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Jane McAlevey

What will it take to win a Green New Deal?

By David Camfield - New Socialist, June 10, 2019

The push for a Green New Deal (GND) that’s become a big topic of political discussion in the US has come north. At the beginning of May 2019, the Pact for a GND was launched publicly in Canada. It was endorsed by a range of organizations and prominent individuals. Behind the scenes, staff from a number of major NGOs including Greenpeace and Leadnow are playing key roles in the initiative.

The Pact calls the GND “a vision of rapid, inclusive and far-reaching transition, to slash emissions, protect critical biodiversity, meet the demands of the multiple crises we face, and create over a million jobs in the process. It would involve the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) including the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), dozens of other pieces of legislation, new programs and institutions, and a huge mobilization calling on the creativity and participation of all of us.”

The Pact sets out “two fundamental principles” for a GND: “1. It must meet the demands of Indigenous Knowledge and science and cut Canada’s emissions in half in 11 years while protecting cultural and biological diversity”, and “2. It must leave no one behind and build a better present and future for all of us.”

Over 100 town hall meetings have been held in cities, towns and smaller communities to discuss what should be in a GND, and more are planned. The results of the discussions are supposed to be reported back and used to develop a package of GND policies. It seems that the contents of the package will eventually be decided by some of the people, mostly NGO staff, doing the work of the Pact for a GND Coalition. The Coalition, however, will not be campaigning publicly between June 30th and the federal election due to election advertising regulations. The GND policy package will be launched after the federal election, with the Coalition talking internally about doing some kind of mass mobilization around it.

Municipalist Syndicalism: From the Workplace to the Community

By Alexander Kolokotronis - ROARMag, October 2019

Union membership in the United States is at its lowest level in decades. Nonetheless, unions have hit a 50-year high in public approval. Enthusiasm for unions is not manifesting solely in polls, but also in shop floor organizing by young and lower middle-aged workers.

Simultaneously, the 2010s have seen a proliferation of social movements focused on race, gender and other forms of identity. Despite this simultaneity, it is unclear if present-day union structures and leadership are capable of learning from and incorporating the insights of such social movements.

At a national scale, unions have been slow to diversify their leadership, with continued underrepresentation of women and people of color. Even where there is such representation, it is unclear if unions are positioned to convert this newfound mass approval into an inclusive rising tide for the entire labor movement — let alone for, and towards, socialism.

In this context, what should socialists opposed to all forms of domination and exploitation be doing about labor unions? Through what framework might insights and personnel offered by social movements be learned from and incorporated into unions?

A partial answer has come from a broad swath of socialists: rank-and-file power. This means union members exercising control over their unions, rather than union bureaucrats or officials doing so. The 2018 re-release of Kim Moody’s “The Rank-and-File Strategy” has most widely propagated this approach. Moody’s rank-and-file strategy has become the terms of debate within Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and a point of discussion for socialists in general.

However, this strategy overlooks the potential for rank-and-file interventions on various forms of structural racism. Such interventions translate into a rank-and-file strategy that does not consign itself to a simplistic focus on bread-and-butter and the point of production but rather points itself towards the interwoven wealth issues of racialized housing and education. This brings us to a modified union position that accounts for and immediately acts upon the dynamics of an immediate and racialized lived-space: municipalist syndicalism.

Municipalist syndicalism broadly means democratizing unions as a means to democratizing local and regional public power. This is done through advancing an anti-racist dual power agenda for the labor movement by building and acting with communities of color on issues beyond the job. Jobs are simply not enough, even as unions often exclusively focus on them as a means of community empowerment while harmfully conceding total control over land use. Yet, as Marnie Brady notes, “Pitting decent jobs against decent housing is a false dilemma,” particularly where the legacy of “redlining” (housing discrimination and wealth differentiating residential segregation) is still with us.

Thus, a municipalist syndicalist rank-and-file strategy begins with pluralistic “militant minorities” democratizing unions so as to include the rank-and-file of neighborhood, housing and other municipal struggles. It means reorienting labor unions towards funneling resources into constructing and sustaining vibrant tenant unions that in the long term seek to democratize residency and bring about a housing and homes guarantee and reducing harmfully long commutes.

Just as Big Capital increasingly controls real estate, making the lives of workers more precarious, One Big Union is needed to combat this. It means One Big Union includes not just labor unions, but tenant unions and those struggles addressing structural racism head on — and this One Big Union finally takes municipal and regional power and democratizes it.

When labor fails to do this, it fails surrounding communities and fails itself in the process, as shown by the case of 1968 Ocean Hill-Brownsville.

Labor organizer Jane McAlevey on why strikes are the only way out of our current crisis

Jane McAlevey interviewed by Sarah Freeman-Woolpert - Waging Nonviolence, April 10, 2019

Over the past year, a wave of teacher strikes — from Los Angeles to West Virginia — have won major victories for public education, including salary increases and smaller class sizes. Inspired in part by the Chicago teachers strike in 2012, they drew on years of grassroots organizing and strategic planning to build stronger unions and establish clear demands to address the major problems affecting the public education sector today.

According to longtime environmental and labor organizer Jane McAlevey, this recent wave of teacher strikes is also the perfect example of how change happens. It begins by developing a deep understanding of power, which then evolves into building small campaigns within a larger struggle to achieve measurable goals — all the while engaging in deep listening across differences, instead of self-selecting into single-minded silos.

Throughout her prolific writing — including two books, “Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell)” and “No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Guilded Age” — McAlevey lays out the foundations for what she calls a “credible plan to win.” A vital part of that, she argues, is understanding the mechanics and strategic steps of winning a campaign — something that is best achieved through the training and mentoring of emerging organizers and activists.

After her own period of learning — while being a student activist and living with farm workers in Nicaragua during the Sandanista revolution — McAlevey has dedicated her adult life to building grassroots power for progressive change. And right now, she says that mass strikes are the key to winning progressive victories in the Trump era. Ultimately, as she explained to me in the following conversation, labor strikes carry invaluable lessons for fighting — and winning — strategic grassroots campaigns.

There’s an important lesson to be learned in realizing that strikes do not just happen because people get pissed off. [In Los Angeles,] they had four years of really serious work leading up to the strike in January, with deadlines and backwards planning attached to it. There were eight serious structure tests conducted leading up to that strike — that’s what good planning and analysis looks like.

A crucial element in their understanding of power was knowing that they could not win that strike without the community on their side. They held huge meetings that were open to parents and students, not just teachers, to set the contract demands. Understanding that we can’t win traditional labor fights anymore without bringing the whole community with us is crucial.

What does this wave of teacher strikes tell us about effective organizing practices, and what are some of the wider implications of mass strikes at this political moment?

Organizing to Win a Green New Deal

By Jane McAlevey - Jacobin, March 23, 2019

Demands for real climate justice got a welcome boost recently as youth walked out of schools worldwide on March 15, urged to go “on strike” by sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. Images in mainstream and social media exploded with pictures of young people marching into plazas across the world, confronting intransigent elected officials and speaking truth to power. Youth have always brought two essential ingredients to social movements: moral compass and an exciting, unique form of energy. Their vision is bold, and they are uncompromising. But to halt and reverse the carbon economy, save the planet, and create a future with jobs that youth will look forward to requires far more power and a serious strategy.

In the US, discussions about the climate crisis of late have fixated on the Green New Deal proposed by Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey. Headlines have alternated between descriptions of the resolution’s big vision and more skeptical assessments of its prospects — including from important potential backers: “AFL-CIO criticizes Green New Deal, calling it ‘not achievable or realistic,’” reads one recent headline. The backdrop to the debates raging in the first quarter of 2019 have been a nonstop series of extreme storms predicted by climate scientists since the 1980s. So-called bomb cyclones hit the Midwest, massive rainstorms battered California after a devastating wildfire season, and killer tornadoes hit the South, with crops being wiped out. People are dying because of the lack of preparation in dealing with the crisis.

And while the recent letter from the AFL-CIO criticizing the GND may seem like a willful refusal to face the scale of the crisis, we need considerably more than a bold vision to get labor to come out swinging for the Green New Deal. It simply doesn’t matter that everyone on the Left rejects the divisive frame of jobs-versus-environment — the Left has yet to prove it can move from rhetoric to reality about green jobs.

To win, it’s crucial that we heed advice from union organizer Nato Green. In a recent article about how public service unions like the one he works for, local SEIU 1021 in California, can — and must — negotiate for climate justice, he wrote, “Any seasoned union campaigner worth her salt loves a contract fight because it has a hard deadline that focuses everyone’s attention—expiration and a strike threat. Climate science gives us a new deadline and an opportunity to show that we’re up to the task. We have 12 years.”

Green is certainly right that good union organizers love a contract fight. If we take the twelve years outlined in the recent IPCC report as our deadline for drastically cutting carbon emissions, what’s a credible plan to win by 2030?

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