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RailCon15: Chicagoland Conference Reflections

By Hieronymous - LibCom.Org, September 30, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In his 1914 poem, “Chicago,” Carl Sandburg called the city a “Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler.” Others have called it the “Rome of Railroads,” as in all railroads lead to Chicago. It’s the biggest, busiest and most complex rail hub in the world, with at least 1,300 passengers and freight trains passing through it daily. It remains the central node of the North American rail transportation system. Despite the city’s vast size, you can’t visit a neighborhood without seeing traces of how railroads developed the city – in the process connected the eastern U.S. with all of the West through this major portal. And it’s not just railroads, as barges, tractor-trailers, and bellies of planes make Chicago a hub that ranks just behind Singapore and Hong Kong for the world’s highest intermodal volume – not to mention the pipelines that carry liquid commodities into the city.

So Chicago couldn’t have been more fitting for the third Railroad Safety Conference. I arrived the day before, Friday, September 18th to help prepare. From O’Hare Airport I took the CTA "L" Blue Line to the Loop downtown, strolled over to Millennium Park and immediately discovered it was built a decade ago on a steel superstructure over Illinois Central’s original Chicago rail yard. An RWU member met me at Union Station and gave me a tour of its once grand interior, detailing its demise. Until 1969 Chicago had six intercity passenger rail terminals; Union Station is the only one that is in any way close to its original form.

The conference location at the union hall of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) couldn’t have been more appropriate either. In response to McCarthyism inspired raids by competing unions, UE left the CIO in 1949. By 1950 eleven unions left or were expelled from the CIO; only two remain today, UE and the West Coast-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). Both remain strong unions, with democratic governance, and have led some of the most inspiring recent struggles. For the UE, it was the week-long occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory on Goose Island in Chicago in December 2008. For the ILWU it has been the willingness to take political stands, like the work stoppage on May Day 2008 when all 29 ports on the West Coast ceased operating for the day.

The conference, titled Railroad Safety: Workers, Community and the Environment, carried on the agenda of the previous two conferences in California and Washington State with around 80 in attendance. Carl Rosen, President of UE, gave us a warm welcome to the hall, then RWU General Secretary Ron Kaminkow gave a brief history of RWU and mentioned the recent defeat of a union proposal for single-person crews at BNSF. Conference attendees introduced themselves, showing how far some had traveled to attend, from as far as New York, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco and Quebec, Canada; in addition, each cluster of tables came up with their goals for the conference. Most concerned educating affected communities about the realities of fossil fuel transport, especially rail, as well as upholding the principle of keeping energy resources “in the ground.” Next RWU members gave two sessions about the safety concerns of railroad workers. Included in the first were Single Employee Train Crews, Teamwork, Chronic Fatigue and Scheduling. In the second they were Long & Heavy Trains, Track Maintenance, and Rail Safety Programs. A guest, Michael Termini from the Government Accountability Project, talked about legal protections for whistleblowers.

East Bay Unions Don't Want Your Coal

By S.E. Smith - Truthout, September 29, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Coal is the energy source of the past, so what is it doing in plans for our future? It's a question that was asked by labor, environmental and community activists as they learned about plans for a new bulk commodities terminal proposed for Oakland's former army base by developer Terminal Logistics Solutions. The company is backed heavily by major coal producers in Utah looking for a way to get their product to U.S. ports for shipment, and while they thought they could sneak it by quietly, the ever-vigilant community in the Bay Area found out anyway, and the result was explosive. Opposition to the terminal is coming from a variety of angles, but one is particularly important: the labor community.

Oakland's workers, especially its dockworkers, have always been highly active in their community. Many live and work in and around West Oakland, near the city's port, and they have a vested interest in community health and welfare in addition to safe working conditions. They live in the awareness that the region has extremely high rates of respiratory disease and other pollution-related illnesses, something coal shipping would only exacerbate, and that working on a daily basis with the dusty and dangerous commodity would put their health at risk as well. So they had a personal interest in keeping coal out of Oakland, but it went deeper than that.

In a statement issued September 18—immediately before a city council meeting scheduled for the 21st—the Alameda Labor Council put forward a firm case against coal. "The Alameda Labor Council [expresses] opposition to the export of coal through Oakland and specifically the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center at the former Oakland Army Base," they explained, citing environmental and human health risks associated with coal exports. They also noted that the coal industry is notoriously anti-union, and that it doesn't offer as many jobs as work in other commodity industries. Moreover, union advocates argued, they welcomed development of other commodities shipping at the Port of Oakland, as long as it involved less toxic and environmentally harmful products.

There's No Jobs On A Dead Planet

By Joseph Scales - New Matilda, September 27, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

"We have a rendezvous with humanity." With that statement, the International Trade Union Confederation Climate Summit, ‘No Jobs on a Dead Planet!’ was opened in Paris, France last week. 

The Summit was the most significant trade union climate change meeting in history, held as a precursor to the COP21 Paris talks scheduled for December.

Climate Change is recognised and established. Even climate deniers like our former Prime Minister Tony Abbott are forced to at least publicly accept the legitimacy of the science.

The interconnected market pressures of a changing economy – particularly in a once manufacturing-intensive nation like Australia – means industrial change is coming, whether we like it or not.

What workers, unions and communities must decide is: are we part of that change or not? Business and capital will certainly be keeping their eye out for the best deal on their bottom line.

How Do We 'Change Everything' without Pitting Workers against the Planet?

By Alexandra Bradbury; image by Sam Churchill - Labor Notes, September 8, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

As fights erupted in the Pacific Northwest this summer over fuel export terminals and Arctic drilling, the idea of a just transition has been on my mind.

The late Tony Mazzocchi of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers (now part of the Steelworkers) coined the term. A “just transition” away from fossil fuels wouldn’t pit workers against the planet. Those displaced should be able to count on decent new green jobs and retraining.

“There’s a Superfund for dirt,” Mazzocchi used to say. “There ought to be one for workers.”

SHELL NO?

As Shell Oil’s drilling rig and ice cutter churned toward the Arctic, activists in Seattle and Portland, paddling kayaks and dangling from cables, tried to block them. Some unions backed the protests, but not the usually progressive Longshore Workers (ILWU).

Servicing Shell’s fleet will provide “an awful lot of family-wage jobs,” said Justin Hirsch, an ILWU Local 19 executive board member—at a time when condo developers are eyeing the waterfront and longshore jobs are squeezed by shipping industry consolidation.

Don’t get him wrong. Hirsch also says “climate change is a massive issue, and it’s going to have to be dealt with by labor.”

But he’s worried the shift to a green economy offers employers an opportunity to destroy the pay, benefits, and workplace control it took generations of struggle to achieve. Will green jobs be lower-waged and nonunion?

Moving Beyond Protests and Counter Protests; the transition to a renewable economy requires the climate movement and unions to work in solidarity together

By Catherine Nadel - 350.org, August 15, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In the lead up to the Ende Gelände action, that will see a mine shut down in the Rhineland this weekend, there have been rumours of a counter protest organised by the union for RWE employees. This possibility is disappointing for a number of reasons. The climate movement’s mission is not only to respond to the climate crisis by dismantling our reliance on fossil fuels, but to a build a movement that is capable of achieving this in a way that is just and fair. Central to this strategy are workers. It is understandable that the actions of climate activists, such as Ende Gelände can seem threatening to those who rely on the fossil fuel industries for their jobs and livelihoods. It is our hope that the communities that currently depend on these jobs, understand that there is no greater threat to them than the threat of climate change. This is a threat that will fundamentally change the way we live. If we do not work together to confront this challenge and transition to a cleaner, fairer future, we risk not only jobs and livelihoods, but everything.

Research into the fossil fuel industry reveals that the interests of unions and the climate movement are fundamentally aligned. The two groups share many common values; financial stability, job security and strong communities are among the clearest of them. We also share a common challenge, responding to an industry that values profit margins over the safety and security of both their employers and the climate.

RWE is not only the single biggest emitter of CO2 in Europe, it is also one of the continent’s most negligent companies. According to research commissioned by Greenpeace in 2012, RWE’s coal power stations cause over 900 deaths a year in Germany. RWE’s failure to adapt its business model at a time when the rest of Germany is transitioning to a low-carbon economy has caused its share price to drop by 70% since 2007. Predictably, these losses have not fallen on the executives of the company, but on the workers. In 2014 alone RWE slashed over 5000 jobs.

RWE’s business model is founded on disregard for both social and environmental consequences. When Ende Gelände activists walk into the mine tomorrow, their aim will be to disrupt this destructive model. They do this in the knowledge that when the action disrupts RWE’s business tomorrow, it will also be disrupting an ordinary workday for many people. This can justifiably be perceived as inconvenient and inconsiderate to the employees of the mine. This is regrettable, however climate change is disruptive and inconsiderate. It poses a threat to every one of us, a threat that we must respond to together.

It is for this reason that when Ende Gelände calls on RWE to change its ways, it also calls on the German government to invest in a transition to an economy based on renewable energy and sustainable long-term jobs. To us, this means investing time and money in the re-skilling and employment of workers, to rapidly deploy decentralised renewable energy solutions, that support whole communities rather than profits for a few and climate disruption for the rest. We want to extend an invitation to the workers and communities of the Rhineland, to join us in this fight.

The fight for a clean future involves transition for all of us. This includes transition for the workers of fossil fuel industries; this transition must not only be just and fair, it must be lead by workers. This is why the idea of a worker counter protest is so deeply saddening. As a climate movement we know we can do better to put the rights of working people at the centre of our work, but we know that to change everything, it will take everyone. Climate change is not just a siloable environmental issue, it is a people issue; and it is a threat to communities everywhere. That is why it is so important that we move beyond protests and counter protests and work together to build a fossil free future that is centred on fairness and justice for all.

EcoUnionist News #54

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 30, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Story:

Green Bans:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW

The Illusion of Job Creation

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, April 12, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Many people believe that corporations are out to create jobs–at least that is what most industries use as an excuse to push for decreased regulation and tax cuts.

It’s no surprise that most people who follow along with this idea are terrible critical thinkers, or at least have a similar sense of psychopathic, self-centered greed as the corporations themselves. I’ve heard some people say, “They worked hard and deserve to keep their wealth,” to which it must be assumed that every corporation began and ended with the original founder of said company and nothing was ever been passed down to the next generation. But I digress. Back to why so many people are terribly misled.

Corporations are actually out to make a profit. It is the legal obligation of a public corporation to their stock holders. Legal obligation…that means by law, as in, they can get in deep shit if they don’t make profits for their stock holders.

If that means using less people to get more production, they will do it. If that means lowering wages or decreasing benefits to reduce labor overhead, they will do it. If that means taking cost saving short cuts and lobbying against regulations meant to protect people living near their operations, they will do it. If that means shipping jobs overseas so they can do all of the above, they will do it. If that means designing a system of economics that makes us all utterly dependent upon working their jobs to buy the food they produce and to purchase the medicines we must then take and to buy the vehicles, gas, and auto insurance to allow us to go get all of these things, then you better believe they’ll do it–or rather, they have done all of the above. We are at their mercy.

It’s not a Conservative vs. Liberal issue, its an Everybody vs. Corporate America issue. Corporate America has the money and power to corrupt our political system AND they’ve got plenty left over to spend on media to keep people fighting amongst themselves rather than see what the REAL problem is. For any of the 314,000+ people who have “Liked” Count on Coal’s Facebook page, do a search for Count on Coal and the National Mining Association. Wait, I’ll do the work for you…here click this link….

REGISTER NOW!: The Future of Railroads: Safety, Workers, Community & the Environment

By Railroad Workers United and Others - railroadconference.org, March 1, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Future of Railroads: Safety, Workers, Community & the Environment is the title of two back-to-back conferences; the first on Saturday, March 14, 2015 in Richmond, California; the second on Saturday, March 21 in Olympia, Washington.

Everyday a tragic trail derailment occurs, often transporting highly flammable Bakken Shale or Tar Sand, from North Dakota or Alberta, to refineries across North America. The 47 -- preventable-- deaths in Lac-Mégantic has wakened people to the dangers of oil trains and the movement of trains in general through their communities. Environmental activists are up-in-arms about the amounts of fossil fuels moving by rail. Farmers and other shippers are concerned about the congestion that has occurred in recent months, but in part to the oil boom. The rail networks in the U.S. and Canada and clogged with crude-by-rail, displacing the already heavy traffic of grains headed to port for export.

The public generally has no idea what goes on daily on America’s railroads. Chronic crew fatigue, single employee train crews, excessively long and heavy trains, draconian availability policies, short staffing, limited time off work create challenging safety issues of concern not just to railroaders, but to the entire population.

Please join us at this cutting edge conference that brings together railroad workers, environmentalists, community activists and concerned workers from other sectors, in order to build the movement for a safer and greener railroad, on that is more responsive to the needs of workers, trackside communities, citizens in general, and society as a whole.

Richmond is a perfect confluence for this conference as it has always been a company town, first for Santa Fe Railroad as the western terminus of its transcontinental railroad in 1900, then for Standard Oil (later becoming Chevron) in 1901 and its massive refinery complex, and again for Kaiser Industries with its four assembly line-like shipyards in the late 1930s through World War II. From 1910 until 1959 the Pullman Company located its largest West Coast rail car repair shop adjacent to the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe lines in the center of Richmond. It also fronts the San Francisco Bay with access to a channel of 40-60 feet deep, allowing the largest seagoing ships (mostly oil tankers these days) to call its ports. Despite still being the location of the Burlington Northern Sante Fe rail yard and Chevron's massive refinery, Richmond is a bottomed out deindustrialized city that puts its largely working class people of color population in the toxic shadow of oil, chemical and other polluting heavy industries.

In adjacent cities of Rodeo there is the Conoco Phillips Refinery, Benecia has Valero Refinery, and Martinez has both Shell and Tesoro Refineries (the latter currently on strike). They are served by both BNSF and Union Pacific Railroads and maritime wharfs. This area along the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays is statistically known as a "cancer cluster."

EcoUnionist News #26

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, February 1, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Crude by Rail:

Carbon Bubble:

Green Jobs and Just Transition:

Other News of Interest:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

Building Their Own Gallows: The Oil Pipelines

By David Goodner - Truthout, January 20, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The debate surrounding labor's support for oil pipelines has largely centered on a false "jobs versus climate" dichotomy. But labor's position is also alienating them from their potential allies while strengthening the hand of their sworn enemies.

There's a popular saying on the left that organized labor would build their own gallows if they were offered the jobs, and nowhere is this more true than in labor's support for the environmentally disastrous Keystone XL, Enbridge Sandpiper and Bakken oil pipelines.

As in much of the debate surrounding climate change, proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, like Teamster president James P. Hoffa, generally argue that short-term job creation and economic growth trump environmental concerns about the long-term fate of the planet.

"America needs more good-paying jobs that support middle-class families. This project supplies them," Hoffa wrote in a letter published by The Detroit News in December 2014. He went on to claim that environmental concerns have been addressed by state and federal regulators, as well as by the oil company itself.

"It will be safer than any other domestic oil pipeline system built under current code," he added.

In reality of course, it is the jobs argument that is overblown, and it is the environmental threat to the survival of every living thing on earth that labor habitually understates or ignores.

The bottom line is there won't be any jobs, or an economy at all, if the planet is no longer hospitable to human life. There's no such thing as a safe oil pipeline because extracting fossil fuels from the ground and burning them into the atmosphere is what causes catastrophic climate change, not accidental oil spills.

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