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War and climate justice: a discussion

By Simon Pirani - Peoloe and Nature, July 22, 2022

OpenDemocracy yesterday hosted a useful, and sobering, discussion about the war in Ukraine and the fight for climate justice, with Oleh Savitsky (Stand with Ukraine and Ukraine Climate Network), Angelina Davydova (a prominent commentator on Russian climate policy) and me.

Italian factories on strike over extreme heat after worker dies

By staff - The Local, July 22, 2022

For a non pay-walled version of the article, see the Red Green Labor version.

A worker operates machinery at a factory in Trezzano sul Naviglio, near Milan, Northern Italy, on June 25, 2021. Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP.

The man, 61, fell unconscious and hit his head while performing routine tasks, according to La Stampa news daily. Efforts by colleagues to revive him with a defibrillator were unsuccessful.

The official cause of death is currently being investigated by police, but with temperatures pushing 40 degrees Celsius in parts of the country, heat exhaustion is thought likely to be responsible.

Factory workers from the local area organised an eight-hour picket on Friday outside the Dana Graziano plant in Rivoli where the man worked.

Italy is in the midst of a scorching mid-July heatwave, and most factories do not have air conditioning systems.

The Fiom CGIL metal workers’ union say they have recently received multiple reports of factory temperatures reaching over 35 degrees Celsius in the Piedmont area. At the Mirafiori Fiat manufacturing plant in Turin, workers have reportedly recorded highs of 40 degrees.

A previous strike called by auto parts workers on Tuesday protested the “intense pace of work” workers are required to keep up in the “unbearable heat of these past few days”.

“There are many of our members who are reporting illnesses in the factory due to the intense heat of the last few weeks,” Edi Lazzi, Fiom CGIL’s Turin general secretary, told La Stampa.

Italy does not have a nationally unified labor code, but worker’s rights are enshrined in the constitution and touched on in various laws.

According to the site Lavori e diretti (work and rights), article 2087 of the Italian civil code requires employers to protect employees’ health and wellbeing.

National legislation does not require companies to keep the workplace within any particular temperature range, though workplace accident insurance institute Inail recommends in summer there should not be more than a seven degree difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures.

A 2015 Supreme Court case recognised the right of workers to stop working while retaining the right to pay in excessively cold conditions.

DRACONIAN New Rail Industry Policy WORSENS Supply Chain Crisis, CRUSHES Workers

A Major Strike May be Coming and I Promise You No One is Ready for it if it Does!

By Xaxnar - Daily Kos, July 14, 2022

Breaking July 15, 2022 — The Strike has been put on hold by presidential order — see the UPDATE story here.

The news about people who work for a living has featured some recent breakthrough stories, where previously immune companies have seen their workers organize and form unions. But what about an industry that remains one where unions have a long history and are still active? 

Very few people pay attention the way we should to railroads in America. That may be about to change, and not in a good way.

Sure, news about expanding Amtrak seems like a good thing, and there are plenty of High-Speed Rail (HSR) proposals — usually accompanied by reports on how expensive they are and how long they will take to build — if they can get past the NIMBY folks, the highway and airline lobbies, and the fossil fuel interests.

People freak out about bomb trains (understandable), and derailments — but how many people pay attention otherwise to the condition of our rail corridors, how much the industry is investing in itself, how much of the national economy depends on rail service, and the conditions for the people who work for the railroads?

Or the public good for that matter?

Wars, Inflation, and Strikes: A Summer of Discontent in Europe?

By Josefina L. Martínez - Left Voice, July 12, 2022

Strikes over wage increases or working conditions are occurring in response to high inflation, aggravated by the aftermath of the war in Ukraine. These labor actions show a change in the mood of the European working class.

Are we heading toward a summer of discontent in Europe? Can we foresee a hot autumn on the Continent? It would be hasty to make such statements, but new strike activity is beginning to unfold among sectors of several countries’ working class. Inflation reached 8.8 percent as a European average in May (with higher rates in countries like the UK and Spain). After years of inflation below 1.5 percent, this is a significant change that is causing a fall in the population’s purchasing power, especially among the working class. Many analysts are already talking about the possibility of stagflation: a combination of recession and inflation.

This is in addition to the political instability of several governments and a widespread dissatisfaction with the traditional parties. The latter was expressed in France in the last elections, with high abstention and the growth of Marine Le Pen’s far-right party and of the center-left coalition grouped around Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Emmanuel Macron lost his absolute majority in the National Assembly and now faces a five-year period of great political uncertainty. Another government in crisis is that of the UK, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is stepping down.

In this context, recent weeks have seen strikes taking place in key sectors, including transport, steel, ports, and public services, as well as in more precarious sectors. Although there are differences among these countries, the strikes are opening a breach in the climate of “national unity” that governments tried to impose a few months ago, when the war in Ukraine began. In this article we review some of these labor conflicts in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and other countries.

Ecuadorian Indigenous Movement Secures Economic and Climate Justice Victories, Ending National Strike

By Sofía Jarrín Hidalgo - Global Ecosocialist Network, July 5, 2022

Reprinted from Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres courtesy of Marc Bonhomme.

On June 13, 2022, a National Strike was launched by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the National Confederation of Peasant, Indigenous, and Black Organizations (FENOCIN), the Council of Indigenous Evangelical Peoples and Organizations (FEINE), alongside social and environmental organizations aligned with the Indigenous Movement.

Although many minimized the mobilizations to be solely about the rising cost of fuel, the protests kept their momentum due to the rising cost of living, which was one of the root causes of the movement. The people of Ecuador have faced immense poverty and unemployment for many months. For 18 days, the national protest sought to generate government action to address the deep systemic crisis that Ecuador is going through, marked by the lack of economic, political, and cultural rights. Today, the Indigenous movement was victorious in securing commitments from the president to address their economic and environmental reality.

In their demands, Indigenous communities sought the implementation of policies to protect the planet and secure a just and ecological transition. One of their key requests was the repeal of Decrees 95 and 151, which were intended to advance extractivism in Amazonian Indigenous territories. In August 2021, the Confederation of Amazonian Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador (CONFENIAE) had already spoken out against implementing these decrees; however, President Lasso decided not to heed this call. Among their main arguments was that the government failed to guarantee protection and respect for their right to free, prior, and informed consultation, much less the internationally respected standards of consent.

Earlier this week, Indigenous leaders and the government entered into dialogue and negotiations. They have since reached a signed agreement including an end to the National Strike and the “state of emergency” declared by the government. There will be a repeal of Executive Decree 95 promoting oil and gas expansion and a reform of Executive Decree 151 affecting the mining sector. Both decrees authorized the government to expand the extractive frontier into Indigenous territories and important conservation and forest areas. The reform of the mining decree is particularly notable because it states that activities cannot happen in protected areas or Indigenous territories, in designated “no-go” zones, archaeological zones, or water protection areas in accordance with the law, and it guarantees the right to free, prior, and informed consultation (not consent) as set forth in the standards dictated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Ecuador’s highest court. Fuel prices will also be reduced to a fixed rate, an economic justice victory acknowledging the cost of living crisis. They will use the next 90 days to address the remaining demands through a technical working committee.

The agreements and future discussions are rooted in the Indigenous movement’s ten points. Their agenda aims to generate solutions to combat the sustained deterioration of living conditions, the crisis in the education and health system, the high costs of food and essential services, the expansion of the extractive frontier, and the violation of the collective rights of Indigenous peoples, among other demands.

Greens must back striking British Airways workers to build the coalition we need for a just transition

By Matthew Hull - Bright Green, July 3, 2022

A quiet revolution is underway. Across two weeks and through three days of industrial action by the RMT trade union, the British public may have rediscovered what it feels like to take the side of organised workers against a recalcitrant UK government.

Amid soaring bills and prices, and with the Tory government steadfastly refusing to put people’s lives before profits, it is easy to understand why sympathy for striking workers is growing.

Of course it would be easy to overstate this case. Trade unionism never left these shores, and the power of militant unions like the RMT has been built up over years of hard organising work.

Equally, it would be presumptuous in the extreme to argue that one still-ongoing dispute could undo decades of neoliberal policies designed to mute and muzzle trade unions.

Nevertheless, something is taking hold. Polls revealed that striking railway workers have the undisputed support of a majority of people in the UK, should they opt for further industrial action. What’s more, that support has grown with every media performance by the RMT’s general secretary Mick Lynch, whose directness and refusal to pander to the nonsense so typical of broadcast media has proved a winning combination.

This progress is precious, and it is our responsibility as trade unionists and the broader Left to preserve and expand it.

For Greens and environmentalists, the response to the RMT strikes so far has an additional, special resonance.

In June, hundreds of environmental justice campaigners joined RMT members on picket lines, raised money for their national dispute fund, and made their public support for the strikes impossible to ignore. This included many Greens across England and Wales, led by the party’s Trade Union Group. The Greens were the only UK parliamentary party to be unambiguously supportive of the RMT’s actions.

Defending and expanding national and municipal railway networks is centrally important to winning a just transition to a zero-carbon economy. Without massively increasing our capacity to move around using collective and sustainable modes of transport, the work of the environmental justice movement is over before it has begun.

In this process, protecting jobs and improving the pay, conditions and security of workers on our railways is key. There can be no just and fair transition to a zero-carbon world without worker empowerment.

Environmental justice campaigners and Greens should take this insight and apply it to workers’ struggles across all
sectors.

Firings, Evictions, Broken Promises: How Yellowstone Tour Guides Are Building Momentum for Change

By Ted Franklin - Capital and Main, July 1, 2022

Recently, former President Obama launched a Netflix series celebrating national parks and their breathtaking views. One of the parks he zoomed in on was the 2.2 million acre Yellowstone National Park, describing it as a park that is “fundamental to our national identity.”

But underneath the beauty of Yellowstone lies an ugly history of union-busting and intimidation by government contractors of National Park Service workers, the ones who labor to keep the park beautiful — a legacy that Obama failed to curb as president and one that Joe Biden has yet to address as the current occupant of the White House.

“I never had anyone spit or threaten to beat me up until I tried to unionize at Yellowstone,” says former Yellowstone tour guide Ty Wheeler.

In February of 2020, Wheeler and six of his co-workers were fired when they attempted to organize a group of 80 tour guides at Yellowstone National Park employed by the giant contractor Delaware North. Workers were paid only $12 an hour plus tips with infrequent scheduling, leading some into poverty while trying to get by in an area known for its generally high prices and expensive housing. In addition, Yellowstone had begun reporting cases of COVID, and workers were concerned about what they claim was the lack of training and personal protective equipment.

However, when the workers attempted to unionize, they claim they were not only fired but kicked out of company housing in West Yellowstone, Montana, during the middle of a frigid Yellowstone winter. The next month, the workers filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, which ruled in a settlement that all of the workers should be rehired and that organizing activities should not be prevented in the park.

But Delaware North broke the agreement and to this day has never rehired the workers, say the former employees, who are currently appealing to the NLRB about the failure to enforce the settlement.

Union organizers are citing their firings and forced eviction from company housing to help build momentum for Biden to take executive action and strip companies like Delaware North of federal contracts for violating the National Labor Relations Act, now that the PRO Act — which would penalize employers for violating workers’ rights, and force employers to disclose how much they spend on union busting — is stalled in the Senate. Similar rules, including the High Road policy, which would boost labor-friendly companies’ chances of winning federal contracts, and an order that federal contractors disclose two years of political donations, faltered during the Obama administration.

Union organizers are pushing Biden to call out Delaware North’s union-busting activity in the national park, just as he did recently with Kellogg’s and Amazon’s efforts to halt organizing efforts by their workers.

“Biden should get directly involved and do something about this,” says union organizer Wheeler. “These are our national parks, our national treasures, and these private contractors are treating them like company towns.”

Shifting America to Solar Power Is a Grueling, Low-Paid Job

By Lauren Kaori Gurley - Vice, June 27, 2022

Thomas Shade got his first job in a solar field at age 41. "I fell in love with it. I left a job where I didn't feel like a human," Shade told Motherboard. At 16, Shade worked in a cotton mill dyeing fabrics to support a newborn son. He then passed through a series of fiberglass factories. He spent a decade on the open road as a long haul trucker. In 2011, he was sick of working the graveyard shift in the oven room of a machine generator plant, so when a friend called him and said a temp firm was hiring laborers to install utility-scale solar power near his hometown in rural western North Carolina, Shade thought to himself “I wouldn’t mind doing that as a side gig.” Soon he had quit his other jobs to work full time in the solar fields. 

"Outside on the solar farm, I felt more free,” he said. “You didn't feel like you was trapped like you were inside of a plant.”

When the project ended, a few months later, Shade signed up with PeopleReady, the national temp labor agency, to work on another utility-scale solar farm two hours away in Rockingham, North Carolina. Since then, Shade has lived on the road chasing solar projects, from Texas to Virginia to South Carolina to Nevada to Florida to Maryland to Georgia. "It's a hard life to live," said Shade. "You're always away from friends and family. Sometimes you don't know anybody."

Temp agencies are as common in the solar industry as they are in construction. Many workers are needed to install a solar field, but much fewer are needed once it's up and running. Besides PeopleReady, there's companies like WorkRise, 360 Industrial Services, Aerotek, and Tradesmen. Shade has worked for lots of different temp companies.

For each project, Shade has had to negotiate with a recruiter on the phone over his hourly wages and a daily housing stipend, known as a per diem. In the solar industry, it's common to have two workers doing the same job for vastly different pay and living stipends, multiple solar workers and labor organizers told Motherboard. Nico Ries, an organizer at Green Workers Alliance who has engaged with hundreds of renewable energy workers, said getting paid a higher wage than other workers with the same experience often “boils down to nepotism.” “Workers often refer to it as the good ol’ boy system,” they said. Frequently, local hires and other newcomers to the industry who might commute an hour or two to get to a worksite do not receive per diem stipends.

Prof. Ahmed White on the Industrial Workers of the World

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