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Defend and Transform: Mobilizing Workers for Climate Justice

By Jeremy Anderson - Global Labour Column, September 8, 2021

Mobilizing the global labour movement for climate justice and just transition is one of the defining challenges of our times. However, for workers in many sectors, it is unclear how climate issues will affect them specifically, and how they should respond. To date, much of the debate around just transition has focused on workers in industries that are facing job losses. These struggles are important. But in order to build a transformational vision that can mobilize workers in all sectors from the ground up, we need to understand a wider array of industry perspectives.

In this essay, I will discuss three issues. First, I will make the case for why climate justice and just transition are fundamental issues for the labour movement. Second, I will review debates around just transition, and particularly the contrast between worker focused and structural transformation approaches. I will argue that we need to build a bridge between the two perspectives, particularly in scenarios where it is important to engage workers about the future of their specific industries. Third, I will analyse three different scenarios from the transport sector that illustrate the various challenges that workers face: public transport as an example of industry expansion, aviation as an example of industry contraction, and shipping as an example of industry adaption.

Staff at Anti-Mountaintop Removal Nonprofit Coal River Mountain Watch Unionize with IWW

By Maxim Baru - IWW.ORG, September 7, 2021

Workers fighting destruction of communities & environment by mountaintop removal mining in WV join expanding non-profit labor union

NAOMA, West Virginia — The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is excited to announce that workers at the Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW) have organized with unanimous support under the banner of the IWW.

As of September 7, the IWW has asked for and received voluntary recognition from CRMW management.

Employees at CRMW join their colleagues at Holler Health Justice and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in the widening slate of nonprofits unionized with the IWWs West Virginia Branch.

Coal River Mountain Watch is a grassroots organization created in 1998 in response to the fear and frustration of people living near or downstream from enormous mountaintop removal sites. From humble beginnings as a small group of volunteers working to organize Southern WV residents to fight for social, economic, and environmental justice, CRMW become a major force in opposition to mountaintop removal.

As an organization that stands for human rights in mountain communities and against community destruction by the coal industry – in recognizing their staff’s union – the CRMW can now proudly boast that their values align with their practice.

“I’m beyond proud to be in a union now, and I’m beyond proud to work for an organization that values my rights as a worker,” said Coal River Mountain Watch staff member Junior Walk, adding “Here’s to a brighter future for West Virginia and the brave souls who try to make it a better place to live.”

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a labor union representing nearly 9,000 workers across North America. Established in 1905, the IWW is known for its high standards of democracy, transparency, multi-nationalism, and active use of the right to strike.

Coal River Mountain Watch Workers Anticipate Union Recognition

By Christian Prince - Industrial Worker, August 18, 2021

In late July, workers at Coal River Mountain Watch in Naoma, West Virginia, requested voluntary union recognition from the environmental nonprofit organization’s board of directors. They anticipate full recognition of the Coal River Mountain Watch Union, organized with the Industrial Workers of the World, by month’s end.

The campaign to unionize CRMW is being led by Junior Walker, a longtime employee. CRMW workers had considered forming a union previously, but only committed after witnessing the campaign at another West Virginia-based environmental nonprofit, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, which is also organized with the IWW. Workers at OVEC, a larger nonprofit that has collaborated with CRMW in the past, faced significant resistance to union recognition from both management and their board of directors. Walker began speaking with the West Virginia branch of the IWW, which is supporting both campaigns, about unionizing CRMW in solidarity in March. 

Last month, CRMW workers submitted their request for voluntary union recognition to management with no resistance. Workers are now awaiting formal consent from the board of directors, who meet only every few months, thereby slowing the process. Regardless, Walker says that workers have received every indication that the CRMW Union will be recognized by the end of August.

Walker emphasizes that managers at CRMW are “about as good as they come.” Workers are seeking the right of union representation to preserve their current working conditions and, as mentioned, to express solidarity with organizing efforts at allied organizations, like OVEC.

On a personal level, Walker describes the CRMW Union as carrying on a family legacy. His grandfather was a longtime member of the United Mine Workers of America and went on strike against Massey Energy, the first non-union coal company in the area, in the 1980s. Massey was also the parent company of a subsidiary that is now seeking a permit for mountaintop removal mining, which CRMW opposes due to its devastation of mountainside biodiversity and release of carcinogenic blasting dust.

“The fact that I now have a union card in my pocket makes me really proud,” says Walker. “This is the first time I’ve been in a union in my life.”

Are you interested in forming a union at your workplace? Contact the IWW today!

Long Hours, Sleepless Nights: Nonprofit Workers Unionize in the Appalachian Coalfields

By Caitlin Myers - Strike Wave, August 13, 2021

Nonprofit workers can be a self-abnegating bunch. As a sector tasked with solving the world’s ills in ways the state can’t or won’t, from filling gaps in social services and campaigning for environmental justice to running charities and educational programs to ostensibly end poverty, nonprofits can induce in their workers a sense of moral obligation not to complain. After all, almost everyone else is worse off, right? 

That sense of obligation kept the staff of one West Virginia environmental nonprofit quiet for many years. As paid community organizers for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), their principal duty was to organizational members, with whom they fought against mountaintop removal coal mining, natural gas development, and petrochemical buildout through lobbying, direct action, and sustained campaign work. In coalitions such as the Alliance for Appalachia and Reimagine Appalachia, OVEC organizers have contributed to policy proposals and lobbying efforts designed to bring the region an explicitly pro-labor, ecologically sustainable economic transition away from coal.

When he was hired, Dustin White was thrilled to be able to dedicate his life to the fight against strip mining, and like many organizers, built a deep and complex network of relationships in communities like the one that raised him. But, he says, paid organizing is time-consuming, travel-intensive, and deeply emotional work, and he found it draining to a degree he felt management simply didn’t understand. 

“Self care ended up being work, too,” said White. As a result of long-term issues with burnout, he and others on staff privately reached out to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the winter, and hoped to go public on Earth Day. 

“I have had long work hours, sleepless nights, countless hours on the road, hundreds of blisters on my feet, and more during my time with OVEC,” White wrote in a letter to the staff and board. “Time after time I have been told that we trust and support each other and our board of directors would always have our back.” 

A staff member spilled the beans early, though. According to White, management was incensed, and after months of vitriol he and fellow staffer Brendan Muckian Bates were fired. White was fired allegedly for violating the organizational handbook’s civility rules, and Bates for organizing as a manager. Both were prominent in the union effort, though, and believe management’s goal was to discourage others involved in the unionization effort. White had experienced a series of health problems; Bates was a new father. But the lesson from this historically pro-labor organization was this: unions are great for coal miners, but you don’t need one. You have it easy. 

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Workers Vote on Union

By Arbaz M Khan - Industrial Worker, July 14, 2021

Update: According to OVEC, a majority of workers voted to certify the union!

Recently, the fight for a union at Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition shifted gears from collective direct action to the ballot box, as workers voted on whether or not to certify their union, which is organized with the Industrial Workers of the World. Following almost five months of demanding that management voluntarily recognize their union — which included a one-day strike on Earth Day, April 22 — workers at the nonprofit organization finished casting votes in a union election managed by the National Labor Relations Board on July 9. 

Workers at OVEC publicly announced their intention to unionize in March. Besides voluntary recognition from management, their demands included a standardized pay scale, equitable discipline policy and the right to union representation at any meeting where matters affecting pay, hours, benefits, advancement or layoffs are discussed. Voluntary recognition would entail management agreeing to negotiate with the union, but OVEC’s board of directors have thus far withheld it — instead suspending, then terminating, OVEC’s former director of organizing, Brendan Muckian-Bates, allegedly for his involvement in the union. 

“I was fired less than two weeks after my third child was born — and management knew,” says Muckian-Bates. “I don’t think they cared about how their actions affected me or my family. I sent management a picture of my son and demanded some humanity from them — anything at all — but they refused and haven’t been in contact with me since.”

OVEC workers’ Earth Day strike was spurred in part by Muckian-Bates’ dismissal. Despite the reprisal from management, he remains a staunch supporter of the union and looks forward to the election results.

“My commitment to the OVEC Union has not waned,” he says. “I’ve been inspired by the work that my fellow workers do everyday and how they’ve stuck it out despite the retaliations. They’re truly some of the best organizers I’ve met, and it’s a level of commitment you don’t often come across.”

“Management could have recognized the union in March, kept on their current staff levels, and we could have already begun negotiating some of the necessary changes we think are needed to keep OVEC going,” he continues. “But we know that we’ll win the election, and we want management to be ready to negotiate with us fairly and in good faith once that’s done.”

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Workers Stand Firm Despite Management Offensive

By staff - IWW, June 14, 2021

HUNTINGTON, WV — While public concern for urgent action on the environment remains high, one of West Virginia’s most prestigious environmental organizations, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), is poised to miss crucial organizing opportunities this summer as it enters into the fourth month of a brutal dispute over their employee’s right to unionize.

In March 2021, workers of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition organized with majority support as the OVEC Union (OVECU) under the IWW, requesting voluntary recognition.

Despite majority support among the members of OVEC’s Board of Directors for a positive and good faith engagement with staff, the organization has chosen to fight tooth and nail. With Mike Sullivan at the helm of the Board, and Tonya Adkins & Vivian Stockman in Co-Direction, OVEC has chosen to effectively whittle down its capacity to organize as it suspends, fires, and threatens its staff into submission.

Upon learning of the union drive, OVEC management immediately launched an internal hunt for instigators, placing their Director of Organizing, Brendan Muckian-Bates, on suspension. While the organization claimed that Brendan was a supervisor and consequently not entitled to participate in union activity, OVEC was unable to convince the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which ruled that Brendan was to be included in the bargaining unit at a formal hearing earlier this month.

Upon learning of their loss at the NLRB, OVEC management opted to double down by terminating their Director of Organizing as well as their Project Coordinator, Dustin White. While Brendan’s suspension and termination is bad enough — arriving as it does mere days following the birth of a new child — Dustin’s termination is especially egregious given his unimpeachable credentials in the environmental movement.

Heralding from 11 generations of working class ancestry in the so called “coal fields” of Southern West Virginia, and family ties to the UMWA including a great grandfather who fought at Blair Mountain, Dustin became involved in the environmental movement as a volunteer with OVEC around 2007 before joining the staff in 2012. Dustin has lobbied on both the state and federal levels on numerous issues leading to important legal changes. Recognized with an award by OVEC, Dustin has testified before Congress, conducted ground tours with Congressional representatives, held numerous meetings with state and federal agencies, and worked with the United Nations and Human Rights Watch for reports on the conditions in Appalachia. Having been featured in media locally, nationally, and internationally, including a recent feature in a National Geographic series, just prior to his termination Dustin conducted two tours with German Public Broadcasting and independent filmmakers.

In a move that demonstrates tremendous integrity and honor, non profit organizations working on environmental issues, such as the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action have moved to suspend their partnerships with OVEC, sending a comradely but firm signal that the organization will be welcome back into the fold when it returns to good standing with their employees.

An NLRB election is presently taking place and votes will be counted on July 9.

The IWW stands ready to reduce tensions, and negotiate a lasting agreement with OVEC that will enable them to return to their important work.

The National Black Climate Summit

Strike Together: Strengthening the Climate Movement and Trade Unions

By Nicolas Rother - Rupture, May 5, 2021

Leipzig, central bus yard, 15 October, 3:30 am - Normally, the first wave of public buses spreads out all over the city to bring day-time workers to their workplaces and the late shift home. But not today. This autumnal and drizzly Thursday morning is a special one. It’s strike day!

Germany’s second-largest trade union, ver.di, called all drivers of Leipzig’s public transport company, LVB, out for a warning strike. It’s the second within a few weeks. And it’s the second time that the picket line looks very different from what most drivers and their bosses expected. You can see bicycles and cargo-bikes standing by the usually empty bike racks. Roughly 20 other Fridays for Future (FFF) activists and I crawled out of bed in the middle of the night to support the strikers for the second time.

The first time we did this, three weeks before, we felt a bit like aliens. Most drivers were reserved and sceptical when we arrived and unfurled our banner. When we explained that we were there to support them, some openly refused to listen to ‘truants’ and ‘intellectuals’. But we stayed, listened, asked questions and discussed until sunrise.

This time we came again to show that we really care. We brought tea, cake, music and even a burn barrel to break the ice. Still, we had to deal with people who were socialised with Stalinist anti-intellectual propaganda in the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) and who had a wide repertoire of hackneyed sayings and jokes about people who go to university. But they were doing this while drinking our coffee and standing around our burn barrel which made us feel that we were more than just supporters, we were actually part of this picket line. Our initiative was necessary because the union was extremely worried about getting bad press for supposedly organising a super-spreader event and wanted everybody to strike from home.

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition’s Earth Day Strike

By Cal Colgan - Industrial Worker, May 4, 2021

The nonprofit industry in the U.S. has seen an upswing of organizing drives in the past few years, with a growing number of the industry’s workers viewing unionization as the best way to ensure that the NGOs for which they work live up to their progressive ideals. Few of the mainstream labor unions that are leading this organizing wave, however, have bothered to reach out to nonprofit workers in West Virginia. The staff at a small environmental justice nonprofit are hoping that their example of organizing with the Industrial Workers of the World can inspire other nonprofit workers in the Mountain State. 

Workers at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) staged a one-day strike this past Earth Day, April 22, to demand that their Board of Directors voluntarily recognize their union, known as the OVEC Union. The staff publicly announced their decision to organize with the IWW on March 4. The workers said the backlash they have received from some of OVEC’s board members is what sparked them to strike. 

Dustin White, OVEC’s Project Coordinator, said that the workers’ decision to unionize started as a series of conversations between the workers about the organization’s future.

“We knew that in a few years we may be expanding our staff and we would have a new executive director and, honoring the values we have as an organization, a union seemed like the logical next step in the progress of our organization and work,” he said.

White also noted that West Virginians’ experience with federal and state governments’ attacks on progressive values inspired the OVEC workers to reflect on issues around equity and diversity within their organization.  “A union was the logical next step into creating a stronger OVEC to create an even more equitable workplace than we already had, not just for us, but for any and all new staff.”

The OVEC Union workers said they chose to organize with the West Virginia IWW General Membership Branch both because of the union’s willingness to help them immediately and because of the IWW’s history of organizing some of the most marginalized and disadvantaged workers in the working class.

Can sabotage stop climate change?

By Simon Butler - Climate and Capitalism, April 28, 2021

Despite the climate movement’s growth, epitomized by Extinction Rebellion and Student Strike for Climate, fossil fuel extraction continues to grow, and a safe climate can seem dismayingly distant. Given a choice between forgoing capital accumulation and tipping the whole world into a furnace, our rulers prefer the furnace.

In How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Andreas Malm asks how the climate movement can emerge from the Covid-19 hiatus as a stronger force. In particular, he questions whether the movement’s until now near-universal commitment to non-violent protest is holding it back. “Will absolute non-violence be the only way, forever the sole admissible tactic in the struggle to abolish fossil fuels? Can we be sure that it will suffice against this enemy? Must we tie ourselves to its mast to reach a safer place?”

To make his point, Malm cites examples of popular historic movements, some of which are invoked by today’s climate campaigners as examples of non-violent change. The overthrow of Atlantic slavery involved violent slave uprisings and rebellions. The suffragettes of early 20th century Britain regularly engaged in property destruction. The US civil rights movement was punctuated by urban riots. As part of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa Nelson Mandela co-founded the armed wing of the African National Congress. The Indian National Congress is known for its non-violent tactics but violence also played a role of the resistance to British rule from the Great Rebellion of 1857 until independence.

Malm absolutely rules out violence that harms people, but he wants the climate movement to include sabotage and property destruction in its plans.

He puts forward several reasons why these kinds of protests might help “break the spell” of the status quo. Targeting the luxury consumption of the rich in this way could help to stigmatize the notion that the rich can blithely condemn the rest of us to ecological disaster. Physical attacks on new CO2 emitting devices might reduce their use and make them less popular options for new investment. He also speculates that such actions could help bring together a “radical flank” of the movement, helping to win partial reforms by making elites more keen to compromise with the movement moderates.

Malm believes such tactics could make for some powerful political symbolism: “Next time the wildfires burn through the forests of Europe, take out a digger. Next time a Caribbean island is battered beyond recognition, burst in upon a banquet of luxury emissions or a Shell board meeting. The weather is already political, but it is political from one side only, blowing off the steam built up by the enemy, who is not made to feel the heat or take the blame.”

Malm’s arguments have been met with alarm in some quarters. In a review posted on the Global Ecosocialist Network website Alan Thornett says adopting the book’s proposals would “not only be wrong but disastrous” and anyone who did so would soon have “armed police kicking down their door.” He calls Malm’s argument an impatient “bid for a shortcut” resulting from “frustration compounded by the lack of a socially just exit strategy from fossil energy.”

James Wilt’s review in Canadian Dimension is even harsher: he says How to Blow Up a Pipeline “veers awfully close to entrapment” — a totally unworthy accusation. More to the point, Wilt says Malm doesn’t look deeply at the likely outcomes of his proposals, failing to mention any “planning for the inevitable backlash” and repression activists would face.

But, as Bue Rübner Hansen points out in a Viewpoint Magazine article, Malm’s “provocative title makes a pitch for viral controversy, but its contents are more nuanced and equivocal.”

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