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Enviro-Unionists

A Speech by Jess Grant; transcribed by Brian Wiles-Heap from video – Industrial Worker, November 1990

Web editor's note: the following speech was given at a rally jointly organized by Earth First! and the IWW as part of Redwood Summer, held at the L-P export dock in Samoa, California, on June 20, 1990.

I’ll go ahead and introduce myself. I’m an “outside agitator” named Jess Grant. I’m an organizer with the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies.

I like to think of myself as an enviro-unionist. That’s a new word I made up for Redwood Summer. An “enviro-unionist” is somebody who is concerned with trees and forests, and the people who live and work in them. And that’s what we all are, I think; that’s sort of the twin goal of this thing.

I’d like to talk about the ecological and the social costs of the current practices of the timber industry: The companies have tried to pit one against the other; they’ve tried to pit the workers against the environmentalists. It’s the classic divide-and-conquer tactic. But it’s not going to work, because I think we’re all starting to realize that the interests of both the workers and the forest ecosystems are best served by sustainable-yield logging and a worker-community buyout of the timber companies.

Now, you’ll be hearing these two phrases a lot. You’re going to hear this “sustained-yield logging” and “worker-community buyout”, so I’d like to briefly explain what they mean to me:

Sustained-yield logging is cutting at a rate lower than the growth rate, so that the trees can grow back and we can have some forests again. Given the past devastation, we now actually need to cut less than is growing, to catch up with what we’ve done.

A worker-community buyout is pretty self-explanatory. The companies are motivated by profit; they’ll always clearcut, because that’s where the profit is. But if the power and the decision-making are put into the hands of those doing the work, logging would convert to sustainable yield, because the folks doing the work recognize that their long-term job security lies in preserving and sustaining the forests.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

By Judi Bari – Anderson Valley Advertiser, September 26, 1990

In case anyone still had any delusions about freedom of the press in Mendocino County, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat laid them to rest last week when they removed Ukiah Bureau Chief Mike Geniella from covering timber issues. Geniella has been the lead reporter in the timber region, and has broken important stories and won awards for his coverage. Removing him was an outrageous act of censorship, and marked a new low in corporate media kowtowing to big timber.

Geniella’s crime was that he gave an interview to the Anderson Valley Advertiser in which he told the truth about Redwood Summer. “Clearly Redwood Summer accomplished a number of things,” admitted Geniella. “Earth First! used to attract 30 or 40 people here on the steps of the Court House, so bringing 2000 to a rally in Fort Bragg is quite impressive. The sensational aspect of the bombing [of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney], I’m convinced, having been to some of the colleges, frightened some of the people away. For Redwood Summer to be able to regroup and do Samoa, which I think was absolutely critical, and to pull it off like they did, and then go do Fort Bragg, well, you have to give them a lot of credit…There was all this talk about violence and when the test came clearly it was the Redwood Summer people who kept the lid on.” Geniella also admitted that the Press Democrat’s coverage of the Fort Bragg action “probably was unfair.”

That’s it. That’s the worst of what he said. Of course, the fact that he said it in the big bad Anderson Valley Advertiser didn’t help matters. But the real irony of the Press Democrat’s actions is that, while still holding naive ideas about his right to free speech off the job, Mike Geniella had already caved in to timber industry pressure on the job. His reporting on timber issues, once among the most fair and hard-hitting around, had been watered down to satisfy his editors’ pro­timber bias. The last piece he wrote before being pulled off timber issues was a blatant piece of industry propaganda titled “Foresters Contend Logging in Balance.” It cited 53 professional foresters, “all of whom work in the private sector in Mendocino County,” claiming that there is no over­cut here. By calling them “private sector” instead of “corporate” foresters he gives the impression that they are independent. He never asks the simple question of who they work for (which in Mendo County is usually L-P or G-P), or why, if there’s no overcut, are they logging six-inch pecker poles.

Geniella also sacrificed truth in reporting to brown-nose his editors in his Redwood Summer wrap-up piece. You won’t find any of his legitimate praise of EF! organizers in this article. Instead he starts out. “Redwood Summer, the series of logging protests christened by a violent explosion, is set to end this week.” The implication, of course, is that EF! was the cause of the explosion, not the victim. No further explanation is given, and when he gets into listing acts of violence associated with Redwood Summer he omits the bombing entirely and bends over backward to make it look like both sides were violent. His description of the incident with Pacific Lumber President John Campbell was absolutely fraudulent. “Campbell said protesters rocked his car and pounded their fists on rolled up windows as he tried to leave,” wrote Geniella. “The timber executive later described the experience as ‘very frightening.’” What Geniella didn’t write was that Campbell had picked up protester Bob Serena on the hood of his car as Campbell attempted to break through the picket line, and that Campbell then floored it and careened down the road with Serena clinging for his life to the car hood. “That’s called balanced reporting,” Geniella answered when I complained to him about the inaccuracy.

There are many other examples of Geniella and other reporters engaging in self-censorship this summer by failing to write about attacks on demonstrators and, especially in August, failing to cover our demos at all. But even compromising his integrity in his reporting was not enough for Geniella’s editors. They want to shut him up in his private life too. What this really shows is what a hoax any claim of objective reporting is. No reporter has ever been disciplined for being “too close” to Harry Merlo or Charles Hurwitz. Geniella describes a reporter’s job as having a front row seat on the parade of life. But when you are dealing with forces as ruthless and powerful as big timber, there are no seats. We are all in the parade. And Geniella’s complicity in distorting and suppressing info about the success of our demos and the viciousness of attacks on us helped contribute to the atmosphere in which he could become the next victim of the Timber Wars. First they come for the Earth First!ers, then they come for the reporters.

Workers, Corporations, and Redwood Summer: Whose Side Are We On?

Judi Bari, et. al, Redwood Summer Coalition – from the Redwood Summer Handbook, second edition, ca June 1990

When you’re sitting in front of a bulldozer or walking a picket line and an angry logger is screaming at you to “Get a Job!” and “Go Home!,” it’s easy to forget that timber workers are not our enemies. And when they see thousands of college students and other environmental activists from out of the area coming to the Northcoast threatening their livelihoods (as they see it), it’s easy for them to see us as the enemy too.

This is a tragic mistake, for workers and environmentalists are natural allies. Loggers and mill-workers are victimized by the giant timber companies. Since their whole way of life—their jobs, homes, families—depends on unsustainable forest practices, we must make the timber companies pay for the education, retraining and job placement needed to cushion the blow of conversion to ecologically health timber practices. It’s easy for us—since our future and our kids’ future does not depend on continued over-logging—to demand others to sacrifice for the good of the planet, but without concrete support to make change possible; they will not listen seriously.

Over the years, timber workers have been subject to some of the most dangerous working conditions in the country, as well as speedups, low pay, low/no benefits, and near-total company control over their lives. Fighting to better their conditions, Pacific Coast loggers and millworkers have a long history of militant unionism. The logging camps of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia were strongholds of the Industrial Workers of the World. Early timber unions, including the IWA (International Woodworkers of America) were radical unions, and often led bitter strikes which the corporations violently put down. From early on, the woodsworkers witnessed and protested the destruction of streams, hillsides and forests caused by company practices of maximizing profit at the expense of both the land and the workers. Indeed, the workers knew better than anyone what was going on in the woods, but lacked the power to stop it. In our capitalist “free market” economy, it is companies, not workers who control production.

In The Middle of Run Away History: Judi Bari, Earth First! Organizer – Mississippi Summer in the California Redwoods

Interviewed by Beth Bosk – New Settler Interview, Issue #49, May 1990

Judi Bari: Tomorrow I’m going to Oregon. There’s an Environmental Law conference up there. I was invited to speak on a panel about labor and the environment.

Last week, I received a call at my home, at night, from a nasty­sounding man who identified himself by name and said he was from the Western Council of Industrial Workers, which is the AF of L union which represents mill workers up there.

He warned me that I better not set foot in Oregon. And he said that if any of his union members talked to me they’d be out of a job—and various other vague threats.

He also called the conferences organizers and the university, telling them I shouldn’t be allowed to speak there. This panel, on labor and the environment, is made up of me—I somehow got on it—a university professor of physics, and the owner of a company who makes fancy yuppie houses out of old growth wood and doesn’t want the old growth eliminated. This is their idea of a “Labor” panel.

I gave the organizers the name of a rank-and-file mill worker one hour from them, but they never contacted him. He called them, and they wouldn’t let him be on the panel. And this is a union man who has spoken out in public for the spotted owl and against the yellow ribbon campaign in Oregon.

I’m going to Oregon to cede my spot on this panel to this courageous man. The panel is called “Labor and the Environment: Bridging the Gap.” Yet they can’t even bridge the gap enough to let a single rank and file worker speak on the panel, so I’m going to cede my spot to him.

Northern California Earth First! Renounces Tree Spiking

Text of a Press Conference held April 11, 1990 at the Louisiana Pacific Mill, Samoa, California - Reprinted the Country Activist, June 1990, Earth First! Journal, Beltane (May 1), 1990, and abridged in the Mendocino Commentary, April 12, 1990

Web Editor's Note: The following introduction appeared in the Earth First! Journal alone:

In a move that has left some EF!ers confused or dismayed, several West Coast Earth First! groups have renounced tree-spiking. At press conferences held in mid April, the groups called upon activists to refrain from spiking trees in northern California and Oregon forests. This whole issue is very controversial…and we do not intend to cover the inevitable debate in EF! Journal. Below we simply reprint Northern California EF!’s press release—so that EF!ers will know what the groups actually said, not just what the rumors are saying—and, we urge interested EF!ers to contact the groups and individuals involved for more information. For a compelling letter in opposition to the tree­spiking renunciation, write Colorado EF! contact Michael Robinson. For arguments in support of the renunciation, contact North Coast EF! groups or Southern Willamette EF!

Text of the Tree Spiking Renunciation

In response to the concerns of loggers and mill-workers, Northern California Earth First! organizers are renouncing the tactic of tree spiking in our area. Through the coalitions we have been building with lumber workers, we have learned that the timber corporations care no more for the lives of their employees than they do for the life of the forest. Their routine maiming and killing of mill workers is coldly calculated into the cost of doing business, just as the destruction of whole ecosystems is considered a reasonable by-product of lumber production.

These companies would think nothing of sending a spiked tree through a mill, and relish the anti-Earth First! publicity that an injury would cause.

Since Earth First! is not a membership organization, it is impossible to speak for all Earth First!ers. But this decision has been widely discussed among Earth First!ers in our area, and the local sentiment is overwhelmingly in favor of renouncing tree-spiking. We hope that our influence as organizers will cause any potential tree-spikers to consider using a different method. We must also point out that we are not speaking for all Earth First! groups in this pronouncement. Earth First! is decentralized, and each group can set its own policies. A similar statement to this one renouncing tree spiking is now being made in Southern Oregon, but not all groups have reached the broad consensus we have on this issue.
But in our area, the loggers and mill workers are our neighbors, and they should be our allies, not our adversaries. Their livelihood is being destroyed along with the forest. The real conflict is not between us and the timber workers, it is between the timber corporation and our entire community.

We want to give credit for this change in local policy to the rank and file timber workers who have risked their jobs and social relations by coming forward and talking to us. This includes Gene Lawhorn of Roseburg Lumber in Oregon, who defied threats to appear publicly with Earth First! organizer Judi Bari. It also includes the Georgia Pacific, Louisiana Pacific, and Pacific Lumber employees who are members of IWW Local #1 in northern California.

Equipment sabotage is a time-honored tradition among industrial workers. It was not invented by Earth First!, and it is certainly not limited to Earth First! even in our area. But the target of monkey wrenching was always intended to be the machinery of destruction, not the workers who operate that machinery for $7/hour. This renunciation of tree spiking is not a retreat, but rather an advance that will allow us to stop fighting the victims and concentrate on the corporations themselves.”

Earth First! Replies to Critics

By Judi Bari – Santa Rosa Press Democrat, April 10, 1990

Charges against Earth First! have been flying lately. Spearheaded by Louisiana-Pacific, state Sen. Barry Keene, and International Woodworkers of America union representative Don Nelson.

They accuse us of being somehow responsible for L-P’s recent decision to lay off 195 workers because of the “hostile political climate” we have supposedly created on the North Coast, and they accuse of us provoking violence with our call for a “Mississippi Summer” of mass nonviolent protest to save the redwoods.

This type of doublespeak seriously misrepresents the very real and intense struggle that is going on in the redwood region. It is time to set the record straight.

First, the L-P layoffs. It’s getting harder and harder to convince the people up here that environmentalists are to blame for the cruel business practices of the timber corporations. When L-P opened its redwood milling operation in Mexico it showed us how little it cares for employees or our community. If L-P officials can get people to work for $85 cents an hour in Mexico instead of the $7 an hour they pay at the Ukiah mill, then that’s where they’re going to send the trees and jobs.

But this latest round of layoffs reflects an even more disturbing trend at L-P. If you drive the back roads of Mendocino County and see the miles of clearcuts you will know the truth—L-P has overcut the forest and destroyed the timber base.

According to the Mendocino County Forest Advisory Committee, L-P is cutting at more than twice the rate of growth in our county’s forests. This area was once the heart of the redwood ecosystem. But there is almost no old growth left in Mendocino County, and the second growth is going fast.

In 1975, the Oswald Report predicted that, if harvest rates continued, a sharp fall-down in saw-timber supply would hit in 1990. Young stands would be growing but there wouldn’t be enough mature trees to keep the area’s mills going. This prediction was right on target, but no one predicted L-P’s unconscionable response to the problem.

Rather than slowing down to save the trees and jobs, L-P kept cutting at full throttle. And instead of letting the remaining young stands mature, L-P’s President Harry Merlo began a policy of “logging to infinity,” or taking all trees regardless of size. Those that are too small to saw are chipped up and sent to pulp mills.

Environmentalism and Labor: Bridging the Gap

Speech given by Gene Lawhorn at the Public Interest and Environmental Law Conference (ELAW) in Eugene Oregon, March 4, 1990

I have been working in the wood products industry here in Oregon for five years. I started out at West-brook Wood Products in Norway. I injured my wrist on the job and had to have surgery. Shortly after I returned to work I was laid off out of seniority when they curtailed a shift. This was my first experience with the caring benevolence of the timber industry towards their workers.

After several months of unemployment I got hired at International Paper’s Gardner sawmill. About a year before I got hired the workers were forced to take wage cuts amounting to $3 an hour. The Reedsport City Council and the Chamber of Commerce got behind I-P because they threatened to close the mill if workers didn’t take wage cuts. But if workers would take cuts, I-P promised to return the wages in the next contract and they promised to be around at least another 20 years. In December of 1987, 1½ years after the pay cuts and false promises, I-P gave its 400 employees a Christmas present of one week’s notice of permanent plant closure due to selling the mill to Bohemia Lumber Co. This was my second experience with the caring benevolence of the timber industry.

After four months of unemployment I got hired by Roseburg Forest Products and relocated to Sutherlin. After eight months on the job I got my third experience of the caring benevolence of the timber industry towards workers when we were forced to go on strike to keep from taking wage cuts amounting $1.50 an hour. In a four month long (and very bitter) strike we ended up taking a $0.60 wage cut (lost) three (paid) holidays, Sunday overtime, and lost vacation time.

It was during the strike that I started to become vocal about environmental issues when I took notice all the cars and trucks that crossed my picket line had one thing in common. They all were displaying the yellow timber industry support ribbon. To many of us who stood on the picket line the yellow ribbon became a symbol of the scabs and the timber industry greed. Even today—a year after the strike—only a small handful of RFP workers will display the yellow ribbon.

The strike became a real eye opener for me, so I began to study the environmental issues. The more I learned the more frightened and concerned I became. The poisoning of the rivers, lakes, and oceans; the pollution of the atmosphere, depletion of the ozone layer, the advancing of the greenhouse effect, and the rape and plunder of the world’s ancient rainforest all alarmed me, and I began to see that all these things are tied to the profit motive mentality which cut our wages. I became fully aware that workers and environmentalists have more in common than workers and employers. For the sake of the great and holy profit motive of laissez faire capitalism workers and the environment are both being exploited beyond their means to cope, especially in third world developing nations.

IWW Defends Millworkers

By Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney - Industrial Worker, March 1990

“You better not think that you can come to Oregon because you won’t find a welcome,” warned Paul Moorehead of the Western Council of Industrial Workers (WCIC). Moorehead made his threat against IWW Local #1 organizer Judi Bari upon learning that she had been invited to participate in a Labor and the Environment workshop at a Public Interest Law Conference in Eugene, Oregon. In recent months rank and file mill workers (at Georgia Pacific’s mill in Fort Bragg) have expressed an increasing reluctance to listen to their union bosses when they tell them that wage cuts are OK, or that clearcutting the forests and destroying the earth is in workers’ best interests. No doubt Moorhead and his buddies intend to spread the word about “outside agitators” who are disturbing the profitable arrangement that the WCIC, In-ternational Woodcutters of America (IWA) and other business unions have worked out with the timber companies. “If any member of my union talks to you they’ll be out of a job,” Moorhead told Bari.

Yet Moorhead’s union, the WCIC, no longer represents workers in Mendocino County, California. The union was busted there in 1986, and now only 560 of the counties’ 3,000 workers have any union “representation” at all. Most of the 560 are “represented” by IWA Local #3-469. Despite Moorhead’s general disdain for his workers, he (and others, including the IWA, and many environmentalists) have been effective stooges in the lumber companies’ manufactured conflict between the workers and environmentalists. As a result most of the timber companies’ public support comes from the union itself.

However, not all of the workers have been fooled. With the help of the IWW, mill workers are starting to talk to each other and are coming to realize that they don’t need union bureaucrats to speak for them, and that only they can defend their jobs. “People came to the IWW because their union wasn’t representing them,” said Bari.

IWA Rank-and-File Union Millworkers Reply: Victims of G-P’s Fort Bragg Mill PCP Spill Speak Out

Written by Ron Atkinson, Cheryl Jones, Joe Valdao, Julie Wiles, and Treva VandenBosch
Edited by Judi Bari - Anderson Valley Advertiser, December 13, 1989, Mendocino Commentary, December 14, 1989 and the Industrial Worker, January 1990.

Web Editor's Note: all of these workers authorized Judi Bari and the IWW to represent them before OSHA hearings that soon followed.

Judi Bari’s Introduction: Unionism was hard won in the Pacific Northwest. In the early 1900’s, the IWW stepped in where the AFL feared to tread, and broke the stranglehold of the timber barons on the loggers and mill workers. The companies and the government fought back with terror and bru-tality eventually crushing the IWW and settling instead for the more cooperative “Business Unions”.

Today these unions have stood by and watched the erosion of the gains the people fought so hard to win. The following statement from five workers at the Georgia-Pacific mill in our area shows the situation timber workers are in today, both from the companies and the “Business Unions”.

Minutes of the founding meeting of IWW Local #1

Recorded by Judi Bari, x332349, November 19, 1989

The Mendocino-Humboldt General Membership Branch of the IWW held our first meeting on Sunday November 19, 1989. Fourteen (out of 24) members came.

Structure

We set up our basic structure as follows: Judi Bari was elected Corresponding Secretary and Anna Marie Stenberg was elected Financial Secretary. They were instructed to open a bank account and keep track of dues and other paperwork. Other than these utilitarian positions, we will have no officers. Decisions will be made by the members at the meetings. If events occur between meetings that require action, temporary decisions (subject to ratification at the next meeting) will be made by the Entertainment Committee. Membership on the Entertainment Committee is voluntary, and the people who volunteered were Mike Koepf, Treva VandenBosch, Judi Bari, Anna Marie Stenberg, Pete Kayes, and Bob Cooper.

Work So Far

The work of Our Branch was described: We are a General Membership Branch (GMB) and will take on whatever issues the members want, especially issues related to our workplaces. But so far our activities have been centered around providing support for timber workers who are fighting their employers’ destruction of forests, jobs, and working conditions. We hope to be a bridge between environmentalists and timber workers and help bring about community understanding of the workers’ problems.

Pete Kayes, employee of Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO), in Scotia , talked about the failed attempt by workers to form an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) and buy the company back from corporate raider Charles Hurwitz. Pete also gave out copies of the rank-and-file newsletter Timberlyin’ that he and others produce and distribute at the Scotia mill.

Treva VandenBosch, recently retired employee of Georgia Pacific (G-P) Corporation in Fort Bragg, told about being doused with PCBs in the G-P mill and receiving no help from the company or union (IWA Local #3-469, AFL-CIO). She walked off the job and single-handedly picketed the plant, eventually hooking up with Anna Marie and Mike (now also IWW members), who helped get the story out. The plant was finally closed for three days for clean-up, and OSHA fined G-P $14,000 for willful exposure of workers to PCB’s. G-P is appealing that decision, and the hearing will be on February 1, 1990 in San Fran-cisco. You must sign up in advance to be allowed to attend the hearing. We are asking all Wobs to sign up, even if you don’t expect to come, to demonstrate public interest. See enclosed forms.

Anna Marie told about Fort Bragg millworker Julie Wiles being arrested and led away in handcuffs for distributing a leaflet calling for fellow IWA Local #3-469 members to vote “no” on a proposed union dues increase. IWA shop stewards distributing pro-dues increase leaflets were not interfered with by the company. The IWA has not provided Julie with any support on her arrest and charges. We are asking all Wobs to come to Julie’s trial, and we have been helping her with her defense. Ten people showed up to support Julie at her arraignment.

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