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Power, Workers, and the Fight for Climate Justice

By Tara Olivetree (Ehrcke) - Midnight Sun, July 12, 2021

Power

Who has more power than Shell Oil? This is one of the first questions a climate activist should ask themselves, because without finding an answer, we can’t win.

The power of the fossil fuel industry is massive. Fossil fuel companies are worth at least $18 trillion in stock equity, which represents about a quarter of total global stock markets. These vast resources and their outsized share of the world economy allow the industry to continually assert their interests, no matter the destruction this entails. They do so through any means available, of which there are many.

The notorious work of Exxon in first understanding, and then deeply misrepresenting, the science on climate change is one example. After generously funding its own climate research, and being told explicitly in 1977 that global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels was likely to lead to a two- to three-degree increase in global temperatures, Exxon embarked on an industry-wide quest to promote doubt in the science. This lengthy “fake news” campaign cost millions of dollars, and arguably set back the climate movement by decades.

However, the power of the fossil fuel industry goes well beyond the manipulation of global public thought. From the time of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the history of modern capitalism has been replete with wars fought over fossil fuels. These have served to maintain strategic interests and, just as importantly, the profits of fossil fuel companies. A map of twentieth-century imperial conquest would show the disproportionate number of wars waged in the Middle East, where the world’s largest and cheapest oil deposits lie. As Alan Greenspan, a former chair of the US Federal Reserve, stated about one of these wars: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

How, then, do we go about exerting equivalent force, in order to dismantle the fossil fuel industry within the limited timeline outlined by scientists, while at the same time building an equitable, habitable, and just society?

There are a number of competing answers to this question. 

The True Price of Coal

By Kim Kelly - The Real News, June 8, 2021

It’s been over two months since 1,100 union coal miners in Brookwood, Alabama, hit the picket line, citing unfair labor practices against Warrior Met Coal. The strike itself has gained more national attention, which has also put a spotlight on the harsh tolls that coal mining takes on workers, their bodies, and their families. From work-related diseases like black lung and silicosis to methane explosions and roof cave-ins, coal mining has always been a dangerous job, and coal miners today still face many hazards. In the latest installment of “Battleground Brookwood,” TRNN contributor Kim Kelly continues her coverage of the strike at Warrior Met Coal by investigating the true price of coal production.

Suds and Socialism Forum: Workers and the Environment

Bristol Earth Strike: Action for Earth Day

By Earth Strike UK - Bristol Earth Strike, April 21, 2021

What is Earth Day?

Earth Day was started on 22nd April 1970 and has continued annually since then. Each year, on 22nd April, a wide range of events take place globally with the aims of enacting transformative changes to tackle environmental crises and build a sustainable future.

Why is this important?

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned us that we must cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, and reach carbon neutrality by 2050, or we risk the planet heating beyond 1.5 degrees. If we fail to curb our carbon emissions and the average global temperature continues to increase, we risk triggering a climate breakdown that we will have no hope of stopping, causing global devastation.

Despite this stark warning by the scientific community, many governments and employers continue to act as if there were no crisis at all.

To bring about the change needed will require holding all sectors of the global economy accountable for their role in the environmental crisis and calling for bold, creative, and impactful solutions. This will require action at all levels, and we as workers have a part to play in ensuring a global just transition, the sustainability of our workplaces, and the compliance of our industries with scientific climate targets.

Regardless of how important you feel the Climate and Ecological emergency is, changes to the economy to address these issues are already happening. We feel it is important that Workers are fully involved in how these changes happen so that they can secure the rights and livelihoods of themselves and future generations.

Socialist Rifle Association Staff Join the IWW

By Staff - Industrial Workers of the World, March 13, 2021

WICHITA, Kansas — The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is excited to announce that workers of the Socialist Rifle Association (SRA) have recently organized with majority support as the Socialist Rifle Association Workers United (SRAWU) under the IWW. As of March 13, SRAWU has submitted a request for voluntary recognition, which is guaranteed by the SRA’s bylaws. SRAWU is thrilled to begin the process of negotiating their contract. Their key demands include a Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) policy and the right of union representation at any Assembly meeting wherein matters affecting staff pay, hours, benefits, advancement, or layoffs may be discussed or voted on.

The reputation of the Socialist Rifle Association is that of radical democracy and a vigorous pro-labor attitude. The workers of the SRA have gone too long without workplace guarantees against harassment as well as a lack of representation in matters concerning their working conditions. This has too often led to wonderful, hard-working and talented individuals experiencing burnout and in some cases quitting. Given this, unionizing the SRA workspace is the next logical step in the existence of the organization.

“In 2018 when we started the Socialist Rifle Association, I could never have imagined it growing to the point that it has. So many amazing people have poured their sweat and tears into this organization, and unfortunately many of them have been burned in the process. It’s time for the staff and volunteers of the SRA to unite and organize for their own wellbeing while we continue to do everything we can to support our chapters and membership,” said Faye Ecklar, Director of Mutual Aid.

Socialist Rifle Association workers hold dear the belief that the best and most productive way to advance the goals of the SRA is to work collaboratively on making a productive, safe and healthy workplace.

Nikol Heathcock, Chapters Director, stated, “I am excited about the opportunity to be involved in building something like this for our staff, and personally I’m looking forward to being a union member!”

The Socialist Rifle Association Workers United is asking that you show your support for their unionization efforts by engaging on the union’s Twitter, as well as telling the SRA how excited you are that their workers are unionizing!

Bows and Arrows: Indigenous Workers, IWW Local 526, and Syndicalism on the Vancouver Docks

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom.Org, February 17, 2021

Few may be aware that the first union on the waterfront of Vancouver was organized by Indigenous workers, mostly Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh. And it was organized on an explicitly syndicalist basis as Local 526 of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW group would become known as the Bows and Arrows, a name that spoke to their active and more politically militant perspective and commitment to Indigenous solidarity. The Bows and Arrows organized on a multicultural/multiracial foundation of class solidarity.

While the lifespan of IWW Local 526 was brief (formally only a year while informally for about seven years) it had a lasting impact on working class organizing on the waterfront, anti-racism and racial solidarity on the docks, and on political organizing in Indigenous communities. It also showed the pivotal role of organizing within the logistical chains of global capitalism in sabotaging resource extractive industries, while providing a model of work organization that sustained community relevant work and work cycles rather than the single career monoculture of industrial capitalism at the time.

As historian Andrew Parnaby suggests, the Bows and Arrows:

"Join[ed] in the broader upsurge of support for the Wobblies that took place among loggers, miners, railroad workers, and seafarers prior to the Great War…Reformers, rebels, and revolutionaries: collectively, they were responsible for a level of militancy on the waterfront that was unmatched by most other occupations, provincially or nationally. Vancouver waterfront workers went on strike at least sixteen times between 1889 and 1923; the four largest and most dramatic strikes were in 1909, 1918, 1919, and 1923." (2008, 9)

While Local 526 would finally be broken through battles with waterfront employers that have been described as titanic, these workers provided important and lasting examples of working class militance, workplace organizing tactics, racial solidarity and anti-racism, and cultural defense. They offer a critical model of syndicalism in diverse workforces and changing economic conditions within a context of settler colonial capitalism.

Review: Blood Runs Coal Tells the Notorious Assassination of a Mine Workers Union Reformer

By John Lepley - Labor Notes, January 20, 2021

Most people are familiar with the politically motivated killings that punctuated the 1960s. From Medgar Evers to Robert Kennedy, bloodshed galvanized the antiwar, civil rights, and student movements, but eroded trust in government and higher education. The labor movement was no exception to the rule.

On New Year’s Eve 1969 in Clarksville, Pennsylvania, three gunmen shot Mine Workers (UMWA) leader Joseph “Jock” Yablonksi, his wife Margaret, and their daughter Charlotte as they slept. The killers were petty criminals from Cleveland, one of whom had ties to the union by marriage.

This horrific moment is the subject of Mark Bradley’s book Blood Runs Coal: The Yablonski Murders and the Battle for the United Mine Workers of America.

Jock Yablonski is a tragic figure in the classical sense: a good person killed while trying to do the right thing. Bradley tells the story well—although readers of Labor Notes will wince at his frequent references to “union bosses” and “big labor,” and his focus on attorneys that overshadows miners.

Green Workers: Organize!

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 2021

The two fastest growing occupations in America are solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians. There are nearly 3.4 million workers in the green energy sector alone, outnumbering fossil fuel workers by a three-to-one margin.

Now workers in this burgeoning industry can join the Green Workers Alliance. A project of the Partnership for Working Families, the GWA was recently launched to organize current and potential “green workers” to win policies that can create good jobs by fighting climate change. The GWA aims to thereby take on the twin crises of environmental injustice and economic inequality. The Alliance is building on the online-to-offline organizing tactics of the United for Respect and Gig Workers Rising campaigns. All green workers–and anyone who wants to work in this sector –is welcome to join. If you are a Green Worker, or want to be one, visit https://www.greenworkers.org.

Sunrise Movement Staff Form Union with Communications Workers of America

By Zoe PiSierra - Sunrise Movement, December 15, 2020

With Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) Serving as Sunrise Movement’s Third-party Validator, More than 95% of Staff Vote in Support of Forming Union with CWA Local 1180;

Sunrise Workers Take Important Step Towards Stronger and More Accessible Workplace with Recognition and Support from Management;

Sunrise Movement Becomes Latest Nonprofit to Organize, with Less than 5% of Nonprofit Workers in Unions Nationally

WASHINGTON - Today, workers with Sunrise Movement, a youth-led movement organization advocating to stop climate change and create millions of American jobs, voted to form a union with Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1180 in New York. More than 95% of Sunrise Movement staff members voted in support of forming a union with CWA, and management has agreed to recognize the staff union.

In a virtual meeting today with Sunrise Movement staff and management, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) verified the union vote count as Sunrise’s third-party validator, announcing support from 79 out of 82 workers.

“As a youth-led grassroots organization dedicated to climate justice and bringing millions of living-wage jobs to the American workforce, forming a union was a clear step of action for us at Sunrise, and one that we believe embodies our movement’s values and will guide its growth,” said Gabbi Pierce, Internal Communications Coordinator at Sunrise Movement and member of CWA Local 1180. “We know that workplaces are stronger when workers have a voice and are empowered through unionization, and we are thankful for the recognition of our union by Sunrise management, who has supported our organizing efforts from the start. This is a huge step for our movement in our fight against climate change, and for nonprofit organizations everywhere which are increasingly advocating in support of worker rights.”

“The organizing efforts by Sunrise workers show that unions are essential in creating a foundation for a strong, equitable environment that elevates the voices of all workers,” said Senator Markey. “I’m proud of these passionate young people who embody the true value of unions in the strongest traditions of the labor movement and are stepping out as advocates for workers’ rights and good American jobs. Their dedication to empowering their team with strong support from management sets an important precedent for our country's workplaces.”

Why Unions Are the Key to Passing a Green New Deal

By Dharna Noor - Gizomodo, September 25, 2020

There’s a persistent conservative myth that the clean energy transition must come at the expense of employment. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. The Congressional resolution on a Green New Deal, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey last February, includes a proposal guarantee employment to all those who want it. And increasingly, climate activists are focusing on the potential to create millions of good jobs in clean energy.

These pro-worker proposals—and the knowledge that it will take an economy-wide effort to kick fossil fuels and the curb to avert climate catastrophe—have won the platform support from swaths of the labor movement. Yet some powerful unions still oppose the sweeping proposal. The president of the AFL-CIO—the largest federation of unions in the U.S.—criticized the Green New Deal resolution, and heads of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the United Mine Workers of America, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have outright opposed it. That poses a political roadblock to achieving the necessary transformation of the U.S. economy. 

“The Green New Deal movement needs broader support from the labor movement to be successful,” Joe Uehlein, founding president of the Labor Network for Sustainability and former secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Department, said. “As long as labor isn’t a central player in this movement, they will they have the power to block pretty much anything. on Capitol Hill. They contribute in electoral campaigns. They’re a very powerful force.”

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