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Another Silent Spring: Strategies for the Climate Struggle

By Paul Fleckenstein - Tempest, March 15, 2022

After the worst year yet of climate disruption, 2021 closed with another failure of international negotiations at COP26 and the slow death of President Biden’s meager legislative climate agenda.

North America faced heightened levels of drought, heat, fire, flooding, wind, climate-enhanced migration, and crop failures. Yet the climate movement’s support and campaigning for Biden and Democratic Party achieved little. Expectations are even lower for the next three years.

To respond to this impasse the climate movement, particularly the predominant organizations in the U.S., needs to reorient away from the over-emphasis on electoral politics, and toward protest and struggle as the priority strategy.

Fortunately, there are some glimpses at how to expand this potential, but the central question remains, what socialists and the Left, in general, can do now to best catalyze more disruptive, sustained, and mass-based climate action.

Understanding Sunrise, Part 1: Strategy

By William Lawrence - Convergence, March 14, 2022

Sunrise Movement made climate change a key political issue, but new conditions require new theory and strategy.

The state of Sunrise Movement, one of the more successful and visible U.S. Left organizations to emerge in the last five years, reflects trends in the broader Left. We hit a high-water mark with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ February 2020 victory in the Nevada caucus. Shortly after, the revenge of the Democratic establishment and the COVID pandemic halted all momentum and put Sunrise into a rear-guard attempt to salvage what could be won in a Biden administration. The underwhelming first year of that administration has left us floundering.

Today, a private and public reckoning is well underway. A new generation of leaders is taking account of Sunrise’s successes and failures, and working to design the next life of the movement. Early Sunrise leaders—of which I am one—are in the process of moving on, and handing over leadership of this youth organization to a more youthful cohort.

As a leader in Sunrise’s development from its founding in 2017 through early 2021, I feel obliged to offer an evaluation of our strategy and methods. My aim is to offer a detailed account of Sunrise’s aims and influences, in order that the next generation of strategist-organizers both inside and outside Sunrise may learn from what we did well, while overcoming our limitations.

You can consider just about every word of this essay as a self-critique and a practice of learning in public. As ever, I write with deep appreciation for all the climate justice fighters who find a place to place their hope amidst the looming dread of this crisis.

Part 1 of this essay, which you are reading now, focuses on Sunrise’s strategy, including our demands, rhetoric, and relation to the US party system. Part 2 will look at Sunrise’s methods of organizing.

I hope these essays not only illuminate our specific choices and why we made them, but demonstrate how the theoretical concepts on which we build our organizations actually shape their development. Sunrise’s successes owe much to the theories underpinning our strategy and methods, and our failures reveal much about where these theories fall short. I hope my reflections on these recent experiences may aid in developing better theory to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Challenges and perspectives of a just transition in Europe

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 8: Union Proud

Environmental Groups Call on Green Building Community to Stop Partnering With Kingspan Group, Global Manufacturer of Building Materials

By Lauren Burke and Meredith Schafer - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 3, 2022

Santa Ana, Calif. — Forty-five (45) local and national groups organizing against climate change and for environmental justice have signed a statement calling on the green building community to reconsider partnerships with Kingspan Group, an Ireland-based global manufacturer of insulation and other building materials that markets its products as “green.” Led by the Labor Network for Sustainability, local groups including Orange County Environmental Justice, Madison Park Neighborhood Association, The River Project and others were joined by national groups including Greenpeace USA, Friends of the Earth, Climate Justice Alliance, Sunrise Movement, the Climate Advocacy Lab and 36 others. The green building community includes architects, specifiers, the US Green Building Council, and trade associations such as the American Institute of Architects.

“We call on those who deal with Kingspan to reconsider rewarding it for behavior that weakens the credibility of the green building community, and that goes against the values of safe and sustainable buildings and communities,” reads the statement co-signed by the 45 organizations.

Read the full statement and list of signatory organizations here

The groups are calling on the green building community to stop allowing Kingspan representatives to sponsor or speak at trade shows and conferences, and to discontinue offering continuing education courses taught by Kingspan until the Grenfell Inquiry is finished and changes are made to its Santa Ana factory. The statement points to whistleblower complaints by Kingspan workers on health, safety and stormwater pollution issues at its Santa Ana, CA factory filed in October 2021, as well as the revelations from the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry regarding its UK insulation business that came out in 2020-2021.

Read the CalEPA and CalOSHA complaints, and the Indoor Air Quality study

The 2020-21 testimony and evidence from the UK Government Inquiry into the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire revealed how Kingspan’s UK insulation division misrepresented and mis-marketed Kooltherm K15’s fire safety testing and certifications from 2006-2020. (Kooltherm K15 made up five percent of the insulation in the tower, which is why Kingspan is a core participant of the Inquiry.) The company began marketing K15 in the US in 2018, after the fire.

“Kingspan is not an appropriate source for continuing education courses or sponsorships of events for the green building community, including those that touch on fire safety.” Read about Kingspan and the Grenfell Inquiry here

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The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) engages workers and communities in building a transition to a society that is ecologically sustainable and economically just. We work to foster deep relationships that help the labor movement engage in the climate movement and the climate movement understand the economics of climate change and the importance of organized labor as a key partner in confronting the climate crisis.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), AFL-CIO, is an international union whose affiliates represent sheet metal workers throughout the United States and Canada, as well as workers in transportation industries. Our members manufacture and install heating, ventilation, and air handling systems (HVAC), as well as architectural components such as metal roofing, facades, and other building envelope products.

Voodoo Doughnut Workers Still Seeking Safe Working Conditions

By Dylan Andersen - Industrial Worker, February 25, 2022

March of 2022 marks the two-year anniversary of workers at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland unionizing with the Industrial Workers of the World’s Doughnut Workers United. Looking back, Voodoo Doughnut worker and DWU organizer Samantha Bryce recognizes the union’s victories, but also its determination to further improve working conditions.

When DWU was founded, one of the union’s concerns was protecting workers from physical violence. 

“We were robbed by a man with a hatchet,” says Bryce. “We’ve had many individuals come in and smash things up, harass employees and threaten them physically.” 

DWU was able to pressure Voodoo Doughnut to hire security, but management yet refuses to adequately address workers’ safety concerns. 

“Unfortunately, the company has since cut back on the amount of time they employ safety crews,” explains Bryce. “That’s something that we definitely hope to encourage them to improve.”

Another working condition that DWU is preparing to push for improvements to is the temperature and air quality inside of the store during summer months. Last summer, a heat wave struck Portland and management did not meet the union’s demands for safety measures to protect workers from temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, as well as smoke exposure from nearby forest fires.

“We had a couple of people pass out on the shop floor while working at those temperatures,” says Bryce. “We had someone break out in hives across their whole body and people getting nosebleeds. So we did go on strike, and we brought those issues to the company and said, ‘You’re not providing anything.’ Their response was, ‘Well, we gave you wet rags!’ The company then proceeded to fire employees who refused to report to work in 115-degree temperatures, leading to a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that Voodoo Doughnut management had acted unfairly.”

Nationalizing Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Practical Solution to Rising Inflation

By C.J. Polychroniou and Robert Pollin - Truthout, February 24, 2022

Since mid-2020, inflation has been rising, with the level of average prices going up at a faster rate than it has since the early 1980s. In January 2022, prices had increased by 7.5 percent compared to prices in January 2021, and it now looks like the U.S. may be stuck with higher inflation in 2022 and even beyond.

Why are prices rising so dramatically? Are we heading toward double-digit inflation? Can anything be done to curb inflation? How does inflation impact growth and unemployment? Renowned progressive economist Robert Pollin provides comprehensive responses to these questions in the exclusive interview for Truthout that follows. Pollin is distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

C.J. Polychroniou: Back in the 1970s, inflation was the word that was on everybody’s lips. It was the longest stretch of inflation that the United States had experienced and seems to have been caused by a surge in oil prices. Since then, we’ve had a couple of other brief inflationary episodes, one in the late 1980s and another one in mid-2008, both of which were also caused by skyrocketing gas prices. Inflation returned with a vengeance in 2021, causing a lot of anxiety, and it’s quite possible that we could be stuck with it throughout 2022. What’s causing this inflation surge, and how likely is it that we could see a return to 1970s levels of inflation?

Robert Pollin: For the 12-month period ending this past January, inflation in the U.S economy was at 7.5 percent. This is the highest U.S. rate since 1981, when inflation was at 10.3 percent. Over the 30-year period from 1991 to 2020, U.S. inflation averaged 2.2 percent. The inflation rate for 2020 itself was 1.2 percent. Obviously, some new forces have come into play over the past year as the U.S. economy has been emerging out of the COVID-induced recession.

To understand these new forces, let’s first be clear on what exactly we mean by the term “inflation.” The 7.5 percent increase in inflation is measuring the average rise in prices for a broad basket of goods and services that a typical household will purchase over the course of a year. At least in principle, this includes everything — food, rent, medical expenses, child care, auto purchases and upkeep, gasoline, home heating fuel, phone services, internet connections and Netflix subscriptions.

In fact, prices for the individual items within this overall basket of goods and services have not all been rising at this average 7.5 percent rate. Rather, the 7.5 percent average figure includes big differences in price movements among individual components in the overall basket.

The biggest single factor driving up overall inflation rate is energy prices. Energy prices rose by 27 percent over the past year, and within the overall energy category, gasoline rose by 40 percent and heating oil by 46 percent. This spike in gasoline and heating oil prices, in turn, has fed into the total operating costs faced by nearly all businesses, since these businesses need gasoline and heating oil to function. Businesses therefore try to cover their increased gasoline and heating oil costs by raising their prices.

Convoys, Rallies, and a Three-Way Fight Approach within a Union Context

By DZ and Three Way Fight - It's Going Down, February 23, 2022

The author, DZ, has opted to use his initials because he is discussing active union business at his local. This article details actions and analysis in Vancouver. Meanwhile, as we go to publish, the police in Ottawa have stepped up the banning of the Convoy from areas around Parliament and the city. Attempts to stop the Convoy protests by police have now seen the police using chemical sprays and flash grenades with a growing number of the Convoy supporters being arrested – 3WF

The ongoing trucker convoy, which has occupied parts of downtown Ottawa and other neighborhoods for several weeks, has been met with a widespread sense of demoralization among the left (an equivocal term that I will disambiguate below). Participants in the convoy present themselves in opposition to vaccine mandates, but we must note that these actions are the latest iteration of a strategically and tactically fluid covid-denialist movement, which has manifest over the last two years as anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination, anti-mandate, and anti-mask. It is a movement which has also, from its very beginnings, drawn membership and support from far-right movements.

The Convoys

In what I follows, I will look at three smaller events that took place in Vancouver, British Columbia. The first two events I will examine are convoys. They were organized by a group called Action4Canada. On February 5th, a convoy billed as the “Langley Freedom Convoy” was disrupted by counter-protestors and cyclists, who blocked the convoy at several different intersections. The counter-protest was one of several actions organized to meet the smaller, mostly mobile trucker convoys in various cities across Canada. The express intent of the counter-protestors was to block intersections in order to reroute the convoy away from the hospitals in the Vancouver core. (Some intersections might also have been chosen to subsequently reroute the convoy away from the Downtown Eastside). Perhaps the most effective chokepoint occurred when cyclists blocked the convoy as it headed westbound on Terminal Avenue. As a local journalist pointed out, there’s a two-kilometer stretch of Terminal where drivers can’t exit down side streets, and at the end of that stretch they were blocked and deadlocked. The convoy had to reverse out with assistance of police. Some of the convoy made it downtown, and I have seen social media posts showing that they were blocked or rerouted (with different degrees of success) at no fewer than four different intersections.

Interestingly, the destination for the “3rd Lower Mainland Freedom Convoy” on February 12th was the 176 St. border crossing in Surrey, BC, far from the Vancouver city core. The change in destination may be an attempt to avoid the disruptions of counter-protests. The fact that these groups target border crossings and challenge the RCMP—at this particular event several vehicles successfully broke through police barricades—shows that while police sympathies for the covid-denialist movement are frequently documented in, for example, Ottawa, these convoys are willing to engage in system-oppositional actions.

Perhaps the safest observation—one made by many—about these events is that there is a stark contrast between the police response to convoy actions and those of leftist or Indigenous movements, which are typically suppressed long before they would reach a similar critical mass. On that note, the counter-protest action on February 5th might have been the strongest leftist action in the Vancouver region since the Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockades two years ago—though it did not match the scope or intensity of those actions.

Workers Have Made Shocking Allegations of Racism at One of Elon Musk’s California Factories

By Alex N. Press - Jacobin, February 18, 2022

On February 10, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the state-level equivalent to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, filed a lawsuit against Tesla for racial discrimination based on the agency’s thirty-two-month investigation into the company’s Fremont, California, electric car factory.

The facility, which employs some 15,000 workers and is commanded by stridently anti-union billionaire Elon Musk, is the only nonunion plant in the United States operated by a major American automaker. Before Tesla purchased the facility in 2010, it was home to General Motors from 1962 to 1982, then to General Motors and Toyota’s jointly owned New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. Left with little recourse against abuse and silenced by arbitration agreements that prevent them from taking complaints to court, the facility’s black workers say they have endured rampant discrimination.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of thousands of black workers, alleges that Tesla segregated black workers into separate areas that were referred to as the “porch monkey stations,” “the dark side,” “the slaveship,” and “the plantation.” Workers allege that management “constantly use the N-word and other racial slurs to refer to Black workers.” As the lawsuit continues, “swastikas, ‘KKK,’ the n-word, and other racist writing are etched onto walls of restrooms, restroom stalls, lunch tables, and even factory machinery.” These workers complain that black workers are “assigned to more physically demanding posts and the lowest-level contract roles, paid less, and more often terminated from employment than other workers,” as well as denied advancement opportunities.

“In the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere, a job at Tesla is often seen as a golden ticket,” states the lawsuit:

It is seen as a way for those without a technical background or a college degree to secure a job in tech, and a path to a career and a living wage. Yet Tesla’s brand, purportedly highlighting a socially conscious future, masks the reality of a company that profits from an army of production workers, many of whom are people of color, working under egregious conditions.

According to the lawsuit, some 20 percent of Tesla’s factory operatives are black, but there are no black executives and just 3 percent of professionals at the Fremont plant are black. A blog post published on Tesla’s website the day before the California agency filed the lawsuit, titled “The DFEH’s Misguided Lawsuit,” asserts that the Fremont factory “has a majority-minority workforce and provides the best paying jobs in the automotive industry to over 30,000 Californians.”

“Yet, at a time when manufacturing jobs are leaving California, the DFEH has decided to sue Tesla instead of constructively working with us,” the post continues. “This is both unfair and counterproductive, especially because the allegations focus on events from years ago.” It concludes, “The interests of workers and fundamental fairness must come first.”

Sanitation Workers Win Raise After Going on Strike—With Community Support

By James Stout - In These Times, February 17, 2022

“This contract isn’t everything we believe we deserve, but it’s enough to go back to work and go back to taking care of our communities.”

CHULA VISTA, CALIF.—“Who are we?” Teamsters! ​“What do we want?” Contract! ​“When do we want it?” Now!

The sanitation workers of Teamsters Local 542 were still in good voice three weeks into their strike, which began Dec. 17, 2021, even as Republic Services started bringing in nonunion out-of-staters as garbage piled up. Republic had refused the Teamsters’ demands for so long that the city of Chula Vista declared a public health emergency because of the amount of uncollected refuse.

Close to 300 workers, many of them Latino or Black, were on strike across three different San Diego County locations. ​“We want to go back to work,” said Chula Vista picketer Ladere Hampton, ​“so that we can clean up the city.”

Workers were demanding wage increases and new trucks (barring improved maintenance on the existing vehicles), saying their equipment was poorly maintained and could create a health hazard — especially to the children who often greet them on their routes.

“You don’t want to be driving down the street and you’ve got trash juices flying off your wheels, especially if you pull up to a customer’s house,” Hampton said. ​“And that’s happening.”

Workers also cited long hours as a point of contention. Many drivers work 11-hour days and six-day weeks, servicing more than 1,000 homes per route.

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