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Chapter 2 : Pollution, Love it or Leave it!

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

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"Since when are humans solely a biological product of wilderness? (What is ‘wilderness’?) If you accept an evolutionary development of Homo sapiens, as I do, it does not mean that you profess a disbelief in God. Quite the contrary. It was God, the Creator, who created humans, who imbued them with a will, with a soul, with a conscience, with the ability to determine right from wrong. It is inconceivable that the Creator would create such vast resources on earth without expecting them to be utilized."

—Glenn Simmons, editor of the Humboldt Beacon and Fortuna Advance, February 1, 1990.

"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

—Edward Abbey

Earth shattering though it may have seemed, the IWW’s victory was both transitory and incomplete, and historical currents would never again mesh as perfectly. To begin with, the strike on the job had taken place only in the Pacific Northwest, and had excluded California at that. The Wobblies recognized one strategic weakness in this situation in noting that the employers could have eventually organized a lockout of that region and relied instead on wood production from the southern or eastern United States. They knew—in the abstract at least—that their victory would never be complete until they organized all lumber workers nationally and internationally.[1] The Wobblies inability to make inroads among the highly skilled redwood loggers of California’s North Coast was especially troublesome, and it portended their undoing. Two companies, Pacific Lumber (P-L) and Hammond Lumber Company (HLC) had each adopted separate techniques that had kept the IWW out and would soon be duplicated by the Lumber Trust elsewhere. That combined with the much larger shockwaves brought on by the Russian Revolution in 1917 conspired against the One Big Union and led to the eventual decline of the American working class as an adversarial force and the liquidation of the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Although most corporations comprising the Lumber Trust had refused to budge, lest they embolden the Wobblies, there were those that adopted “welfare capitalism” on their own initiative, in which they would provide amenities and benefits to their workers—union or not—in an attempt to win over their loyalty. It was in the crucible of timber worker unionism, Humboldt County, where this was first attempted with any lasting success, by the Pacific Lumber Company (P-L), based in Scotia, beginning in 1909. P-L had discovered that by creating a wide variety of social programs, employee benefits, and community based events, it was able to secure the loyalty and stability of its workforce. P-L general manager A. E. Blockinger described these efforts in great detail in an article featured in the Pioneer Western Lumberman:

"A reading room with facilities for letter writing and any games, except gambling, is easily and cheaply put into any camp. Arrange subscription clubs for papers and periodicals or let the company do it for the men. If you can have a circulating library among your camps and at the mill plant, it will be much appreciated. Let the daily or weekly papers be of all nationalities as represented in your camp. Lumber trade journals are especially interesting to the men and they can and will readily follow the markets for lumber and appreciate that you have some troubles of your own.

“Organize fire departments among your men. The insurance companies will give you reductions in rates for such additional protection while it offers another opportunity for your men to relax and enjoy themselves.

“Shower baths at the camps or mill are easily and cheaply installed. They will be used and appreciated after a hot, dusty day’s work.

“Get your men loyal and keep them so. Let this replace loyalty to a union. The spirit is what you want in your men. Ten good men will accomplish as much as fifteen ordinary laborers if the spirit and good will is there. Treat them right and they will treat you right.”[2]

The employers’ introduction of paternalism achieved its intended goal. The Secretary of the Pacific Logging Congress, an employers’ association had declared in his 1912 report, “The best cure for the IWW plague—a people without a country and without a God—is the cultivation of the homing instinct in men.”[3] When the IWW campaign for the eight hour day ensued in 1917, P-L simply added more programs. Carleton H. Parker, a onetime U.C. Berkeley economics professor working for the War Department as a mediator during the lumber workers’ strike, had previously conducted sociological studies on workers, including agricultural and timber laborers. Parker was familiar with P-L, and had some fairly extensive knowledge of the Wobblies.[4] Some of the latter had been gained through first-hand studies by two of his assistants, Paul Brissenden[5] and F. C. Mills[6] who had posed as IWW members and later produced extensive studies on the organization. Using this knowledge, Parker offered many suggestions to Disque which the latter somewhat reluctantly adopted. The LLLL created social halls for its members and replaced the employment sharks with free employment agencies. The IWW quite rightly recognized these amenities as a means to buy the workers’ loyalty and likely to be liquidated when the employers drive for profits once again accelerated, but this process would take a long time, and convincing the workers of a threat that could take one or more generations to manifest proved futile.[7]

Chapter 1 : An Injury to One is an Injury to All!

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

The mill men all insist on one thing: that the Government will grant the manufacturers protection from the lawless element of the I.W.W.’s”

—J. P. Weyerhaeuser, 1917

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite,
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might,
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
The union makes us strong…

—Lyrics excerpted from Solidarity Forever, by Ralph Chaplin, ca. 1915

The timber industry has, throughout nearly its entire history, been in the control of an elite minority of the very rich and powerful, and they have been especially avaricious, violent, and repressive towards all who would challenge their power. They have also—in spite of a barrage of slick propaganda trumpeting their careful management of the resource—depleted most of the virgin forests of the Pacific Northwest. Many environmental organizations can trace their origins to opposition to such practices, and in the struggles by environmentalists to preserve forestlands, timber workers have had a reputation for being their fiercest adversaries, and in many cases, this is true. Timber workers have a well deserved reputation for being outspoken about the pride of purpose in their job, as well as a deeply ingrained cultural machismo. Yet lumber harvesting and production is historically one of the ten most dangerous jobs in the industrialized world, and timber workers are among those most exploited by their employers. One would logically expect the timber workers to be highly resistant to such treatment, but in recent years they haven’t been. This wasn’t always so. To understand why, one must examine the industry’s origins.

Before the arrival of European-American settlers to the Pacific Northwest, the entire region stretching from northern California to Canada and Alaska from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains was dominated by coniferous old growth forests. At least 20 million acres of this land was forested, dominated by various species of trees, some of them hundreds of feet in height, over a dozen feet in diameter, and centuries or even millennia old.[1] In the southwestern part of this region, stretching from Big Sur to roughly what is now the Oregon state line, in a belt that was at least twenty miles wide for most of its expanse a very unique species of tree dominated, Sequoia sempervirens, commonly known as the California redwoods, some of them standing over 350 feet tall. Their close (and similarly large) cousins, Sequoiadendron giganteum, better known as the Giant Sequoia, only grew in a few isolated spots in the southern end of the Sierra Nevada foothills. These vast forests were far more then the trees, however. Hundreds, if not thousands of plant and animal species lived and flourished within these wooded habitats, and as far as is known, the indigenous population of the Americas had no significant lasting impact on California’s ancient redwood forests, nor did they have any lasting effect on the timberlands of the Pacific Northwest in general.[2] Like the Native Americans, the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest had remained left more or less untouched for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years.

The coming of the white man changed all of that. The Russians first began exploiting the redwoods for the construction of Fort Ross in 1812, during their very brief settlement there.[3] As more Europeans arrived, the forests south of San Francisco were the first to be logged, usually through clearcutting, until these ancient stands were completely liquidated by 1860. In those days, loggers used hand saws, and felling an ancient redwood could take anywhere from two-to-five days to complete. The redwoods to the north of the Golden Gate in what is now Marin County were logged next, especially along rivers that allowed easy transportation by the available modes of the day. By this time, around 1881, the steam engine had replaced pack animals. Though this first wave of automation did not have a significant impact on the number of workers involved in the logging process, it greatly increased the impact logging had on the redwoods. Entire forests were liquidated, no matter how small the tree, because even the baby trees were used to build the skid roads used for hauling the larger ones. These forests were never replanted, and very few of them grew back, and in some cases, farmlands replaced them. By the beginning of the 20th Century, all but a few of these ancient trees were gone and logging operations migrated north to Sonoma County. One quarter century later, most of these old growth forests were likewise gone.[4]

Redwood Uprising: Introduction

By Steve Ongerth

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.

—Martin Luther King Jr.

I know, I know. I need to write a book about all this. Fighting to save the redwoods, building alliances with the loggers, getting car bombed and finding out what we’re up against not just the timber industry but also the FBI. Then coming back home and ending up back on the front lines again. I fully intend to write about it eventually, but it’s hard to write about something when you’re still in the middle of it.”

—Judi Bari, introduction to Timber Wars, 1994

“All this,” is a very complex and intriguing story (not to mention a call to action), and while most people have never heard it, a great many are at least partially aware of its defining moment.

On the morning of May 24, 1990, two activists, Judi Bari and her friend and comrade Darryl Cherney, set out from Oakland, California, while on a tour to organize support for a campaign they had organized called Redwood Summer. They were part of the radical environmental movement known as Earth First!, which had a reputation for militant tactics, including the sabotaging of logging and earth moving machinery as well as spiking trees—the act of driving large nails into standing trees in order to deter logging operations. The previous year in Arizona, five environmentalists, including Peg Millett and Earth First! cofounder Dave Foreman, had been arrested and charged by the FBI for a conspiracy to sabotage power lines in protest against nuclear power. Some welcomed Earth First!’s uncompromising reputation. Others denounced them as reckless, or even as terrorists.

According to the mainstream media, Earth First!’s radical agenda earned them the animosity of the timber workers whose jobs the environmentalists supposedly threatened. They were described as “outside agitators” (among many other things) who had “polarized” the timber dependent communities of northwestern California’s redwood region—historically known as the “Redwood Empire”, but more recently as the “North Coast”—with their militant and uncompromising “environmental extremism.” Their alleged hard-line anti-logging stances were seen as too extreme even by most environmentalists, and they supposedly stood upon the radical fringes of the ecology movement. Redwood Summer was reportedly planned as a summer-long campaign of direct actions by these “fringe” environmentalists to thwart the harvesting of old growth redwood timber in northwestern California, specifically Humboldt, Mendocino, and Sonoma Counties.

On May 24, however, Bari’s and Cherney’s planned destination was Santa Cruz County, where—just one month previously—power lines had supposedly been sabotaged by unknown perpetrators calling themselves the “Earth Night Action Group”. Just before 11:55 AM a bomb in Bari’s car exploded, nearly killing her and injuring Cherney. Within minutes the FBI and Oakland Police arrived on the scene and arrested both of them as they were being transported to Highland Hospital. The authorities called them dangerous terrorists and accused the pair of knowingly transporting the bomb for use in some undetermined act of environmental sabotage when it had accidentally detonated. The media spun the event as the arrest of two potentially violent environmental extremists.

80+ Groups Blast CA Climate Plan’s Reliance on Carbon Capture for Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

By Dan Bacher - Daily Kos, October 25, 2022

Despite California’s image as a “green” and “progressive state,” Big Oil and Big Gas continue to exert huge influence over California regulators in the promotion of carbon capture and storage as a “tool” to addressing climate change.

On October 24, over 80 climate and environmental justice groups sent a letter urging California Air Resources Board Chair, Liane Randolph, and California Governor Gavin Newsom to reject the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) for fossil fuel infrastructure like oil refineries, gas-fired power plants, and other oil and gas operations in the state’s 2022 Climate Change Scoping Plan.

This letter was sent after new lobbying disclosure research revealed the CA CCS lobby, dominated by fossil fuel interests organized by the CA Carbon Capture Coalition, spent more than $13 million lobbying California’s Scoping Plan, Governor’s Office, Legislature and the Air Resources Board in the first six months of 2022, according to a press statement from a coalition of over 80 climate and environmental groups.

“California must have a climate roadmap that prioritizes rapid and direct emissions reductions at the source, centers Indigenous Peoples and frontline communities of color, and fully phases out the production, refining, and use of fossil fuels at the pace that science and justice require,” the letter states.

“Yet, the current plan to increase the state’s reliance on carbon capture and storage (CCS) undermines that vision and the state’s ability to meet its climate goals. CCS regularly fails to meet its promises, requires high use of electricity and water, puts communities at real risk of harm, and would prolong the production and use of fossil fuels that are driving the climate emergency and polluting communities. We urge you to adopt a Scoping Plan that rejects the use of CCS for fossil fuel infrastructure such as refineries, gas-fired power plants, and other oil and gas operations,” the letter continues.

'Incredible Victory': California Gov. Newsom Signs Farmworker Unionization Bill Into Law

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, September 29, 2022

After vetoing similar legislation last year and threatening to do so again last month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed Assembly Bill 2183 into law, making it easier for farmworkers in the state to participate in union elections.

The Democratic governor's about-face on the measure represents a major victory for labor leaders. It follows a monthslong push by United Farm Workers of America (UFW) and the California Labor Federation (CLF) and comes in the wake of pressure from President Joe Biden and two high-ranking national Democrats with California ties—Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"This is an incredible victory," said UFW president Teresa Romero. "Starting next year, farmworkers can participate in elections free from intimidation and deportations. ¡Sí se puede!"

A.B. 2183, which the CLF called "the most consequential private sector organizing bill in our state's history," gives farmworkers a streamlined way to unionize without having to cast a ballot at a polling place on or near growers' property following a monthslong anti-union campaign.

Fighting California’s fires requires carceral reform and a Just Transition

By Ray Levy Uyeda - Prism, September 28, 2022

Fires fueled by climate crisis expose the intersecting injustices incarcerated people face and the comprehensive reforms needed for a Just Transition:

Fall is a tough season for Da’Ton Harris, a wildland firefighter who spends multiple weeks at a time attempting to tamp down fires without hoses. Harris and his crew of 20 other firefighters with the Urban Association of Forestry and Fire Professionals, where he’s a superintendent, are responsible for cutting down a forest to its soil so that, theoretically, there’s less fuel to burn. It’s a critical job, especially as climate change continues to dry up California’s forests and prolong the summer heat, which now overlaps with increased winds during typical fall months—creating a ripe environment for wildfire. 

Many firefighters have been at the front lines of these dangerous jobs while being incarcerated, but policies block them from being hired by municipal fire stations after their release because they have conviction and felony records, despite the growing need for more firefighters to combat intensifying wildfires.

California legislators are starting to acknowledge this reality. In 2021, a state law went into effect that may make it easier for firefighters who were trained while they were incarcerated to expunge a felony conviction from their record, which is needed to gain the required licensing to become a municipal firefighter. Harris, a staff member at Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program (FFRP), which helps formerly incarcerated people find jobs, went through the expungement process this year.

“With me being able to get this off my record, I can try to head back to school to work for a paramedic license, so I can work closer to home,” Harris said. He lives in Victorville, California, with his wife and five children, and he said that he’ll be able to go to his son’s baseball games and maybe even help coach the team. The expungement, he said, will change everything.

Advocates say the change in the law is a prime example of the progress that needs to happen around felony records and removing employment restrictions for those who’ve been arrested or incarcerated. However, others warn that reforms to a system that is restrictive by design won’t bring about the justice needed to address climate change-induced wildfires or change the way a conviction record can shadow someone long after they’ve served their sentence. 

While incarcerated wildland firefighters are tasked with combating the consequences of climate change, justice-involved community leaders and grassroots activists say that the intertwined issues of climate change and retributive policies of incarceration deserve a deeper look that questions the efficacy of piecemeal solutions to systemic issues. They also echo a call for a Just Transition, a union term for shifting the workforce away from harmful industries to those that don’t risk climate and ecological balance.

New Analysis Destroys Fossil Fuel Industry's Misleading US Job Claims

By Jessica Corbett - Common Dreams, September 19, 2022

"Their false claims do not add up and cannot be allowed to stall a rapid transition to 100% clean, renewable energy," says the Food & Water Watch report.

A Food & Water Watch report released Monday undermines the fossil fuel industry's claims about its positive impact on employment, showing that as oil and gas giants ramped up production and raked in record profits at the planet's expense, jobs have declined.

The advocacy group's fact sheet—titled Oil Profits and Production Grow at the Expense of Jobs, Consumers, and the Environment—comes as scientists continue to call for a swift transition to clean energy and critics around the world accuse the fossil fuel industry of war profiteering.

"The oil and gas industry would rather pay shareholders than workers," said Food & Water Watch (FWW) senior researcher Oakley Shelton-Thomas. "It should be clear by now that more production means more pollution, but it hasn't meant lower prices or more jobs."

Building Trades End Legislative Session As A Big Political Loser

By unknown - Golden State Grid, September 9, 2022

What You Need To Know:

  • The California Building and Construction Trades Council came down on the losing side of key legislative fights and party platform disputes this legislative session, and found itself crosswise with Governor Newsom and other leading unions on a much-hyped electric vehicle ballot measure.

  • These losses reflect a stunning fall from grace for The Trades, an organization that political insiders and journalists often treat as an all powerful force in Sacramento with the juice to successfully back, or block, key legislation.

  • This year’s losses worsened an already rapidly widening rift between The Trades and key Democratic power players, including other key labor unions, the Newsom Administration, and even senior leadership within the Democratic Party. 

  • This sudden loss of influence corresponds with the tenure of Andrew Meredith, the new and largely untested leader of The Trades, who has positioned the organization as a juggernaut that could threaten and bully the Democratic Party and its leaders into submission—a strategy that appears to be backfiring. 

Three Examples of Eco-Socialism

Liberal States Like California Are Also Failing to Make Progress on Climate

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, August 23, 2022

California has a well-established reputation as a national and global climate leader, but despite its remarkable successes in cutting emissions between 2006 and 2016, it has recently begun showing signs of having lost its way.

California is increasingly falling behind on its emissions reduction targets, and its existing policies have now been deemed insufficient to hit its 2030 target of reducing carbon emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, according to new modeling from the climate policy think tank Energy Innovation.

“Compared to historical trends, California will need to more than triple the pace of emissions reductions to hit its 2030 target of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030,” the Energy Innovation report states.

The report is disappointing news, representing a weakening of the climate action that began with California’s passage of AB 32 in 2006. Otherwise known as the Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32 was a landmark program in the struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Up until 2006, the United States was the largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions in the world, and California was the second highest state in terms of total greenhouse gas emissions.

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