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The Politics of Climate Change

Author Unknown - 2009

In recent years climate change has loomed large in the public imagination. Scientifically, there is little doubt that it is a real threat to the future of human civilisation. The greenhouse effect has been known about since the early 19th century — gases in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour trap heat from the sun, causing the climate of the planet to heat up over time. Probably the most spectacular known example of this effect in action is on Venus.

As recently as the 1960s it was thought that Venus might have a climate that could support life. However, in 1962, a US space probe measured its surface temperature at 425°C. Billions of years ago, it had a climate similar to that of earth today — but a runaway greenhouse effect turned it into a ball of fire.

The existence of the greenhouse effect is beyond doubt, as is the fact that humans have been busily pumping large volumes of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. The only matter for scientific debate concerns exactly what effect the greenhouse gases are having on our climate. As scientists have come up with new and better ways of measuring climate changes, an alarming consensus has emerged.

The global climate has been heating up significantly due to human activity and during the course of the 21st century temperatures will rise at least 1°C more and perhaps as much as 6.5°C. This is likely to have a cataclysmic effect on human civilisation.

Most alarmingly, the melting of ice sheets will see rises in sea levels that will threaten coastal settlements, but that is not the only risk. Any increased volatility in our climate is almost certain to leave it in a state where it is much less capable of sustaining billions of people.

In many ways, the identification in advance of the great risks that human society faces from greenhouse gases is a triumph of modern science. Climatic patterns are immensely complex and to arrive at the current scientific consensus on climate change has required a vast range of sophisticated experiments, new means of measurement and exceedingly elaborate computer models.

Were it not for the powerful tools of modern science, humanity would have walked blindly into an environmental catastrophe that might have wiped it out. However, there is a big gap between understanding the problem and coming up with a way of addressing it.

The Environmental Crisis

By the Workers' Solidarity Federation - January 1, 2005

The world is facing a very serious environmental crisis. Key environmental problems include air pollution, the destruction of the ozone layer, vast quantities of toxic waste, massive levels of soil erosion, the possible exhaustion of key natural resources such as oil and coal, and the extinction of plants and animals on a scale not seen since the death of the dinosaurs 60 million years ago. We think that this crisis is likely to have catastrophic effects in the future. Even today, the negative effects of the crisis are evident in the form of growing deserts, increased rates of cancer, and the loss of plant species which could hold out cures for diseases for diseases such as AIDS etc.

What caused the crisis?

We disagree with those environmentalists who blame the crisis on modern machine production. Many dangerous, environmentally destructive technologies and substances (for example, coal power stations, non-degradable plastics which do not rot in the ground) can be replaced with safer and sustainable industrial technologies (for example, solar technology, starch-based plastics). We think that modern forms of production have many potential advantages over small-scale craft production. Such as greatly increasing the number of essential products like bricks produced, and freeing people from unpleasant toil. We also disagree with the argument that says that workers and peasants cause the crisis by consuming “too many” resources. Most goods consumed in the world are consumed by the middle class and ruling class.

Instead, the real blame for the environmental crisis must be laid at the door of capitalism and the State. These structures create massive levels of inequality which are responsible for much ecological devastation. How? The accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of the few is associated with excessive and unjustifiable high levels of consumption by the ruling elite. The poverty caused by the system also creates environmental problems. For example, by forcing the poor to cut down trees for firewood, exhaust the tiny bits of farm land that they own in a desperate attempt to provide food, pollute rivers because they lack proper plumbing facilities etc.

The Environment

By the Workers' Solidarity Federation - January 1, 2005 [PDF File Available]

1. General Introduction

1. The Earth is facing an environmental crisis on a scale unprecedented in human history. This environmental crisis is already responsible for high levels of human suffering. If the crisis continues to develop at its current rate, the ultimate result wil be the extinction of human life on the planet.

2. We call for action to end the environmental crisis because of the threat it poses to humankind, and because we recognize that nature and the environment have value in their own terms. Although we hold human life above all other life on the planet, we do not think that humans have the right destroy animals, plants and eco-systems that do not threaten its survival.

3. The main environmental problems include:

3.1. Air pollution: destroys the ozone layer that filters out dangerous rays from the sun; creates a general increase in planetary temperatures (the greenhouse effect) that will severely disrupt weather patterns; turns rain water into acid that destroys plant and animal life; causes respiratory and other diseases amongst humans.

3.2. Solid waste: the sea and the land environments are poisoned by the dumping of dangerous industrial wastes (such as mercury and nuclear waste); the use of materials that nature cannot break down in packaging and in other products, particularly disposable products, have turned many parts of the world into large rubbish dumps as well as wasting resources; poisons and injures people.

3.3. Soil erosion: this takes place in both the First and the Third World, and is the result of factors such the (mis-)use of chemical fertilizers, dangerous pesticides etc, as well as inappropriate land use, land overuse, and the felling of trees. For these reasons, soil is eroded at a rate faster than that at which it is being produced; contributes to rural poverty [1].

3.4. Extinction: plants and animals are being made extinct at a faster rate than any time since the dinosaurs died out, 60 million years ago; results in the loss of many species, and undermines the ecosphere on which all life depends.

Porto Marghera: The Last Firebrands

Introducing Anarcho Syndicalism

By William Meyers - III Publishing, 2001

Anarchism is the theory and practice of individuals living without the interference of human authorities: without being bossed around by a church, government, military, or even a business boss. Syndicalism is the theory and practice of people working together as a union, most typically a labor union (syndicate is the French word for labor union). What does anarchosyndicalism mean? Can these two seemingly opposite concepts, people acting without bosses and people acting as a group, be combined? Could it mean a group of people working to create anarchy, or individuals working to create a union of individuals? Or is it just a muddle, an attempt to mix oil and water, that goes against the nature of things?

Of course words mean what people want them to mean. Anarcho-syndicalism, in the 19th century, came to mean both a method of people organizing themselves and a type of society they hoped to create. The society they desired was anarchist. In an anarchist society people voluntarily cooperate to work together for their own good and the community. Each individual remains free from coercion by bosses. The way they hoped to get to this society was through gaining workers’ control of production, of industry, agriculture, and trade. The way they could gain control of production was by organizing anarchist labor unions.

Anarchist labor unions have only a shell of resemblance to the type of labor unions that existed in the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States. In an anarchist labor union decisions are made democratically. There are few paid union officials and they are paid ordinary wages. There is no top-down hierarchy that orders around local affiliates. The union may appoint a committee to negotiate with an employer or to do other tasks, but the committee is of volunteers who have no permanent power or position in the union. The union is not usually organized according to craft, so that the workers at a given business belong to a variety of unions. Rather, all the workers at a workplace belong to the same union. Finally, the goals are different. Anarchist labor unions believe that capitalists should not run society, should not even run businesses. The businesses should be owned, controlled, and managed by the workers themselves. The practice of wage slavery should be abolished. Anarcho-syndicalism is about more than just how labor unions should function: it is about how society is organized and our relationship with nature.

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Class Struggle and the Environmental Crisis: A South African Anarchist Pamphlet

By Zabalaza - ca 1995

The Earth is facing an environmental crisis on a scale unprecedented in human history. This environmental crisis is already responsible for high levels of human suffering. If the crisis continues to develop at its current rate, the ultimate result will be the extinction of human life on the planet.

We call for action to end the environmental crisis because of the threat it poses to humankind, and because we recognise that nature and the environment have value in their own terms. Although we hold human life above all other life on the planet, we do not think that humans have the right to destroy animals, plants and eco-systems that do not threaten our survival.

Read More - Download the PDF version of this document.

A Perspective on Sydney’s Green Ban Campaign, 1970-74

Burgmann, V. - Power and Protest, 1993

The background to the green-ban struggles is the story of the destruction of Australia's major cities in the 1960s and early 1970s, when vast amounts of money were poured into property development: giant glass and concrete buildings changed the face of our cities and valuable old buildings were razed in the process. The interests of home buyers and architectual heritage lost out against often purely speculative construction. At one stage, there was ten million square feet of vacant office space in Sydney's business district, while people looking for their first homes or flats could find nothing.

In 1971, the New South Wales branch of the Builders Labourers' Federation (BLF) decided this destruction should stop, even though they were the people employed to do it. The New South Wales branch was led by three men who soon became notorious. They were either loved or hated – Jack Mundey, Bob Pringle and Joe Owens. They argued that:

In a modern society, the workers' movement, in order to play a really meaningful role, must engage in all industrial, political, social and moral struggles affecting the working people as a whole…In this context, building workers are beginning to demand of governments, employers and architects that buildings which are required by the people should have priority over superfluous office buildings which benefit only the get-rich-quick developers, insurance companies and banks.

The union insisted priorities be reversed, that the construction of flats and houses was more important than piling up empty or under-used commercial office buildings. They claimed the right to intervene in the decision-making process and exert a degree of workers' control, determined as they were to use their labour in a socially useful manner. The campaign maintained that 'all work performed should be of a socially useful and of an ecologically benign nature'.

The movement got under way in 1971 when a group of women from the fashionable suburb of Hunter's Hill sought the help of the NSW BLF to save Kelly's Bush, the last remaining open space in that area, where A.V.Jennings wanted to build luxury houses. They had already been to the local council, the mayor, the local state member and the Premier, all to no avail. The union asked the Hunter's Hill women to call a public meeting at Hunter's Hill, to show that there was community support for the request for a union ban on the destruction of Kelly's Bush. Over 600 people attended the meeting, which formally requested a ban. This ban was called a green-ban, to distinguish it from a black-ban, a union action to protect the economic interests of its own members, in this case the union was going against the immediate economic interests of its members for the sake of a wider community and environmental interest.

From Cheerleader to Earth First!: Judi Bari

By Bruce Anderson – Anderson Valley Advertiser, November 11, 1989

On a sweltering day last summer, a diminutive, energetic woman stood talking to a pair of reporters on the Ukiah Courthouse steps. The woman leaned at the reporters, leading with her chin—as they’d say in boxing—as she talked. The woman was Judi Bari, associated primarily with Earth First!, but in reality an American radical in the uniquely American tradition. When she’d left off her talk with the reporters and had disappeared into this area’s class warfare headquarters, the Courthouse, one reporter looked at the other to say. “You know, that woman can talk! She doesn’t even come up for air. Not a breath.”

Well, Judi is a serious person living in an area and in a time when real feeling is considered bad form or just kind of crazy, so Bari finds herself fighting on many fronts against many kinds of opposition, but this lady can fight so effectively, it’s hard to associate her with cheerleaderism. “I really didn’t grow up with any political feelings,” she says, describing a sedate, if mildly fearful, upbringing by a pair of genteel liberals intimidated by the McCarthy-ite fifties. “My parents taught me Wobbly songs as nursery rhymes but told me not to say where I’d learned them,” Bari remembers with a disbelieving snort. “One of the best things about them was my parents lectured me and my sister against racial and ethnic hatreds. Later, when I was in college and came home wearing a Chairman Mao badge they said to me, ‘We’ve got to have a talk with you.’ I mean, this was kill your parents time, remember. So they went on to warn me against tying the sixties student movement to a foreign power. I came away with a whole new respect for my parents. They knew much more than I thought they did. And they were right, of course. We need an American radical left, not one looking overseas for a model.”

For years before that breakthrough discussion with her parents, Judi Bari was distinctly not a political person. “I was head cheerleader at my high school, for god’s sake! Can you believe that?” Frankly, no, but boundless renewable energy of the Bari dynamo variety can carry one to the heights of some peculiar organizations.

Bari began life in a working-class area of a town near Baltimore. Her neighbors all worked in the area’s steel mills. Bari’s mother later radically enhanced the family fortunes when she went back to college, emerging with the first PhD awarded to a woman in mathematics by Johns Hopkins University. Bari pere is a diamond setter, “which is, where I get my perfectly steady hands from,” his second daughter, Judi, says. Daughter number one is a science writer for the New York Times while daughter three is described by sister Judi as “a perpetual student.” Apparently the third Bari remains in school past the age of goal-oriented scholars.

“I had no political consciousness when I left high school. My big thing was to get dates with football players. I thought I had to act dumb and be cute and sweet because I didn’t know there were other social options available to me. It never really fit my personality.” Bari recalls her first political stirrings during her last year in high school when a star athlete asked her out. He happened to be black. Bari was visited by a delegation of white athletes who informed her none of them would ever again grace her with their stimulating company if she dated the black kid. “I didn’t go out with him.” she says with what is clearly a painfully nagging memory of capitulation to intimidation. She doesn’t say so, but it may be one of the only times Bari has ever given in.

From the la la land of high school, Mendocino County’s premier radical went to the University of Maryland in pursuit, not of higher learning and the elusive keys to life but in quest of football players, the odd status symbols of millions of misdirected young American women. “We called Maryland U, 13th grade” Bari recalls. “It was the place Spiro Agnew was referring to in his famous ‘effete intellectual snobs swept into college on the wave of the ‘new socialism’ speech.” Bari doesn’t recall much intellectual activity of any kind, but as a 1967 freshman she was in the right place at the right time. “It was one of those crank em-out schools. Agnew had just been elected as a liberal alternative—if you can believe that—to another right-wing crank named Mahoney who’d run on a straight racist platform of keeping blacks confined to their neighborhoods.” Bari was soon disillusioned with football players. “They were gross: just a bunch of big, dumb assholes who treated women very badly and who thought treating women badly was funny.” In a world in flux, there remains one constant—the personal behavior of the college athlete.

Bari soon began to meet company of a more interesting and hopeful kind, “As soon as I got away from home, I quickly figured out I didn’t have to go to class. I was soon into sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” Which in those wild days included, in its more alert manifestations, side trips into radical politics. “My first demo was a trip with hundreds of other students to the college president’s house one night to demand his underwear. The politicos in the mob tried to get everybody to chant ‘Elkins [the college prexy] must go,’ but they were drowned out by calls for Mrs. Elkins to give up her drawers.” But students there and everywhere were getting restless and more serious, as many of them had to consider the distinct possibility they could be shipped off as foot soldiers in the expanding imperial adventure in Vietnam.

Bari was soon one of the more politically active students at U Maryland, recalling with obvious delight her own transformation from flower child naïf to street fighter. “When Nixon invaded Cambodia in ‘70 we had flat out political riots. We took over Route 1 for anti-war protests.” Route One is the main road into War Maker Central, or Washington, DC. “I have an old picture that was in the newspapers of me giving water and flowers to the cops. I cringe now when I look at it, because I got as tired of hippies as I did of jocks. I was getting more and more of a feminist consciousness because I always seemed to be with men who had no interest in women beyond sex. One day I was on acid with this guy and I remember thinking, ‘God, what am I doing? This guy is totally disgusting.’ My friends and I all seemed to be having similar feelings. I stopped going out with men for a year, both as a reaction to football players and the dumb hippie exploitation of women through so-called, free love.” Love is never free as the cowboy songs tell us, a fact of life many women seemed to learn from their hippie experience.

Greening of the IWW: What Happens When We Win?

By Jess Grant - Industrial Worker (August 1989)

The time has come for the IWW to tackle head-on the question of post-industrial production, better known as “What do we do now that we won the General Strike?” We can no longer duck the issue by saying that workers’ committees will decide all that when the time comes. We must firmly put to rest the misconception that Wobblies are factory fetishists by taking a clear stand against the kinds of work that harm our planet or alienate us from our labor. Let us envision a world where the earth and our labor are honored equally.

Assuming that people are naturally inventive and enjoy contributing to their communities, and that people displaced from harmful industries will want to be retrained rather than put out to pasture, then we must find an answer to those who ask, “What will I do if my factory is shut down?” If millions of jobs are lost as the result of decommissioning harmful and unnecessary industries, then conversion to an ecological, self-managed economy will demand an imaginative program of apprenticeship and education.

Labor unions are simply the social manifestation of an instinctive solidarity found among working class people, and the IWW is no exception. Unions were born out of conflict and designed as instruments of class struggle, and from this clash they draw their meaning. But in the absence of struggle, when the boss class has been evicted and the workers are busy redesigning society, unionism becomes irrelevant. As “work” is replaced with “play”, the shell of unionism will wither away and leave in its place an intricate network of freely associating cooperatives. 

That venerable Wobbly institution called Father Hagerty’s Wheel of Fortune, in which the various branches of industry are laid out in diagrammatic detail like a pizza with too many extras, was never meant to describe post-revolutionary society.  It’s a handy guide for understanding how industry (as we know it under capitalism) is organized, and thus how to coordinate our own struggle, but it’s a lousy model for the future. Let’s try to imagine what the wheel would look like if we could depose the boss class and put our lives back in balance with nature.

Every person has a calling, some talent or passion for a particular activity that best expreses that individual. People seem happiest when they have the freedom to pursue that calling. A primary goal of self-managed production, then, is to create this freedom of action. Most callings fit into one of several basic archetypes. It’s these Jungian archetypes, weighted with the power of myth, which will form the basis of our new Wheel of De-Industry.

Earth First! vs. the Rumor Mongers

By Lobo x99 (Franklin Rosemont) - The Industrial Worker, September 1988

The May (1988) issue of the Industrial Worker featuring Radical Environmentalism and especially the most radical environmentalists of all, the Earth First! movement, has provoked more enthusiastic discussion and action-and more controversy-than any issue of the paper in many a long year. Even before it went to press, word got around the Union regarding its content, and bulk orders started poring in from branches, delegates, and individual members to such an extent that we had to print 10,000 copies-not bad for a paper which, six months earlier, had a monthly press-run of only 3,000.

Fellow Worker Bruce, "Utah" Phillips, one of the greatest living Wobbly bards, recently called Earth First! "the IWW of the environmental movement." Since everyone knows that (the) IWW historically, signifies the most radical , most active, most creative, most daring, most effective, as well as sassiest, gutsyist, funniest, toughest and all-around best-in-its-class, this is a good description of Earth First!'s position in the environmental spectrum. Emphasizing that the roots of today's global ecological crisis lie in the inherently ecocidal patriarchal-industrial-capitalist system (and recognizing that USSR-style "state socialism" is just more of the same crap under another name), EF!ers have also perceived that you can't change this system by playing according to its repressive rules, and that militant direct action, Wobbly-style, is the most effective instrument of radical social transformation.

In the May Industrial Worker Wobblies and Earth First!ers-including several who are Wobblies and Earth First!ers-explored some of their many philosophical and practical points in common. Our specific aim was to promote a greater understanding of Earth First! among IWW members and sympathizers, and to introduce Earth First!ers to the IWW heritage and program. Our broader hope was to effect a greater degree of common action and mutual aid between the two movements in their struggle to subvert the dominant paradigm" and to protect the Earth from its profit-hungry corporate destroyers.

Once the May issue hit the stands our wildest hopes regarding its impact were quickly exceeded. It became clear at once that young rebel workers are far more interested in radical environmentalism than even we had realized. Moreover, from all over the continent reports have been coming in showing that Wobblies and Earth First!ers are eager not only to learn from each other but also to take action together effect our common goals. And last but not least, more new memberships, new subscriptions, new bulk orders, renewals of lapsed subs and contributions to the Industrial Worker sustaining fund have come into IWW headquarters since May than in any comparable period in anyone's memory.

Yes, fellow workers, the IWW is growing today as it has not grown in years, and there is no getting around the fact that one of the reasons it is growing is because of our fortuitous encounter-now increasingly taking on the character of an active, ongoing combat alliance-with the international Earth First! movement.

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