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Global Climate Jobs Conference: Next Steps

How movements can maintain their radical vision while winning practical reforms

By Mark Engler and Paul Engler - Waging Nonviolence, April 12, 2022

Forty years of struggle by Brazil's landless workers movement offers lessons on engaging the system without being co-opted.

Ever since it launched its first audacious land occupations in the mid-1980s, in which groups of impoverished farmers took over unused estates in Southern Brazil and turned them into cooperative farms, the Landless Workers Movement (known in Portuguese as the Movement dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST) has stood as one of the most innovative and inspiring social movements in the world. By 2016, its estimated 1.5 million members had established 2,000 permanent settlements throughout Brazil, with some 350,000 families winning land by organizing for their rights. By the start of the pandemic, the movement also maintained more than 170 community health clinics and 66 food processing facilities, which quickly became vital centers of mutual aid, as the group began giving out huge quantities of food to people in need.

In addition to using direct action to win land reform, the MST has pioneered a program of radical schooling for Brazilian youth and adults, especially those living in rural areas. As of 2018, the movement was operating in 2,000 schools — with thousands of MST-aligned teachers instructing upwards of 250,000 students. Remarkably, although state and local governments fund and administer many of these schools, the MST has been able to place its own teachers and implement a radical pedagogy. This includes study of agrarian reform and social justice movements, as well as the ideas behind agroecology — a model of sustainable agriculture that rejects corporate agribusiness.

For movements in the U.S. and beyond wondering how they can engage with the system without being co-opted, the MST offers a powerful example. Many social movement scholars believe that movements can institutionalize their wins over the long-term by having the state and mainstream political parties adopt their demands and programs. However, these scholars also contend that such institutionalization comes at a price: too often, as movement programs are incorporated into mainstream structures, grassroots forces become demobilized, dull their radical edge and lose their ability to exercise disruptive power.

Rebecca Tarlau, a professor of education at Penn State University, believes that it does not have to be this way. In her 2019 book “Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers’ Movement Transformed Brazilian Education,” Tarlau argues that the MST provides a model for how activists can use a strategy of “contentious co-governance” to win practical reforms from the state while also resisting cooptation.

We recently spoke with Tarlau to discuss this strategy — as well as the wider lessons we can learn from the 40-year struggle of Brazil’s landless workers. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Understanding Sunrise, Part 2: Organizing Methods

By Dyanna Jaye and William Lawrence - Convergence, March 24, 2022

Sunrise melded mass protest, electoral work, and distributed organizing to great effect, but 2020 upended its plans and forced a reassessment.

Sunrise Movement grew from a labor of love by 12 young people, including the two of us, into the most prominent climate justice organization in the country. We put the Green New Deal on the map, strengthened the Left insurgency in the Democratic Party, and helped drive youth turnout to defeat Trump in 2020. Climate change became a political priority for the Democratic Party, and Sunrise directly influenced Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

In the last year, though, despite a few impactful protests demanding ambition and urgency from Congress, Sunrise members and observers alike have noted a loss of strategic clarity and organizing power compared to 2017 through 2020. And it’s not just Sunrise: the entire Left has struggled to make the jump from punching upwards in the Trump era to winning material reforms in the Biden era.

In this essay, we’ll pull back the layers of Sunrise’s organizing model: how we actually recruited young people and united them in a structure for collective action. We’ll first discuss the major influences on Sunrise’s organizing and run through how it all played out in practice, the good and the bad.

We share a diagnosis that a central shortcoming in Sunrise’s organizing model was the absence of a sustained method of mass organizing at a local level, which left us nowhere to go once we could no longer rely on the fast-but-shallow growth of distributed organizing methods. We’re proud of the movement’s accomplishments while humble about its shortcomings. We offer our reflection in the practice of learning together in public; we hope our transparency can empower the next generation of movement builders—in Sunrise and across movements—to lead transformative organizing for the next era.

TV Review: Workers of Deep Space Unite!

By Eric Dirnbach and Ksenia Fir - Labor Notes, March 24, 2022

This is part of an occasional series where we look back at the “labor episode” of a TV show. The Star Trek series Deep Space Nine has a great union episode with lessons about organizing in a customer service industry. Spoilers ahead for the fourth-season episode “Bar Association”!

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) is generally considered the most overtly political of the Star Trek franchise. Unlike other iterations of the show, it is set not on a Federation Starfleet ship, but a space station populated by individuals of diverse races whose cultures are often in stark contrast with the post-scarcity, post-capitalist Federation.

The fourth-season episode “Bar Association”—a must-watch for Trekkies interested in unions—depicts a labor struggle at the station’s prominent entertainment spot: Quark’s Bar, Grill, Gaming House and Holosuite Arcade. Bar owner Quark (played by Armin Shimerman) is a Ferengi—a member of a non-human species whose culture is very capitalistic and misogynistic. Their behavior is strictly controlled by The Rules of Acquisition, a set of tenets like “Employees are the rungs on the ladder of success—don’t hesitate to step on them.”

The workers at Quark’s Bar fall into two categories: Ferengi male waiters (Ferengi women are forbidden to work) and “Dabo girls”—a diverse group of beautiful women from non-Federation planets who act as eye candy and encourage guests to spend more at a roulette-style game. Dabo girls experience frequent sexual harassment from patrons and Quark himself.

Understanding Sunrise, Part 1: Strategy

By William Lawrence - Convergence, March 14, 2022

Sunrise Movement made climate change a key political issue, but new conditions require new theory and strategy.

The state of Sunrise Movement, one of the more successful and visible U.S. Left organizations to emerge in the last five years, reflects trends in the broader Left. We hit a high-water mark with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ February 2020 victory in the Nevada caucus. Shortly after, the revenge of the Democratic establishment and the COVID pandemic halted all momentum and put Sunrise into a rear-guard attempt to salvage what could be won in a Biden administration. The underwhelming first year of that administration has left us floundering.

Today, a private and public reckoning is well underway. A new generation of leaders is taking account of Sunrise’s successes and failures, and working to design the next life of the movement. Early Sunrise leaders—of which I am one—are in the process of moving on, and handing over leadership of this youth organization to a more youthful cohort.

As a leader in Sunrise’s development from its founding in 2017 through early 2021, I feel obliged to offer an evaluation of our strategy and methods. My aim is to offer a detailed account of Sunrise’s aims and influences, in order that the next generation of strategist-organizers both inside and outside Sunrise may learn from what we did well, while overcoming our limitations.

You can consider just about every word of this essay as a self-critique and a practice of learning in public. As ever, I write with deep appreciation for all the climate justice fighters who find a place to place their hope amidst the looming dread of this crisis.

Part 1 of this essay, which you are reading now, focuses on Sunrise’s strategy, including our demands, rhetoric, and relation to the US party system. Part 2 will look at Sunrise’s methods of organizing.

I hope these essays not only illuminate our specific choices and why we made them, but demonstrate how the theoretical concepts on which we build our organizations actually shape their development. Sunrise’s successes owe much to the theories underpinning our strategy and methods, and our failures reveal much about where these theories fall short. I hope my reflections on these recent experiences may aid in developing better theory to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Green Union Organizing: Avoiding the "Jobs versus Environment" Trap

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, February 7, 2022

Note to readers: the intended audience for this piece includes environmental justice activists and/or workers sympathetic to them (and it should go without saying that there may be some overlap between the two):

As the climate and ecological crises deepen front line and working class communities are rising up to oppose the continued capitalist extractivism that continues to render their communities, homes, and sacred lands in to sacrifice zones.

Although this is not a new phenomena, it has been happening more and more. Typically, one of the favorite tricks in the capitalist playbook is to mobilize their employees--very often unionized employees, particularly those represented by conservative [2] business unions [1]--to parrot their corporate talking points, (at public hearings or in various forms of media) and usually these frame the issue as one of community and environment versus workers and jobs. Usually such spin is mostly false, but often the conservative business union officials and the rank file members buy into it. To make matters worse, the mainstream press, which inevitably serves capitalist interests, dutifly repeats and spreads the narrative. Such efforts are intended to isolate the community opposition, and either induce agencies, tasked with regulating the corporations in question, to take the corporate side, or--more likely--to provide cover for regulators already tacitly under industry capture to affirm their favorability towards the industry. The bosses know this trick often works, and they have been using it for over a half century. The trick isn't infallible, however, and this text is intended as a beginning guide on neutralizing its effects.

People's Utility Justice Playbook​

By Yesenia Rivera and Johanna Bozuwa - Energy Democracy Project, October 2021

Have you ever wondered who is in charge of your electricity? And why?

The People’s Utility Justice Playbook has two components:

  1. a “History of Utilities” report to summarize the history of utilities for everyone to understand how our current energy system originated.
  2. a “People’s Utility Justice Playbook” to expose the tactics from electric utilities that are undermining community’s efforts, so we can build our organizing strength—to not only fight back but also to build the democratic energy system for climate justice.

This is the basic information we need to fight back against energy utilities attempting to slow or stop progress toward economic and climate justice.

History of Utilities​

Electric utilities have expanded into almost every aspect of our lives to become one of the most powerful and concentrated industries on Earth. To have a better understanding of what we’re fighting against, we first need to learn about the history of energy utilities! This PDF summarizes the entire timeline and how the rise of energy democracy came about.

People's Utility Justice Playbook

In order to fight the industry-owned utilities’ tactics, we need our own strategies for combat!

We have our very own playbook sourced from energy justice activists on the ground. They suggest strategies and tactics they employ when fighting against utilities that anyone fighting against utilities could use!

Read the History (PDF).

Read the Playbook (PDF).

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. 

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.

A Worker's Green New Deal

By Paul Prescod, Lara Skinner, and Zakia Elliot - Science for the People, October 16, 2020

Science for the People's second teach-in on a Worker's Green New Deal. This is the seventh, and final, of our series of virtual teach-ins on A People's Green New Deal. For more information visit this page.

Related magazine article: "Dignity Over Dumping: The Fight for Climate Justice and a Just Transition for Sanitation Workers" by Zakia Elliott, Alison Kenner, and Morgan Sarao. This panel is focused on how to broadly conceptualize and implement a "Worker's Green New Deal." We would like to bring in topics of environmental justice that include workplace issues.

These could include workplace exposure to chemical, biological and other hazards, lack of public and worker education on these topics, inadequate PPEs to protect workers and other such issues. We would like the discussion to address questions like: What would a Green New Deal look like that is centered on workers' rights and is carried out in collaboration with unions and other workers' organizations? How does support for union jobs and the growth of unions, especially in the public sector, lay a strong foundation for protecting our environment and communities?

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