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class struggle

USW Striking Oil Workers And Supporters Speakout For Health And Safety At Tesoro Refinery

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, April 30, 2022

In an act of solidarity with Chevron workers fighting for a new labor contract as executives boast of a record-breaking quarter, Greenpeace USA campaigners joined United Steelworkers Local 5 union members on Friday to expand the picket line onto the waters of San Francisco Bay.

Nearly 500 workers from Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond, California have been on strike for more than a month in what USW Local 5 vice president B.K. White calls "a movement of working people rising up to challenge a corporation." 

Chevron announced Friday that its profits surged to $6.3 billion during the first three months of 2022—four times as much as the fossil fuel giant pulled in over the same period last year, as Common Dreams reported. That prompted fresh calls from progressives for a windfall tax to prevent further price gouging and war profiteering by Big Oil and underscored one of the reasons why workers are demanding better pay.

"What's the answer to corporate greed?" Greenpeace asked on social media. "Solidarity!"

How movements can maintain their radical vision while winning practical reforms

By Mark Engler and Paul Engler - Waging Nonviolence, April 12, 2022

Forty years of struggle by Brazil's landless workers movement offers lessons on engaging the system without being co-opted.

Ever since it launched its first audacious land occupations in the mid-1980s, in which groups of impoverished farmers took over unused estates in Southern Brazil and turned them into cooperative farms, the Landless Workers Movement (known in Portuguese as the Movement dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST) has stood as one of the most innovative and inspiring social movements in the world. By 2016, its estimated 1.5 million members had established 2,000 permanent settlements throughout Brazil, with some 350,000 families winning land by organizing for their rights. By the start of the pandemic, the movement also maintained more than 170 community health clinics and 66 food processing facilities, which quickly became vital centers of mutual aid, as the group began giving out huge quantities of food to people in need.

In addition to using direct action to win land reform, the MST has pioneered a program of radical schooling for Brazilian youth and adults, especially those living in rural areas. As of 2018, the movement was operating in 2,000 schools — with thousands of MST-aligned teachers instructing upwards of 250,000 students. Remarkably, although state and local governments fund and administer many of these schools, the MST has been able to place its own teachers and implement a radical pedagogy. This includes study of agrarian reform and social justice movements, as well as the ideas behind agroecology — a model of sustainable agriculture that rejects corporate agribusiness.

For movements in the U.S. and beyond wondering how they can engage with the system without being co-opted, the MST offers a powerful example. Many social movement scholars believe that movements can institutionalize their wins over the long-term by having the state and mainstream political parties adopt their demands and programs. However, these scholars also contend that such institutionalization comes at a price: too often, as movement programs are incorporated into mainstream structures, grassroots forces become demobilized, dull their radical edge and lose their ability to exercise disruptive power.

Rebecca Tarlau, a professor of education at Penn State University, believes that it does not have to be this way. In her 2019 book “Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers’ Movement Transformed Brazilian Education,” Tarlau argues that the MST provides a model for how activists can use a strategy of “contentious co-governance” to win practical reforms from the state while also resisting cooptation.

We recently spoke with Tarlau to discuss this strategy — as well as the wider lessons we can learn from the 40-year struggle of Brazil’s landless workers. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Solidarity with strikers at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California

By Workers' Voice, East Bay - Socialist Resurgence, March 28, 2022

On March 23, members of Workers’ Voice went out to support striking refinery workers at the Chevron facility in Richmond, Calif. This strike is taking place in the wake of the United Steel Workers’ national oil pattern bargaining agreement with the oil companies, which covers some 30,000 workers at refineries and chemical plants across the country. The pattern bargaining agreement now only covers those 30,000 USW-organized oil and chemical workers whose contract expired this year on Feb. 1, which union locals had to ratify.

In Richmond, over 500 oil workers represented by USW Local 5 rejected the tentative agreement, as it was insufficient to meet their needs. They are thus striking over wages, hours, and other workplace issues, including being forced to work during the peak of the COVID pandemic. They have set up 24-hour pickets, with six-hour shifts. The union has created a solidarity fund and will cover basic expenses of workers who can’t pay their mortgage or get health care or food costs covered.

When we visited, the workers were picketing in shifts of a few dozen workers in front of the refinery gate, keeping up an optimistic mood of camaraderie and humor on a chilly, foggy day.

Many of the drivers of vehicles passing by the picket line honked their horns in support. However, a bothersome Richmond cop and one or two surly truckers wanting to drive into the facility—which the workers were trying to block—attempted, unsuccessfully, to dampen the positive atmosphere.

The grievances of the workers relate to wages and to other grievances as well. They need a raise to keep up with cost of living increases, especially in the brutally expensive Bay Area. They’re also confronting increased health-care costs. A worker told us that their new health-care plan would barely be covered by the wage increase of 2.5% currently on offer. This increase would also not keep up with inflation, which was 7% last year alone. Shopping for groceries is much more expensive now, workers we talked to said. In fact, they added, everything is more expensive.

Workers also talked about a manager who got a 10 percent raise to move up from Los Angeles. This upset workers because that manager is already making a good salary. Moreover, Chevron recently reported billions in profits, the most since 2014; but the boss always says there’s no money for workers.

But workers say they’re not just striking about money.

On The Line In The Fight For Justice: USW 5 Chevron Richmond Refinery Workers Strike

By Steve Zeltser - The Valley Labor Report - March 28, 2022

USW Local 5 striking Richmond Chevron refinery workers rallied with community members and supporters on March 28 2022 in front of the plant. Operators talked about the attack on health and safety conditions, 30% increases in healthcare costs and increasing stress, dangerous long hours and rotating shifts. Last year Chevron made $15.6 billion but obviously that is not enough for the company. Community and labor supporters also talked about health issues for workers and the community and the ongoing efforts that have been made to keep the plant safe.

The strike which included 500 union members started on Monday March 25, 2022 after the company according to workers continued to demand concessions and even wanted to negotiate away health and safety inspectors to keep the plant safe. In 2012, a major explosion nearly killed a fireman. The company managers even though they knew of a serious leak refused to shut he plant down to protect their profits according to workers. It also heavily contaminated the community which is still facing flaring and other dangerous practices by the company.

Additional media:

OVEC Union Files ULPs, Wins Case

By staff - The Valley Labor Report - March 27, 2022

After filing several ULPs against OVEC, the judge has ruled in favor of OVEC Union, who submitted complaints of wrongful suspension, terminations, and intimidation against employees involved in the union drive.

Youth Strikes Worldwide Demand Climate Action That Centers 'People Not Profit'

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, March 25, 2022

"We live in a broken system, one where the richest 1% of the world population are responsible for more than twice the pollution as the poorest 50%. That's why we strike."

From Dhaka, Bangladesh to Turin, Italy and beyond, youth climate strikers took to the streets across the globe Friday to demand that political leaders stop ignoring the scientific community's deafening alarm bells and take action to slash carbon emissions before it's too late.

Organized by the international Fridays For Future movement, the latest mass demonstrations stressed that worsening global class inequities and the climate emergency are deeply intertwined and must be tackled together—a message encapsulated in strikers' rallying cry of "People Not Profit."

"We live in a broken system, one where the richest 1% of the world population are responsible for more than twice the pollution as the poorest 50%," Iris Zhan, campaign coordinator for Fridays For Future Digital, said in a statement. "That's why we strike today to demand climate reparations to kickstart a transformative justice process in which political power returns to the people."

As Fridays For Future organizers put it in their preview of the new global strikes, "Climate struggle is class struggle."

Understanding Sunrise, Part 2: Organizing Methods

By Dyanna Jaye and William Lawrence - Convergence, March 24, 2022

Sunrise melded mass protest, electoral work, and distributed organizing to great effect, but 2020 upended its plans and forced a reassessment.

Sunrise Movement grew from a labor of love by 12 young people, including the two of us, into the most prominent climate justice organization in the country. We put the Green New Deal on the map, strengthened the Left insurgency in the Democratic Party, and helped drive youth turnout to defeat Trump in 2020. Climate change became a political priority for the Democratic Party, and Sunrise directly influenced Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

In the last year, though, despite a few impactful protests demanding ambition and urgency from Congress, Sunrise members and observers alike have noted a loss of strategic clarity and organizing power compared to 2017 through 2020. And it’s not just Sunrise: the entire Left has struggled to make the jump from punching upwards in the Trump era to winning material reforms in the Biden era.

In this essay, we’ll pull back the layers of Sunrise’s organizing model: how we actually recruited young people and united them in a structure for collective action. We’ll first discuss the major influences on Sunrise’s organizing and run through how it all played out in practice, the good and the bad.

We share a diagnosis that a central shortcoming in Sunrise’s organizing model was the absence of a sustained method of mass organizing at a local level, which left us nowhere to go once we could no longer rely on the fast-but-shallow growth of distributed organizing methods. We’re proud of the movement’s accomplishments while humble about its shortcomings. We offer our reflection in the practice of learning together in public; we hope our transparency can empower the next generation of movement builders—in Sunrise and across movements—to lead transformative organizing for the next era.

TV Review: Workers of Deep Space Unite!

By Eric Dirnbach and Ksenia Fir - Labor Notes, March 24, 2022

This is part of an occasional series where we look back at the “labor episode” of a TV show. The Star Trek series Deep Space Nine has a great union episode with lessons about organizing in a customer service industry. Spoilers ahead for the fourth-season episode “Bar Association”!

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) is generally considered the most overtly political of the Star Trek franchise. Unlike other iterations of the show, it is set not on a Federation Starfleet ship, but a space station populated by individuals of diverse races whose cultures are often in stark contrast with the post-scarcity, post-capitalist Federation.

The fourth-season episode “Bar Association”—a must-watch for Trekkies interested in unions—depicts a labor struggle at the station’s prominent entertainment spot: Quark’s Bar, Grill, Gaming House and Holosuite Arcade. Bar owner Quark (played by Armin Shimerman) is a Ferengi—a member of a non-human species whose culture is very capitalistic and misogynistic. Their behavior is strictly controlled by The Rules of Acquisition, a set of tenets like “Employees are the rungs on the ladder of success—don’t hesitate to step on them.”

The workers at Quark’s Bar fall into two categories: Ferengi male waiters (Ferengi women are forbidden to work) and “Dabo girls”—a diverse group of beautiful women from non-Federation planets who act as eye candy and encourage guests to spend more at a roulette-style game. Dabo girls experience frequent sexual harassment from patrons and Quark himself.

Hundreds of Chevron Workers Begin Strike as Company Refuses Further Bargaining

By Sharon Zhang - Truthout, March 21, 2022

On Monday, hundreds of Chevron workers in the San Francisco Bay Area went on strike after voting down the company’s latest contract offer, which workers say contained insufficient wage raises.

The contract, covering over 500 workers, was struck down by United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5 members on Sunday. Workers were forced to go on strike after the company said that it had already offered its “last, best and final” contract, according to the union.

“It’s disappointing that Chevron would walk away from the table instead of bargaining in good faith with its dedicated work force,” Mike Smith, USW’s National Oil Bargaining Program chair, said in a statement. “USW members continued to report for work throughout the pandemic so our nation could meet its energy needs. They deserve a fair contract that reflects their sacrifice.”

The company has brought in workers to replace the union members, which it has been training for a year. The latest contract expired in February and workers have been operating under a rolling daily extension, according to the union.

The refinery workers say that one of the main reasons for the strike is insufficient wage raises. USW, which currently represents about 30,000 oil workers in negotiations with oil and chemical employers, reached a national agreement with refiners in February to raise wages by 12 percent over four years.

Local 5 had asked for an additional pay bump of 5 percent in order to account for higher costs of living in the San Francisco area, where it’s estimated that individuals must make at least $80,000 a year just to survive.

Appeal by the independent labor unions of Ukraine

By Oleg Vernyk - International Socialist League, March 18, 2022

To the workers of the world: we need your help!

The Independent Trade Union of Ukraine “Zakhist Pratsi” is directly involved in the resistance to the invasion by Russian imperialism. We are fighting along side the working class and the Ukrainian people on various fronts of resistance. Some organizations of our union, such as the “Zakhista Pratsi” miners’ union at the “Selidov-ugol” firm, are protecting us and our future with weapons in their hands and in the most difficult conditions of the hostilities. Many activists of our union are now resisting the rocket and bomb attacks of the Russian troops, supporting the difficult conditions of the bomb shelters, saving their children and their families from certain death.

The war unleashed by Vladimir Putin united the trade union and labor movement in Ukraine. The invaders were counting on a quick lightning victory and on being accepted by Ukrainians as “liberators.” However, they met rejection and resistance everywhere. They failed to win the support of the Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine, who faced the Russian army as invaders and bravely resisted the armed aggression for more than 20 days.

We have never had any illusions about the intentions of the NATO bloc in Ukraine. And now we see all its cynicism, which convinced us of the correctness of our criticism of NATO even before the war and of our position against all the imperialist blocs.

Dear comrades of the labor and trade union movement: We know that anti-war mobilizations and actions against Russia’s military aggression are taking place all over the world. Thank you for this support! We are facing a very strong enemy who, desperate due to the popular resistance to its aggression, is willing to transgress the entire framework of international humanitarian law. Therefore, we now need increasingly active international solidarity with our anti-imperialist resistance movement.

We reiterate our labor appeal to the Russian working class and its trade union organizations to stop the aggression of the Russian government and the authoritarian-bureaucratic regime of Putin against Ukraine. And we call on all the workers and peoples of the world, on political, labor and social organizations to mobilize resolutely against the war!

We resolutely oppose the anti-social policy of our government, aimed at the adoption of anti-worker and anti-union laws to please Ukrainian and foreign oligarchs. The armed aggression of Russian imperialist capitalism complicated the direct struggle for workers’ rights, for the rights of trade unions and free workers’ associations. But it set the immediate agenda for the Ukrainian labor movement: stop the Russian armed aggression against Ukraine!

Our classist trade union “Zakhist Pratsi” defends the demands of the working class against the interests of national oligarchic capital and right-wing politicians.

Many of our union members have lost their jobs, are on the front lines, were forced to move to other cities or take shelter from bombs in shelters. Our families are doing their best to survive without surrendering to the Russian occupiers. For these reasons, we also urgently need your financial and other aid. Fighting, eating and healing wounds are daily tasks for which we need the support of the world’s frontline workers. Therefore, we appeal to strengthen active solidarity actions with the Ukrainian labor movement and, in particular, with our independent trade union.

Workers of the world, unite!

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