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Just Transition and Extractive Industry Workers

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 26, 2021

In some ways it might be easier to establish dialog and find common ground with resource extraction workers (on issues such as climate change, just transition, and the Green New Deal) than we think. In other ways it may prove more difficult than we expect. That’s not as contradictory as it may sound, however:

First, let’s acknowledge that we’re primarily discussing decarbonization of the energy system and the economy, particularly fossil fuel capitalism, specifically coal, oil, and gas.

We’re discussing entire supply chains, from exploration and extraction to transportation and refining, to distribution, power generation to marketing and sales.

Extraction includes all forms of mining.

Transportation includes rail, road, ship, aircraft, and pipelines. It also includes storage, distribution hubs, and control centers.

Refining is a highly specialized and labor as well as capital intensive process.

How it might be easier than we think:

Most of the jobs involved in the aforementioned supply chains are not directly related to fossil fuels themselves:

For example:

  • Exploration (ie search for new “deposits” could instead be repurposed for siting renewable energy sites;
  • Offshore oil rig workers could be retrained as offshore wind power technicians (and many of the ancillary jobs, such as transportation of workers to and from sites, dispatching workers (or power), clerical work, etc. is directly transferable);
  • Transportation of goods and commodities can be utilized to transport alternative goods and commodities (eg grain rather than coal);

Where jobs may not be directly transferable, they can be retained for the repurposing or decommissioning of infrastructure or the restoration of damaged ecosystems. Such efforts often require years or decades, thus providing enough job-years for mature workers (often those with the highest seniority, wages, and benefits anyway) to last until retirement, or at least, allow sufficient time for just transition;

Failing that, many of these jobs can be made much “greener” without decommissioning, if a wholistic approach as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach is utilized, and transition efforts focus on the “low hanging fruit” (such as retiring older, more polluting facilities first, etc.);

The Prospects for Revolutionary Green Union Led Transformation

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 8, 2020

The evidence becomes more and more clear with each passing day: in order to avoid climate catastrophe and the irreparable destruction of our planet's biosphere, we need nothing less than a revolutionary green transformation of our civilization from stem to stern. These are sobering truths. The reassuring news is that the number of people that realize this, and are prepared to act, is growing day-by- day, throughout our world, in spite of the threats of resurgent fascism, capitalism's perpetual melt downs, and pandemics caused by the likes COVID-19.

The evidence can be seen by the following:

  • A growing number of people willing to take direct action to protect the earth from ecological destruction, climate catastrophe, and capitalist extractivist projects;
  • Increased awareness of the inseparability of ecocidal capitalism, colonialism, racism, and misogyny; this has corresponded with the growth of intersectionality.
  • The decline of climate change denialism;
  • The cancellation of numerous pipeline and other fossil fuel mega projects;
  • Persistently high levels of support for transformative frameworks, like the Green New Deal, limited and reformist though it may ultimately prove to be;
  • And, notable among these trends are growing levels of class consciousness among the climate justice and ecological movements, as shown by the rapid growth and widespread calls for just transition for workers affected by the transitions and transformations the current crises demand.

These developments are welcome, and they point to both the broadening and deepening of an anti-capitalist green transformational movement. However, no transformation can occur without the active support of the working class, and such support is but the beginning of what is needed to motivate the transformation. No revolutionary green transformation can occur without the participation of workers organized at the points of production and/or destruction, because it is precisely there where the capitalist class maintains its economic stranglehold of power over our civilization.

Is achieving such organized power even remotely possible?

The good news is the answer is "yes"; the not so good news is that getting to "yes" will be challenging.

Whither EcoUnionist News?

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, October 5, 2016

Whither EcoUnionist News and all of its supplements? - You may have noticed that there has not been a new installment of this feature since issue #122. That is because our web admin, who has diligently compiled and published this feature, without interruption, on a weekly basis, for almost two years, has determined that the sheer workload has overwhelmed his ability to consistently produce a quality product. He writes:

After some hard soul searching, much reflection, and no shortage of handwringing that I have decided to terminate the (mostly) weekly "EcoUnionist News" Feature and all of its subsets (Capital Blight News and Carbon Bubble News) as well as the very voluminous special supplements, such as #NoDAPL News on ecology.iww.org.

This is a very hard decision for me to make, because I strongly believe that the feature potentially serves a useful purpose, namely providing a "link dump" of news that is relevant to our organizing, or hoped-for-organizing that is simply not available anywhere else.

However, the feature has become simply too large for me to handle, often taking up two or even three days of my time to produce, which I do on top of maintaining ecology.iww.org (which involves posting other relevant, full-length articles), doing IWW EUC work, having a full-time job, participating in several other related green-unionisty type political activity, and having something of a life, little though my spare time has been outside of all of that. In fact, it's getting to the point that EcoUnionist News is too much of a task for me to handle, even if I were to drop all other activities. As you may have noticed, the feature often includes upwards of 100-plus articles each week. Until recently, I had been reading every single one of them. I had managed to do this even during the busiest days of the No Coal in Oakland campaign, which has been victorious (so far) and been an inspiring example of green-union organizing of the type that the three of us who founded the IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus had only dreamed about just three years ago.

However, in recent weeks, especially with the IWW Convention and the #NoDAPL campaign exploding on the scene, I have been including articles that I have not read carefully or even at all, and though I am pretty sure all of them have been meritous, the potential for growing sloppiness increases, and frankly, it's an indicator that the idea is a case of my having bit off more than I can chew. 

The items I have included in EcoUnionist News are (in my opinion) almost always either items that, while of some use to Green Unionists, do not make the cut as suitable full-length articles for ecology.iww.org or they're from sources where obtaining permission (such as mainstream capitalist periodicals) would be time consuming and challenging. Reading all of them has been extremely time consuming (though I have been able to take advantage of downtime where I work, such as breaks, to cover some of that). Still, I have been setting aside longer, likely much more relevant documents that deal directly with green unionism, just transition, and the like, because of the time I have instead focused on EcoUnionist News, and my "GRIL" pile is only getting bigger.

I have been weighing the options for a while now, and I have concluded that the best use of my time is to end the EcoUnionist News effort for now and focus more closely on posting the full length articles and reading the longer, more in depth items in my GRIL pile that deal with green unionism and just transition which would be a benefit to ecology.iww.org.

As for the items that will not be posted, most of these are still available, syndicated through the RSS feeds we feature on ecology.iww.org, here.   

I still will focus primarily on information and news myself (or whatever local campaign comes my way that helps us build the ideas of green unionism and where my help is requested), but for now the weekly EcoUnionist News feature has been put on ice. 

That said, our web admin has agreed to publish a much shorter list of "EcoWobbles", news items that are not quite suitable as full articles, but are of (in his opinion) of compelling interest to green unionists. So with that in mind, here are the first five such items:

An Alternative to Trident: Peace ships from Barrow - By Peter Doyle, Facts For Working People, September 26, 2016 -  This article is a contribution to the debate in the Labour Party about whether or not a Labour government should spend money to renew British nuclear submarines, now reaching the end of their useful life. The author suggests an intriguing idea for a just transition.

European trade unions' experts evaluate and plan the next steps on health and safety at work - By staff, European Trade Union Institute, September 29, 2016 - European trade unions' experts evaluate and plan the next steps on health and safety at work.

Honoring a dirty job and a beautiful one, too - By Amy Muldoon, Socialist Worker, October 5, 2016 - The author recommends an exhibition in New York City that will make you think twice about the actual pillars that a modern city rests on.

Kiteline Radio: Dear Marius episode - By Cindy A Crabb, Kiteline Radio, September 28, 2016 …We begin our show with updates on the National Prison Strike, and then devote the entire episode to Marius Mason, a friend and former Bloomington resident currently serving a 22 year sentence for acts of ecological defense. We hear messages from people to and about Marius, listen to some of Marius’s music and poetry, and learn about his case.

Strike continues at Anglo American’s Australian coal mine - By staff, Mining.Com, October 3, 2016 - 140 workers at Anglo American’s German Creek coal mine in Australia remain on strike over their trade union enterprise agreement (EBA), which expired in April 2014 and is being negotiated ever since.

Just Transition, System Change, and Revolutionary Green Transformation

By Steve Ongerth - Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 21, 2016

The term “Just Transition” is becoming increasingly prevalent in discussions involving workers, climate change, and post carbon energy economics.

Wikipedia describes Just Transition as, “a framework that has been developed by the trade union movement to encompass a range of social interventions needed to secure workers’ jobs and livelihoods when economies are shifting to sustainable production, including avoiding climate change, protecting biodiversity, among other challenges.”

This is particularly timely given the fact that humanity faces a deepening crises due to global warming, brought on by capitalist economic activity centered on a fossil-fuel based economy. In order to prevent the absolute worst case scenarios of what will almost undoubtedly a warming world, at least 80% of the known fossil fuel reserves will need to remain unextracted, and humanity will need to transition to a renewable energy based post-carbon economy. Such a shift will inevitably require a massive transformation of the means of production, likely affecting much of the working class.

Already we’re witnessing the beginnings of major upheaval simply due to the innate characteristics of chaotic capitalist market activity, as 100,000s of workers jobs are imperiled by collapsing coal, oil, and commodities markets worldwide, combined with just the beginnings of a major shift as disruptive technologies such as wind and solar achieve greater and greater share of the mix of energy sources now available.

Furthermore, climate justice and/or environmental activists know—at least intuitively—that the fossil fuel based economy, including all parts of its supply chain must be shut down as rapidly as possible and replaced by ecologically sustainable alternatives, and all attempts at expansion of the fossil fuel based activity must be opposed, by any means necessary, including (but limited to) direct action. 

In this context, the issue of jobs and just transition has become a major topic. Obviously, shutting down any project cold (even if possible) would result in the loss of jobs performed by the workers, who’re not responsible for the activities of their employers (and quite likely do not entirely agree with their employers’ motives). Even limiting such projects can potentially negatively affect the workers’ livelihoods. Given such a threat, it’s understandable that these workers would oppose efforts by climate justice and environmental activists to disrupt fossil fuel supply chains.

It’s not a new concept...

(Read the entire document here in PDF Form)

Capital Blight: The Two Bums

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 15, 2016

It may seem like King Coal has suffered a couple of bad weeks in a row.  Consider the following:

Six years and a day after Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch Mine exploded, killing 29 men, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger issued former Massey CEO, Don Blankenship, the maximum allowable sentence for for willfully conspiring to violate mine safety standards: one year in prison, one year of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

However, when broken down, this only roughly figures out to $8621 and 12½ days per dead miner. Perhaps that's why Tommy Davis, who lost his brother, son, and nephew in the explosion (while he was working in another section of the mine that day) shouted at Blankenship as he left the courthouse,

"You don’t have a heart; you don’t miss your kids like we miss ours...I hold a picture, I hold a tombstone; you hold nothing."

He further elaborated, in response to Blankenship's (no doubt well scripted) "apology" spoken in response to the sentencing

"It didn’t mean nothing, and it still won’t mean nothing...He never come to me in six years, never come to me, never come to my mom, my dad who’re gone now. They grieved themselves to death. He never come to apologize to us. He never said nothing."

This also likely explains why Annette Workman, who lost her husband, Ricky, in the incident angrily shouted, “Did you ever go down in that mine?” at the soon-to-be imprisoned (though not for long) erstwhile CEO.

Clearly this sorry affair reveals just how unfair the capitalist system really is. Any working class individual who'd caused the equivalent amount of death and mayhem would have been given the death sentence, but as long as such activity is done in the persuit of profit, it falls under the presumed innocence of capitalism and is thusly rarely charged more than a slap on the hand. One should not blame Judge Berger for not meting out harsher judgement. By law, she can only slap so hard. 

More Background

Capital Blight: Pop go the Weasels

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 7, 2016

On March, 29, 2016, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and CoalSwarm released Boom and Bust 2016: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline, the second annual report examining the precarious global coal plant pipeline. New investigations detailed in the report revealed that while the coal industry continues to push for the construction of more coal-fired power plants, in reality, coal plants are increasingly sitting idle in all of the world’s four largest markets, and global coal consumption is declining drastically. This is particularly evident in China where the government recently took the first step to curb runaway coal plant investment, after the country’s coal use plunged by nearly 6.4 percent in two years.

The report’s unprecedentedly detailed mapping of new coal-fired power plants indicates the reported suspension of new permits and new construction starting in half of China’s provinces could affect 60 percent of the 460 new coal-fired units that have been permitted or are in the permitting process.

With coal use on the decline worldwide, the estimated $981 billion needed to construct the proposed coal plant pipeline represents a massive investment in potentially stranded assets — resulting in an even further downward spiral for the global coal industry. In fact, this number is more than one-and-a-half times the amount that the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates is needed to end energy poverty for the 1.2 billion people currently living without reliable energy access. On top of this staggering revelation, the report found that the additional new proposed coal capacity would result in over 130,000 more premature deaths worldwide each year from air pollution and finds that existing coal-fired power plants are responsible for a total of nearly one million premature deaths annually from coal-fired power generation.

In spite of the coal barons' continued insistence on beating a dead horse, hundreds of thousands of coal mine workers have lost their jobs anyway, (for which the capitalists have shed not a single tear--and yet the instant environmental activists oppose even the most insignificant coal facility or propose the meekest upgrade to a clean air regulation, these same capitalists screech and howl about how these "unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs" are "threatening jobs!" (meaning profits). Meanwhile, in the wake of the continuing decline in oil prices (from a high of $114 US on the Brent index in October 2014 to as low as $27 US in the early months of 2016), more than 250,000 oil workers have also lost their jobs. Likewise, many railroad workers have been furloughed as the carriers' insistance on putting all of their eggs in the fossil fuel basket has broken far more than warranted by any omlette. Across the supply chain, steel workers, pipefitters, office workers, and just about any craft related to fossil fuel extractivism are experiencing increasingly precarious job status.

Clearly the carbon bubble has burst. It's long past time to organize a workers' led movement to seize control of the means of production and initiate a rapid and just transition to a post carbon economy that puts an end to wage slavery and brings humanity back into harmony with the Earth!

The Report

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Mistaken Identity: the Tortured History of Sabotage, Part 1

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, March 3, 2016

The IWW has long been associated, for better or worse, with the tactic of "sabotage", so much so that it has become an essential part of the Wobbly lexicon (even though the tactic predates the IWW by at least a century). As I have detailed elsewhere1, the radical environmental movement, initiated principally, though not exclusively, by Earth First!, beginning in the very late 1970s in the United States, drew much cultural inspiration from the One Big Union (and to a much lesser degree, some of its economic critique of capitalism). One of the most celebrated such "borrowings" was the strategy of direct action.

A classic IWW slogan, which appeared on many of the IWW's literature and imagery, reads "direct action gets the goods". The black cat or the wooden shoe (otherwise known as a "sabot"), often associated with the IWW, symbolizes "sabotage," and these same symbols and slogans would later appear in Earth First! literature and iconography.

Earth First! cofounder, Dave Foreman popularized "monkeywrenching" (sometimes also called "ecofefense"), a series or class of tactics involving small bands of anonymous guerillas entering into wilderness areas slated to be developed or have their resources extracted and vandalized the equipment that was to be used in the process or set traps that would hamper the same equipment from smooth and timely operations. This has often been called sabotage (or sometimes ecotage).

However, sabotage and monkeywrenching are not the same thing. In fact, many who practice, or at least preach, using the latter do not understand the difference, and economic conditions which led to the adoption of the former by workers. Indeed, may of them don't understand sabotage at all, and that's no coincidence. What most people have heard or read about the IWW and "sabotage" is fairly inaccurate, and most accounts are more romantic fiction than historical fact.

Eco Wobbles: the Lesser Known Story about the Delta 5 Case

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 22, 2016

By now, dear readers, you may have heard about the victory of the Delta 5, but in case you hadn't, here's a short review: In September 2014 five activists, Patrick Mazza, Mike LaPoint, Abby Brockway, Liz Spoerri and Jackie Minchew, entered the BNSF Delta railyard in Everett, Washington, and blocked an oil train with a tripod of steel rods to which they locked themselves. Motivated by frustration about the climate, workers safety and public health from the recklessness of the oil and railroad industries, they stayed on the tracks for eight hours before BNSF police arrested and charged them with trespassing and obstructing a train.

At their trial, during the first half of January 2016, they introduced the "necessity defense." They argued that their actions were not a crime because they were necessary to prevent a much greater harm, climate disruption and the immediate threat of oil train derailments, spills, and explosions.

To establish the necessity of their action the defense brought in expert witnesses to testify about the urgency of climate disruption, the danger from oil trains, railroad industry’s disregard for worker safety and the fact that pollution from trains is already killing people. Their testimony went largely unchallenged by the prosecution. Judge Anthony E Howard, who presided over the case, even expressed some sympathy for the activists, but at the end of the trial ruled that the jury would have to disregard these arguments because the defense had not sufficiently demonstrated that there was no other legal alternative to achieve the same ends. "Frankly the court is convinced that the defendants are far from the problem and are part of the solution to the problem of climate change," Howard said from the bench. But, he added: "I am bound by legal precedent, no matter what my personal beliefs might be." With those very narrow set of instructions, the jury returned with their verdict -- finding the Delta 5 guilty of trespassing, but not guilty of obstructing a train. The obstructing a train charge carried a potentially much more serious penalty.

After the trial was over and the Delta 5 and jury were released three of the six jurors came back into the courthouse, hugged the defendants, and sat with them and their supporters while they were sentenced by the judge.

While the ruling can still be appealed by BNSF, for now climate justice activists are celebrating the ruling as a partial victory, though not a resounding victory, because Judge Howard ruled out the possibility of using the "Neccessity Defense".

What's less talked about, however, is that this case represents another small victory, in this case (no pun intended) a victory for Green Unionism. During the blockade, Abby Brockway (shown in the accompanying image) sat atop a tripod which bore a sign which read: "Cut Oil Trains, Not Conductors - #Greens4Rails" which was in reference to a concurrent rank and file BNSF railroad workers' struggle (aided in large part by the organizers of Railroad Workers United (RWU)) to beat-back a concessionary contract proposal (detailed on ecology.iww.org) which would have allowed for the reduction in train-crew size from two to one employee. This was directly relevant to the Delta 5's blockade, because the latter were concerned about stopping any future disasters like the crude-by-rail train derailment which killed 47 people and devastated the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic, in which an overworked and poorly trained Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway engineer, Tom Harding, had been the single employee on the train in question.

The rank and file railroad workers' fight against concessions succeeded. The Delta 5's soldiarity with railroad workers (in addition to support from many other enviornmental activists) sent a clear message that these climate justice activists do not blame railroad workers for the careless profiteering of the fossil fuel corporations or the railroad bosses, and see the workers as potential allies. Indeed, partly as a result of such overtures, BNSF whistleblower and railroad worker, Mike Elliot, testified at the trial of the Delta 5 on behalf of the defendants, and though his testimony was ultimately not allowed by the judge to be used as evidence, it still offers a glimpse of the potential strength that both the labor and environmental movements can bring to each other.

There's still much to be worked out in the case of railroad workers and climate justice activists opposed to crude-by-rail, including matters of railroad workers' working conditions and just transition. And far too many railroad workers believe the lies their bosses tell them about environmentalists being responsible for the current downturn in railroad work (which is primarily due to the crash of the shale oil boom and the economic meltdown currently unfolding in China, both of which are typical busts in the boom-bust cycle of the capitalist market). Some initial groundwork took place during three conferences organized by RWU and others last year, called "Railroad Safety: Workers, Community & the Environment". On the heels of the Delta 5 victory, there's no better time to think about continuing that work. An Injury to One is an Injury to All!

Unions and the Climate Justice Movement

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, October 7, 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.

Where does the union movement stand on the issue of climate justice? The answer to that question is not entirely simple. First of all, it's important to understand the differences between revolutionary unions (most of which are syndicalist--such as the CNT, FAI, SAC--or Marxist--such as NUMSA--in their orientation, or some hybrid inclusive of both and more--such as the IWW) and mainstream reformist unions, such as the AFL-CIO.  For most revolutionary unions, climate justice is an inherent part of the struggle to overthrow capitalism, abolish wage slavery, and create a new society within the shell of the old. For example, the IWW has organized an environmental unionism caucus that dedicates itself to climate justice and other ecological issues. The South African union, NUMSA, is a supporter of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED)1 and has issued a statement calling for the end to the "Mineral Industrial Complex" (even though they represent mine workers) in favor of renewable energy.

Where the reformist unions (sometimes called "business unions" or "class collaborationist" unions by their detractors) stand varies widely, and to be accurate, some of these "reformist" unions have more (or less) "revolutionary" orientation within the spectrum of the mainstream labor movement. While many still believe that capitalism can be reformed, the evolving realities of capitalism--which is becoming extremely repressive as it imposes increasingly crushing austerity upon the working class--the ever heightening urgency of addressing capitalist induced global warming, and the increasingly impossible-to-ignore realities of police violence, movements like Black Lives Matter, and other social issues are driving many unions to question their adherence to it, beyond the mere rank and file militants within each of them.

One would expect the Building Trades and most heavy industry based unions in the United States, many of which are still largely dominated by white male workers, to be least supportive of climate justice (or even likely to swallow the rhetoric of climate denialism) and conversely expect the service unions, many of which are predominantly composed of women and People of Color to be most supportive of it, and in some cases that's true, but not always! The actual "geography" of where unions stand on climate justice is actually quite complex2, inconsistent, and in some instances contradictory.  Sorting it out completely is well beyond the scope of this article, but it is illustrative to cover some general ground and cite a few interesting examples.

Wrong Again!

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, November 6, 2014

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.

Our regular readers know that we tend to be quite critical of the business unions and the big green NGOs for their continued slavish alliance with capitalism, and knowing this, they should not be shocked that--once again--the increasingly ineffectual and coopted Blue Green Alliance is in our sights.

In case you didn't know, the Blue Green Alliance is a coalition of business unions and environmental organizations that ostensibly advocates for building bridges between the labor movement and the environmental movement, with a specific focus towards "green jobs" and "sustainable development". Each year, the alliance issues a "Right Stuff Award" to "business, government, environmental, labor, and community leaders who promote a sustainable economy and environment". This year, they say, their awards will honor "leaders for their work on building a 21st century energy infrastructure."

Based on their choice of Obama's Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, one has to be wondering if the Blue Green Alliance knows what century they're in, or perhaps whether or not the Alliance has an oddball definition of what 21st century infrastructure is, exactly. You see, the last time I checked, Ernest Moniz has deep ties to the fossil fuel, fracking and nuclear industries. He has served on advisory boards for oil giant BP and General Electric, and was a trustee of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, a Saudi Aramco-backed nonprofit organization. In 2011, Moniz was the chief author of an influential study for MIT on the future of natural gas. According to a new report by the Public Accountability Initiative, Moniz failed to disclose that he had taken a lucrative position at a pro-drilling firm called ICF International just days before a key natural gas "fracking" study was released.

This doesn't sound very green to me. If anything, it's more like a greenwash. Unfortunately, this is par for the course for the so-called Blue Green Alliance.

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The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

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The Fine Print II:

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