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Chevron refinery workers rally as contract expiration nears

By Joel Britton - The Militant, February 14, 2022

RICHMOND, Calif. — “Power in solidarity” read one of the signs carried by the more than 100 members of United Steelworkers Local 5 outside the main gate of the Chevron oil refinery here Jan. 27. The maintenance workers and process operators mobilized to press the union’s demand for a “significant” wage increase in the national oil bargaining negotiations with industry representative Marathon Petroleum. This is crucial to help workers meet the effects of rising prices.

And they were putting the company on notice that they’re ready to strike over working conditions and other local issues at Chevron, issues that are negotiated refinery by refinery after wages and other industrywide issues are settled.

On Jan. 31 the union rejected the company’s latest proposal — a 3% wage raise for each of next three years — and offered to keep working as long as further negotiations are fruitful.

“The corporations are making profits galore,” BK White told the Militant. White, an operator for 28 years and Local 5 vice president, highlighted how Chevron has taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to cut back on preventative maintenance. “The public will pay for these decisions,” pointing to the history of serious fires and explosions at the refinery.

Short staffing and lots of forced overtime, increasing burden of the costs of medical care, tightened disciplinary measures, and the soaring cost of living were among the issues the unionists discussed on the picket line with worker-correspondents for the Militant.

On Jan. 28 Steelworkers union negotiators rejected Marathon’s offer of a pay hike of only 1.3% for each of three years of new agreements for the 30,000 refinery and chemical-plant workers represented by the union. The current contract, which expires at midnight Jan. 31, had included 3.5% wage increases for the first two years and 4% in the final year.

Marathon’s “wage proposals to date are paltry,” the union said in a public statement. “In light of their earnings and dividends to shareholders, they are offensive.”

Shell Needs to be Dismantled. Here’s How:

By Marie-Sol Reindl - Open Democracy, February 11, 2022

Don’t be fooled by Shell’s green rebrand. The company is still deeply undemocratic and destroying the environment.

It has been a turbulent year for the oil and gas giant Shell.

Last May, Dutch courts ruled that Shell must drastically reduce its carbon emissions. In October, ABP, a major shareholder, divested from the company. The following month, the firm announced plans to move its headquarters from the Hague to London and drop its iconic prefix, ‘Royal Dutch’ (the company is now just Shell plc). And, in recent weeks, it has come under fire for its mammoth 14-fold increase in quarterly profits, having made $16.3bn (£12bn) pre-tax profit in the last quarter of 2021, while gas prices surged across Europe.

Now, as Shell presents itself as a global leader in the green energy transition, it is still actively investing in new oil and gas drilling.

But that is not the company’s only problem.

For a start, Shell’s profit-maximising business model is deeply undemocratic, benefitting top management and shareholders at the expense of communities around the world. The firm has also not reckoned with its colonial past and severe human rights violations, while its privileged access and influence over political decision-making processes are an obstacle towards building a democratic and green energy system. And, finally, its investment in ‘innovation’ is primarily dependent on gas and carbon capture, which keeps the world locked into a fossil fuel future.

While many agree that ending fossil fuel extraction is necessary, questions remain over how to dismantle oil and gas giants such as Shell. These companies will certainly not stop polluting of their own volition – so governments and civil society must take strategic action to force them to do so.

Can this be done via carbon pricing, bankruptcy, strategic litigation or nationalisation? When assessing these mechanisms, it’s critical to consider how – and if – they would reckon with the corporation’s colonial legacy and safeguard labour rights to build a fairer and regenerative energy system.

Rail Unions Are Bargaining Over a Good Job Made Miserable

By Joe DeManuelle-Hall - Labor Notes, February 2, 2022

Contract negotiations covering 115,000 rail workers in the U.S. are expected to heat up in 2022.

Workers are seething over the impact of extreme cost-cutting measures. Rail unions are escalating through the slow steps of negotiations under the Railway Labor Act—toward a resolution, a strike, or a lockout.

Rail remains one of the most heavily unionized industries in the country, and rail workers maintain the arteries of the economic system.

In 2018, U.S. railroads moved 1.73 trillion ton-miles of freight, while trucks moved 2.03 trillion. (One ton-mile is one ton of freight moved one mile.) A slim majority of rail freight consists of bulk commodities, ranging from grain to mined ores to automobiles; slightly less is made up of consumer goods.

COST-CUTTING FRENZY

In the flurry of reporting on what’s slowing down the supply chain, little has been said about one contributing factor—the years-long squeeze that major railroads have put on their operations and workforces.

Precision Scheduled Railroading is a nebulous term that has come to cover many measures aimed at cutting costs and increasing profits. (Although the name refers to trains operating on a set schedule, that’s just one piece.) All the railroads engage in elements of it.

PSR is basically the railroad version of lean production—the methodology of systematic speedup and job-cutting that caught on in manufacturing in the ’80s and spread to many industries.

The railroads have done it by cutting less-profitable routes; closing and consolidating railyards, repair barns, and other facilities; running fewer, longer trains; and laying off tens of thousands of workers while demanding the remaining workers do more.

Class I railroads—the companies with annual revenues over $900 million—employed fewer workers this January than any month since 2012, falling below even the early-pandemic slump.

Railroads have cut as many as 35 percent of workers in some titles over the past several years. Overall there were 160,795 Class I rail workers in December 2015, and only 114,499 by December 2021.

At the same time, individual freight trains were hauling, on average, 30 percent more tonnage in 2020 than in 2000.

But all these practices add up to a system that doesn’t function well under pressure—the pressure of a global pandemic, or even just the pressure of normal operations. In stretched-out, just-in-time supply chains with no room for error, delays cascade into more delays.

Deep Adaptation...or Climate Justice?

By Chris Saltmarsh - The Ecologist, February 1, 2022

A review of Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos, edited by Jem Bendell and Rupert Read, published by Polity Press.

Activists in Extinction Rebellion are currently discussing the movement's new published strategy. The debates within XR often centre on a difference of approach between long standing members who were influenced by Dr Jem Bendell's paper calling for "deep adaptation" and those who want to focus on climate justice and a rapid dismantling of "fossil fuel capitalism" to avoid the need for such adaption.

This is the context in which many people are now reading Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos, a collection of essays brought together by Bendell and Dr Rupert Read, his long time collaborator and one of the many XR co-founders.

Read: The new XR UK strategy

Read: XR 2.0: We appreciate power

The book starts from the premise that societal collapse induced by climate change is inevitable or highly likely, arguing that humans should adapt to this new reality by moving away from industrial consumer society. This retains and amplifies the main arguments first proposed by Bendell in his online paper, which went viral and became influential within Extinction Rebellion, including among its co-founders.

Exxon locked workers out of their jobs. Can workers lock Exxon out of a carbon capture deal?

By Amal Ahmed and Emily Pontecorvo - Grist, January 31, 2022

A union is warning Texas officials not to give Exxon money for carbon capture until it fixes its labor problems.

In Beaumont, Texas, working at one of Exxon Mobil’s plants has long been a way to earn steady wages and support a family in this industrial corner of the Gulf Coast. “We take care of more than just our immediate family,” said Darrell Kyle, the president of the local United Steelworkers chapter, the union representing workers at the plants. “We’re the uncles and aunts,” he said, who help “the struggling nieces or nephews who need a couple hundred dollars to get by, to pay a bill.” 

But for the past nine months, about 600 union employees at Exxon’s refinery and other plants have been struggling to pay their own bills: They have been locked out of their jobs because Exxon has been unable to come to an agreement with the union over a new contract. Kyle said that the company is refusing to honor protections for senior workers that have been in place for decades, while the union is demanding that those protections remain in place. At the end of last April, without a contract finalized and with the threat of a union strike pending, the company began escorting employees out of the complex, the Beaumont Enterprise, a local newspaper, reported. The company stated that the provisions the union was asking for were “items that would significantly increase costs and limit the company’s ability to safely and efficiently operate.”

Some workers, willing to take the deal Exxon was offering, began a campaign to decertify the union, which would end union representation at the plants. The United Steelworkers union believes that Exxon illegally assisted the campaign and has filed complaints with the National Labor Review Board. 

But in addition to using this legal channel to try to protect their union, the Steelworkers tried a different tactic. They started their own campaign to pressure Exxon into a deal — by undermining the company’s push for public money to build a $100 billion carbon capture hub in nearby Houston.

The Real Crisis Threatening Ukraine isn’t a Russian Invasion or US backed NATO Imperialism. It’s Capitalism

By Javier Sethness - The Commoner, January 27, 2022

published on The Commoner, 27 January 2022

This exclusive interview with Assembly, a magazine based in Ukraine, provides a fresh, on-the-ground perspective on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Writers from Assembly have published articles with The Commoner before, which you can find here. You may otherwise find their website here.

Comrades, thank you for agreeing to this interview. We very much enjoyed your recent article in The Commoner, ‘The Time Has Come?’, about ongoing socio-economic resistance in Ukraine.

Today, the world looks on in horror as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military is amassing over a hundred-thousand troops on Ukraine’s eastern border. These forces are reportedly composed of sixty battalion tactical groups (BTG’s), including Spetznatz special forces, hundreds of tanks, and dozens of ballistic-missile units—not to mention either the Black Sea Fleet or aerial forces. Although Ukraine gained formal independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991, Putin has repeatedly expressed nostalgia for Tsarist and Soviet imperialism, while Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has long belittled the idea of Ukrainian sovereignty.

Currently, the UK is selling light anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, while the US has supplied billions of dollars in military aid to the country since 2014, when the Russian military occupied and annexed Crimea. Some media sources suggest that Putin has not yet decided whether to order the invasion, which could spark the most destructive conflict in Europe since World War II, even if Ukraine is not a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Now, following a breakdown in negotiations, President Joe Biden is reportedly considering sending thousands of NATO troops to the Baltic countries.

Bay Area Transit Workers Organize for Hazard Pay, Build toward Contract Campaigns

By Elana Kessler and Richard Marcantonio - Labor Notes, January 21, 2022

Oakland transit worker Connie McFarland drove home after a long shift last July 28 and logged onto Zoom for a board meeting of her employer, AC Transit. She joined a chorus of 40 workers and riders who held up the start of the agenda with nearly two hours of public comment.

Their demand: hazard pay for frontline transit workers.

Bus operator Sultana Adams, an assistant shop steward with Transit (ATU) Local 192, described the trauma of an assault by a rider who spat in her face. McFarland told the board, “We really would like to have some form of appreciation that’s more than lip service.”

By coming together around this popular demand, Bay Area transit workers built power across unions in the lead-up to their contract campaigns and fought to improve transit for their riders.

A touch of class struggle in Germany’s car industry

By Franziska Heinisch - Progressive International, January 11, 2022

Workers at a Bosch plant in Germany are fighting to keep their jobs with, to their surprise, support from climate activists. Their common demand is that there are no layoffs for climate protection, but instead a transition to ecological production.

ultinational corporations in the automotive industry like Bosch say they need to lay off workers in the transition to less-labour intensive e-mobility. In reality, they want to relocate production to low-wage countries to safeguard profits.

This is a catastrophe,” says Giuseppe Ciccone standing in front of “his” Munich plant during the German trade union IG Metall’s action day on Bosch. Shortly before, he had given a combative speech to about 600 workers. Since then, most of them have gone back to the plant or left. The chairman of the Bosch works council in Munich has been working at the local Bosch plant for almost forty years. He started at the age of 18 and is still there today. The plant and its employees are a central part of his life, “Like a family,” he says. But, as of late, a sense of crisis is prevalent in the family because the future of the plant is at stake.

Last year, Bosch announced plans to close its Munich plant which, until now, has been a production site for combustion engines, manufacturing fuel pumps and valves for diesel and petrol engines that will no longer be used in electric cars. Twenty years ago, about 1,600 people worked there but now there are only about 260 left. Even though it’s actually a rather small site, the struggle of the 260 against the planned closure has come to exemplify the conflict over the car industry and its workers’ future.

Green Unionism against Precarity

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 1, 2022

Editor's Note: all but one or two of the links in this article link to multiple articles, located on the IWW Environmental Union Caucus site, categorized by topic. Therefore, it is to the reader's interest to explore all of the articles brought forth by each link, at their convenience (and that body of information is ever evolving over time).

An edited version of this article appears in New Politics 72.

In a real sense, under capitalism, all workers are "precarious", meaning that they can be downsized, replaced, deskilled, outsourced, etc. It's simply a matter of degrees.

The ultimate peak in precarity is "gig work" (which has actually always existed; the names simply keep changing, but the concept is the same).

Unions represent a check against precarity, though this occurs on a graduated scale. The stronger the union, the less the workers' precarity.

Union strength manifests in various ways: it can result from a well organized, international, militant democratic union (ideal, but rare, with few real world examples, such as ILWU, and the IWW, of course), though more often than not it's a result of concentration of elite craft workers in skilled trades unions, which represents a strong guard against precarity, but only for workers in the union, in which case, solidarity is limited.

Other checks against precarity include high demand for skilled craft workers in rare supply, High demand for hard to replace workers (such as workers that required skilled credentials, such as teachers or transport workers), or tight labor markets (which exist in our semi-post COVID-19 world, due to a combination of factors spelled out in the Vox article).

This is nothing more than class struggle 101, as expertly phrased by Karl Marx, et. al.

There are new forms of precarity emerging due to climate catastrophe (brought on by capitalism). Workers find themselves facing new health and safety hazards and/or threats to their working environment.

Voodoo Doughnut Reaches Settlement With Staff Over Unfair Labor Practices

By Communications Department - Industrial Workers of the World, December 17, 2021

NLRB Investigation Found Voodoo Doughnuts Illegally Fired Strikers, Surveilled and Retaliated Against Staff During Union Election

Portland, OR --- American Doughnut chain Voodoo Doughnut has reached a settlement with employees, represented by IWW, after a National Labor Relations Board investigation determined the company was guilty of illegally firing striking workers, retaliation, and surveillance during the course of a union certification election.

In June of 2021, twelve workers went on strike due to growing concerns of temperatures inside the Old Town location of Voodoo Doughnut. Workers informed Voodoo Doughnut of the strike, which lasted for two days during Oregon's record breaking heat wave where temperatures rose to, or above, 115 degrees. The goal of the strike was to protect workers', while simultaneously encouraging the company to address the growing concern around these dangerous working conditions. As each striking worker returned following the heat wave, they were terminated on the basis of workplace abandonment.

"DWU's goals have always been to provide mutual aid to all Voodoo Doughnut staff in need, improve work and safety conditions, negotiating with the company towards a living wage, and creating a democratic workplace environment where the workers' voices are heard and valued. These are moral and just goals, and Doughnut Workers United would like to thank our community for all of your continued support! We are all the working class, and together we can build a better future for us all!" said DWU member Mark Medina

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