You are here

green syndicalism

Moving the trade unions past fossil fuels

Samantha Mason interviewed by Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, August 9, 2017

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has launched a pamphlet, Just Transition and Energy Democracy: a civil service trade union perspective, urging trade union support for the transition away from fossil fuels and restructuring the energy system under public ownership. In this interview SAMANTHA MASON, PCS policy officer and main author of the pamphlet, published in May, talks about combating the pro-fossil-fuel lobby in the unions and the Labour Party, and how to unite social and environmental movements.

Gabriel Levy (GL). Could you describe the PCS’s long engagement with energy and climate policy, which has culminated in the Just Transition pamphlet?

Samantha Mason (SM). We have been engaged with climate change issues, and increasingly with the whole energy debate, for about ten years. This has in large part been due to motions coming to conference from the grassroots membership, and an assistant general secretary, Chris Baugh, leading on this, which has enabled us to develop our policy and campaigning agenda.We participate in meetings with other industrial and energy unions, mainly through the Trade Unions Sustainable Development Advisory Committee. [Note. This committee was set up as a joint government-union forum after the 1997 Kyoto climate talks, but government participation dried up under the Tories. It is now a meeting place for union policy officers, and latterly, industrial officers.]

Some of the unions there represent workers in the fossil fuel and nuclear sectors, so while we’re supposed to look at sustainable development issues, they have been more concerned with pushing fracking [that is, hydraulic fracturing, a mining technique that has been used to raise natural gas production in the US, and some people think might do so in the UK] as part of the TUC’s so called “balance energy policy” – supporting nuclear, natural gas, Carbon Capture and Storage, and the Heathrow third runway. [Note. See for example the TUC Powering Ahead document.]

We have real problems with this, as PCS is opposed to almost everything in the policy, on the basis of our national conference decisions. We have had a divide opening up between these pro-fracking unions on one side, and the PCS, and other unions who want to develop a policy for both social change and environmental change, on the other. The TUC says their policy is a result of Congress decisions. But they do little or nothing to take the debate forward.

Is Capitalism in Crisis? Latest Trends of a System Run Amok

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, August 4, 2017

Having survived the financial meltdown of 2008, corporate capitalism and the financial masters of the universe have made a triumphant return to their "business as usual" approach: They are now savoring a new era of wealth, even as the rest of the population continues to struggle with income stagnation, job insecurity and unemployment.

This travesty was made possible in large part by the massive US government bailout plan that essentially rescued major banks and financial institutions from bankruptcy with taxpayer money (the total commitment on the part of the government to the bank bailout plan was over $16 trillion). In the meantime, corporate capitalism has continued running recklessly to the precipice with regard to the environment, as profits take precedence not only over people but over the sustainability of the planet itself.

Capitalism has always been a highly irrational socioeconomic system, but the constant drive for accumulation has especially run amok in the age of high finance, privatization and globalization.

Today, the question that should haunt progressive-minded and radical scholars and activists alike is whether capitalism itself is in crisis, given that the latest trends in the system are working perfectly well for global corporations and the rich, producing new levels of wealth and increasing inequality. For insights into the above questions, I interviewed David M. Kotz, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (Harvard University Press, 2015).

The Epic Failure of Labor Leadership in the United States, 1980-2017 and Continuing

By Kim Scipes - CounterPunch, August 4, 2017

The US labor movement is in terrible shape; in 2016, union membership was only 6.4 percent of workers in the private sector, and 34.4 percent of the public sector, giving an overall percentage of 10.7 percent.[1]  (It had been 33.4 percent in 1954.)  But, worse than the actual numbers and percentages is the all-but-total lack of vision as to what to do about this.  The labor movement has been under direct attack since at least the PATCO strike in 1981, and the leaders of the labor movement—and focus here is on the AFL-CIO, although there are others labor organizations outside of its ambit—have had no vision and, arguably, no clue about what to do about this.  And other than perhaps a nine-year window under John Sweeney (1996-2005)—I’m being generous—it has been blind and vision-less.  And this continues today under Richard Trumka.[2]

This problem is a major reason for the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, aided strongly by working class voters, and I’m speaking of those who are not generally racist, sexist, homophobic and/or xenophobic.

The fact is that, no matter how good any one of our national/international union leaders might be as an individual trade union leader, that does not necessarily make them a good labor leader.  By “labor leader,” I’m referring to those who look out for the well-being of working people in general in this country; i.e., those who go beyond members of their own union to think about working people overall.  I would give the AFL-CIO leaders, individually and collectively, an “F” for their efforts since the early 1980s—with Sweeney possibly getting a D for the nine years referred to above.

This failure is even worse in light of myriad efforts by rank-and-file activists, lower level leaders and staffers, and labor researchers/academics who have spent years of their lives struggling to get the labor movement to address its’ weaknesses and change its ways.  Whether through organizing new members, educating and mobilizing current members, analyzing what we can learn from workers’ struggles in the past as well as from studying contemporary efforts at home and overseas, and thinking about how we can revitalize the labor movement so as to seriously address the problems facing working people in this country, there has been extensive efforts by those “below” to overcome the lack of vision and ineptitude of national labor leaders; but the institutional power granted these “leaders” has overcome all efforts to date to initiate progressive, life-enhancing change.[3]

I’m going to argue that this organizational failure is more than individual failures, which could perhaps be overcome by the election of new leaders, although obviously individual leaders can have a significant impact once put into office.  However, I’m going to argue that the primary problem is in our very model of trade unionism in this country:  I argue that the model of trade unionism that has dominated US unionism—business unionism—offers no viable way forward and must be replaced by another model, that of social justice unionism.  I’m going to argue that unless this change from business unionism to social justice unionism is made, and made soon, the US labor movement is going to fade into irrelevancy, with its power and importance diminishing even further as years go by.

Several steps must be made to develop this argument.  First, the theoretical delineations of business and trade unionism are presented, which are crucial to understand the argument being made.  Then, a historical overview is presented, with a primary focus on the CIO years, 1933-1955, and special attention is paid to the removal of “the left” from the CIO in the late 1940s.  This is followed by a discussion of “global competition, the US economy and the attacks on working people,” and then a question:  “where is the AFL-CIO leadership?”

Following, there is an effort to make sense of why the AFL-CIO leadership has been “missing in action.”  Key to understanding this, it is argued, is to connect the lack of AFL-CIO initiative in domestic situations to the initiative it shows in international affairs—and that requires discussion of the US Empire, and the AFL-CIO leadership’s support of it.  And why they support the US Empire.

And then, there is the beginning of a discussion of how progressive workers can reclaim our labor movement.

The Climate Insurgency Trilogy

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 25, 2017

The Labor Network for Sustainability is pleased to announce the publication of Jeremy Brecher’s Climate Insurgency Trilogy:

Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival (2nd edition)

Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming

Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual

Together these three books present a comprehensive look at the challenges and possibilities of protecting the earth’s climate through a global nonviolent climate insurgency.

Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival (2nd edition) presents the first history of climate protection movements “from above” and “from below”; explains why climate protection efforts have so far failed; and proposes a worldwide constitutional insurgency to overcome that failure.

Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming presents a vision for the labor climate movement that provides a comprehensive and at times provocative view of the past, present, and future of how workers and the labor movement relate to climate change.

Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual tells how to put the climate insurgency strategy into action. It provides a handbook for climate insurgents.

Jeremy Brecher is the author of more than a dozen books on labor and social movements, including the labor history classic Strike!, recently published in an expanded fortieth anniversary edition by PM Press. He is a co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability.

Climate Solidarity: Workers Vs. Warming

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 25, 2017

Download CLIMATE SOLIDARITY: WORKERS VS. WARMING free!

Workers have no greater interest than to prevent the destruction of the earth’s climate on behalf of themselves and their posterity. But workers often act as an organized force to oppose climate protection measures in the name of their interests as workers. How is such a paradoxical state of affairs possible? How did we get in such a state? How can we change it? How can the working class reorganize itself to fight for climate protection? Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming proposes answers to these questions.

Climate Solidarity presents a vision for the labor climate movement. It offers a comprehensive and at times provocative view of the past, present, and future of organized labor and climate change. It provides a substantive analysis for leaders and activists in the labor climate movement. It presents a well thought out, historically informed analysis both of climate change and of organized labor. Climate Solidarity will be read and discussed by those who will shape labor’s response to the climate crisis.

Jeremy Brecher is the author of more than a dozen books on labor and social movements, including the labor history classic Strike!, recently published in an expanded fortieth anniversary edition by PM Press. Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming is part of Brecher’s Climate Insurgency Trilogy, along with Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival and Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual.

Sending Fascists Packing is An Act of Community Self-Defense

By Dragonfly Climate Collective and Connecticut membership of the Industrial Workers of the World - July 18, 2017

On July 8th 2017, suburbanite white supremacists chose the New Haven Green as a point of convergence in order to not only make a show of force, but to use it as a springboard for greater coordination, recruitment and organizing. They chose their site explicitly because it has for decades been a point of anti-racist struggle and popular power, where working class families and organizations from every race, nationality and every rung on the social ladder come to gather for cultural enrichment, political action, or simply as their only option. The Proud Boys, Identity Evropa, the American Guard and assorted racists and misogynists find New Haven’s communities threatening to their genocidal worldview, and on July 8th they were proven right. We release this statement in solidarity with all anti-fascists, and condemn in the strongest terms anyone who seeks to have any of us attacked or imprisoned by the police. We call on all labor, environmental and community organizations to do the same, and to mobilize in solidarity with those arrested on the Green. Several arrestees will be at New Haven Superior Court on Wednesday July 19th at 10:00am, including prominent anti-brutality activist Barbara Fair, who was a victim of racist targeting by the New Haven Police.  

For months beforehand the amateurish efforts of the local alt-right were monitored by militant anti-fascist organizers. Contrary to some recycled talking points, the work of more moderate activists were simply not “hijacked.” It is unlikely that there would have been any response at all if not for the diligence of people like the New Haven Anti-Fascists group, who are committed to preventing a repeat of the rise of groups like the White Wolves here in quiet, liberal Connecticut. Some have been fooled by the fascists’ propaganda and believe these people are simply a conservative debate club that can be moved with compelling arguments. We believe that our most powerful weapon is not violence, but for us to be better, more effective organizers than those who would drag our society back into the dark ages. And because of that belief, anti-fascists pursued a strategy of community mobilization, unifying the broadest possible number of people to defend the Green.  

But let’s be clear about this as well: when they try to occupy space on the Green, we state unequivocally that sending fascists packing is an act of community self-defense. Fascism means gangs of white men attacking anti-racist demonstrators like in Portland, OR or Berkeley, CA. It means open anti-immigrant collusion between police and Nazis like in Maricopa County, AZ. It means the mass murder of liberal youth activists in Norway. It means the White Wolves attacking an LGBTQ meeting at the Stratford Library. Some of these monsters openly admire Hitler, while others re-brand their ideology with xenophobia and “western chauvinism” as they stockpile massive arsenals and tokenize their one gay or Hispanic associate. While they may not call themselves Nazis or fascists (though some do), we understand “white nationalism,” far-right “patriot militias,” “Men’s Rights Activists,” and Islamophobic fundamentalist Christians to meet all the hallmarks that have defined violent paramilitary fascism for decades, and treat it as such (click here for a longer discussion of terminology). These individuals already operate with impunity across most of Connecticut, among rural rich kids playing with “redneck” identity, and suburbanite worshippers of racist police departments. And frankly, they have gone largely unchallenged by Democrat-dominated activist coalitions that refuse to hold their neighbors and coworkers accountable for their bigotry, instead offering nothing but empty moralizing and the bankrupt slogan, “Love Trumps Hate.”  

On July 8th, committed community activists went out of their way to deny the rising alt-right the opportunity to become emboldened, better organized and more capable of terrorizing our communities, when in actuality we all have other political commitments that demand our attention. We welcome the opportunity to engage in debate about how best to undermine fascism and turn its targeted constituencies against it, and wish to see greater collaboration across the region on this and a multitude of other issues in these frightening times.  

¡NO PASARAN!

Greens join the IWW

By staff - Green Party Videos, July 19, 2017

Staff members of the Green Party of the United States announce the formation of a union (they get the IWW's name wrong; it's in fact "Industrial"--not "International" Workers of the World, but it's the thought that counts).

Answering Annihilation: Some Notes on Earth’s Execution

By Dan Fischer - Dragonfly Collective, July 17, 2017

Half of all wild animals on Earth have been wiped out. You may have missed the news. It came from a scientific study mentioned on page 5 of last Wednesday’s New York Times. You had to flip past the usual stories of Trump regime scandals, four jewelry advertisements, and an ode to a slain officer from the New York Police Department.

“’Biological Annihilation’ Said to Be Underway.” The article took up only as much space as a Sootheby’s ad on the same page announcing jewelry sales in New York City.

While “biological annihilation” sounds like an evil plot thought up by a Bond villain, the term actually comes from a peer-reviewed study in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The authors Gerardo Ceballos, Paul Ehrlich, and Rodolfo Dirzo use it to describe the ongoing destruction of local populations within different species.

Due to the pressures of habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change, species are going extinct at 100 times the rate they normally would. The PNAS study shows that populations within species are disappearing much, much faster.

The Fortress World of Capitalism vs. the Beautiful Possibilities of Cooperation

By Cynthia Kaufman - Common Dreams, July 7, 2017

Our beloved world is entering an increasingly unstable period, full of dangers and also full of possibilities. In many countries, old political parties are crumbling faster and anyone thought imaginable. Old geopolitical alliances have come unglued as the US comes to exercise its role as world hegemon in new and unpredictable ways. The development of the internet, of mobile phones and of apps has led to incredible disruption of many aspects of many societies: from how we pay for and listen to music, to how we consume and propagate information and news, to how we shop for almost anything. All that is solid is melting into air.

At this crossroads it is possible that the global community will move in the direction that the dominant social forces seem to be pushing us towards. That possibility has been called “fortress world.” It is a world where we continue to burn fossil fuels and destroy the atmosphere; where climate refugees desperate to leave Africa are forced by military means to stay in a continent with a decreasing ability to produce food; where finance capital fashions a “market” that continue to squeeze working class people to into extreme poverty; where xenophobia rises in the wealthier countries and keeps masses of people voting for politicians who serve the masters of an extractive and unequal economy. That fortress world is a real possibility and the election of Donald Trump is certainly a sign that this worse future may be on the way.

But it is also possible to build a future where fossil fuels are phased out very quickly, where the political forces that oppose the domination of finance capital come to win elections, and where we work hard to create an economy where no one needs to work very hard.

The technical solutions to the climate crisis are already well at hand. Renewable energy is now economically competitive with fossil fuels, and alternatives to dirty technologies have emerged in virtually every sector of production. The problem of poverty and wealth is also an easy one to solve on a technical level. The world produces enough food to feed everyone, and our technology has developed to the point where we can meet our needs with very little work.

To give one simple illustration of how within reach a better life for all is: take the total personal income in the United States. Divide it by the number of people, and multiply by four. It turns out that the average family of four could have $220,000 per year to live on if we had income equality.  Imagine raising minimum wages, taxing the wealthy, and providing a guaranteed minimum income as ways of distributing that income. Imagine reducing work hours so that, as productivity when up, work time could go down, and work could be shared among those who needed an income. One of the main arguments against this approach is that without the profit incentive our technology would not develop. Imagine worker owner cooperatives developing better ways of doing things and sharing the wealth that comes from those developments with the people who work on them.

A new wave of automation is about to hit the world’s economies so hard that millions of service jobs will be lost in the coming period. People are starting to talk about the need for a guaranteed minimum income to deal with that displacement. If that wave hits the US with the current political consensus in place, it will mean another giant step toward the fortress world, as some people profit enormously while others have no access of the means to survive.

Interrogating digital capitalism

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, July 10, 2017

The ways that capitalism uses technology as a means of control was discussed on Thursday evening in London, at a meeting organised by the Breaking the Frame collective.

The meeting was called “Interrogating Digital Capitalism”. Ursula Huws, who researches technology and labour at the University of Hertfordshire, started her talk by arguing that terms such as “digital capitalism” and “biocapitalism” are unhelpful. “I prefer to talk about capitalism”, she said.

Capitalism uses technology at each stage of its restructuring, after recurrent crises, Huws argued. She pointed to three main ways that it uses technology for social control.

  • Technology is used to “simplify and standardise work processes” and sometimes – but not always – to substitute for labour.
  • Technologies are used to control work processes, and for surveillance.
  • Technologies are used to “create new commodities, bringing new areas of human activity into alienated, commodified relationships”. This included the “formalisation of the  information economy” and the “commodification of domestic labour”.

Huws talked about the role of internet-based employment platforms in the “gig” economy. With her colleague Simon Joyce, she last year published research suggesting that up to 5 million people in the UK have been pulled into the “gig economy”.

In a recent article about Uber introducing driverless cars in Pittsburgh, USA, Huws argued that “this kind of restructuring tends to create new jobs, even as it destroys others. Driverless cars may do to professional drivers what washing machines did to laundry workers. But capitalism, disruptive as ever, carries on as usual.”

Huws argued at the meeting that those hired via sites such as Freelancer, Upwork or Clickworker – often to do work conducted in isolated settings such as window cleaning or other domestic tasks – will find it harder to organise collectively than the Uber drivers. who have played a front-line role in worker organisation of precarious workers.

Richard Hall of De Montfort university spoke about the Cybernetic Hypothesis, published by the French collective Tiqqun in the mid 1990s. (An English translation of the document is here.)

Richard argued that cybernetics is “a systemic, structural and secular response to the issue of maintaining stable forms of accumulation and avoiding crisis inside capitalism”. (He has put notes from his talk on his blog.) He quoted Tiqqun’s assertion that cybernetics is “the tool by which capitalism has adjusted its capacity for disintegration and its quest after profit to one another”.

During discussion, Bob Hughes – whose book The Bleeding Edge, on technology and inequality, was published last year – argued that a critique of technology needed to acknowledge not only the dangers inherent in its use by capitalism, but also its potentialities for socialism and for human development.

Pages