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green syndicalism

Review – “Trade Unions in the Green Economy”

By x384117 - Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 25, 2017

Trade Unions in the Green Economy: Working for the Environment (2013) is a compilation of essays on the intersection of labor organizing and environmentalism, with contributions from workers, union staffers, activists, and researchers from around the world.  The usefulness of each chapter varies; some focus on the policies of various technocratic bodies, while others look at the actual social and political dynamics within pro-ecology unions, and a few advance anti-capitalist analysis.  Overall, it is a very useful introductory survey on the modern state of eco-unionism, and contains useful information for revolutionary unionists and environmental syndicalists.

The first three chapters look at the way international bodies of unions and labor organizations, such as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), have incorporated environmental concerns into their programs and advocacy efforts.  This is of limited interest to revolutionary unionists, since we primarily concern ourselves with the dynamics of the rank-and-file and on-the-ground organizing, rather than what far-off committees and technocrats are pushing around on paper.  But these chapters are still of some use, insofar as they push back against the idea that unions are generally in opposition to environmental protections and ecological concerns. International and transnational bodies of labor groups have been including environmental provisions since the 1970s, and this itself has connected more recently with the inclusion of environmental concerns in local workplace bargaining strategies since the mid-2000s in the US, UK, Canada, and Spain (among other countries).  It is also useful to know what resources these international bodies could offer to more radical local efforts; for example, the ILO has a research wing dedicated to the labor market in clean energy sectors, which could potentially be leveraged by revolutionary unionists in efforts to build up workers cooperatives. 

Subsequent chapters were much more interesting, as they looked more at campaigns and ideas more rooted in local realities, and thus more dependent on grassroots initiative and militancy.  A chapter on eco-unionism in Spain discussed efforts to redefine the subject of the worker beyond being merely an appendage of the workplace, and as somebody who is also part of the larger environment that is degraded by the externalities of capitalism; this redefinition lays the groundwork for pushing unions to advocate for revolutionizing society away from carbon-based energy systems and privatized modes of transportation, and toward an economy of green energy, public transportation, and closed-loop production cycles.  Similar types of analysis are discussed in chapters on trade unions in Australia, many of whom have adopted the Just Transition framework as a way to reconcile the contradictions of extractive industries such as mining.

Some of the most compelling chapters were on struggles where worker self-interest and ecological protection wasn’t just a matter of theoretical convergence, but of obvious and immediate importance.  One chapter discussed the Rural Workers Trade Union (STTR), an organization of workers in rural northern Brazil, in the Amazon Rainforest.  The region’s economy is a site of deep contradiction, where dependence on the land for food and water clashes with the need to extract resources to sell to regional and global markets for additional income.  The STTR helped coordinate communities in the area on options for developing sustainable industries (as opposed to the common and destructive industry of logging), and also served as the organ of local, democratic, and sustainable governance of the natural resources.  Another chapter discussed how occupational health standards became increasingly important to unions in the US who worked with dangerous and toxic materials, in industries involving energy and chemical production.  Decreasing pollution and exposure to toxins was of immediate concern to workers, as critical issues of workplace safety and working conditions.  Addressing issues of occupational health and workplace safety was pushed hard by unions like the Oil, Atomic, and Chemical Workers (OACW) of the ‘70s and ‘80s, who eventually merged into the United Steelworkers (USW). 

Demands for a safe and healthy workplace can sound relatively moderate, but in some industries they could have an explosive and revolutionary impact.  This is the argument made in an excellent chapter on the status of food workers across the world, a segment of the working class which is often marginalized in both union and environmental discourse.  The global industrial agriculture system is a massive source of greenhouse gas emissions, and this is deeply connected with the low status and power of farmworkers, who are routinely exposed to toxic chemicals and brutally long working hours.  If farmworkers—who number roughly 1 billion worldwide—organized and demanded proper wages, reasonable hours, and safe and healthy working conditions, this would lead to revolutionizing agriculture, and an inevitable move away from petrochemical-intensive techniques toward sustainable alternatives like agro-ecology.  This point about organizing is important; in a brief critique of the Just Transition framework, the author argues that the use of the framework relies too much on the assumption that socio-economic restructuring and technological change comes about from rational discourse and good-faith debate, instead of recognizing that rights are fought for, not granted.  Thus a Just Transition requires workers to organize and actively fight and implement the framework, instead of simply asking the wealthy and powerful to do so for them. 

Worker power is the topic of another compelling chapter, written by a Swedish autoworker, on the subject of transforming the auto industry for the green economy of the future.  The author argues that workers need to seize the initiative and not only advocate for a complete reconfiguration of the industry toward products like public transit and green energy systems, but to also build up systems of worker self-management and actively participate in the planning and development of new production systems that can leverage their own skills and knowledge.  The example of the Lucas Plan, an attempt by aerospace workers in the UK to reconfigure a weapons plant in the 1970s, is given as a key model for how workers today can think about a worker-driven initiative toward seizing and restructuring their own workplaces, and the wider economy.

Indeed, if there is one takeaway from Trade Unions in the Green Economy, it is that worker self-organization and power are the central pillar of effective environmental unionism.  Transforming production via environmental reforms on capitalist lines will always result in a combination of 1) the displacement and destruction of working-class communities (and a concurrent shift toward reactionary politics in the absence of left-wing alternatives, as we are currently seeing in the Western world), and 2) the offshoring of dirty production to the Global South, which means that at the global level, we’re not necessarily reducing the net rates of pollution.  Furthermore, we must also recognize the limits of traditional liberal strategies for social change, which revolve around lobbying elites through the alleged power of ideas and rational discourse, and a focus on an abstract space of “public opinion”.  What we need instead is a strategy that brings politics into everyday life, where our neighborhoods and workplaces are sites of struggle for livable wages and healthy environments.    

The only way forward is to tie together unionism and environmentalism in a substantive manner, and build a strategy where we are the primary actors in transforming the economy—not politicians, technocrats, or capitalists. 

Why Environmentalists Must Be Antifascists

By Skyler Simmons - Earth First! Journal, April 21, 2017

In this age of Trump, with its’ rising white nationalism and escalating acts of terror against people of color, there can be no ambiguity when it comes to resisting white supremacists in particular and the far Right in general. And the environmental movement is no exception.

Unfortunately environmentalists have long flirted with racist and even outright fascist ideas, from kicking out immigrants to totalitarian population control. It’s time for the environmental movement to come out as an unequivocally antiracist and antifascist movement. We must show that we are ready to defend human dignity and equality with as much commitment as we defend the Earth.

While many of us within the environmental movement have been taking collective liberation seriously for years, from chasing the Klan out of our communities to answering the calls from communities of color to embrace environmental justice, our movement as a whole has done too little to challenge the racist tendencies both within environmentalist circles as well as society at large. It is time we take seriously the threat posed by racism and the Far right, and firmly position antifascist organizing side by side with our efforts to defend Mother Earth.

Review: The Anarchist Roots of Geography

From Notes toward an International Libertarian Eco-Socialism - Originally posted at Marx and Philsophy*, March 28, 2017

In The Anarchist Roots of Geography, a “proverbial call to nonviolent arms,” Simon Springer discusses some of the past, present, and future relationships between anarchism and geography. He mobilizes the thought of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Peter Kropotkin, Elisée Reclus, and Lev Tolstoy to denounce global capitalism and oppression—declaring, with Kropotkin, that anarchism is “what geography ought to be”—while also affirming the more contemporary approaches of Saul Newman and Todd May, who have advanced the idea of “post-structuralist anarchism” in opposition to classical approaches through a turn to thinkers like Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Jacques Derrida, and Judith Butler, among others. Springer therefore presents his own perspective as amounting variably to “anarchism without adjectives” or “post-anarchism,” neither of which is the same. The former refers to the synthesist approach favored by Voline and others in opposition to the anarcho-communist Platformism advanced by Nestor Makhno, Peter Arshinov, and other exiled militants following the defeat of the Russian Revolution. Post-anarchism, a more recent development, integrates the nihilism, irrationalism, and defeatism of postmodern analyses in expressing opposition to social revolution and universalism as “totalizing narratives.” In this way, while The Anarchist Roots of Geography provides many compelling insights, it itself presents a synthesis of a number of anarchist or anarchistic approaches that cannot so readily be melded together.

Springer’s main project in this volume is to bring geography back to its radical anarchist roots, thus issuing a course correction of sorts beyond those set by the hegemonic presence of Marxists within academic geography departments starting in the late 1960s. The author presents the works of Kropotkin and Reclus as luminous alternatives to the ethnocentrism and state-centricity that has plagued the discipline since its origins. Springer wishes to wield anarchism, defined as the practice of mutual aid with the concern for universal geography in mind, to undermine statism, capitalism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, imperialism, and speciesism (or anthroparchy). For him, anarchism is the “only meaningful form of postcolonialism” (38), as the State-form effectively continues colonization even after formal independence, and—following Reclus—it must centrally express concern for the integrity of the planetary system by means of nature conservation, vegetarianism, and opposition to animal cruelty. Springer here traces the philosophical arc linking Reclus with social ecology and the animal-rights and animal-liberation movements. The author holds that direct action, cooperation, and prefigurative politics can allow humanity to affiliate by free federation, reestablish equality among humans, rebuild the commons, and overturn the domination of nature. Taking after Proudhon (1840), who analyzed property as originating in the Roman concept of sovereignty, or patriarchal despotism, Springer defines property as violence and calls for insurrection—but not revolution—against oppression. Echoing Reclus, he emphasizes the place of beauty in the struggle, citing Albert Einstein’s view that “[o]ur task” must be to “wide[n] our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty” (137), and he declares the importance of unity for anarchy, in parallel to the teachings of Taoism, Buddhism, and Baruch de Spinoza.

Union Leaders meet Trump: "almost giddy." Nauseating

By Sean O'Torain - Facts For Working People, April 10, 2017

The authors of this Blog have continually focused on the refusal of the trade union leaders to fight the bosses and the offensive of the bosses capitalist system against working people and the environment. We believe we are correct to do so. The US trade union leaders control organizations with a membership of up to 14 million and with huge full time resources, a massive infrastructure and hundreds of millions of dollars. Their potential power is confirmed by the fact that people like Obama, and now Trump stroke these union leaders to make sure they remain on their side. Just have a look at how far these union leaders are prepared to go to boot lick the bosses and their political stooges.

The New York Times Sunday April 9th had an article entitled: "Can Trump Win Over Big Labor?" The article showed he would not have a hard job if we are talking about the union leaders as opposed to the rank and file. Just three days after his inauguration - he was wasting no time, again this shows the potential of the trade union movement that he thought he had to move fast - yes just three days after his inauguration Trump invited the leaders of the building trades unions to the White House. The New York Times described what was going on as Trump "courting" these leaders. Well this courting worked, the romance is so far going well. The New York Times describes the mood of these union leaders after the meeting as "almost giddy" (it is nauseating) and went on to point to the news release from the laborers' union which was headed: "It is finally beginning to feel like a new day for America's working class." Yes it is a new day alright. The whip will be laid with even greater ferocity across the back of the US working class.

Then there is McGarvey the head of the North American Building Trades Unions and supporter of the Keystone Pipeline and other such destructive projects; he said: "So far so good - our concern is the economic trajectory of our members." In other words screw everything else, the workers who are not their members, the planet, women's rights, the fight against racism, sexism, police brutality, the wars and occupations abroad, health care, education, screw them all it is just the "economic trajectory" of his members. Oh how these bureaucrats like using big words. It makes them sound learn ed and, they hope, cover up their cowardice and refusal to fight for their members. And if this betrayal of the working class as a whole, this betrayal of the fight to save the planet and against war were not enough, the economic trajectory of his members has already been going down for years. McGarvey went on: "We're creating a building trades majority, Democratic and Republican whether state or national. We never want to be in a position where losing an election changes the economic trajectory of our membership." So he wants an alliance of the Trumps, the Clintons, incredible. On top of that  this moron refuses to see that the "economic trajectory" let us speak plainly, the living standards of his members and the US working class has been going down for decades. A new fighting leadership has to be built in the rank and file of the unions and the workplaces. This old boot licking pro capitalist leadership has to be removed.

Prospects for Social Democracy in the US: Insights From a Syndicalist in Sweden

By Enrique Guerrero-López and Adam Weaver - Truthout, April 10, 2017

In the era of Trump, there's a clear and growing interest in socialism, especially among young people. The first measurable shift began to peek over the horizon in polling data done in the wake of the Occupy movement, showing 49 percent of people ages 18-29 favored socialism over capitalism. The political terrain of the US was rocked to such a degree that even the Republicans took "capitalism" out of their talking points. As the narrative of free markets and unquestioned neoliberalism publicly unraveled, we reached the point in 2016 where a majority of those under 30 rejected capitalism and had a positive view of socialism. This crisis of the political establishment was further deepened by the emergence of Black Lives Matter. Ferguson became symbolic of the deep racial inequality that exists across the US, but it was also the rebellion of urban centers like Baltimore -- traditionally Democratic and with significant Black elected leadership -- which melted away the "post-racial" mythology that took hold during the Obama years.

So when Bernie Sanders stepped into the ring for the 2016 presidential election as the anti-establishment candidate building a "political revolution," he slid through the door kicked open by social movements, exceeding even his own expectations and gaining unanticipated popularity. The Sanders campaign simultaneously popularized and clouded understandings of socialism. When asked about his vision of socialism during a CNN presidential debate, Sanders responded that we should "look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway," conflating a social democratic welfare state with the anticapitalist core of socialism.

Taking a cue from Sanders, we decided to "look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway" to take a deeper look at social democracy from the perspective of those who live in "actually existing" social democratic countries. We recently spoke with Gabriel Kuhn, an Austrian-born author living in Sweden and involved in radical labor and migrant solidarity efforts, about his analysis and experience of social democracy. Kuhn, the author of numerous books including Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging A Militant Working-Class Culture, is a member of the syndicalist SAC (Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation) and has in recent years mainly been involved in migrant solidarity projects. 

The toll of pollution: How many lives vs. how much profit?

By Pete Dollack - Systemic Disorder, April 5, 2017

Frequently lost in the arguments over financial costs and benefits when it comes to pollution is the cost to human health. Not only illness and respiratory problems but premature death. To put it bluntly: How many human lives should we exchange for corporate profit?

Two new studies by the World Health Organization should force us to confront these issues head on. This is no small matter — the two WHO studies estimate that polluted environments cause 1.7 million children age five or younger to die per year.

Indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene all contribute to these 1.7 million annual deaths, accounting for more than one-quarter of all deaths of children age five or younger globally. A summary notes:

“[W]hen infants and pre-schoolers are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke they have an increased risk of pneumonia in childhood, and a lifelong increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Exposure to air pollution may also increase their lifelong risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.”

One of the two reports, Don’t pollute my future! The impact of the environment on children’s health, notes that most of humanity lives in environmentally stressed areas:

“92% of the global population, including billions of children, live in areas with ambient air pollution levels that exceed WHO limits. Over three billion people are exposed to household air pollution from the use of solid fuels. Air pollution causes approximately 600,000 deaths in children under five years annually and increases the risk for respiratory infections, asthma, adverse neonatal conditions and congenital anomalies. Air pollution accounts for over 50% of the overall disease burden of pneumonia which is among the leading causes of global child mortality. Growing evidence suggests that air pollution adversely affects cognitive development in children and early exposures might induce development of chronic disease in adulthood.” [page 3]

These types of calculations on health and mortality are absent from debates on environmental regulations. And not only is the human toll missing from cost/benefit analyses, but this pollution is actually subsidized.

Beyond Petroculture: strategies for a Left energy transition

By Imre Szeman and Jeff Diamanti - Canadian Dimension, February 17, 2017

Five years ago, a group of us at the University of Alberta in Edmonton formed the Petrocultures Research Group to develop a sharper understanding of the ways we use (and abuse) energy. Our immediate intention was to examine the social, cultural and political implications of Canada’s turn-of-the-twentieth-century leap into the ranks of the world’s oil superpowers. Our interest in energy arose in part as a result of working at the research university closest to the Athabasca tar sands. In Edmonton, it’s hard not to see oil everywhere, and not only in the physical infrastructure of refineries, but also in its social costs and consequences: labour dislocation, inflated housing prices, alcohol and drug abuse, and rates of sexual violence and family dysfunction.

Very quickly, however, Petrocultures scholars also began to grapple with other, larger questions. What is energy for in our society? How does the availability of relatively cheap energy effect how we socialize and relate to one another? What are the inequalities that come with fossil fuels, and what is stopping renewables from carrying those same inequalities forward? Petrocultures began investigating how energy in the 20th century made a number of other, seemingly unrelated things, possible. We moderns tend to image energy as a largely neutral aspect of social life, as little more than a dead input into the motors of a society whose form and rationale originates at a distance from coal mines and oil fields. But in fact, the forms of energy we use, and how we use them, shape society through and through, and not just how we work (in factories instead of fields) or how we move around (using horsepower instead of horses).

This is what we mean by “petroculture,” the term that gives our group its name. Petroculture is the global culture we find ourselves in today. It is the name for a society that has been organized around the energies and products of fossil fuels, the capacities it engenders and enables, and the situations and contexts it creates. It’s not just that our physical infrastructures depend on oil and gas, or that our social and economic practices have been organized around easy and cheap access to fossil fuels. The relationship to our dominant energy form is deeper, pervasive, and constitutive: to say we inhabit a “petroculture” is to say we are fossil-fuel creatures all the way down. Our expectations, our sensibilities, our habits, our ways of being in and moving across the world, how we imagine ourselves in relation to nature, as well as in relation to one another—these have all been sculpted by, and in relation to, the massively expanded energies of the fossil-fuel era. To give but one example: in the potential shift from gas to electric-powered cars now promised us, what is never questioned is necessity of the automobile itself. As inhabitants of a global petroculture, we have all come to expect the mobility, freedom and autonomy of mechanized movement by land, sea and air. Those parts of the world that don’t yet have a car in every garage see it as an index of economic and social progress — a sign of having joined the modern community because, at long last, they are able to use energy at the same level of those in the global North.

Beyond Protest in the Age of Trump

By Black Rose Anarchist Federation - It's Going Down, March 25, 2017

In the early days of the Trump administration, we are seeing Trump’s utilization of executive orders to initiate and/or implement a wide array of right-wing policies.  He is starting to make troubling organizational moves, such as the appointment of Steve Bannon- the former executive chairman for Breitbart News, a platform for the Alt-Right- to his National Security Council.  We are seeing the emboldenment of the far right and the rising possibility of international warfare with nuclear capable countries such as China.  Many are feeling overwhelmed and questioning the best way to resist.  None of us has the power to resist these attacks individually; but we do have the power to resist collectively.

We have been engaged in protest actions across the nation mobilizing large numbers of people; but this is not enough. Now is the time to build and strengthen groups in our schools, communities and workplaces to not only resist the far right agenda, but to move on the offensive while building bottom-up popular power in the process.  There are three ways we can do this and all of them are necessary: 1) maintain the protest mobilizations, 2) engage in efforts to criticize the right and put forward alternative ideas, and 3) build collective sites of popular power for resistance, as well as going on the offensive towards a more free and egalitarian society.

Momentum Builds for May Day Strikes

By Jonathan Rosenblum - Labor Notes, March 23, 2017

Shop steward Tomas Mejia sensed something was different when 600 janitors streamed into the Los Angeles union hall February 16—far more than for a regular membership meeting. Chanting “Huelga! Huelga!” (“Strike! Strike!”), they voted unanimously to strike on May Day.

This won’t be a strike against their employers. The janitors of SEIU United Service Workers West felt driven, Mejia says, “to strike with the community” against the raids, threats, and immigrant-bashing hate speech that the Trump administration has unleashed.

“The president is attacking our community,” said Mejia, a member of his union’s executive board. “Immigrants have helped form this country, we’ve contributed to its beauty, but the president is attacking us as criminal.”

Following the Los Angeles vote, union janitors elsewhere in California have also voted to “strike with the community” on May 1. As the meetings gathered steam, Mejia reports, workers in schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and farms started talking about joining the walkout too.

And the strike is going on the road: SEIU-USWW is partnering with the human rights group Global Exchange, worker centers, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, and faith groups to organize a “Caravan against Fear” that will tour California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in April, staging rallies, cultural events, direct action trainings, and community strike votes leading up to May Day.

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