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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?

Living As If Another World Were Possible: Goodbye, David Graeber!

By Daniel Fischer - New Politics, September 9, 2020

Having grown up hearing his father recount experiences in Anarchist-run Barcelona as a Lincoln Brigade volunteer, David Graeber, a renowned anthropologist and organizer, lived according to a lifelong belief that a far fairer world was possible. His father and his mother, a garment worker who was briefly the lead singer in the union-produced Broadway musical Pins and Needles, were Jewish working-class bookworms who filled their shelves with books about radical possibilities. Graeber, born in 1961, recalled:

“There were a lot of books around the house when I was growing up, but almost no books of critique. I mean I’m sure my parents had Capital, at least volume one, but very few books about how awful the world was. They had lots of science fiction, lots of history, and lots of anthropology. I think their attitude was ‘I spent my nine to five working, experiencing how this system sucks for myself; I don’t need to read about that; I want to read about what other ways of existing might be like.’”

This is interesting, because as a public intellectual (who taught at Yale and London School of Economics), Graeber was probably most well known for his social critiques. Heavily influenced by the autonomist Marxist tradition, Graeber viewed neoliberalism as primarily a political project masquerading as an economic one, and he exposed the system’s convoluted methods of keeping people demoralized, resentful, and hopeless about building a better world. These instruments of hopelessness included debt (Debt: The First 5,000 Years), corporate bureaucracy (The Utopia of Rules) and pointless work (Bullshit Jobs: A Theory). Graeber aptly described that last book as “an arrow aimed at the heart of our civilization.” It argued that most of our working hours are not producing anything useful, and that the workweek could easily be reduced to fifteen or even twelve hours if it weren’t for capitalists’ drive to keep us perpetually busy. “The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger,” he wrote, “Think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the sixties.”

To me, however, Graeber’s more inspiring works focused on discovering and building alternatives. He had a keen eye for spotting utopia in seemingly unlikely places. During field work in highland Madagascar in 1989 to 1991, he found that the IMF-weakened state performed only nominal functions, and communities actually governed themselves with consensus decision-making on most matters. His study of the Iroquois League’s Constitution challenged notions that democracy, feminism, and anarchism are of exclusively European origin. And in contrast to the mass media’s dismissal of “incoherent” U.S. protesters, Graeber’s Direct Action: An Ethnography and The Democracy Project explained how the horizontal structure of the alter-globalization and Occupy Wall Street movements prefigured the world they sought to build. Over the last few years, Graeber championed the direct democracy experiments in Northen Syria (Rojava). And, with co-author David Wengrow, he dismantled the widespread assumption that early civilizations were uniformly hierarchal. To the contrary, “Egalitarian cities, even regional confederacies, are historically quite commonplace.”

You can read in other obituaries how much of an intellectual giant he was. Within his field, Maurice Bloch called him “the best anthropologist of his generation” and his advisor Marshall Sahlins called him “the most creative student I ever had.” When Yale decided to end his contract in 2004, it was clearly due to his involvement in radical direct action, not the quality of his scholarship and teaching.

Going on the Offensive: Movements, Multisectorality, and Political Strategy

By Lusbert Garcia - Black Rose, September 1, 2020

By making a brief analysis of current social movements, we can see that they do not work together, that is, in a synchronous way between movements that operate in different areas of struggle. First off, this article is a complement to the translation of the article “A debate on the politics of alliances [Un debate sobre la política de alianzas]” where I talk in broad strokes about the numerous areas or sectors of struggle and think through how to build a multisectoral movement, that is, a broad movement made up of a network of social movements that work in coordination in different sectors and at the same time are articulated based on the common denominator of autonomy, feminism and anti-capitalism.

We know that the root of all problems lies in the capitalist system and the modern states that support it, and that this economic, political and social system supports a production model based on private ownership of the means of production and private benefit as a fundamental principle. All this constitutes what we know as the structural, and its manifestations in all areas of our lives, which is known as the conjunctural, of which we could mainly highlight: territory, labor, public services, accommodation and repression. When we analyze the political-social space, we must recognize the conjunctural problems that manifest as a consequence of the material structure:

  • The territorial issue would include within it the spheres in which the interests of the class which rules over the territory enter into conflict with those of the working class. It is the physical space in which all struggles will take place, so we can highlight the following areas: neighborhood or district if we talk about cities, rural and land struggles if we talk about undeveloped or non-industrialized areas, and we could even include the national liberation struggles for the self-determination of peoples against imperialism. Environmentalism and food sovereignty would also fall into this category.
  • Labor here would constitute one of the main axes of class conflict. It is the battlefield where capital and labor meet most directly. In this area we can mention the workers’ movement that is articulated around unionism. Although we have to differentiate between unionism that advocates social peace—that model that always leads to class conciliation, betraying the working class—and the revolutionary or class unionism that advocates the exacerbation of class conflict in the workplace.
  • The fight for housing is a movement that goes back a little over a century during the rural exodus caused by industrial development and the creation of working-class neighborhoods. Today, with capitalist restructuring underway again in advanced capitalist countries and those in development, access to housing is again a social problem that affects the working class as it finds itself with less economic capacity to face mortgages and rents, as well as access to decent housing. Faced with this problem, movements against evictions have sprung up in many countries, as did the squatter movement a little earlier.
  • As for state public services, in the face of this phase of capitalist restructuring, markets are increasingly interfering with these services through budget cuts, outsourcing and privatizations. Here we can mention: Education, Health, water and sanitation, public transport, and pensions, among others; and the respective social movements that arise in response to cuts and privatizations, such as the student movement, White Tide [1] and other movements against the privatization of water, the fight against increases in rates on public transport, etc.
  • Last but not least, all opposition movements receive state repression; therefore, it is important that we begin to see repression as an obstacle and a social problem that seeks to curb our social and political activities while serving the ruling class to perpetuate its dominance. In this regard, we must speak about the anti-repression issue and face repression collectively and outside of our own militant circles, as yet another social movement.

Every challenge can be overcome: 6 ideas for getting started

By staff - LibCom, December 13, 2019

There is no time for hopelessness. Here are some ideas for what we can do – now – to fight back against the attacks we know are coming.

The results are in and it 's a solid majority for the most viciously right-wing Tory party in a generation. The time for a proper post-mortem will come, but right now we need to think what we – as a movement and individuals within that movement – do next.

There’s no need to go into great detail about what’s coming because we know: “points-based” migration, seizing travellers’ possessions, and a hard Brexit with their bonfire of rights and regulations are all right there in the manifesto.

And their plans for the NHS and (not) dealing with climate change are clear as day, no matter what they’ve put in the manifesto.

It’s clear, then, that as a class we will have to mobilise. Labour activists have put hundreds of thousands of activist hours – even millions, probably – into campaigning for a Corbyn government: canvassing, phone banking, travelling to marginals; not to mention the past four years of CLP meetings, arguing over deselections and reselections.

Whatever our differences over this use of time, money and energy (we were skeptical), the fact of the matter is this: we cannot spend the next five years like we’ve spent the last four.

When Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, he and his supporters promised to build a “social movement”. That has, quite plainly, not materialised. Aside from the lack of movement infrastructure (unions, community organisations, etc), the most worrying evidence of this is that 2017 saw the lowest number of workers taking strike action since records began.

We cannot spend the next five years on internal Labour Party politicking in the hopes of possibly winning an election in 2025. The stakes over the next few years are too high. No politician is coming to save us from disaster; the task, as it always has been, is ours alone.

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?

A Real Green New Deal Means Class Struggle

By Keith Brower Brown, Jeremy Gong, Matt Huber, and Jamie Munro - Jacobin, March 21, 2019

On the morning of November 13, 2018, the Twitter account of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-based organization demanding a Green New Deal (GND), posted the following message:

BREAKING: we’ve begun a sit in inside @NancyPelosi’s office because @HouseDemocrats have failed our generation time and time again. They offer us a death sentence. We demand a #GreenNewDeal.

Joined by the Congresswoman-elect from New York’s 14th District, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the crowd of young activists occupying Pelosi’s office catapulted the idea of a Green New Deal into mainstream discussion. Unfortunately, just before Christmas, Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi brushed aside the proposal for a GND select committee and replaced it with a hollowed-out and toothless substitute.

Not to be deterred Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey introduced in February a new resolution outlining more specific principles and goals for a GND. It has already gained seventy-six co-signers in Congress and has spurred another round of international media attention. Once again, the resolution was brushed off by Pelosi as a “green dream or whatever they call it.”

As four climate writers in Jacobin argued on the day it was unveiled, the resolution is quite good. While a few business-friendly elements of the plan don’t square with a socialist climate politics, it does commit to confronting the overwhelming challenge of climate change with massive federal programs that tackle head-on the country’s horrific economic and racial injustices in access to clean air, water, housing, transit, and many other basic needs.

The confrontational strategy used by both Sunrise and Ocasio-Cortez to promote the GND is a major step forward for climate politics. During the Obama administration, most environmental groups focused on cozying up to the Democratic political establishment, only to watch an ill-conceived “cap and trade” bill go down in flames amidst a lack of popular mobilization. In contrast, the recent GND campaign began in earnest with corporate-free electoral campaigns that challenged neoliberal politicians, and won startling victories. After the election, these forces chose a public showdown with Democratic elites and their fossil fuel industry donors. As the campaign sharply targeted these establishment obstacles to climate action, it popularized the vital demand for a GND across a mass audience.

This wave of confrontational activism has now catapulted the GND into mainstream attention. Unfortunately, a policy’s popular support is anything but a guarantee of its passage. Medicare for All, for example, enjoys 70 percent popular approval but elite opposition to it remains formidable. And while confrontations with elected elites are certainly a step in the right direction, they won’t be sufficient to win a GND on the scale — and at the pace — we so desperately need.

In the likely case we don’t completely end capitalism in the next decade, we need a plan for effectively dealing with climate change anyway. Winning a transformative GND will require massive leverage over the political and economic system. We need the ability to force these changes over the objection of broad sections of the capitalist class, who are fiercely unwilling to lose their profits. The confrontational tactics and electoral challenges of the growing GND movement are essential parts of the leverage we need, but we think history shows they won’t be enough. We will also need direct leverage against the capitalist class, right in the places where they make their money.

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