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green urbanism

Labor’s Route to a New Transportation System: How Federal Transportation Policy Can Create Good Jobs, First-Rate Mobility, and Environmentally Sustainable Communities

By staff - Cornell University Global Labor Institute, July 2011

Federal transportation policy is set every five to six years through the Surface Transportation Authorization Act. This policy largely shapes investment in our nation’s transportation system. Currently, only unions whose members are employed in the transport sector play a role in trying to influence federal transportation legislation, but the Reauthorization Act is hugely important to all union members and working people. The current legislation, Safe, Accountable, Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA -LU ) expires September 30, 2011. The reauthorization of federal transportation policy presents an important opportunity for union leaders and members to advocate for key policy reforms that will create good union jobs, defend and expand the role of the public sector in transportation, provide safe and affordable mobility to working families and reduce the transport sector’s contribution to air pollution and climate change.

The state of the U.S. transportation system determines working families’ access to affordable, high-quality mobility and, in turn, their ability to meet essential needs such as getting to work, school, medical services, recreation and more. The maintenance and operation of private vehicles consumes a growing portion of working families’ household budgets and puts owning and operating a vehicle completely out of reach for some. The impact of rising gas prices on working families’ mobility exacerbates the fact that only 50% of Americans have access to public transit. (need citation) Furthermore, in response to budget shortfalls, local governments have increased fares, laid off workers, reduced transit services and offered up public transit systems to privatization.

Read the text (PDF).

Transport Workers and Climate Change: Towards Sustainable, Low-Carbon Mobility

By ITF Climate Change Working Group - International Transport Workers’ Federation, August 4, 2010

This report, now more than a decade old, was remarkably forward-thinking for its time (except for the uncritically positive assessment of Carbon Capture and Storage and Cap-and-Trade, positions the authors would likely now no longer hold. It also, interestingly, includes in an appendix, the delegate of one union affiliate, Robert Scardelletti, President of the Transportation Communications International Union (TCU), an affiliate of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), from the US, who dissented from this report's conclusions, because it's green unionist orientation would "destroy jobs", a position held by the most conservative unions in the AFL-CIO.

From the introduction:

Climate change is the biggest single challenge ever faced by human civilization. Human economic activity has put so much carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) into the atmosphere that serious global warming is already happening. As a society, we have no choice but to reduce these emissions drastically in order to stand a good chance of avoiding potentially catastrophic changes in our climate. Moreover, emissions from transport are rising faster than emissions from any other sector and in some cases the increase in transport emissions is counteracting emissions reductions achieved in other sectors. Lowering transport emissions presents a series of unique and formidable challenges.

The good news for transport workers is that a serious approach to emissions reductions will create new opportunities for quality employment, particularly in public transport, railways (both passenger and freight), transport infrastructure, road repair, and in developing clean transport technologies. But failure to act on climate change will have the opposite effect.

Read the text (PDF).

Anarcho-Syndicalism, Technology and Ecology

By Graham Purchase - Kick It Over, #35, Summer 1995 [PDF Available]

In an anarchist society, the absence of centralized state authority will permit a radically new integration of nature, labour and culture. As the social and ecological revolution progresses, national boundaries will become cartographical curiosities, and divisions based upon differences in geography, climate and species distribution will re-emerge. This essay addresses the question of what role unionism will play in these changes.

First, it seems obvious that telecommunications, transportation and postal networks all require organization which extends far beyond the individual ecological region, and activities like road building between communities require cooperation beyond that of individual locales. Thus, a return to a community-based lifestyle need not and cannot imply a return to the isolation of the walled medieval city or peasant village.

Anarcho-syndicalists (that is, anarchist unionists) argue that the best way to address such needs is for the "workers of the world" to cease producing for capitalist elites and their political allies. Instead, they should organize to serve humanity by creating not only communication and transportation networks, but industrial, service, and agricultural networks as well, in order to ensure the continued production and distribution of goods and services.

Yet there are many people in anarchist and radical environmental circles who regard anarcho-syndicalism with distrust, as they mistakenly identify it with industrialism. They argue that global industrialism has been responsible for centralized organization and environmental destruction. They view industrialism as necessarily based upon mass production, and the factory as inevitably involving high energy use and dehumanizing working conditions. In short, critics believe that providing six billion people with toilet paper and building materials (let alone TVs, VCRs and automobiles) necessarily involves large-scale, mass production techniques ill-suited to ecological health - regardless of whether capitalist leeches or "free" workers are running the show. Industrialism, it is argued, is an environmental evil in and of itself; it is only made slightly more destructive by the narrow, short-term interests of capital and state. Such critics argue that technology has likewise outgrown its capitalistic origins, and has taken on a sinister and destructive life of its own.

I am not unsympathetic to this argument. That children and adults alike spend hours on end surrounded by deafening noise and blinding lights in video arcades, in an utterly synthetic technological orgy, is ample evidence of our species' sick fetish for non-organic, superficial pleasures. The regimentation of the work day, and the consignment of leisure and play to half-hour television slots interrupted by nauseating commercials, is nothing short of the industrial robotification of human nature - an alarming process that has led many to argue that humanity should abandon the industrial and technological revolutions altogether. They further argue that we should return to small-scale, minimally industrial technologies that utilize simple devices such as the hand loom. Given the enormously destructive effects of today's industrial system, such a course may ultimately be the only path open to humanity. At this point, however, simply abandoning our cities and our technologies and hoping that our species will somehow return to a small-scale, pre-industrial existence appears both unlikely and reckless.

Video: ROCKING THE FOUNDATIONS - A HISTORY OF THE GREEN BANS MOVEMENT

Documentary Film - 1985

For the full documentary, please visit this page (YouTube).

The film "Rocking the Foundations" is about the Builders Labourers' Federation of Australia who fought victoriously for their rights as a union, the rights of indigenous people, against gentrification, and in defense of the environment. They did this by performing the first of what are now known as the "green bans" or an environmental strike.

Green Bans: Worker Control and the Urban Environment

By Mark Haskell - Industrial Relations, May 1977

Australian trade unions, have long made effective use of the “black ban,” that is, the tactic of boycotting employers and others in order to improve wages or working conditions or to implement political goals. During the Indonesian struggle for independence shortly after World War II, longshoremen placed bans on shipments to and from the Netherlands, More recently arms shipments to South Vietnam were boycotted and an Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) black ban was imposed on French shipping to protest nuclear weapons testing in the South Pacific.

In 1971, the black ban was transposed into the “green ban” when the New South Wales branch of the Builder’s Labourers Federation (BLF) agreed to boycott a construction project in Hunter’s hill, an upper-middle class area on the Paramatta River, an arm of Sydney Harbor. In September 1970, residents of that area had organized to oppose the construction of 25 luxury homes in Kelly’s Bush, an eight-acre bushland tract which had been preserved in its natural state. The tract had been zoned as “residential” just one year earlier despite widespread community opposition. After unsuccessful attempts to interest the state in purchasing the land for recreational purposes, the newly organized group, the “Battlers for Kelly’s Bush,” approached the New South Wales BLF to request that they not work on the construction site. Construction was halted and, despite the subsequent demise of the New South Wales branch in 1975, this green ban remains in force.

Thus emerged an unlikely collaboration between community groups struggling against drastic neighborhood changes and traditionally job oriented trade unionists - a merger which has often been labeled “unique” and may, in fact, have been the product of a special set of circumstances. On the other hand, the green bans do have the possibility of becoming an example for others. This paper is an attempt to analyze this movement for the purpose of providing an explanation for its appearance at a particular time and place. Part of that explanation may lie in the nature of the union which was most heavily involved, i.e., in the characteristics of its leaders, its members, and the way in which the union’s affairs were managed. Hence, the line of questioning will focus on the New South Wales BLF-i.e. why this union adopted this unconventional tactic to achieve this unconventional goal.

Read the entire document (PDF File).

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, and Construction (Chris Alexander, et. al)

Disclaimer - Neither Christopher Alexander, nor any of his coauthors are affiliated with or necessarily endorse the ideas of the IWW; this text is posted here under fair use guidelines for informational purposes only.

Written in a time when radical ideas had become somewhat mainstream and libertarian anti-state and anti-capitalist theories began to achieve popular consciousness, the ideas set forth in this book, including ecological notions taken from authors such as Aldo Leopold and E.F. Schumacher and workplace organization inspired by the anarchism of Colin Ward and George Woodcock, come very close (without necessarily realizing it) to the"green syndicalism" called for by the IWW EUC.

Unlike the specialized knowledge required to design cities, plan urban developments, or craft buildings required by conventional urban design--the results of which are often highly dysfunctional, authoritarian, class stratified, and anti ecological, A Pattern Language offers a bottom-up, "open source" set of patterns that anybody can use to design buildings and plan their neighborhoods, even whole cities, themselves.

A Pattern Language (PDF) - by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein, et. al.,1977

The Social Ideology of the Motorcar

By André Gorz - Uneven Earth, 1973

The worst thing about cars is that they are like castles or villas by the sea: luxury goods invented for the exclusive pleasure of a very rich minority, and which in conception and nature were never intended for the people. Unlike the vacuum cleaner, the radio, or the bicycle, which retain their use value when everyone has one, the car, like a villa by the sea, is only desirable and useful insofar as the masses don’t have one. That is how in both conception and original purpose the car is a luxury good. And the essence of luxury is that it cannot be democratized. If everyone can have luxury, no one gets any advantages from it. On the contrary, everyone diddles, cheats, and frustrates everyone else, and is diddled, cheated, and frustrated in return.

This is pretty much common knowledge in the case of the seaside villas. No politico has yet dared to claim that to democratize the right to vacation would mean a villa with private beach for every family. Everyone understands that if each of 13 or 14 million families were to use only 10 meters of the coast, it would take 140,000km of beach in order for all of them to have their share! To give everyone his or her share would be to cut up the beaches in such little strips—or to squeeze the villas so tightly together—that their use value would be nil and their advantage over a hotel complex would disappear. In short, democratization of access to the beaches point to only one solution—the collectivist one. And this solution is necessarily at war with the luxury of the private beach, which is a privilege that a small minority takes as their right at the expense of all.

Now, why is it that what is perfectly obvious in the case of the beaches is not generally acknowledged to be the case for transportation? Like the beach house, doesn’t a car occupy scarce space? Doesn’t it deprive the others who use the roads (pedestrians, cyclists, streetcar and bus drivers)? Doesn’t it lose its use value when everyone uses his or her own? And yet there are plenty of politicians who insist that every family has the right to at least one car and that it’s up to the “government” to make it possible for everyone to park conveniently, drive easily in the city, and go on holiday at the same time as everyone else, going 70 mph on the roads to vacation spots. The monstrousness of this demagogic nonsense is immediately apparent, and yet even the left doesn’t disdain resorting to it. Why is the car treated like a sacred cow? Why, unlike other “privative” goods, isn’t it recognized as an antisocial luxury? The answer should be sought in the following two aspects of driving:

  • Mass motoring effects an absolute triumph of bourgeois ideology on the level of daily life. It gives and supports in everyone the illusion that each individual can seek his or her own benefit at the expense of everyone else. Take the cruel and aggressive selfishness of the driver who at any moment is figuratively killing the “others,” who appear merely as physical obstacles to his or her own speed. This aggressive and competitive selfishness marks the arrival of universally bourgeois behavior, and has come into being since driving has become commonplace. (“You’ll never have socialism with that kind of people,” an East German friend told me, upset by the spectacle of Paris traffic).
  • The automobile is the paradoxical example of a luxury object that has been devalued by its own spread. But this practical devaluation has not yet been followed by an ideological devaluation. The myth of the pleasure and benefit of the car persists, though if mass transportation were widespread its superiority would be striking. The persistence of this myth is easily explained. The spread of the private car has displaced mass transportation and altered city planning and housing in such a way that it transfers to the car functions which its own spread has made necessary. An ideological (“cultural”) revolution would be needed to break this circle. Obviously this is not to be expected from the ruling class (either right or left).

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