You are here

green urbanism

Sydney’s Green Bans: worker boycotts that saved the city

By Timothy Ginty - ROARMag, April 20, 2019

The destruction of heritage buildings, the encroachment of urban development onto green spaces and the gentrification of working class neighborhoods are flash-points of social conflict in expanding cities around the globe.

Communities that mobilize to protect their public spaces, services and culture can protest and call public meetings, or take to the courts and pressure the powers-that-be, but corruption, asymmetrical power and the influence of money can overpower them and make community consultation impotent. When all else fails and neighborhoods on the front line of speculative development are facing the wrecking ball, what options do they have to protect the commons of public space, services and culture?

Consider the radical and effective solution that emerged in Sydney in the 1970s: the Green Ban.

The people versus the speculators

The Green Bans were a series of worker boycotts of projects considered socially, architecturally or environmentally damaging to the local community during Sydney’s speculative construction boom of 1971-1974. Unionized construction workers would simply leave their tools in their toolbox and refuse to enter the building site.

The boycotts were initiated not by union leadership, but by a public vote in open assemblies after a community requested the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) to intervene.

In the first ever Green Ban dates in 1971, a group of middle-class women of the harbor-side suburb of Hunter’s Hill urgently asked the BLF to save the last piece of natural bushland on Sydney Harbor. Property developers had the site earmarked for a private housing development, and the “Battlers of Kelly’s Bush”, as the women became known, had exhausted all the legal and political options available to them.

The women called a public meeting to gauge local support for more direct action. Over 600 people attended showed up to request that the union boycott the development. Within months the development was stalled and ultimately discarded, its success sparking a wave of similar requests from other community groups facing socially, physically and environmentally destructive developments.

The union responded to these requests wherever significant community support existed. Local residents would cast votes in public assemblies to decide on a Green Ban, and the union would mobilize when those votes reflected large majorities. Democracy permeated every aspect of the actions, down to the commitment to translate the debates and discussions for the migrant laborers.

This insistence on democratic decision-making for bans and strikes saw the union membership boom throughout the 1970s, reaching some 11,000 laborers at its peak.

Trading Up Equipping Ontario Trades With the Skills of the Future

By staff - Canada Green Building Council, April 2019

Equipping Canada’s labour force with the skills required for designing, constructing and maintaining low-carbon building infrastructure is critical to achieving a greener economy and to reducing Canada’s emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. We are pleased to support Canada’s green building industry with a new report, Trading Up: Equipping Ontario Trades with the Skills of the Future, aimed at facilitating a low carbon workforce transition.

This report provides an action plan to close the low-carbon building skills gap in the Ontario construction industry. Green infrastructure investments are expected to create an estimated 147,000 job openings for skilled tradespeople over the next 15 years in the Toronto region alone. The inability to close the skills gap in Ontario is estimated to have an impact of $24.3 billion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in foregone company revenues, with an additional $3.7 billion lost in foregone taxation.

The report identifies where shortages in low-carbon skills training currently exist, and highlights the risks to the quality of low-carbon buildings being constructed. It defines specific actions that labour, governments, post-secondary institutions and industry organizations can take to optimize green building skills training.

The “Trading Up” report was compiled by CaGBC with Mohawk College, McCallumSather, The Cora Group, the City of Toronto and the Ontario Building Officials Association (OBOA). The project was funded, in part, by the Government of Ontario. While the report examines the Ontario construction industry, its recommendations can be applied throughout Canada.

Read the text (PDF).

A glimpse of what could be: The NSW BLF, the most radical and innovative union the world has ever seen

By John Tully - Links, March 2019

Fifty years ago, a group of dedicated left-wing activists wrested control of the NSW Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) from the corrupt gangster types who had used it to feather their own nests. The militants, who included Jack Mundey, Joe Owens and Bob Pringle, rebuilt the union into a radically democratic, socially progressive and environmentally-aware organisation the likes of which Australia—and the world—had never seen. Today, we live in dark times for trade unionism. Only around 7% of workers in private industry are organised and unionists face ruthless attacks by the bosses and the state. The achievements of the NSW BLF, however, give us a glimpse of the liberating potential of the working class and are a beacon for the future.

It is to the great credit of militant building workers in Australia that almost 50 years ago they nailed their green colours to the mast and insisted that ecology was as much the concern of workers as wages and conditions. Jack Mundey asked “What is the use of higher wages alone, if we have to live in cities devoid of parks, denuded of trees, in an atmosphere poisoned by pollution and vibrating with the noise of hundreds of thousands of units of private transport?”

The union did not claim to be perfect—it was a work-in-progress, inventing itself as it went—but it showed that an alternative kind of unionism was possible. Its innovative radicalism shocked the bosses and conservative politicians, and confounded right-wing union bureaucrats by its daring larrikinism. It shook up Sydney in a way that had only been the stuff of dreams for socialists and surprised many who had written off the working class as a force for progressive change. Sadly, as the years go by, its achievements risk being forgotten under the crushing weight of neoliberal ideology.

As elsewhere in Australia, the BLF covered the unskilled and semi-skilled workers in the building and construction industry: labourers of various types; concrete finishers; jackhammer-men; excavation workers; hoist drivers; steel fixers who placed the steel rods and bars for reinforced concrete; scaffolders; powder monkeys or explosives experts; riggers, who erected cranes, gantries, hoists and other structures, along with structural steelwork and bridges; and dogmen, who slung loads from cranes and “rode the hook” hundreds of metres above the city streets in a spectacular, but hazardous aerial performance. Due to technological change in the industry, much of their work became at least as skilled as that of the traditional craftsmen, who had served traditional apprenticeships, and who were organised in separate unions at that time.

Towards a just transition: coal, cars and the world of work

By Béla Galgóczi - European Trade Union Institute, 2019

The role of trade unions and social dialogue is key in demonstrating the major differences between coal-based energy generation and the automobile industry. This book presents two faces of a just transition towards a net-zero carbon economy by drawing lessons from these two carbon-intensive sectors. The authors regard just transition not as an abstract concept, but as a real practice in real workplaces. While decarbonisation itself is a common objective, particular transitions take place in work environments that are themselves determined by the state of the capital-labour relationship, with inherent conflicts of interest, during the transition process.

The case studies presented in this book highlight the major differences between these two sectors in the nature and magnitude of the challenge, how transition practices are applied and what role the actors play.

Read the report (Link).

Equitable Building Electrification: A Framework for Powering Resilient Communities

By Carmelita Miller, Stephanie Chen, Lisa Hu, and Isaac Sevier - Greenlining Institute, 2019

Building electrification is gaining traction as California’s most affordable and effective tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from homes and buildings—responsible for roughly a quarter of the state’s emissions—while improving air quality and helping the state meet its climate goals, including a net-zero carbon economy and 100 percent clean electricity by 2045.

While building electrification has promising benefits for residents and for the state, it must be pursued equitably— ensuring that environmental and social justice communities can benefit, rather than being left with polluting and increasingly expensive gas appliances. It will require intentional policymaking and a planned transition for environmental and social justice communities to gain access to the major benefits of electrification, including cleaner air, healthier homes, good jobs and empowered workers, and greater access to affordable clean energy and energy efficiency to reduce monthly energy bills.

This Equitable Building Electrification Framework explains the steps the state must take to ensure that electrification helps close the clean energy gap in California and provides relief to millions of residents facing energy insecurity in the current system.

Read the report (PDF).

Free Public Transit Could Challenge Reliance on Cars

By Yves Engler - Rabble, October 5, 2018

Free public transit could combat both economic inequality and climate disturbances. And, if paid for by fees on automobility, fare-less transit could be part of a serious challenge to private, car-centred transit and urban planning.

At Toronto's first mayoral debate Saron Gebresellassi called for fare-free transit. By detailing a bold proposal the left-wing mayoral candidate steered the other candidates to bemoan ballooning fare costs and suggest eliminating some of them.

Gebresellassi's plan also garnered significant media attention. In an article titled "Making Toronto  transit free isn't realistic now. But it's a terrific idea," Toronto Star columnist Edward Keenan offered an informative rundown of the argument. But, as is wont in the dominant media, Keenan implicitly downplays the climate crisis and the importance of ditching the private automobile. Rather than being a long-term objective, free public transit should be viewed as a short- to medium-term tool for shifting away from our dependence on ecologically, socially and health-damaging cars. Of instant benefit to those with the least resources, free transit would drive price-conscious individuals towards less environmentally and socially damaging buses and trains.

While Keenan downplays the need for urgent, bold action on countering the automotive and climate crisis, he correctly states that making the Toronto subway (and some streetcars) free would exacerbate the rush hour crush. Making it free outside rush hour, however, would spread the ridership crunch out until new subway and streetcar lines are built. For their part, buses can be added quickly and eliminating fares will speed them up. Expanding ridership should also grow support for giving buses the right of way.

Eliminating transit fares is not radical. During times of high pollution Paris and other large European cities have removed fares. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, recently expressed interest in making transit free permanently and launched a study into its feasibility. The book Free Public Transit: And Why We Don't Pay to Ride Elevators details dozens of cities that have expanded transit ridership by eliminating fares.

Free Public Transport and the Right to the City

By Yavor Tarinski - Resilience, July 25, 2018

“Free public transportation implies many changes, a completely new way to look at the city, both in terms of how we move and how we tax, but also how we live, where we live, how we relate to each other as a society, and our broader relationship to the urban, regional and global eco-system.” Judith Dellheim & Jason Prince [1]

With cities becoming the main human inhabitant, and even slowly replacing the Nation-State as major economic and political factors, the importance of the question about the quality of urban life is increasing. How we move around in our urbanized reality is an integral part of that issue.

The movement within cities determines to a large degree their vibrancy and the way they will develop in the future. As author Jane Jacobs notes [2], a feature of a great city is the mobility of residents and fluidity of use across diverse areas of varying size and character. Furthermore, transportation has an important role to play in the age of rapidly unfolding urbanization and environmental crisis.

Unfortunately, the car has been made into the main tool for urban mobility – promoted by local and national authorities, big businesses, as well as mainstream city planners. This supposedly comfortable and quick means of transportation, however, hides many dangers for urban inhabitants, as well as for the environment.

The mass use of cars as one of the most atomized and privatized means of transportation today,  according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, is a major cause of global warming. This is evident from what they write in one of their reports: In total, the US transportation sector—which includes cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships, and freight—produces nearly thirty percent of all US global warming emissions, more than almost any other sector [3]. It is well known that, as much of the research on the subject suggests [4], car traffic causes significant health problems – from air pollution to obesity. It also pollutes the urban environment with noise, as well as being directly related to the reshaping of cities into urban sprawls distanced away from areas that provide basic needs and services.

Benefits of Free Public Transport

Public transport, on the other hand, is of much friendlier character to both communities and nature, but has been embedded into the economistic, privatized logic of capitalism. While it allows for large groups of citizens to move around the city in an economically efficient manner without creating traffic, urban noise, or air pollution, it is being highly neglected by municipalities. Instead, it is viewed as another business niche, through which surplus value can be extracted through the additional taxation of passengers and can be helpful to boost economic growth. In this narrow economistic way, a transportation means with the capacity to significantly improve urban space is being neglected or is being exploited exclusively for the generation of profit for the few.

However, there is a global movement that fights for making public transport free. Its target is the abolition of the socially exclusive fare systems that are currently in operation in most cities around the world. Instead, it suggests that the expenses required for functioning should be covered through the municipal budget, as it is mutually beneficial for both car drivers and bus riders.

How Radical Municipalism can go Beyond the Local

By the Symbiosis Research Collective - The Ecologist, June 8, 2018

Throughout this series, we’ve argued that the best way to address today’s ecological, social, and political crises is to get people together where they live and work to provide resources that people need – eventually building up an alternative political and economic system that can replace the present, failing system. We need to build a democratic, just, and ecological world in the shell of the old.

In the previous installment, we argued that organising on the level of the neighborhood, town, and city is the most strategic approach to this today.

The rise of loneliness worldwide, the centrality of real estate speculation for global economic growth, and the breakdown of many large-scale factories that helped to bring workers together mean that we have to rethink the ways we demand change.

We can build community and force elites to listen to our demands at the same time. Radical municipalism is a project to take direct democratic control over the places where we live.

When we talk to people about this strategy, the same kinds of questions often come up. In this article, we highlight three common criticisms. Each one of them revolves around the complaint that radical municipalism is too local: it can’t deal with the ‘big stuff’.

Who’s Afraid of Fare-Free Public Transit?

By Josh Cohen - Next City, May 25, 2018

Elizabeth Bauerle is a research scientist at the University of Washington’s medical center. To get from her home in the north Seattle suburb of Shoreline to her job on the Seattle campus, she can either drive or take two buses.

Like all of us, Bauerle weighs cost, convenience and personal values in deciding how she’ll travel to work. She says the two-bus trip can take as much 20 to 30 minutes longer than driving. That time difference would matter less to Bauerle if she wasn’t paying for the bus out of pocket, but the cost plus time has her grabbing the car keys most mornings, joining the roughly 34 percent of University of Washington employees who drive alone.

Bauerle is part of a campaign to try and change that equation for employees like herself. UW Pass or Fail — a new campaign lead by a broad coalition including university employees, the Seattle Transit Riders Union, 350 Seattle, SEIU Local 925 and others — is pushing the University of Washington to fully cover the cost of transit passes. Currently, university faculty and staff can get an unlimited transit pass for $50 a month. Though that’s nearly half the normal $99 cost for an unlimited monthly regional transit pass, the campaign argues that as a state employer with tens of thousands of employees, the University of Washington is lagging behind other state employers, Seattle universities, hospitals and large companies that provide employees with free transit passes.

Beyond simply matching comparable institutions, the campaign also argues that it makes sense for the university to encourage transit ridership both to ease congestion and further its climate impact goals.

“It is actually cheaper in the long run for [the university] to make transit free for employees than building more parking,” said Rosalie Ray, a Columbia University PhD student and contributing author of “Free Public Transit: And Why We Don’t Pay to Ride Elevators,” at a May 21 launch party in Seattle for the newly published book.

Co-edited by Jason Prince, an urban planner and faculty member at Montreal’s Concordia University, and Judith Dellheim, a researcher at the Rosa Luxumberg Foundation in Berlin, the new book comprises 19 wonky, academic essays from a variety of contributing authors. The anthology makes a collective economic, environmental and social justice case for fare-free public transit and looks case studies from cities around the world that have implemented free transit policies.

The Case for Free Public Transport

By Connor Beaton - The Bullet, March 6, 2018

The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) is a proud advocate of a world-class, fare-free public transport system for Scotland.

Transport has undergone enormous changes in recent decades, both in Scotland and across the world. Some have been cyclical: in Scotland’s capital, trams were built, dismantled, and then reintroduced. In other areas, we have seen consistent trends like the steady deregulation and privatization of services, which has left Edinburgh as the sole city in Scotland with a municipal bus operator.

Rail fares across the UK have soared in comparison to those of our European neighbours, and Scottish transport contracts go out to tender in a farcical franchise system whereby public sector companies in other countries can bid for control while those in Scotland are effectively barred.

Scotland, the country which gave the world the pedal bicycle and the pneumatic tyre, now has a public transport network which is broadly unfit for purpose.

Massive changes have to be made to ensure that our public transport network is not only of a standard befitting the people of Scotland, but one that is adapted to our environmental and economic needs – challenging climate change while connecting communities and creating jobs through enhanced mobility.

The Scottish Socialist Party is brave enough to identify these changes. We call unashamedly for the integration of services – whether bus, rail, ferry, underground or tram – under publicly-owned and democratically-run operators.

But the bravest step we can take as a nation to totally transform the way we travel is to support the international movement for free public transport and become pioneers of true freedom of movement for working class people.

There is a strong economic, social, and environmental case for adopting this policy throughout the country. There is also precedent from successful fare-free public transport schemes in parts of France, Germany, Belgium, and Estonia as well as far-flung cities in China and the United States. [Ed.: see wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_public_transport, and FreeTransitToronto.org.] We have evidence of the policy’s affordability and benefit.

Pages

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.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.