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Ukrainian Coal Miners Defy National Protest Ban to Go on Strike

By Kateryna Semchuk and Thomas Rowley - Open Democracy, September 14, 2022

Miners and management at a state-owned coal operation in western Ukraine have called a strike over what they say is an attempt to seize control of the mine.

The strike action at Mine No. 9 in the town of Novovolynsk continues the first major workers’ protest in Ukraine since Russia’s 24 February invasion and the Ukrainian government’s announcement of martial law, which forbids all protests.

Last month, the miners prevented a new director from taking up his post, citing his alleged link to an embezzlement scandal at another coal mine in the region.

They also claimed that his appointment had been made on the say-so of local smotriashchiy – a term for the Ukrainian coal sector’s network of corrupt unofficial overseers. That director denied any wrongdoing and stated he was not under investigation.

Now, they say, efforts to take control of the mine have reached a new level and the miners have gone on strike to protect their jobs and working conditions.

They describe a stark sequence of events. On 9 September, a new manager arrived at Mine No. 9 with a lawyer and a dozen private security guards.

Railroad Strike Threatens Power in Coal-Dependent States

By Jake Bittle - Grist, September 14, 2022

Tens of thousands of U.S. railroad workers in several different unions are poised to strike at the end of this week after a prolonged labor dispute. The workers have been unable to reach an agreement with a group of six rail carriers despite months of back-and-forth on issues like stagnant pay, long shift lengths, and an inability to take time off.

Biden administration officials have been racing to mediate between the parties ahead of a Friday deadline, hoping to avoid a railroad strike and shutdown that the Department of Transportation has estimated would cost the economy about $2 billion a day. Biden himself convened a Presidential Emergency Board two months ago to help supervise the talks, but the board has been unable to help the two sides come to a final resolution. Marty Walsh, the administration’s labor secretary, postponed a planned visit to Ireland this week to help with the negotiations.

The looming railroad workers’ strike threatens to deliver a blow to the economy by disrupting critical supply chains for commodities like lumber and wheat. No sector stands to lose as much as the coal industry, which is almost entirely dependent on railways to move its product around. A work stoppage could reduce coal stockpiles that have already been thinned by poor rail service and the high levels of consumption caused by recent volatility in global energy markets. This could lead to electricity shortages and sky-high prices in coal-dependent parts of the country.

Coal is by far the most rail-dependent fossil fuel. The lion’s share of crude oil and natural gas moves around the country on pipelines, but you can’t put coal in a pipeline, so it has to move on trains, trucks, and barges. Because the fuel is so heavy and takes up so much space, rail is the only economical way to transport it from mines to power plants: The average coal train consists of 140 cars that each hold about as much coal as could fit on ten trucks. Even if coal could be shifted onto trucks, the trucking industry itself has also been experiencing labor shortages, and there’s not much excess truck capacity to absorb rail freight.

STRIKE!

By admin - Climate Rail Alliance, September 14, 2022

The dispute between railroad labor and management is about to culminate in a nationwide strike. The strike action should be supported by everyone. It is not only a matter of pay and quality of life as generally depicted in media, it is about safety.

Background

The railway Labor Act of 1926 governs only the railroad and airline industries. The goal is to substitute arbitration and mediation for strikes, assuming these two to be essential to the economy and national security. The Act provides a very long procedure for the solution of labor-management disputes.

The next to last step is the appointment of a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to assess the two sides and suggest a solution that will satisfy both sides.

In the recently appointed PEB, labor submitted wage grievances, but more importantly, quality of life grievances. Among the compensation grievances was away from home expenses. Railroad workers, particularly track maintenance and train crew personnel are away from home for long periods of time. The railroad pays for the lodging. The workers are expected to pay for food. They get a token amount for expenses, generally not enough for a single McDonalds meal per day. The balance is paid from their wages. When there is no expense increase allowed in addition to a wage increase, employees must pay from taxable earnings for work expenses.

The wage increase being offered by management is less than the rate of inflation since the last increase.

The railroad industry submitted to the PEB: The Carriers maintain that capital investment and risk are the reasons for their profits, not any contributions by labor.

They say management assumes all the risk, but I can’t remember a single instance of a CEO, President, Vice President or any other senior management or staff being killed or injured in a railroad accident. Two guys who were not assuming any of the risk and were not contributing to profits were killed a few days ago in a collision in California, involving failed procedures and apparently a failed signal system. No executives were harmed in this collision, but the damage to engines and cars was a substantial amount, perhaps injuring the stockholders.

The railroad industry claims that half of railroad workers work less than 40 hours a week. That is blatantly untrue. Occupations that work a defined shift, train dispatchers, locomotive and car maintenance workers, track and signal maintenance workers, have a 40 hour workweek. Train and engine crews may sometimes work less than 40 hours a week, but in making that statement, the industry is not counting the time they sit around in the away from home terminal waiting for their return trip, many hours or even many days.

Good ol’ Amtrak Joe, friend of Labor, appointed a PEB that issued a solution almost entirely in favor of railroad management.

“Total, BP or Shell will not voluntarily give up their profits. We have to become stronger than them...”

By Andreas Malm - International Viewpoint, September 12, 2022

Andreas Malm is a Swedish ecosocialist activist and author of several books on fossil capital, global warming and the need to change the course of events initiated by the burning of fossil fuels over the last two centuries of capitalist development. The Jeunes Anticapitalistes (the youth branch of the Gauche Anticapitaliste, the Belgian section of the Fourth International) met him at the 37th Revolutionary Youth Camp organized in solidarity with the Fourth International in France this summer, where he was invited as a speaker.

As left-wing activists in the climate movement, we sometimes feel stuck by what can be seen as a lack of strategic perspectives within the movement. How can we radicalize the climate movement and why does the movement need a strategic debate in your opinion?

I share the feeling, but of course it depends on the local circumstances – this Belgian “Code Red” action, this sort of Ende Gelände or any similar kind of thing, sounds promising to me, but you obviously know much more about it than I do. In any case, the efforts to radicalize the climate movement and let it grow can look different in different circumstances.

One way is to try to organize this kind of big mass actions of the Ende Gelände type, and I think that’s perhaps the most useful thing we can do. But of course, there are also sometimes opportunities for working within movements like Fridays for Future or Extinction Rebellion for that matter and try to pull them in a progressive direction as well as to make them avoid making tactical mistakes and having an apolitical discourse. In some places, I think that this strategy can be successful. Of course, one can also consider forming new more radical climate groups that might initially be pretty small, but that can be more radical in terms of tactics and analysis, and sort of pull others along, or have a “radical flank” effect. So, I don’t have one model for how to do this – it really depends on the state of the movement in the community where you live and obviously the movement has ups and downs (it went quite a lot down recently after the outbreak of the pandemic, but hopefully we’ll see it move back up).

Finally, it’s obviously extremely important to have our own political organizations that kind of act as vessels for continuity and for accumulating experiences, sharing them and exchanging ideas. Our own organizations can also be used as platforms for taking initiatives within movements or together with movements.

The Federal Government Is Trying to Stop Railroad Workers From Striking

By Joe Burns - Jacobin, September 9, 2022

Railroad workers bargaining for better pay and working conditions are at an impasse with their employers, causing the federal government to intervene to ward off a disruptive strike. But railworkers should be allowed to strike if and when they want to.

For months, 140,000 union railroad workers have been stuck at an impasse with their employers, who are united under the banner of the Association of American Railroads. The terms of the dispute should be familiar to most workers: attendance policy, staffing, and wage increases. Despite record profits, rail employers have cut staffing, placing enormous burdens on workers that aren’t reflected in their pay.

By all accounts, railworkers are in a militant mood. An attendance policy prompted rail unions to attempt to strike earlier this year. In July, 99 percent of union members who cast ballots voted to authorize another strike, prompting President Joe Biden to intervene in August.

In order to avert a strike, Biden appointed a presidential emergency board (PEB) to reach a compromise and settle the dispute. The PEB put some money into wages but predictably did little on the workers’ core workplace concerns. The rail unions are unenthusiastic about the PEB ruling, and the largest groups have not been willing to put the recommendations out for membership ratification. While bargaining continues, the unions will be eligible to strike on September 16, which is thirty days following the PEB recommendation.

That eligibility requirement is a term of the Railway Labor Act (RLA), passed in 1926, which regulates bargaining in the rail and airline industries. Even though the RLA protects the right to strike in words, politicians in both parties have used the legislation to strip railroad workers of that right in practice, often ramming settlements down the throats of striking workers.

Over the years, Congress has intervened several times to delay strikes and sometimes even impose terms on railroad workers. President Harry Truman threatened to have the Army run the railroads in 1950 during the Korean War. In the 1960s, President Johnson imposed a longer no-strike period on rail workers. President Barack Obama delayed a threatened strike in 2011.

Just hours into the last nationwide major rail strike in 1991, Congress passed legislation imposing the very contract workers rejected. The legislation required further bargaining but held that if no agreement was reached the terms of the PEB would be implemented, even though the unions had already rejected those terms.

Republicans and nearly all Democrats lined up to take away railworkers’ right to strike in 1991 — the final vote was 400 to 5. This controversy created widespread disaffection with the Democratic Party, even spurring the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes to endorse Labor Party Advocates, which was the last serious attempt to create a labor party in the US.

Illegal fishing, worker abuse claims leave a bad taste for Bumble Bee Seafood

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts - Mongabay, September 2, 2022

  • A new report published by Greenpeace East Asia has found that Bumble Bee Seafoods and its parent company, Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company (FCF) of Taiwan, are sourcing seafood from vessels involved in human rights abuses as well as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices.
  • It found that 13 vessels supplying seafood to Bumble Bee violated Taiwanese fishery regulations, and were even on the Taiwan Fisheries Agency’s (TFA) list of vessels involved in IUU fishing, and that many supply vessels were involved in issues of forced labor and human trafficking.
  • Both Bumble Bee and FCF have sustainability and corporate social responsibility policies in place.

On April 10, 2019, a fishing vessel known as Da Wang left Taiwan to sail out into distant waters in search of tuna. Two months into the voyage, a disturbance occurred: the first mate reportedly beat one of the crew members so badly that he died from his injuries. The following year, another crew member was injured while working on the same vessel — but according to reports, his superiors forced him to continue working, and he eventually suffered a stroke.

Yet tuna sourced from this very vessel continues to be packaged and sold for the Bumble Bee Seafood Company and sold in grocery stores in the U.S., according to a new report.

The report, published Sept. 1 by Greenpeace East Asia, suggests that Bumble Bee Seafood and its parent company, Taiwan-based Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company (or FCF) — one of the top tuna traders in the world — are sourcing seafood from vessels involved not only in human rights abuses, but also in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices. This is despite both companies having corporate social responsibility and sustainability policies in place.

The authors found that 13 vessels supplying seafood to Bumble Bee violated Taiwanese fishery regulations, and were even on the Taiwan Fisheries Agency’s (TFA) list of vessels involved in IUU fishing. Moreover, they identified issues of forced labor and human trafficking on six Taiwanese vessels that supply seafood to Bumble Bee and FCF after conducting interviews with crew members.

For a Transnational Fall of Struggle: Strike the Climate Crisis!

By TSS PLATFORM - Transnational Strike, September 5, 2022

Six months have passed since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. However, the war’s social effects haven’t stopped at the Ukrainian border and are now affecting millions of people throughout Europe and beyond. In recent days, the price of gas skyrocketed to new record heights, granting huge profits to the fossil fuel majors, and condemning millions to a reality of growing poverty, inflation, and unemployment. Governments’ attempts to secure energy supplies for the winter (such as the European Save Gas for a Safe Winter plan) ensure those market sectors that cannot work without gas, while dumping these choices’ costs on people’s consumption and individual responsibility and sacrifices. This is part of the Third world war scenario we all live in and struggle against. In fact, as energy and ‘green’ policies are now deeply embedded into the war, the struggles against their material effects of impoverishment are part of our transnational politics of peace. In the last few days, the #DontPayUK campaign has been confronting both governments and the big companies that want to discharge the price of their profits and power on people’s shoulders. Committing to strike on energy bills, thousands of people are already refusing the deadly choice between “eating” or “heating,” between racking up debts or facing fuel poverty and freezing winter. We are confronted with the necessity to articulate our transnational politics of peace inside this growing international competition by fighting in the conflict between those who pay the price of the war and those who profit from it.

The third world war and specifically the energy crisis have led to a return to fossil fuels, postponing the conversion from coal to alternative energy sources. However, even before the war, we saw the European green transition neither as a way to solve the climate crisis, nor to deliver a better environment, but as an attempt to open new opportunities for capital accumulation through the exploitation, reproduction, and widening of differences and hierarchies within the European space and beyond. Now the war unmasks the European transition policies’ actual scope. Promoting new Partnership Agreements with its member states, the European Commission is fostering its “just” – digital and green – transition to face the upcoming freezing winter struggling to coordinate industrial and energy policies for years to come at the European level. This is not the climate justice that was powerfully reclaimed by the global environmental movement in the last years. As States are engaged in a run to grab as many resources as possible, gas, nuclear, and coal sectors will keep exploiting the work of thousands of people in some places, while in other countries the closure of coal-powered plants in the name of the green transition results in the loss of many jobs. In Bulgaria, such a national decision recently found the response of hundreds of workers striking not to be caught in the middle between the government’s green policies and the bosses’ profits. Their struggle is a practical contestation of the green transition in wartimes, which is part of our attempt to turn the green transition into a transnational terrain of struggle.

As workers, activists, migrants, women, and men, we refuse to suffer either the consequences of climate change, the consequences of Putin’s war, or the unsustainable costs of the capitalist green transition. Strikes and movements such as those in Bulgaria and the UK are making clear the need to foster transnational political connections that aim to overcome the artificially fabricated distinction between workers’ and climate activists’ interests. On September 23 a new climate strike is announced, which aims to reactivate the global movement for climate justice by radically opposing the logics of profit and exploitation, and the overall relations of domination, which affects our ecological, social and political environment. The meeting in Sofia organized by the TSS Platform and LevFem on 8th-11th September will be the occasion to tackle and develop these issues. Transforming the green transition into a terrain of struggle is an essential part of our effort to escape the blackmail of the climate, social, and war catastrophe that reproduces violence, exploitation, and environmental degradation. The climate, energy, and social crises won’t wait until winter comes: they are already hitting, and we need to turn this fall into a season of collective struggles.

Fake My Catch: The Unreliable Traceability in our Tuna Cans

By staff - Greenpeace East Asia, September 2022

US seafood company Bumble Bee, one of the leading companies in the canned tuna market with nearly 90% consumer awareness levels,1 and its Taiwanese parent company Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company (hereinafter referred to as FCF), one of the top three global tuna traders, play an important role in the global tuna industry, and thus hold responsibility over the health of our ocean, the treatment of those working in the tuna supply chain and consumer choices. Both companies have policies on sustainability and corporate social responsibility that are supposed to extend through their supply chain, but according to the analysis in this report, neither are meeting their responsibilities.

This report finds that the information on Bumble Bee’s “Trace My Catch” website, which enables consumers to track the source of their tuna product from catch to can, is insufficient and in some cases incorrect. In a number of cases Greenpeace East Asia's analysis found that the company was sourcing fish from vessels that had engaged in or were suspected of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, forced labor, and/or human rights abuses. Therefore, Bumble Bee may not be fulfilling its responsibility and commitment to environmental sustainability and human rights, and without consumers’ knowledge seafood tainted with IUU and forced labor may have already entered the US market.

Based on 732 valid Bumble Bee tuna product codes, this report finds that Bumble Bee tuna was sourced from 290 different vessels, almost half of which are Taiwanese-flagged (119) or owned (22) distant water fishing vessels according to the information on Trace My Catch. In addition, some information on their Trace My Catch website contradicts official information from the Taiwan Fisheries Agency about where the supply vessel was authorized to fish. Verifying the vessel's location against a third data source- Automatic Identification System (AIS) data from Global Fishing Watch, revealed that 28 fishing vessels’ fishing area information provided by Bumble Bee’s traceability tool was incorrect. In addition, 13 fishing vessels that supplied tuna to Bumble Bee were listed on TFA’s website for IUU fishing.

Based on interviews with nine fishers on six Taiwanese vessels that supplied Bumble Bee, it was found that all nine fishers had experienced or observed at least one of the International Labor Organization (ILO) indicators of forced labor,3 and six out of those nine fishers had experienced or observed four or more of the 11 indicators. All of the fishers interviewed said they have experienced excessive overtime and retention of identity documents, and over two-thirds of them had their wages withheld.

Greenpeace East Asia research found that Bumble Bee canned tuna collected from Harris Teeter (a wholly owned subsidiary of Kroger Co.) in Arlington, Virginia on April 12, 2022 was sourced from DA WANG, a Taiwanese-owned vessel confirmed to use forced labor by US Customs and Border Protection.4 In April 2022, Taiwanese authorities indicted the vessel captain, first mate, and seven others for their involvement for forced labor and human trafficking. Bumble Bee's Trace My Catch website lists the source of this tuna as DA WANG on a trip in 2019, during which a fisher was reportedly beaten and died at sea. This leads to strong inference that seafood tainted with forced labor has already been sold in the US market.

On another Taiwanese fishing vessel, DE CHAN NO.116 evidence was revealed from Greenpeace East Asia interviews with fishers as well as Global Fishing Watch AIS data of suspected IUU fishing, including alleged shark finning and illegal transshipment at sea. The alleged illegal activities took place during a period when the ship was supplying tuna to Bumble Bee according to Trace My Catch.

Greenpeace East Asia urges immediate action from Bumble Bee and FCF, including issuing an apology to the exploited fishers, retailers and consumers, removing products suspected of IUU and forced labor-tainted tuna from the market, disclosure of their supplying vessels list, and establishment of an independent investigation committee for the flaw of Trace My Catch, to address issues of sustainability, legality and forced labor in their supply chain.

Read the text (Link).

Statement in Support of U.S. Railroad Workers on the Precipice of Their Historic Strike

By Jim Abernathy - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 2022

Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) stands firmly in solidarity with railroad workers in this historic moment. Our railways are the veins of our nation, and these workers ensure our healthy circulation, getting our people and our goods wherever they are needed. Every person in this country fundamentally relies on the hard work and immense expertise of rail workers.

They worked on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep the country alive, without a contract, and they have been thanked by private railroad corporations with sweeping layoffs, a refusal to pay just wages and benefits, and utterly inhumane working conditions. Let us not mince words - being forced to work alone, in dangerous conditions, sometimes for up to 80 hours a week is fundamentally inhumane. These workers, too long pitted against one another by the bosses, by CEOs who seek to divide and conquer the working class of the nation, now stand united as one against this unacceptable status quo.

Rail transportation and rail labor are also vital to the health of our entire planet. They are a crucial piece of solving the climate crisis, and they must be respected as a core part of the solution to many of our systemic problems. Respect for rail transportation and rail workers means expanding the workforce so that workers can have decent schedules, ensuring robust compensation, and ensuring their safety - putting our railroads front and center in the fight for good union jobs and a livable planet.

The bosses will not act unless they are forced to by a unified working class. Our railroad workers, united, spurred on by their own righteous history of labor militancy, are prepared now to use their collective power. LNS stands ready to support our brothers and sisters on the railroad and their fight for justice on the job and for all our communities.

Read the text (PDF).

Rail Workers Reject Contract Recommendations, Say They're Ready to Strike

By Joe DeManuelle-Hall - Labor Notes, September 1, 2022

Railroad unions continue their slow creep along the path to a settlement—or strike—in contract negotiations covering 115,000 workers. On August 16, the Presidential Emergency Board convened by President Biden issued its recommendations for a settlement. Many rail workers say they fall short and are prepared to strike to win more.

The PEB recommended 22 percent raises over the course of the five-year contract (dating back to 2020), which would be the highest wage increases rail unions have seen in decades. But they are offset by increases in health care costs—and come in the midst of high inflation.

The PEB also refused to touch almost any of the unions’ demands on work rules and conditions, either denying them outright or suggesting that the unions return to the slow negotiation and arbitration process they have already languished in since November 2019. Unions have been demanding a sick leave policy—rail workers have no sick days—and the PEB refused them. The PEB also refused to take a position on the strict attendance policies have infuriated many rail workers.

“By not addressing these issues and this generalized discontent among the workforce, the PEB has acted irresponsibly, their recommendations doing little to nothing to stem the tide of discontent nor address the ongoing mass exodus of workers from the industry,” said Jason Doering, general secretary of the cross-union solidarity caucus Railroad Workers United.

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