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Crude Awakening: A new air district rule might prevent increased Canadian tar sands production at Bay Area refineries

By Will Parrish - North Bay Bohemian, June 8, 2016

In recent years, oil corporations have intensified their push to make the San Francisco Bay Area and other areas of the West Coast into international hubs for refining and shipping of one of the world's most carbon-intensive and polluting fuel sources: the Canadian tar sands.

In April, that long-standing effort spilled into Santa Rosa mailboxes. Constituents of 3rd District supervisor Shirlee Zane received a letter, addressed to Zane herself, from a group called Bay Area Refinery Workers.

"As a member of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District," the letter read, "you'll soon vote on a proposal that will impact our jobs, our refineries and the important work we do refining the cleanest gasoline in the world."

It asked that Zane "please remember that the Bay Area refineries provide more good-paying union jobs than any private sector employer in the region."

Twelve refinery employees provided signatures, but the letter was produced and mailed by an organization called the Committee for Industrial Safety, which is bankrolled by the oil giants Chevron, Shell, Tesoro and Phillips 66. According to state and federal records, each corporation annually provides the group between $100,000 and $200,000 to advocate on their behalf.

The letter's apparent aim was to influence Zane's upcoming vote on a little-known but potentially far-reaching Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) regulation called Refinery Rule 12-16 that's aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emmissions. If enacted, the measure would make the BAAQMD the nation's first regional air district to go beyond state and federal mandates in regulating refinery GHG emissions, the pollutants that fuel global climate change.

Zane is one of the BAAQMD's 24 directors, along with elected officials from nine Bay Area counties extending from Santa Clara in the South Bay to Sonoma and Napa. They will determine the measure's fate at a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting later this year.

Staff members at BAAQMD have proposed four alternative forms of Refinery Rule 12-16. But only one has the support of a coalition of environmental groups and the unions that represent refinery employees: a quantitative limit, or cap, on GHGs.

Processing the tar sands would dramatically increase greenhouse gas pollution at the refineries under the BAAQMD's jurisdiction, and advocates from groups like Oakland's Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), an environmental justice organization, say an emissions cap would turn back what they call the "tar sands invasion" from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Critics warn that without the cap, the oil industry will continue pursuing new tar sands infrastructure on the West Coast at a frenetic pace. "We've seen them come at us at a 10 times faster rate in the last few years," says CBE senior scientist and refinery expert Greg Karras. "Up and down the refinery belt, refineries are retooling for the tar sands and creating infrastructure for export of refined tar sands products overseas."

Experts have warned of the effects of a significantly expanded production of the tar sands—a sticky mixture of sand, clay and bitumen trapped deep beneath Canada's boreal forest. It would lock in dramatic increases in global temperatures and result in devastating impacts to ecosystems and human societies throughout the globe. A 2015 report in the journal Nature found that trillions of dollars' worth of known and extractable coal, oil and gas reserves (including nearly all remaining tar sands and all Arctic oil and gas) should remain in the ground if global temperatures are to be kept under the safety threshold of 2 degrees centigrade that's been agreed to by the world's nations at the Paris climate summit last year.

In an ecologically minded region like the Bay Area, an emissions cap to stop a dramatic increase in regional tar sands production (and tar sands exports from local ports) might seem like a political no-brainer. But staff and some members of BAAQMD say they are concerned that GHG emissions averted in the Bay Area would simply occur somewhere else, since the oil industry would increase production elsewhere. Doing so would render Refinery Rule 12-16 ineffectual in curbing climate pollution because other regions might not be so attentive.

Karras and other advocates believe the opposite is true. The cap offers local elected officials a rare opportunity, they say, to make a significant contribution to heading off the catastrophic impacts of global warming.

“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street

By Desiree Hellegers - Counterpunch, May 23, 2016

On Sunday, May 15, more than a hundred climate change kayaktivists took to the waters of Padilla Bay in Anacortes, Washington, risking arrest to land on the banks of the Tesoro oil refinery. In the shadow of the refinery smoke stacks, they unfurled banners calling attention to the potentially lethal risks that fossil fuel workers confront each day on the job. “Seven Dead, No More Casualties, Tesoro Explosion April 2, 2010” read one banner focused on Tesoro’s checkered workplace safety record. “Solidarity is Strength, We are all workers,” read another banner. Yet another called for a “Just Transition,” as kayaktivists knelt on the ground, paddles in hand, in what organizers described as a demonstration of respect for the workers killed at the refinery, and for those still working in the refinery. The messaging on the banks of the refinery signaled the central challenge that climate change activists confront in trying to find common ground—if not common cause–with refinery workers.

The Anacortes actions were part of a global two-week wave of activism spanning six continents under the shared rallying cry to “Break Free” from fossil fuels. As actions unfolded in the U.S. from Albany, NY and Washington, D.C. to Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles, more than a thousand activists converged on Anacortes, just south of the Canadian border. The aim of activists was to confront, by land and sea, the role of big oil in rising global temperatures and sea levels–and to disrupt the flow of oil to the Shell and Tesoro refineries.

In the face of activists’ resolve to blockade the oil shipments to the port, both Shell and Tesoro suspended tanker and rail transport for the duration of the three-day action. Nonetheless, an estimated 150 activists camped out on the rails for two nights before the police moved in in the early hours of Sunday, May 15, arresting 52 activists and charging them with criminal trespassing.

In a phone interview, Eric Ross, organizing director of the Backbone Campaign out of Vashon, Island, WA, which handled much of the logistical planning and coordination for the water-based Break Free events in Anacortes, indicated that the workers at Tesoro, who daily face toxic exposure on the job, are among the many “casualties of extractive industries” and the byproduct of the “reckless endangerment” that defines the behavior of multinational corporations, whose main focus is on “extracting money.” “They’ve chosen to make their billions by extracting resources from communities that don’t consent to that reckless endangerment of our children, our communities and our climate,” Ross observed. Ross heralded the three-day cessation of oil transportation as a victory for Break Free: “I think it’s a really impressive show of the power of our movements and just how afraid these extractive industries are of organized people.”

Zarna Joshi, an activist with the grassroots group Women of Color Speak Out, was one of several speakers who addressed kayaktivists on the banks of Fidalgo Bay before they struck out for the banks of the Tesoro refinery. In a phone interview, Joshi described the Break Free action as the culmination of “a real building of momentum” over the past two years. She indicated that in the Pacific Northwest, climate activists have been “building relationships with people in labor, building relationship with people in the First Nations—particularly Salish Sea First Nations—building community and building trust.”

In fact, an entire day of the three-day event was devoted to a Native-led march and ceremonies at March Point in the shadow of the Shell refinery. While the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty included March Point within the boundaries of the Swinomish Reservation, an executive order by President Ulysses S. Grant in the 1870s redrew the boundaries of the reservation to exclude March Point, ultimately opening it up for development by Shell and Tesoro. Last year, Shell was “fined $77,000 by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries for an uncontrolled release of toxins that sickened residents and sent at least two people to the hospital.”

Skagit County, Joshi observed, “has one of the highest levels of cancer in the entire state, and those levels of cancer are linked to the pollution coming from the refineries.” Activists, Joshi said, “were standing in solidarity with workers, and not just with workers at these refineries, but with workers around the whole region whose jobs are being threatened by the fossil fuel empire, by climate change, by health crises.”

Among the participants in the Anacortes actions was Laurie King, former long term organizer with Portland Jobs with Justice, now retired, who planned to attend one of a number of workshops focused on effecting a “just transition” for workers currently employed in the fossil fuel industry. “I’m a union activist, so I’ve been asking a lot of questions about what do the workers think and what kind of jobs do people think of fighting for for the workers. I think that this whole movement has to be a two-pronged movement and that the same energy that goes into the desire to save the planet for everyone also has to be into a just transition with the same fervor, the same degree of planning and we have to figure out really concrete ways to have a just transition.” Over her decades of union organizing, King observed, “I’ve talked to many, many workers, and if they had a choice, of course they’d rather be doing things that are not hurting themselves or the planet. The thing is that it isn’t easy to find another well paying job, and we environmentalists have to deal with that in the most deep way and not just slough it off.” King went on to observe, “I think we have to be just as fervent about fighting for jobs for the workers who are in the fossil fuel industries at the same time that we’re fighting against fossil fuel structures.”

Bay Area IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus: Three Years and Going Strong

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 3, 2016; image by Jon Flanders.

The Bay Area IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus was cofounded in February 2013 by three members of the Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch. The group also helped launch the IWW EUC proper shortly after that.

The Bay Area IWW EUC quickly launched ecology.iww.org as well as the EUC social media presence on Facebook & Twitter.

Initially, the group joined in anti-Keystone X-L protests in the Spring of 2013, but also played a minor role in helping organize a labor contingent at the August 6, 2013 "Summer Heat" protest against Chevron in Richmond, CA (on the one year anniversary of the refinery fire which injured several union workers and sent 15,000 residents to the hospital seeking medical care).

Following that event, members of the Bay Area EUC helped launch the Richmond based Sunflower Alliance with several other local working class climate justice and frontline community activists. That group focuses primarily on climate & environmental justice campaigns in the Contra Costa County (northeast Bay Area) refinery corridor, which is one of the most industrial communities in all of California. That group--thanks in part to the presence of IWW members (but also do to the contributions of others) remains very class conscious and continually reaches out to the workers in the fossil fuel projects that it targets, with some degree of success.

Likewise, the Bay Area EUC also helped found and remains active in the Bay Area chapter of System Change not Climate Change (SCnCC). Thanks to open and friendly dialog, that group which is predominantly Eco-socialist is still inclusive of and welcoming to green-syndicalists and remains nonsectarian and inclusive. That group has organized several climate justice marches and rallies (with the help of others) which have included substantial rank & file Union member participation.

In February 2015, the Bay Area EUC, along with the aforementioned groups, Communities for a Better Environment, Movement Generation, the California Nurses Association, and the local chapter of the Sierra Club organized community support for striking refinery workers at the Tesoro refinery in Avon, CA (near Martinez) in Contra Costa County. There was a substantial "green" solidarity presence on the picket lines due to these efforts.

While this was happening, Bay Area IWW EUC members, along with Railroad Workers United, 350, the Sunflower Alliance, and SCnCC helped organize three "Railroad Workers Safety Conferences" that included railroad workers, striking refinery workers, and climate justice activists dialoging on common issues. The conferences were held in Richmond, Olympia, and the Great Lakes region, and were very successful. The website railroadconference.org has the information. More conferences may follow.

Since the conclusion of the railroad conferences, members of the Bay Area EUC have been involved in the "No Coal in Oakland" campaign, which seeks to prevent coal from being exported from a new bulk exports terminal being developed in Oakland by anti-Occupy capitalist, Phil Tagami (that group doesn't oppose the terminal or export of other (non fossil fuel) commodities; just coal). That group has a very strong union member participation, and has managed to get 21 unions (including four ILWU locals, the SEIU port workers local, and Bay Area IWW) to oppose coal exports. These efforts led to the Alameda County AFL-CIO CLC passing a resolution against coal exports (in the face of Teamsters and Building Trades support for coal exports) and the subsequent creation of a "green caucus" of the CLC.

The Bay Area EUC has also participated in conferences organized by the group "Bay Localize" that seek to have unions and clean power advocates work together on Community Choice Aggregation campaigns that challenge the dominance of capitalist investor owned utilities (primarily PG&E).

Bay Area EUC members have also participated in campaigns to save Knowland Park (in the southeast Oakland hills) from creeping privatization); to prevent the eviction of a homeless encampment at the Albany Bulb on the east bay shore; and in the "Occupy the Farm" campaign in the Gill Tract of Albany (northwest of Berkeley).

With the support of Bay Area EUC members, Railroad Workers United passed a resolution on "Just Transition"; those same members are hoping to get the ILWU to pass a similar resolution.

Finally, our group has participated in or organized several showings of Darryl Cherney's film, "Who Bombed Judi Bari?"

Most of these groups, campaigns, and efforts have been well covered on ecology.iww.org.

Can the Climate Movement Break Free From the 'Jobs vs. Environment' Debate?

By Kate Aronoff - Common Dreams, April 30, 2016

For two weeks this May, organizers across 12 countries will participate in Break Free 2016, an open-source invitation to encourage “more action to keep fossil fuels in the ground and an acceleration in the just transition to 100 percent renewable energy.” Many of the month’s events — pulled together by 350.org and a slew of groups around the world — are set to take place within ongoing campaigns to shut down energy infrastructure, targeting “some of the most iconic and dangerous fossil fuel projects all over the world” with civil disobedience.

The Break Free site’s opening page invites viewers to “join a global wave of resistance to keep coal, oil and natural gas in the ground.” And that’s where some unions have taken issue.

The United Steelworkers, or USW, this week released a response. “Short-sighted and narrow-focused activities like 350.org’s ‘Break Free’ actions,” they write, “make it much more challenging to work together to create and envision a clean energy economy.” Three of the locations targeted — in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Washington — are USW-represented refineries. The union argues that, despite record growth in renewables, the economy will continue to be reliant on fossil fuels for some time. “Shutting down a handful of refineries in the United States,” they say, “would lead to massive job loss in refinery communities, increased imports of refined oil products, and ultimately no impact on global carbon emissions.” Rather, refineries and their workers should be brought into the clean energy economy.

The statement ends arguing that, “We can’t choose between good jobs or a healthy environment. If we don’t have both, we’ll have neither.” In more familiar terms, Breaking Free — for the USW — sounds like a case of jobs versus the environment.

While similar releases are standard fare for other unions, the 30,000-member USW is one of the country’s most progressive — even when it comes to environmental issues.

“People assume that because we’re an industrial union that our leadership doesn’t care about the environment,” Roxanne Brown told me. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Brown is the assistant legislative director at USW, and emphasized the union’s long history of work on environmental issues. The USW hosted a conference in support of air pollutant regulations in the late 1960s, early on rejecting the kind of weaponized jobs versus environment rhetoric that has cropped up around the Keystone XL pipeline and other extraction fights.

Austerity vs. the Planet: The Future of Labor Environmentalism

By Trish Kahle - Dissent, Spring 2016

Last December members of the International Trade Union Confederation joined other civil society activists in a mass sit-in at the COP21 talks in Paris. Unionists and their allies, some 400 strong, filled the social space adjacent to the negotiating rooms for several hours, in defiance of a French ban on protests that remained in effect in the wake of the November 13 terrorist attacks. The ITUC delegation demanded the negotiators go back to the table and make a serious effort to incorporate labor’s demands for a just transition—which, at its heart, is concerned with making sure workers in environmentally unsustainable industries are retrained and put to work building a new, sustainable economy.

The action, even as it generated energy and media buzz, failed to convince the negotiators. The “just transition” clause of the Paris agreement remained stuck in the preamble (not in the body of the agreement itself, as the ITUC members had demanded), more of a hat tip than grounds for international action. But at least it got a mention—unlike the fossil fuels largely responsible for the climate crisis in the first place. Nowhere in the Paris agreement or its preamble do the words fossil fuel, coal, oil, gas, or pollution appear.

As the talks wrapped up and world leaders hailed a “historic turning point” in the world’s relationship to ongoing climate disruption, environmental activist Chris Williams pointed out that “twenty-one years of treaties and negotiations have all been stepping around the main problem, which is the production of fossil fuels.” For all the pomp and circumstance, this agreement was no different. Meanwhile, the consequences of two decades of inaction become clearer each day. A few weeks after the Paris agreement was signed, scientists confirmed that 2015 was the warmest year on record, with global temperatures approaching 1°C above the twentieth-century average. And those already feeling the worst effects of this climate disruption, predominantly poor people of color, continued to have the least say in how to combat it.

Just as they have been dismissed in international climate negotiations, workers have largely been excluded from the fragile global recovery since 2008. Some 197 million people around the world are jobless, with young people making up over a third of this number. Unemployment in southern and eastern Europe remains particularly high, still hovering at 24.6 percent in austerity-ravaged Greece, as well as in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Middle East.

The picture in the OECD economies is not much prettier. In the United States, economic recovery has meant the swapping out of middle-wage jobs, earning between $14 and $21 an hour, for part-time, on-call, low-wage employment with few benefits. Energy-sector jobs, often hailed as the lifeblood of the American economic recovery, have taken a dive as oil prices plunge below $30 a barrel. In 2015 the industry slashed 104,514 jobs, compared to 4,137 the year before. Fracking boom state North Dakota went from ranking first in U.S. job growth to dead last.

All this takes place in the context of a weakened labor movement that has failed to maintain workers’ expected standard of living in the face of ongoing restructuring in the world economy and, particularly in the United States, political backsliding. The degradation of work and the destruction of the environment have proceeded hand in hand. Good jobs keep going away, but fossil fuels haven’t gone anywhere. And yet the industry-propagated myth of “jobs versus the environment” persists. From the moment Congress debated anti-pollution legislation in the early 1970s, fossil fuel industry leaders promised such regulation would destroy the heavily unionized employment in the industry. In 1971 the Chamber of Commerce warned that the passage of the Clean Air Act could lead to the collapse of “entire industries,” while auto industry lobbyists prophesied “business catastrophe.” Four decades later, the talking points remain the same: the Heritage Foundation claims that Obama’s Clean Power Plan will cost 1 million U.S. jobs, while West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito says that new coal rules threaten to “regulate out of existence” her state’s key industry.

The problem with this story is that environmental regulation never got the chance to destroy whole sectors of “good jobs,” as opponents of pollution regulation promised it would; the fossil fuel companies themselves, with the winds of free-market fundamentalism at their backs, destroyed them instead. A decade after the passage of the Clean Air Act, the United States was producing more cars and fossil fuels than ever, and employing a record number of workers to do so. Another decade later, as the Cold War was ending, U.S. fossil fuel production was still going strong, but the jobs were evaporating.

It wasn’t just fossil fuels, of course. The decline in manufacturing jobs, union density, and real wages wrought by neoliberal restructuring hollowed out the prospects of the entire American working class. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the resulting misery has only been exacerbated by government austerity and anti-union measures, as manufactured scarcity is marshaled to frighten workers into concessions.

Well, if You Ask Me: Oil and Me

By Dano T Bob - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 14, 2016

So, a large part of my life has revolved around oil refineries.

I was born in Jeffersonville, Indiana, a suburb of Louisville , Kentucky in 1981. My father worked for Ashland Oil (now Marathon Oil) in their Louisville Refinery. This refinery was shut down in 1983, and my dad accepted a transfer to Ashland Oil’s main operation in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, where my family moved when I was 2 years old. Many other workers from Louisville, and from another shuttered refinery in Buffalo, New York were also relocated to the Ashland Oil refinery there.

So, my entire childhood, youth, life, etc. were directly affected by the flux of the industrial economy, one that is now dying or dead in most of the U.S., offshored to other places for higher profits and lax regulation. And as my life was affected by this move, I learned many things from this refinery, which still touches me in various ways.

The refinery is why I grew up in Appalachian, Kentucky, never knowing another place until traveling and moving around years later. Hell, the high school I went to was named after former Ashland Oil executive Paul G. Blazer, know for his pioneering work to seek federal subsidies for the domestic oil industry in the U.S. (ugh, I know, right?) This refinery paid for most everything in my life (my mother worked as well, but for minimal wages), clothes, school, cars, what have you. This refinery not only influenced me economically in a personal way, but it controlled the economy of the whole town and region, sponsoring events and filling city coffers with tax revenue and the like. When it was bought out in 1998 by Marathon Oil from Ohio, and the corporate office in Ashland closed and jobs were slashed, this decimated the area in a way that it has never recovered from. The NAFTA years, which also resulted in what has led to near death blows for the steel industry around Ashland as well, were not kind to the Appalachia Rust Belt on the Ohio River. People left, capital left, towns shrank in half, infrastructure crumbed and drugs arrived. For a good read about these years in Appalachia and how folks fought back, I highly recommend the book, “To Move a Mountain:Fighting the Global Economy in Appalachia.”

As industry fled, its residual pollution and the consequences remained. This refinery also not only affected my health and my families, but the health of the whole region, and still continues to do so. Beyond destroying my dad’s back, industry also worked over the air quality of the region. One gem from a few years ago, concerning the elementary school that I went to and that my mom worked at, is linked here: “Chemical found in air outside 15 schools” Oh, of those schools, three of them are in Ashland, and all of them were exposed to, “elevated levels of a substance that — in a more potent form — was also used as a chemical weapon during World War I.”

This link with Ashland Oil extends to my adult working life as well, again concerning not only air pollution but water pollution as well. The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, who used to employ your truly, fought its first big campaign back in the 1980’s and 90’s against Ashland Oil and their assault on the health and environment of the community. A summary of their great work on this can be found here. Highlights include: “in response to persistent (ten-years) and intense pressure from OVEC members and the organized surrounding communities, the US Department of Justice fined Ashland $5.8 million, and forced them to put aside over $30 million to bring their three US refineries into full compliance with pollution laws. Ashland was forced to install video cameras linked to regulators’ offices for pollution monitoring-the first such action taken in the United States.”

Ashland Oil later went on to spin off its nascent coal division into a separate company, which became Arch Coal, which is now the second largest supplier of coal in the U.S and the major proponent of Mountaintop Removal coal mining in Appalachia.

This oil refinery also shaped my views of organized labor and the power of a union. My father was a proud member of OCAW, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, which later became PACE and was eventually folded into the United Steelworkers union. These union wages and benefits are what prompted my father and my family to relocated for this job, and also made them able to pay for the things I mentioned previously. It was not just oil that enable me to have a middle class upbringing, and it was not just my father’s labor, it was the collective labor of all those at the refinery and their collective union bargaining for these wages and benefits. I distinctly remember a labor dispute in the early 90’s, the picket lines, the strike fund, the scabs and the solidarity. It gave me a profound respect for these brave workers and how the middle class was built in this country, which was not given to us by corporations but by us demanding our fair share. It was also great to see their successful labor action of last year as part of a nationwide refinery strike, speaking up for worker safety and winning.

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

EcoUnionist News #52

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 16, 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:

Fracking the EPA:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

1267-Watch:

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

A Houston Wobbly’s Reflection on the USW Strike

By Adelita - Unity and Struggle, May 11, 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.

Unions’ power is in decay and lately have been resorting to more creative methods in order to remain relevant. We’ve seen the Democrats putting their money behind the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Fight For $15 in Houston at the same time attempting to “turn Texas blue.” But this dependency of unions like SEIU and the United Steel Workers (USW) on the Democratic Party means they are severely limited in what they are willing to do in the realm of tactics. This along with union density being sharply in decline, as well as union power being undermined by Right-to-Work spreading to states like Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, means the unions are not up for waging anything close to a class struggle. Instead unions like the USW maintain their position as representing only certain interests and timidly bargaining around them.

Texas, like other Right-to-Work states, has a working class that is almost entirely disconnected with their own fighting traditions. There is no real culture of workers resistance, union or not, nor is there any historical memory of fighting strikes. However, recently in Houston we have seen a few significant developments unfolding in labor starting with the immigrant rights movement and detention center hunger and labor strikes, the Maximus Coffee strike and lockout at the end of 2013, the ongoing Fight For $15 “movement” and its semi-annual spectacles, and the most recent and equally significant, the USW refinery strikes. These developments are very exciting for Houston not simply because of the lack of historical memory of struggle to draw from, but also due to the high density of industry in Houston which is unlike most of the country.  This makes Houston a critical choke point for US capital and thus pivotal for workers struggle nationally.

Houston’s remarkably large industrial sector provides a lot of semi-skilled labor opportunities and has been instrumental in Houston’s ability to float the crisis better than most of the country. This and the extremely low levels of reproduction of the class, especially of black and immigrant people who make up the unskilled, low-wage, and casualized sectors of the economy. This leaves refinery work to be primarily composed of white and US-born Latino workers.

When the USW strike started it was the first strike the refineries and their workers saw in 30 years. Yet the USW was unable to carry out a successful strike nationally or locally. This is due to union decline mentioned above, but also because one-third of the oil industry is unorganized (many of which are contract workers). Also, the relationship between the USW and the Obama administration impacted the overall strategy of the strike. Only 5,000 workers were pulled out, a mere ten percent of all union workers, while local union leaders claimed this was part of their strategy. Overall this affected only about 20% of production which is pretty insignificant and we realized quickly that most workers had little to no information about the strike or negotiations. Locally the USW’s timidness looked like a handful of workers carrying signs at each gate while being unable to block scabs from crossing, or from even standing or parking on company property. The international didn’t even use their massive treasury to support their striking members.  It was clear that the USW was not in a position to be able to wage a political struggle against oil because they are beholden to the ruling party.

EcoUnionist News #47

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 14, 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:

May Day:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

USW Refinery Strike:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

1267-Watch:

Bread and Roses:

Other News:

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

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