climate change prevention or finding a sustainable renewable energy source, Gundlach said. 

Changes must be made in how climate change prevention is advocated for to remedy this fact, Gundlach said. One of these changes must include finding an environmentally sustainable alternative source of steady employment for workers who are currently employed in highly pollutant industries.

“What we need is not just a transition of energy, but a just transition for these workers,” Gundlach said.

Breaking the Rules for Profit: An Analysis of the Frac Sand Industry’s Violations of State Regulations & Manipulation of Local Governments in Wisconsin

By Stephanie Porter - Land Stewradship Project, November 2014

The frac sand industry has rapidly proliferated across Wisconsin, with the number of facilities multiplying by more than tenfold within four years,from 10 in 2010 to 135in 2014. The Land Stewardship Project reviewed readily available public data from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR)and media reports to determine what conclusions can be drawn about this industry and its rapid growth. We found that:

  • Of the forty-seven frac sand companies currently operating in Wisconsin, twenty-four or 51% have seriously violated DNR regulations, manipulated local governments, or engaged in influence peddling and conflicts of interest.
  • Twenty of forty-seven companies (43%) not only violated DNR regulations, but they required substantial regulatory action to come into compliance —or, even worse, never came into compliance even after court action and fines. (One county-level regulator was quoted as saying “citations are pretty much ineffective for this industry.”
  • In total, between 2011 and 2014 there were at least nineteen cases of frac sand companies abusing the annexation process to avoid regulations, engaging in influence peddling, and creating conflicts of interest in local governments.

The industry in both Wisconsin and Minnesota has claimed that violations of state regulations and abuses of the public trust are isolated incidents by “bad apples” or new, inexperienced companies. However, the data paints a picture of an industry in which violations are the norm, not the exception, and insider dealing, conflicts of interest, and influence peddling are common.

As recently as October 6, for instance, a mine in Trempealeau County was shut down for operating without proper permits, prompting a frustrated local regulator to say “they are just running wild, with no permit at all.” This recent case was not the first time a violation this basic has occurred. In 2011, Unimin Corporation –which has been mining for over 40 years –began constructing a site without a permit and continued with construction even after being notified by the DNR of their violation. As seen in these examples and the many others detailed below, this is an industry that consistently ignores state regulations enacted for the sake of the health of local citizens, rural communities, and the land.

Read the report (PDF).

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