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Pipelines, Pandemics and Capital’s Death Cult: A Green Syndicalist View

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom, March 29, 2021

We can see this within any industry, within any capitalist enterprise. It is perhaps most clearly apparent, in an unadorned fashion, in extractives industries like mining, logging, or oil, where the consumption of nature (as resources) for profit leaves ecosystems ruined, where workers are forced to labor in dangerous, often deadly, conditions, and where it is all is carried out through direct dispossession, invasion, and occupation of Indigenous lands and through processes of mass killing, even genocide. And when it is all done, little remains except the traces of profit that have been extracted and taken elsewhere.

These intersections have come to the forefront with particular clarity under conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic. The death cult of capital on full display in all its variety of ways.

Class Power can Remake Society: Remembering Australia’s "Green Ban” Movement

By Ben Purtill - Organizing Work, March 24, 2021

Ben Purtill recounts when building laborers in Australia stopped work, first over wages and working conditions, and then to protect the environment, among other “social” causes. Image: Jack Mundey, Building Labourers’ Federation members and local residents at a Green Ban demonstration, 1973.

Jack Mundey, who died aged 90 in May 2020, first made his name as the union leader associated with one of the most inspiring moments of class struggle of the last 50 years: Australia’s green ban movement. As a secretary of the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) from 1968, Mundey — a member, then president, of the Australian Communist Party (CPA) – was widely credited with coining the term “green ban” to describe a form of strike action undertaken in defense of environmental causes. Members of the NSW BLF also downed tools in defense of the gay community, indigenous Australians, and feminists, at a time when these causes were far from the mainstream of Australian society.

Reviled and vilified at the time, Mundey received a State Memorial Service in March 2021. Attended by the great and the good of Sydney, Mundey was hailed as a savior of the city — a renegade who broke with the base concerns of economistic trade unionism to focus on more refined issues than wages or workplace conditions, while prefiguring a social liberalism the nation would only begin to embrace decades later, and a green politics that it has yet to.

While the perceived content of Mundey’s unionism now sits quite comfortably with liberal — even conservative — values and principles, the form of unionism pursued by the NSW BLF at their peak in the early 1970s would undoubtedly be condemned were it revived today. Militant, democratic and regarded as quasi-syndicalist by critics and supporters alike, the story of the Mundey and the NSW BLF is one of both the power of the rank and file and the limits of leadership, no matter how left-wing.

Black Bans, Green Bans and everything in between

Most historical accounts suggest the green ban movement for which Mundey is best remembered began in 1971 at Kelly’s Bush, an area of parkland in Sydney’s affluent Hunter’s Hill suburb. A group of local women contacted the BLF having exhausted all conventional means of halting the development of the area by construction firm AV Jennings. With luxury houses set to be built on what was the last remaining patch of native bush in the suburb, the BLF called a community meeting attended by over 600 local residents and announced a ban, meaning no work would take place on the site. Unions had been using the term “black ban” to designate disputes aimed at an economic end, for example a wage increase, but since this action was being taken to defend the environment, “green ban” was decided to be more appropriate.

Over forty green bans followed until 1974, when the NSW BLF was deregistered as a union, resulting in billions of dollars worth of development being prevented in Sydney; the tactic was also deployed in other towns and cities across Australia, most notably Melbourne. All green bans were declared in a similar manner as a point of principle: the union did not decide to initiate a ban, local residents did so through a public meeting. If it was decided that a site would not be developed, BLF members would not work on it. In following this tactic, large areas of the historic centre of Sydney were saved from development, and the union joined alliances with an unlikely range of characters: early environmentalists, heritage campaigners, and middle-class homeowners.

The NSW BLF also applied the tactic to other causes and concerns, for example the expulsion of a gay student from Macquarie University, the demolition of houses occupied by indigenous Australians in the Redfern suburb of inner-city Sydney, and the right of two women academics to teach a women’s studies course. In each case, the campaigns were won. More broadly still, the BLF campaigned against apartheid South Africa and the war in Vietnam. As union secretary of the NSW branch during this period, Mundey is now typically remembered as the brainchild of this movement, even earning him a speaking slot at the United Nations Conference on the Built Environment, but it reflected much wider changes occurring both within the Australian left and among rank and file union members.

What’s Wrong with Single Employee Train Operations?

By Ron Kaminkow - Railroad Workers United, March 2021

At first glance, the casual observer from outside of the rail industry is prone to say that single employee train operation sounds dangerous. “What if the engineer has a heart attack?” is an often heard question. And while this question has merit, there are many other and far more complex and unanswered questions about just how single employee train operations could be accomplished safely and efficiently for the train crew, the railroad and the general public. How will the train make a back-up move? What happens when the train hits a vehicle or pedestrian? How will the train crew member deal with “bad-order” equipment in his/her train, or make pick-ups and set-outs en route? What about job briefings and calling signals, copying mandatory directives and reminders of slow orders? These are just some questions that we take up in this article.

Remote Control and “Utility Conductors”

In recent years, the Class I rail carriers have been biding their time, slowly but surely inserting language into recent contracts with both unions of the operating crafts that will facilitate their schemes to run over the road trains with a lone employee. They have made arrangements with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen (BLET) to allow the BLET represented crew member to make use remote controlled locomotives. With this scenario, the lone operator would strap on a belt pack, dismount from the locomotive, and run the locomotive by remote control operation (RCO) using radio control from the ground. And the carriers have also made deals with the United Transportation Union (UTU) to allow for “utility conductors”; i.e. a conductor who can “attach” to one or more over-the-road trains during the course of a single tour of duty. Between the two arrangements, the rail carriers apparently believe they can safely and efficiently operate road trains with just one employee aboard as opposed to the current standard of two. We disagree.

One of the Best Places to Fight for the Environment Is in Your Workplace

By Libronaught - Medium, February 24, 2021

One of the biggest roadblocks standing in the way of practical, cooperative solidarity between social movements is the idea of “separate issues.” In recent years people have begun chipping away at this shibboleth, but we still have a ways to go. One significant problem within the problem of the single-issue silo effect is that labor is sometimes mistakenly viewed as just another issue.

Labor is not just an issue. Labor is a power base. Labor organizing can be more effective at winning social gains on a range of “single issues” than weekend demonstrations, conscious consumerism, electioneering or lobbying.

In the US, we are often taught to view voting, lobbying and mass demonstrations as ways to participate in democracy. They all are, of course, but it’s not the full picture. As Jane McAlevey persuasively explains in her extraordinary book, A Collective Bargain, US democracy as we know it today would not exist if not for the labor movement. The organizing and solidarity efforts among US workers that eventually won the 8-hour day and the weekend began right after the American Revolution. Labor solidarity and organizing among women has put a driving force behind demands for gender equality for over 150 years. From the 1910s to the 1940s, a massive swell of labor solidarity and organizing crossed race and gender lines, won the current US Labor Rights laws, and led the country out of the Great Depression. Labor unions went on to participate in the 60s Civil Rights movements.

Bows and Arrows: Indigenous Workers, IWW Local 526, and Syndicalism on the Vancouver Docks

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom.Org, February 17, 2021

Few may be aware that the first union on the waterfront of Vancouver was organized by Indigenous workers, mostly Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh. And it was organized on an explicitly syndicalist basis as Local 526 of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW group would become known as the Bows and Arrows, a name that spoke to their active and more politically militant perspective and commitment to Indigenous solidarity. The Bows and Arrows organized on a multicultural/multiracial foundation of class solidarity.

While the lifespan of IWW Local 526 was brief (formally only a year while informally for about seven years) it had a lasting impact on working class organizing on the waterfront, anti-racism and racial solidarity on the docks, and on political organizing in Indigenous communities. It also showed the pivotal role of organizing within the logistical chains of global capitalism in sabotaging resource extractive industries, while providing a model of work organization that sustained community relevant work and work cycles rather than the single career monoculture of industrial capitalism at the time.

As historian Andrew Parnaby suggests, the Bows and Arrows:

"Join[ed] in the broader upsurge of support for the Wobblies that took place among loggers, miners, railroad workers, and seafarers prior to the Great War…Reformers, rebels, and revolutionaries: collectively, they were responsible for a level of militancy on the waterfront that was unmatched by most other occupations, provincially or nationally. Vancouver waterfront workers went on strike at least sixteen times between 1889 and 1923; the four largest and most dramatic strikes were in 1909, 1918, 1919, and 1923." (2008, 9)

While Local 526 would finally be broken through battles with waterfront employers that have been described as titanic, these workers provided important and lasting examples of working class militance, workplace organizing tactics, racial solidarity and anti-racism, and cultural defense. They offer a critical model of syndicalism in diverse workforces and changing economic conditions within a context of settler colonial capitalism.

Murray Bookchin’s Legacy: A Syndicalist Critique

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas And Action, January 14, 2021

January 14th is the 100th anniversary of Murray Bookchin’s birth. Perhaps it is worth looking at his contribution to radical politics.

Bookchin had been involved in the communist youth movement in the 1930s. He eventually abandoned official Marxist organizations for a turn to libertarian socialism. A central feature of Bookchin’s politics from the Sixties to the end of his life was his opposition to the worker struggle orientation that was central to syndicalism and many anarchists — as well as Marxists — in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

After World War 2, the general strikes and pitched street battles of workers in the Thirties were a fading memory. The post-war years saw a consolidation of a conservative bureaucracy in the unions. The American working class by the 1960s no longer had the large “militant minority” of radical workers that had been a feature of American workplaces from the early 1900s through World War 2. This led certain radicals to seek out a new “agent” of revolutionary change. Bookchin was an example of this way of thinking:

“Contrary to Marx’s expectations, the industrial working class is now dwindling in numbers and is steadily losing its traditional identity as a class….Present-day culture [and]…modes of production…have remade the proletarian into a largely petty bourgeois stratum….The proletarian …will be completely replaced by automated and even miniaturized means of production….Class categories are now intermingled with hierarchical categories based on race, gender, sexual preference, and certainly national or regional differences.”

This quote is from Bookchin’s last book, The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy. This shows a certain lack of understanding of how syndicalists — and other socialists — view the working class. The basis for the revolutionary potential of the working class lies in its position as both the majority of the population and its objectively oppressed and exploited situation. Workers do not have their own means to obtain a livelihood. Thus we are forced to seek jobs from employers, to obtain the wages we need to live. And this arrangement forces workers to submit to autocratic managerial regimes where workers are denied control over the decisions that directly affect them day to day in the labor process and the running of the workplaces. Employers own the products of our labor and use this to suck down profits — an inherently exploitative situation.

Labour and Environmental Sustainability

By Juan Escribano Gutiérrez, in collaboration with Paolo Tomassetti - Adapt, December 2020

There is consensus that the separation between labour and the environment, as well as that between the legal disciplines that regulate both domains, is meaningless and outdated. Since business activities affect the health and the environment of workers and human beings, synergies between the two spheres have to be created. Yet there is still a long way to go in order to bring together labour and environmental regulation.

In all the selected countries (France, the Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain) the legal systems regulating salaried work, on the one hand, and the environment, on the other hand, remain disconnected, although no formal obstacles exist to their integration. With regard to the scope for collective bargaining to become a means to integrate both spheres, no legal restrictions apply in any of the framework considered, although explicit references to workers and employers (or their representatives) to bargain over environmental aspects are far less evident.

It is up to the social partners to promote environmental sustainability as a goal for collective bargaining or to continue with the traditional inertia that divides labour and environmental regulation. Despite research shows how the social partners, especially trade unions, are more and more willing to negotiate environmental aspects, the narrative on the trade-off between labour and the environment is still evident, especially in the Hungarian context. Collective agreements could take a leading role in driving the just transition towards a low-carbon economy, but in practice they do not regard this mission as a priority. Environmental clauses in collective agreements are still exceptional and lack momentum.

One explanation is that the legal mechanisms in place to limit the impact of business activity on the environment (i.e. environmental law) legitimize firms to consider environmental aspects as their own prerogative. For this reason, in some legal systems, employers tend to discuss environmental commitments outside collective bargaining, including them into corporate social responsibility (CSR) mechanisms. By doing so, the company avoids enforceability, limiting the effectiveness of the tools to regulate environmental issues.

Read the text (Link).

Mutual aid will help us survive the Biden presidency

By Dean Spade - ROAR Magazine, November 20, 2020

Biden and Harris are not going to stop the crises we are facing — mutual aid projects are essential to survive and build the world we want to live in.

The only thing that keeps those in power in that position is the illusion of our powerlessness. A moment of freedom and connection can undo a lifetime of social conditioning and scatter seeds in a thousand directions.

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief

Many people are feeling great relief that Trump has been voted out and are rightly celebrating the efforts so many people have undertaken to make that happen. But even as we celebrate, we must ensure we do not demobilize, hoping that the new administration will take care of our problems. Unfortunately, we can be certain that the Biden/Harris administration will not address the crises and disasters of climate change, worsening wealth concentration and poverty, a deadly for-profit health care system and racist law enforcement.

Biden and Harris have built their careers off of criminalizing people. In response to the killing of Walter Wallace Jr. in October they promptly issued a joint statement focusing more words on admonishing protesters than acknowledging police violence. They have made crystal clear that they will not oppose fracking, and if they return to Obama-era climate policies, we are certainly doomed. Biden has a wretched pro-war record, and has expressed unconditional support for Israeli colonialism.

He recently tapped oil and gas industry booster Cedric Richmond as a top advisor and a third of his transition team comes from think tanks funded by the weapons industry. Under the new administration, even if they roll back some of Trump’s worst policies, our communities will still be witnessing worsening crisis conditions.

Trump’s policies and rhetoric were extreme, openly racist and sexist, climate change- and COVID-denying, which helped mobilize many people to question the legitimacy of the police, military, border enforcement and capitalist economy and join social movement work to oppose those systems. While we are all tired from four years of fighting Trump, nine months of urgently responding to the pandemic and all the loss and devastation it has caused, and the bold efforts that so many have undertaken to fight the police in the streets and organize an historic uprising against white supremacy, we cannot risk demobilizing now.

We must continue the momentum that Black Lives Matter, No DAPL, Not 1 More Deportation, Abolish ICE and other campaigns have built exposing the utter failures of the Democratic party to oppose racism, war, the oil and gas industry, criminalization and wealth consolidation, and the necessity for bold direct action in the face of mounting crises. More than ever before, we need to organize and sustain mutual aid efforts, both to survive the crises we are facing and to build our movements for change.

Exiting the False "Jobs Versus Environment" Dilemma

By Lorenzo Feltrin - ROAR Magazine, November 16, 2020

The workerist environmentalism of Italy’s Porto Marghera group connects the workplace and the community in the struggle against capitalist “noxiousness.”

Amidst the renewed rise of obscene inequalities, a wave of protests is sweeping through Italy, from south to north. On the one hand, the pandemic has engendered an upsurge in workplace disputes to defend health and in mobilizations to protect the income of workers affected by COVID-19-related restrictions. On the other hand, however, we have also witnessed successful interventions coordinated by the right and infused with a bewildering array of conspiracy theories in response to such measures.

Different from the slogan that emerged at a mass demonstration in Naples on October 23, 2020 — “If you lock us down, pay up!” — the right-wing discourse does not ask for more collective and egalitarian forms of prevention. It demands instead that “the economy” be allowed to run smoothly. Nonetheless, the right-wing side of dissent appears to attract a significant working-class presence, as many workers — rightly concerned about the impact of months-long lockdowns on their livelihoods — find an answer in negating the gravity of the pandemic and of the environmental crisis more generally.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Marxist commentators have underlined how the health crisis cannot be separated from the economic system that shapes our lives. This does not just concern inadequate healthcare systems: the very spillover of the novel coronavirus from non-human animals to humans was caused by the capitalist imperative to appropriate natural “resources” to safeguard the profit margins that drive the economy forward.

In a way, the pandemic is a global manifestation of the “jobs versus environment dilemma” and the related “job blackmail,” a situation in which workers are faced with a choice between defending their health and environment or keeping their jobs. There is no easy way out of this dilemma. However, the reflections developed some 50 years ago by a workerist collective mainly composed of workers employed in the highly toxic industrial complex of Porto Marghera in Venice, Italy could still provide a source of inspiration.

People Power in the Coronavirus Depression

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, November 4, 2020

As we enter an era of constitutional crisis, contested government, intensifying pandemic, and mass economic disruption, the future of democracy will depend on popular mobilization. The earlier commentary “Fighting the Great Depression – From Below” described the grassroots unemployed, self-help, labor, and other movements of the early years of the Great Depression. “The Unemployed vs. the Coronavirus Depression,” “Self-Help in the Coronavirus Depression,” “Striking in the Coronavirus Depression,” and “Workers vs. the Coronavirus Depression” described the recent stirrings of grassroots action for health and economic protections in the coronavirus era. This commentary examines the grassroots response to the coronavirus as a whole. An upcoming commentary will examine the role of people power in the period of turmoil that lies ahead. The latest from Jeremy Brecher. To read this commentary, please visit this page.

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