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jobs versus environment

Chapter 2 : Pollution, Love it or Leave it!

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

"Since when are humans solely a biological product of wilderness? (What is ‘wilderness’?) If you accept an evolutionary development of Homo sapiens, as I do, it does not mean that you profess a disbelief in God. Quite the contrary. It was God, the Creator, who created humans, who imbued them with a will, with a soul, with a conscience, with the ability to determine right from wrong. It is inconceivable that the Creator would create such vast resources on earth without expecting them to be utilized."

—Glenn Simmons, editor of the Humboldt Beacon and Fortuna Advance, February 1, 1990.

"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

—Edward Abbey

Earth shattering though it may have seemed, the IWW’s victory was both transitory and incomplete, and historical currents would never again mesh as perfectly. To begin with, the strike on the job had taken place only in the Pacific Northwest, and had excluded California at that. The Wobblies recognized one strategic weakness in this situation in noting that the employers could have eventually organized a lockout of that region and relied instead on wood production from the southern or eastern United States. They knew—in the abstract at least—that their victory would never be complete until they organized all lumber workers nationally and internationally.[1] The Wobblies inability to make inroads among the highly skilled redwood loggers of California’s North Coast was especially troublesome, and it portended their undoing. Two companies, Pacific Lumber (P-L) and Hammond Lumber Company (HLC) had each adopted separate techniques that had kept the IWW out and would soon be duplicated by the Lumber Trust elsewhere. That combined with the much larger shockwaves brought on by the Russian Revolution in 1917 conspired against the One Big Union and led to the eventual decline of the American working class as an adversarial force and the liquidation of the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Although most corporations comprising the Lumber Trust had refused to budge, lest they embolden the Wobblies, there were those that adopted “welfare capitalism” on their own initiative, in which they would provide amenities and benefits to their workers—union or not—in an attempt to win over their loyalty. It was in the crucible of timber worker unionism, Humboldt County, where this was first attempted with any lasting success, by the Pacific Lumber Company (P-L), based in Scotia, beginning in 1909. P-L had discovered that by creating a wide variety of social programs, employee benefits, and community based events, it was able to secure the loyalty and stability of its workforce. P-L general manager A. E. Blockinger described these efforts in great detail in an article featured in the Pioneer Western Lumberman:

"A reading room with facilities for letter writing and any games, except gambling, is easily and cheaply put into any camp. Arrange subscription clubs for papers and periodicals or let the company do it for the men. If you can have a circulating library among your camps and at the mill plant, it will be much appreciated. Let the daily or weekly papers be of all nationalities as represented in your camp. Lumber trade journals are especially interesting to the men and they can and will readily follow the markets for lumber and appreciate that you have some troubles of your own.

“Organize fire departments among your men. The insurance companies will give you reductions in rates for such additional protection while it offers another opportunity for your men to relax and enjoy themselves.

“Shower baths at the camps or mill are easily and cheaply installed. They will be used and appreciated after a hot, dusty day’s work.

“Get your men loyal and keep them so. Let this replace loyalty to a union. The spirit is what you want in your men. Ten good men will accomplish as much as fifteen ordinary laborers if the spirit and good will is there. Treat them right and they will treat you right.”[2]

The employers’ introduction of paternalism achieved its intended goal. The Secretary of the Pacific Logging Congress, an employers’ association had declared in his 1912 report, “The best cure for the IWW plague—a people without a country and without a God—is the cultivation of the homing instinct in men.”[3] When the IWW campaign for the eight hour day ensued in 1917, P-L simply added more programs. Carleton H. Parker, a onetime U.C. Berkeley economics professor working for the War Department as a mediator during the lumber workers’ strike, had previously conducted sociological studies on workers, including agricultural and timber laborers. Parker was familiar with P-L, and had some fairly extensive knowledge of the Wobblies.[4] Some of the latter had been gained through first-hand studies by two of his assistants, Paul Brissenden[5] and F. C. Mills[6] who had posed as IWW members and later produced extensive studies on the organization. Using this knowledge, Parker offered many suggestions to Disque which the latter somewhat reluctantly adopted. The LLLL created social halls for its members and replaced the employment sharks with free employment agencies. The IWW quite rightly recognized these amenities as a means to buy the workers’ loyalty and likely to be liquidated when the employers drive for profits once again accelerated, but this process would take a long time, and convincing the workers of a threat that could take one or more generations to manifest proved futile.[7]

Global Climate Jobs Conference: How to Cut Emissions

Global Climate Jobs Conference: Strategic Orientation

Sweden: Activists and locals take action against limestone mining

By Take Concrete Action - Freedom, August 31, 2022

Right now in Sweden, activists are fighting to stop the state from throwing open the doors to corporate impunity. When the company Cementa was barred from continuing to mine limestone on the island of Gotland on the basis of environmental protections in the Swedish constitution, the government decided the constitution was the problem. They granted an exception to the company, despite the fact that thousands of people were facing water shortages due to the mine draining Gotland’s groundwater. Not only that, but Cementa is also Sweden’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Now, locals and climate activists teamed up under the name Take Concrete Action to shut Cementa down by sending hundreds of people to occupy the mine.

At the end of August, they travelled to the remote island in the middle of the Baltic sea, donned their best hazmat suits and walked into a limestone mine to stay there as long as possible. Below, they explain why.

Because Sweden is at a political crossroads that could have grave implications for its people and environment – and we see this as our best chance of stopping it.

Working-class environmentalism and just transition struggles in the Americas

The Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Jobs-Killer

By Wenonah Hauter - In These Times, February 14, 2022

For years now, any discussion about climate action or the need to move off fossil fuels has run headlong into a familiar quandary: The industries fueling the climate crisis create good jobs, often in areas of the country where finding work that can support a family is incredibly difficult. 

This leaves activists gesturing towards well-intentioned goals like a ​“just transition,” a promise that likely rings hollow for workers and many labor unions because it’s hard to see where this has actually happened — even though, by every measure, we need to create some real policies that turn this vision into reality. While there are encouraging examples of labor unions throwing their support behind robust climate plans, it has proven difficult for the climate movement to find its way out of the jobs versus environment framing. 

But that is especially true when we refuse to question the original premise. The truth is that the fossil fuel industry wildly inflates its employment record, and the recent data show they are producing more fuel with fewer workers. Instead of avoiding this reality, perhaps it is time to tackle it head on. Dirty energy corporations are not creating jobs as much as they are cutting them these days, and that provides an opening to envision the kinds of employment — in areas like orphaned well clean up and energy efficiency — that will provide employment for the thousands of workers the industry is no longer employing. 

Some of the most common jobs estimates are produced by the American Petroleum Institute (API), the powerful oil and gas trade association. Over the years, API has released reports claiming that the domestic fracking industry creates somewhere between 2.5 million to 11 million jobs, both directly and indirectly. These numbers — or versions of them — are floated in political debates and in the media, but they are significantly out of step with other estimates, including the federal government’s labor reports. Food & Water Watch, an organization I founded, created a more accurate model that relies on direct jobs and relevant support activities, including pipeline construction and product transportation. The total comes to just over 500,000 in 2020, or about 0.4 percent of all jobs in the country. 

How to explain the massive gap between industry propaganda and reality? The API figures include a range of employment categories; in addition to direct industry employment, they add indirect jobs (those within a supply chain) and induced jobs (those that are supposedly ​‘supported’ by direct and indirect jobs). These categories make up the vast majority of their total. Convenience store workers, for example — working where gas happens to be sold — make up almost 35 percent of the industry’s supposed employment record.

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

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

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

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

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

Talking Climate: Labor

Learning About a Just Transition

People's Utility Justice Playbook​

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

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

The People’s Utility Justice Playbook has two components:

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

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

History of Utilities​

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

People's Utility Justice Playbook

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

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

Read the History (PDF).

Read the Playbook (PDF).

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