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racial justice

"HANDS UP, DON'T SHIP": MINNEAPOLIS UPS WORKERS STAND WITH FERGUSON

Anonymous Press Release, August 23, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

After discovering ties between Missouri law enforcement and a company whose shipments they handle each day, a small group of part-time UPS workers in Minneapolis spoke out against their labor supporting the ongoing police violence against the population of Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man. Workers undertook a range of actions against handling packages from Law Enforcement Targets, Inc, in order to show our objections to our work benefiting the militarized police violence directed at Ferguson residents.

Law Enforcement Targets, Inc is a company based in Blaine, Minnesota, which produces shooting range targets and holds hundreds of contracts with police departments, federal agencies, and military branches across the country. The company has held at least 10 contracts with federal agencies in Missouri, and far more with county and local police departments and other agencies. They have received criticism before, being forced to withdraw a line of targets called “No More Hesitation,” which featured young children and pregnant women with guns, and still offer a predictably messed up “Urban Street Violence” line. All of it is shipped through the UPS sorting facility in Minneapolis.

On Friday, August 22nd, a group of workers decided they would not be silent about the connection between their work and murders such as Mike Brown’s. Some of us intentionally removed targets from trailers that would deliver them to law enforcement agencies, while others stood in solidarity and refused to ferry these packages to their intended trailers. Those who were uncomfortable or unable to directly engage in these actions posed with a sign reading “‪#‎handsupdontship” in order to speak out. Actions like this took place in various work areas across the building, and were taken by people with a variety of job positions.

One worker involved in organizing the action on his section put it this way: “UPS knows the rule of this game just like any other company: make your money however you can get away with it. It’s like their number 1 rule, you always gotta keep the wheels turning. If you got the cash, UPS will ship it, even if its part of this f***ed up system that winds up with a kid getting executed by cops and then this military invasion of the town where it happened, give them the check and they couldn’t care less. Well, we care.” While this action was symbolic, with no packages winding up being halted, we believe it’s important to build the idea that workers can and should find ways to refuse to do work that contributes to racism and other forms of injustice.

We hope that this action is the first step in dealing with this issue and others like it. We shouldn’t have to go into work and have our job support the murder of any more black youth, just because UPS makes a buck off of it. In the weeks ahead, we expect to see more actions that demonstrate our outrage at being pawns in this deadly game. We encourage workers elsewhere, especially at UPS, to think about how their labor contributes to the current situation in Ferguson and elsewhere, and what we can do together to stand against it. And we want to help you make it happen. If you want to get involved or have an idea of how to take a stand but need help making it happen, please contact us at screwups@riseup.net.

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What does environmental justice have to do with tenant organizing?

By John Tieu - Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, August 21, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Our Power National Convening kicked off on August 6th, 2014 in Richmond CA, a diverse city that houses the Chevron Richmond refinery. This refinery is also one of the larger greenhouse gas emitting factories in the nation. The city itself is an example of what happens when capitalism’s method of exploiting the working class, extracting their profit, and commodifying our environment reaches a peak. An alarming number of people in Richmond have suffered, and are currently suffering from breathing issues such as asthma due to the city’s harmful air. Crime has been consistently high, and disinvestment in the city is affecting urban space. The refinery itself, which provides jobs to a sizeable amount of the population in Richmond, is also a highly unstable and dangerous work environment.

At a community vigil on August 6th, participants of the convening learned about and paid tribute to the victims of an explosion that happened at the refinery two years ago in 2012, sending 15,000 to seek treatment.

The city’s population itself is constantly being reminded of their struggles with bombardments of smoke plumes and advertisements from Chevron citing modernization and expansion as positive changes. I’ve never seen or experienced any neighborhood like it on the east coast. A resident in the city of Richmond seems to have almost every aspect of their life permeated by the Chevron corporation, as it seems to always and constantly be in the collective conscience of the neighborhood. As an intern who did not have any background in environmental studies, did not focus on issues in my own neighborhood that dealt with clean air and energy issues, and did not ever have to live in the shadow of a massive refinery, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I became involved with CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities this past summer, and had dealt with multiple issues ranging from organizing tenants in Chinatown, to doorknocking in NYCHA owned complexes, to putting on a screening of Delano Manongs, a film about the Filipino Farm Workers movement. While all somewhat varied in its subject, the projects had no readily apparent connections to the themes of the convening, which were mostly based on environmental and climate justice. Throughout the event I struggled to understand my place, as well as CAAAV’s place in the fight for a just transition into a new economic system, when there hasn’t been a direct connection of organization’s work focused on these issues. It had taken the majority of the conference to understand why Grassroots Global Justice would want to send Jeff (a fellow member) and I here to Richmond…

Where is labor in Ferguson?

By Carl Finamore - Socialist Worker, August 21, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

THE WEAKNESS of organized labor is often attributed to its low numbers, and they are low for sure. For example, AFL-CIO membership remained stagnant this year at 12.5 million, even with the whopping addition last year of 1.3 million United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union food and commercial workers.

Nonetheless, I believe the falling numbers are more a reflection than an explanation of labor's decline. Therefore, I do not agree with the prevailing opinion that spending more money on organizing will turn everything around. Our biggest problems are political, not organizational.

Put another way, corporate power looms large because unions are seriously disconnected from the social aspirations of the majority of working-class women and people of color who strive for equality, justice and fair play that cannot be measured or satisfied solely by the size of a paycheck.

It's been this way for some time, but nowhere is this wide gulf more vivid and more tragic than in the AFL-CIO's spineless reaction to the police murder of yet another young, unarmed African American.

The national federation issued a very cautiously worded statement of half a dozen sentences even as 18-year old Michael Brown's grieving family sharply characterized his shooting as an assassination.

This comes on the heels of the AFL-CIO's anemic and lame "take action" recommendations released last year on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 civil rights March on Washington. The federation's bold action plan was to organize a "national symposium," a "scholarship fund" and support for "teaching staff" to educate young people.

This is embarrassing. My multi-vitamins pack more of a wallop.

Why the Climate Movement Must Stand with Ferguson

By Deirdre Smith, Strategic Partnership Coordinator - 350.org, August 20, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

It was not hard for me to make the connection between the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, and the catalyst for my work to stop the climate crisis.

It’s all over the news: images of police in military gear pointing war zone weapons at unarmed black people with their hands in the air. These scenes made my heart race in an all-to-familiar way. I was devastated for Mike Brown, his family and the people of Ferguson. Almost immediately, I closed my eyes and remembered the same fear for my own family that pangs many times over a given year.

Scene from post Katrina New Orleans

Scene from post Katrina New Orleans

In the wake of the climate disaster that was Hurricane Katrina almost ten years ago, I saw the same images of police, pointing war-zone weapons at unarmed black people with their hands in the air. In the name of “restoring order,” my family and their community were demonized as “looters” and “dangerous.” When crisis hits, the underlying racism in our society comes to the surface in very clear ways. Climate change is bringing nothing if not clarity to the persistent and overlapping crises of our time.

Scene from Ferguson, MO

Scene from Ferguson, MO

I was outraged by Mike Brown’s murder, and at the same time wondered why people were so surprised; this is sadly a common experience of black life in America. In 2012, an unarmed black man was killed by authorities every 28 hours (when divided evenly across the year), and it has increased since then. I think about my brother, my nephew, and my brothers and sisters who will continue to have to fight for respect and empathy, and may lose their homes or even their lives at the hands of injustice.

Are There Two Different Versions of Environmentalism, One “White,” One “Black”?

By Brentin Mock - Grist, July 31, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers
The mountains and the endless plain –
All, all the stretch of these great green states –
And make America again!
– Langston Hughes, 1938

I really didn’t want to have to address this. While reading through University of Michigan professor Dorceta Taylor’s latest report, “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations,” and thinking about what I would write about it, I had hoped to focus on the solutions. Those solutions — confronting unconscious and subconscious bias and other subtle forms of discrimination — are the parts I had hoped environmentalists would be eager to unpack.

I thought they’d read about the “green ceiling,” where mainstream green NGOs have failed to create a workforce where even two out of 10 of their staffers are people of color, and ask themselves what could they do differently. I thought, naively, that this vast report, complete with reams of data and information on the diversity problem, would actually stir some environmentalists to challenge some of their own assumptions about their black and brown fellow citizens.

I was wrong.

Anarres Project with Chris Crass: Social Justice and Hope

By Chris Crass and the Anarres Project - Earth First! Journal, July 2, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. Crass was also an organizer with the IWW in San Francisco.

Chris Crass on Social Justice Heroes, Obstacles and Hope in the Movement, and Movies: The Anarres Project for Alternative Futures Interview

Chris Crass is a longtime organizer, educator, and writer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation.  He gives talks and leads workshops on campuses and with communities and congregations around the U.S. and Canada, to help support grassroots activists efforts. He balances family with his public political work and believes they are deeply interconnected, as both are about working to bring our vision and values into the world.

Throughout the 1990s he was an organizer with Food Not Bombs, an economic justice anti-poverty group and network; with them he helped build up the direct action-based anti-capitalist Left internationally.  Building on the successes and challenges of the mass direct action convergences of the global justice movement, most notably in Seattle against the WTO in 1999, he helped launch the Catalyst Project with the support of movement elders and mentors Sharon Martinas, Elizabeth ‘Betita’ Martinez, and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.  Catalyst Project combines political education and organizing to develop and support anti-racist politics, leadership, and organizing in white communities and builds dynamic multiracial alliances locally and nationally.

In 2000 he was a co-founder of the Colours of Resistance network, which served as a think tank and clearinghouse of anti-racist feminist analysis and tools for activists in the U.S. and Canada.  After Sept. 11th, 2001, he helped to found the Heads Up Collective which brought together a cadre of white anti-racist organizers to build up the multiracial Left in the San Francisco, Bay Area through alliances between the majority white anti-war movement and locally-based economic and racial justice struggles in communities of color.  He was also a member of the Against Patriarchy Men’s Group that supported men in developing their feminist analysis and their feminist leadership.

He graduated from San Francisco State University in Race, Class, Gender and Power Studies.  Originally from California, he currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his partner Jardana Peacock and their son, River.  He is a Unitarian Universalist and works with faith-based communities to help build up the spiritual Left. 

Blaming Migration for our Problems is Dangerous and Wrong

By Adam Ramsey - The Ecologist, June 21, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Rupert Read finished his piece on why he hates immigration by saying that mainstream politicians love it for the same reason that Hitler does.

Usually, comparing your opponents to Hitler immediately means that, under Godwin's Law, you've lost the argument.

But Rupert had already lost his argument long before that.

To summarise, Rupert makes a case that migration is a tool of the powerful against the powerless, and is environmentally damaging. He therefore argues that we should 'love migrants, but hate migration'.

He gives a list of reasons for why he thinks migration is a bad thing. Let me go through each of his points and explain why I disagree.

Is Professional Activism Getting in the Way of Real Change?

By Henia Belalia - www.alternet.org, November 1st, 2013

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.

With budgets and voices so loud, professionals’ messages overshadow the call for uprisings coming from the trenches.

It’s disconcerting to find so few faces in the prominent ranks of the environmental movement that reflect the realities and experiences of those bearing the brunt of climate collapse. Estimates show that since 1990 more than 90% of natural disasters have occurred in poor countries and that, globally, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by air, soil and water pollution. Numbers also demonstrate that low-income households are hit the hardest by disasters, due to factors such as  poor infrastructure and economic instability.

Yet those making strategic decisions are sitting in air-conditioned board rooms, hoping their conversations will pave the way for profound systemic change. Those most impacted by socioeconomic ills and environmental degradation are rarely present at those tables. This disconnect is quite alarming. Those of us frustrated with this scenario have turned to a deeper analysis and framework over the last decade— that of climate justice. Defining climage justice is a work in progress; honoring and integrating it are  lifelong struggles.

To tackle the root (read: radical) causes of the climate crisis, we must first acknowledge that environmental degradation exacerbates existing economic, racial and social injustices—an  interconnectedness that should define our analysis and actions. To truly win, land and justice defenders must recognize overlapping systems of oppression within this capitalist structure, and take strategic cues from the communities most impacted by colonization, militarism and poverty. That means building movements across issues and beyond divides based on race, class and gender, while elevating the voices that have been historically marginalized: indigenous peoples, communities of color, women, LGBTQ people, and the low-income population. To do so will take a profound decolonization of minds and professional institutions.

Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905–1925

By Lucien van der Walt and Peter Cole Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies' Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2011 (the citations are not included in this version)

In two of the planet’s most highly racialized countries, South Africa and the United States, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or “Wobblies”), were remarkable for their commitment to anti-racism. The broad anarchist tradition, including syndicalism, thus played an important role in struggles for national liberation and racial equality.

The fully annotated version of this essay was published in 'Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies' Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2011, 69–96

Now that the comparative and transnational turns are well under way, it seems high time to apply these methods to one of the modern era’s most internationalist movements, the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW or Wobblies). While framing histories within national boundaries is understandable and useful, many subjects benefit from repositioning them comparatively as well as transnationally. Reframing labor history within a global, comparative, and transnational framework directs attention to cross-border linkages, activities, and processes that a ‘‘methodological nationalism’’ obscures.

For far too long, labor historians—even of the obviously internationalist Wobblies—have straitjacketed the history of the IWW into a series of separate national stories, rather than one global history. Yet the Wobblies were overtly internationalist, their movement operated across borders, and their traditions spread globally, across the Americas and into Africa, Asia, and Europe. The IWW was a radical current in the globalized world of the early twentieth century, part of an international upsurge of anarchism and syndicalism that challenged Marxism for leadership of the revolutionary left into the late 1920s, ‘‘the dominant element in the self-consciously internationalist radical Left’’ from the 1870s and ‘‘the main vehicle of global opposition to industrial capitalism, autocracy, latifundism, and imperialism.’’

There is much more to be learnt from studying the Wobblies using both comparative and transnational approaches; this essay will largely utilize comparative methods. There is very little work along either of these lines, but what exists demonstrates the utility of such analysis in examining how IWW politics played out in different contexts. The IWW can be seen as a precursor of some of today’s social justice movements, whose affinity with the anarchism and syndicalism that inspired the Wobblies—and their commitment to participatory democracy, direct action, and prefigurative organizing–is striking.

While the small body of comparative literature on the IWW has raised some questions about its gender politics, it has not examined race matters. How did the IWW evolve in highly racialized societies? Moreover, to what extent might the IWW tradition have differed in colonial and imperial countries? This article develops an innovative comparative analysis of IWW racial politics in the United States (US) and South Africa (SA), with particular attention to activities among workers of color.

What about the "Tragedy of the Commons"?

By "Anarchist Writers" - November 11, 2008

The term "Tragedy of the Commons" is a phrase which is used to describe why, according to some, commonly owned resources will be destructively overused. The term was first coined by Garret Hardin in December 1968. ["The Tragedy of the Commons", Science, Vol. 162, No. 3859, pp. 1243-1248] It quickly became popular with those arguing against any form of collective ownership or socialism and would be the basis for many arguments for privatisation.

Unsurprisingly, given its popularity with defenders of capitalism and neo-classical economists, Hardin's argument was a pure thought experiment with absolutely no empirical evidence to support it. He suggested a scenario in which commonly owned pasture was open to all local herdsmen to feed their cattle on. Hardin complemented this assumption with the standard ones of neo-classical economics, arguing that each herdsman would try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons to maximise their income. This would result in overgrazing and environmental destruction as the cost of each feeding additional animals is shouldered by all who use the commons while the benefits accrue to the individual herdsman. However, what is individually rational becomes collectively irrational when each herdsman, acting in isolation, does the same thing. The net result of the individual's actions is the ending of the livelihood of every herdsman as the land becomes overused.

His article was used to justify both nationalisation and privatisation of communal resources (the former often a precursor for the latter). As state ownership fell out of favour, the lesson of this experiment in logic was as uniform as it was simple: only privatisation of common resources could ensure their efficient use and stop them being overused and destroyed. Coming as it did before the rise of neo-liberalism in the 1970s, Hardin's essay was much referenced by those seeking to privatise nationalised industries and eliminate communal institutions in tribal societies in the Third World. That these resulted in wealth being concentrated in a few hands should come as no surprise.

Needless to say, there are numerous problems with Hardin's analysis. Most fundamentally, it was a pure thought experiment and, as such, was not informed by historical or current practice. In other words, it did not reflect the reality of the commons as a social institution. The so-called "Tragedy of the Commons" was no such thing. It is actually an imposition of the "tragedy of the free-for-all" to communally owned resources (in this case, land). In reality, commons were never "free for all" resources and while the latter may see overuse and destruction the former managed to survive thousands of years. So, unfortunately for the supporters of private property who so regularly invoke the "Tragedy of the Commons", they simply show their ignorance of what true commons are. As socialist Allan Engler points out:

"Supporters of capitalism cite what they call the tragedy of the commons to explain the wanton plundering of forests, fish and waterways, but common property is not the problem. When property was held in common by tribes, clans and villages, people took no more than their share and respected the rights of others. They cared for common property and when necessary acted together to protect it against those who would damage it. Under capitalism, there is no common property. (Public property is a form of private property, property owned by the government as a corporate person.) Capitalism recognises only private property and free-for-all property. Nobody is responsible for free-for-all property until someone claims it as his own. He then has a right to do as he pleases with it, a right that is uniquely capitalist. Unlike common or personal property, capitalist property is not valued for itself or for its utility. It is valued for the revenue it produces for its owner. If the capitalist owner can maximise his revenue by liquidating it, he has the right to do that." [Apostles of Greed, pp. 58-59]

Therefore, as Colin Ward argues, "[l]ocal, popular, control is the surest way of avoiding the tragedy of the commons." [Reflected in Water, p. 20] Given that a social anarchist society is a communal, decentralised one, it will have little to fear from irrational overuse or abuse of communally owned and used resources.

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