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Convoys, Rallies, and a Three-Way Fight Approach within a Union Context

By DZ and Three Way Fight - It's Going Down, February 23, 2022

The author, DZ, has opted to use his initials because he is discussing active union business at his local. This article details actions and analysis in Vancouver. Meanwhile, as we go to publish, the police in Ottawa have stepped up the banning of the Convoy from areas around Parliament and the city. Attempts to stop the Convoy protests by police have now seen the police using chemical sprays and flash grenades with a growing number of the Convoy supporters being arrested – 3WF

The ongoing trucker convoy, which has occupied parts of downtown Ottawa and other neighborhoods for several weeks, has been met with a widespread sense of demoralization among the left (an equivocal term that I will disambiguate below). Participants in the convoy present themselves in opposition to vaccine mandates, but we must note that these actions are the latest iteration of a strategically and tactically fluid covid-denialist movement, which has manifest over the last two years as anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination, anti-mandate, and anti-mask. It is a movement which has also, from its very beginnings, drawn membership and support from far-right movements.

The Convoys

In what I follows, I will look at three smaller events that took place in Vancouver, British Columbia. The first two events I will examine are convoys. They were organized by a group called Action4Canada. On February 5th, a convoy billed as the “Langley Freedom Convoy” was disrupted by counter-protestors and cyclists, who blocked the convoy at several different intersections. The counter-protest was one of several actions organized to meet the smaller, mostly mobile trucker convoys in various cities across Canada. The express intent of the counter-protestors was to block intersections in order to reroute the convoy away from the hospitals in the Vancouver core. (Some intersections might also have been chosen to subsequently reroute the convoy away from the Downtown Eastside). Perhaps the most effective chokepoint occurred when cyclists blocked the convoy as it headed westbound on Terminal Avenue. As a local journalist pointed out, there’s a two-kilometer stretch of Terminal where drivers can’t exit down side streets, and at the end of that stretch they were blocked and deadlocked. The convoy had to reverse out with assistance of police. Some of the convoy made it downtown, and I have seen social media posts showing that they were blocked or rerouted (with different degrees of success) at no fewer than four different intersections.

Interestingly, the destination for the “3rd Lower Mainland Freedom Convoy” on February 12th was the 176 St. border crossing in Surrey, BC, far from the Vancouver city core. The change in destination may be an attempt to avoid the disruptions of counter-protests. The fact that these groups target border crossings and challenge the RCMP—at this particular event several vehicles successfully broke through police barricades—shows that while police sympathies for the covid-denialist movement are frequently documented in, for example, Ottawa, these convoys are willing to engage in system-oppositional actions.

Perhaps the safest observation—one made by many—about these events is that there is a stark contrast between the police response to convoy actions and those of leftist or Indigenous movements, which are typically suppressed long before they would reach a similar critical mass. On that note, the counter-protest action on February 5th might have been the strongest leftist action in the Vancouver region since the Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockades two years ago—though it did not match the scope or intensity of those actions.

Workers Have Made Shocking Allegations of Racism at One of Elon Musk’s California Factories

By Alex N. Press - Jacobin, February 18, 2022

On February 10, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the state-level equivalent to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, filed a lawsuit against Tesla for racial discrimination based on the agency’s thirty-two-month investigation into the company’s Fremont, California, electric car factory.

The facility, which employs some 15,000 workers and is commanded by stridently anti-union billionaire Elon Musk, is the only nonunion plant in the United States operated by a major American automaker. Before Tesla purchased the facility in 2010, it was home to General Motors from 1962 to 1982, then to General Motors and Toyota’s jointly owned New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. Left with little recourse against abuse and silenced by arbitration agreements that prevent them from taking complaints to court, the facility’s black workers say they have endured rampant discrimination.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of thousands of black workers, alleges that Tesla segregated black workers into separate areas that were referred to as the “porch monkey stations,” “the dark side,” “the slaveship,” and “the plantation.” Workers allege that management “constantly use the N-word and other racial slurs to refer to Black workers.” As the lawsuit continues, “swastikas, ‘KKK,’ the n-word, and other racist writing are etched onto walls of restrooms, restroom stalls, lunch tables, and even factory machinery.” These workers complain that black workers are “assigned to more physically demanding posts and the lowest-level contract roles, paid less, and more often terminated from employment than other workers,” as well as denied advancement opportunities.

“In the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere, a job at Tesla is often seen as a golden ticket,” states the lawsuit:

It is seen as a way for those without a technical background or a college degree to secure a job in tech, and a path to a career and a living wage. Yet Tesla’s brand, purportedly highlighting a socially conscious future, masks the reality of a company that profits from an army of production workers, many of whom are people of color, working under egregious conditions.

According to the lawsuit, some 20 percent of Tesla’s factory operatives are black, but there are no black executives and just 3 percent of professionals at the Fremont plant are black. A blog post published on Tesla’s website the day before the California agency filed the lawsuit, titled “The DFEH’s Misguided Lawsuit,” asserts that the Fremont factory “has a majority-minority workforce and provides the best paying jobs in the automotive industry to over 30,000 Californians.”

“Yet, at a time when manufacturing jobs are leaving California, the DFEH has decided to sue Tesla instead of constructively working with us,” the post continues. “This is both unfair and counterproductive, especially because the allegations focus on events from years ago.” It concludes, “The interests of workers and fundamental fairness must come first.”

Black Former Tesla Worker: Nickname for the Plant Was ‘The Slave Ship’

By Gabriel Thompson - Capital and Main, February 15, 2022

In the spring of 2017, when Fatima Islam learned she had been hired to work at Tesla’s production plant in Fremont, Calif., she had high hopes. Then a single mother of two young children, the 33-year-old was willing to face the four-hour round-trip commute from her home in Merced, and didn’t flinch when she learned she was expected to work 12-hour shifts, six days a week, inspecting Model 3’s that rolled down the line.

“I had heard so many great things about Tesla,” she said. “I thought that I would be able to grow at the company and turn it into my career, maybe be there my whole life.”

On the plant floor, Islam quickly started having second thoughts. As an African American woman, she noticed a striking lack of women or African Americans in supervisory roles. Soon after getting hired, she became pregnant, and during one grueling shift she fainted. Later, she said, one of the mechanical technicians referred to her as “the Black pregnant bitch.” Islam said that the same employee repeatedly harassed her 18-year-old co-worker, another African American woman, demanding that she sleep with him. When Islam reported the incidents, bringing along multiple witnesses, she said nothing was done. “He let it be known that he’s cool with HR,” she said of the technician. Soon after, she said, the 18-year-old was fired.

Equally shocking to Islam was the overt racism. She heard the n-word constantly on the plant floor, while Latino workers also called her a mayate, roughly the Spanish language equivalent. Supervisors, she said, did nothing in response; in fact, floor leads sometimes joined in. Racist graffiti, including the n-word and swastikas, were carved into workbenches and scrawled on bathroom stalls.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. “They make it seem like this great place,” said Islam, of the high-end electric vehicle company that positions itself as a force for social good. “But the nickname for the Tesla plant was ‘the slave ship,’” she said. “You see how comfortable they are with things like that?”

The Road to Ruin? - Electric vehicles and workers’ rights abuses at DR Congo’s industrial cobalt mines

By staff - Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) and the Centre d’Aide Juridico-Judiciaire (CAJJ), November 2021

Cobalt is everywhere. It is a silvery-blue mineral used in the rechargeable batteries that power our mobile phones, laptops and tablets, and in larger quantities, the electric vehicles that will soon dominate our roads. It is a strategic mineral in the plan to decarbonise and move away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. Accelerating this switch is one of the priorities to tackle the climate crisis and industry experts forecast that electric vehicle sales will skyrocket in the next 10 years. This will require a dramatic increase in cobalt production.

The booming demand for cobalt has a dark side, however. The Democratic Republic of Congo, one of Africa’s poorest nations, holds the lion’s share of the world’s cobalt reserves. In 2020, 70% of the world’s cobalt was extracted from within its borders with tens of thousands of workers labouring in large-scale industrial mines to dig up the ore. Multinational mining companies that own many of Congo’s mines, eager to demonstrate their “green” and “responsible” credentials, say they produce “clean” and “sustainable” cobalt, free from human rights abuses, and that their operations contribute to good jobs and economic opportunities.

This report, based on extensive research over two years, paints a very different picture. It shows dire conditions for many Congolese workers in the industrial mines, often characterised by widespread exploitation and labour rights abuses. Many workers do not earn a “living wage” – the minimum remuneration to afford a decent standard of living – have little or no health provision, and far too often are subjected to excessive working hours, unsafe working conditions, degrading treatment, discrimination and racism.

In recent years attention has mainly focused on Congo’s artisanal mining sector, partly because of the risks of child labour it creates, whereas the conditions for workers in the large-scale industrial mines have gone largely unnoticed. This report examines workers’ rights at Congo’s industrial mines where the large majority of cobalt is coming from, producing some 80% of the cobalt exported from the country (in contrast to the 20% produced in artisanal mines).

The findings presented in this report are based on detailed research over 28 months by UK-based corporate watchdog Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) and the Centre d’Aide Juridico- Judiciaire (CAJJ), a Congolese legal aid centre specialised in labour rights. The research team carried out extensive field research in and around Kolwezi, a mining town where many of Congo’s cobalt and copper mines are located. It is informed by 130 interviews of workers and former workers at five mining companies, as well as interviews with subcontractors, union representatives, lawyers, Congolese local authorities, medical staff and industry experts.

Read the text (PDF).

Sierra Club and Sunrise Movement react to criticism for toxic workplace cultures

By Adam Mahoney - Grist, August 24, 2021

In a summer dictated by converging climate disasters, two of the nation’s largest progressive climate organizations have been preoccupied with their own crises.

Both the Sierra Club and the Sunrise Movement face criticism for workplace cultures that attempted to cover up episodes of racism and abuse, while the Sierra Club is also facing allegations of repressing acts of misogyny and sexual misconduct. The Sierra Club is facing internal upheaval after a former staff member came forward with allegations of being raped by a “celebrated” Sierra Club employee in the summer of 2020. Meanwhile, the Sunrise Movement, known for its diversity and pivot away from the historically majority-white climate movement, is facing allegations of “tokenizing” its members of color for political advantage. 

The fallout comes at a critical time in their fight against climate-induced disasters and the fossil fuel industry. As leaders in the struggle for environmental justice — which inherently involves defending women and communities of color — their efforts may be thwarted by not supporting these vulnerable groups within their respective organizations. Both groups, aware of the bad optics, are trying to react swiftly.

Earlier this month, Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, which is the largest environmental organization in the U.S., announced his resignation. Sierra Club President Ramon Cruz says the organizational shake-up is part of a years-long process to re-examine how the organization affects its community. “We recognize the impacts of our organization’s history and harm, and we are deeply dedicated to fundamental transformation,” Cruz told Grist. “We are making substantial changes to our policies and committing substantial resources to much needed capacity, and we know that the trajectory for transformation will be a long one.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Resigns Amid Upheaval Around Race, Gender, and Abuses

By Alleen Brown - The Intercept, August 19, 2021

During a summer of extreme heat, wildfires, and floods, the largest environmental organization in the U.S. announced last Friday that its executive director will step down, effective at the end of the year. The resignation of Michael Brune, the head of the Sierra Club, comes amid the fallout of an internal report, the executive summary recommendations of which were obtained by The Intercept, that describes an organizational crisis likely to upend the Club’s volunteer-led structure.

The internal reckoning around race, gender, and sexual as well as other abuse allegations coincided with a more public confrontation with the legacy of the Sierra Club’s once-revered founder John Muir, who expressed racist sentiments and traveled in circles that included eugenicists. Following the racial justice uprisings during the summer of 2020, the Sierra Club disavowed Muir. At the same time, discontent was brewing inside the organization over less symbolic issues, leading to the internal report.

The report, prepared for the Sierra Club by the consulting firm Ramona Strategies, describes a series of recommendations developed as part of a “restorative accountability process,” based on dozens of interviews and hundreds of pages of documentation. The sharply worded executive summary describes how the organization of nearly 900 staff members fostered a culture lacking accountability for abuse and misconduct, especially when it came from the Club’s 4,000 volunteers, some of whom act as managers for the organization’s employees. The report, which was commissioned after a volunteer leader was publicly accused of rape, underlined that employees and volunteers from historically marginalized groups were most vulnerable to abusive behavior.

Fighting fossil fascism for an eco-communist future

By The Zetkin Collective and Kai Heron - ROAR Mag, July 15, 2021

The West Coast of North America is, once again, on fire. Last month, Phoenix, Arizona, recorded temperatures of 46 degrees Celcius five days in a row. A new record. Every afternoon, the surface temperature of concrete and tarmac climbed to 82 degrees Celsius — hot enough to cause third-degree burns. In California and Texas, where temperatures were marginally lower, energy grid operators feared a prolonged heat wave would wreak havoc on energy infrastructure, forcing a repeat of last years’ rolling blackouts. For many dependent on air conditioning to stay cool in the sweltering heat, this would cause health complications or even death.

North America’s ongoing heatwave follows months of dry weather across the West Coast that have established the conditions for a summer of unprecedented water shortages, crop failures and wildfires. California and Arizona’s wildfire season started unusually early. One of Arizona’s first fires roared for four days, incinerating 27 square miles of countryside and forcing the evacuation of two townships. As this interview is prepared for publication, more than 60 wildfires are raging across the West Coast, some two times the size of Portland. As has become commonplace in the US, state officials are sending prisoners in to tackle the flames, paying them as little as $1.50 an hour.

Already this year Pakistan and Northern India have been wracked by temperatures reaching 52 degrees Celsius. While the small town of Lytton, 124 miles outside Vancouver, hit 49.6 degrees Celsius, the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada. Meanwhile, Brazil has suffered under its worst drought in 100 years, sending food prices spiraling upwards. At these extremes, life as normal is suspended. People die. Ecosystems collapse. And out of the disarray, reactionary social forces make their move.

Through a toxic combination of long-established anti-immigrant and racializing tropes and a regressive denialist climate agenda, far-right parties and social movements are exercising increased influence across Europe and the Americas. The Zetkin Collective’s White Skin, Black Fuel: The Danger of Fossil Fascism charts the rise of these movements and ideas and, with an eye to the horizon, forecasts the emergence of “fossil fascism.”

Zetkin Collective member Andreas Malm’s most recent individually authored works How to Blow up a Pipeline and Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency, were rapidly-written conjunctural analyses of our intersecting ecological, epidemiological and political predicaments. Both books sought to drive a red-and-green wedge into conversations about capitalism’s breathless trajectory towards ecological collapse and the limits of prevailing strategies among elements of the capitalist core’s climate movements.

While none of the urgency of these works is lost in White Skin, Black Fuel, it drops into the background as a richly detailed analysis of the interrelations of racial capitalism, fossil fuel extraction, nationalism and climate breakdown takes precedence. The book is an example of engaged scholarly research at its best. A clarion call to movements and a forceful reminder of the reactionary forces that are stacked against us as we fight to realize an eco-communist future.

In this interview Kai Heron speaks to Zetkin Collective members Andreas Malm, Laudy van den Heuvel and Ståle Holgersen about the Collective’s writing process, climate denial and resistance to fossil fascism.

Ramona Strategies: Executive Summary of Recommendations (for addressing Sierra Club internal organizational dynamics)

By Elizabeth Brown Riordan, Katherine Kimpel, and Kathryn Pogin - Ramona Strategies, August 2021

This Executive Summary was prepared by Ramona Strategies to relay the substance of the Recommendations to the broader set of stakeholders that make up the Sierra Club community. Ramona Strategies exercised control over the scope and substance of this Executive Summary at all times.

About the Restorative Accountability Process:

In the summer of 2020, public allegations surfaced that a celebrated former employee and thencurrent Volunteer Leader had raped a Sierra Club employee when he was her boss; others came forward to share similar experiences of inappropriate and degrading experiences with that same man. Those reports prompted not only a targeted investigation of his tenure at the organization, but also this broader Restorative Accountability Process. This Restorative Accountability Process was commissioned to help the organization rise to the challenges that confront it in this definitional moment.

The opportunity to participate in the Restorative Accountability Process was extended by the Club through a series of emails from Leadership directed at both staff and volunteers. No one who expressed an interest in participating was turned away. Most interviews were conducted between September 2020 and January 2021, although a few interviews happened outside of that time frame. Individuals were under no obligation to contribute to the process; however, between unsolicited participants and those organizational representatives to whom we reached out to directly, members of the Office of General Counsel, the Human Resources Department, the Chapter Services Department (also known as “Office of Chapter Support”), the Volunteer Accountability Working Group (also known as the “Volunteer Accountability Process Reform Team”), and some individuals in union leadership spoke with us to explain more about the details of the processes used for complaints, investigations, and resolutions and to explain recordkeeping systems and materials related to prior issues.

Participants in the interviews were not guided to any particular perspectives, conclusions, themes, or narratives; in general, we encouraged participants to share what they thought was important to be known and then we listened. We did not ask participants to comment on information or perspectives shared by others, and we did not engage in cross-examination. However, we did probe for details, and we did listen for corroborating factors across interviews. To the extent that the Process identified individual matters that require investigation and/or further intervention, those individual matters were relayed to the teams that handle Employee and Volunteer Relations (‘EVR”)' in a manner that protects the anonymity of the participants and the confidentiality of the Process but also ensures the organization is attending to those situations.

Read the text (PDF).

Anti-imperialist Manifesto in Defense of the Environment

The National Black Climate Summit

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