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Steve Ongerth

Suds and Socialism Forum: Workers and the Environment

Just Transition and Extractive Industry Workers

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 26, 2021

In some ways it might be easier to establish dialog and find common ground with resource extraction workers (on issues such as climate change, just transition, and the Green New Deal) than we think. In other ways it may prove more difficult than we expect. That’s not as contradictory as it may sound, however:

First, let’s acknowledge that we’re primarily discussing decarbonization of the energy system and the economy, particularly fossil fuel capitalism, specifically coal, oil, and gas.

We’re discussing entire supply chains, from exploration and extraction to transportation and refining, to distribution, power generation to marketing and sales.

Extraction includes all forms of mining.

Transportation includes rail, road, ship, aircraft, and pipelines. It also includes storage, distribution hubs, and control centers.

Refining is a highly specialized and labor as well as capital intensive process.

How it might be easier than we think:

Most of the jobs involved in the aforementioned supply chains are not directly related to fossil fuels themselves:

For example:

  • Exploration (ie search for new “deposits” could instead be repurposed for siting renewable energy sites;
  • Offshore oil rig workers could be retrained as offshore wind power technicians (and many of the ancillary jobs, such as transportation of workers to and from sites, dispatching workers (or power), clerical work, etc. is directly transferable);
  • Transportation of goods and commodities can be utilized to transport alternative goods and commodities (eg grain rather than coal);

Where jobs may not be directly transferable, they can be retained for the repurposing or decommissioning of infrastructure or the restoration of damaged ecosystems. Such efforts often require years or decades, thus providing enough job-years for mature workers (often those with the highest seniority, wages, and benefits anyway) to last until retirement, or at least, allow sufficient time for just transition;

Failing that, many of these jobs can be made much “greener” without decommissioning, if a wholistic approach as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach is utilized, and transition efforts focus on the “low hanging fruit” (such as retiring older, more polluting facilities first, etc.);

Primitivism and Ecofascism

Future Beyond Fossil Fuels: California’s Just Transition

By staff - Sunrise Movement, May 1, 2020

You may have heard the term ‘Just transition’ floating around, but what does it mean? This webinar will focus on what a just transition means for workers in California, and how the vision of a Green New Deal can guide the much-needed economic recovery from the COVID crisis.

This video features IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus cofounder, Steve Ongerth, speaking on workers, unions, and just transition in Northern California.

Redwood Uprising: From One Big Union to Earth First! and the Bombing of Judi Bari (Steve Ongerth)

Introduction
Chapter 1 : An Injury to One is an Injury to All!
Chapter 2 : Pollution, Love it or Leave it!
Chapter 3 : He Could Clearcut Forests Like No Other
Chapter 4 : Maxxam’s on the Horizon
Chapter 5 : No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth!
Chapter 6 : If Somebody Kills Themselves, Just Blame it on Earth First!
Chapter 7 : Way Up High in The Redwood Giants
Chapter 8 : Running for Our Lives
Chapter 9 : And they Spewed Out their Hatred
Chapter 10 : Fellow Workers, Meet Earth First!
Chapter 11 : I Knew Nothin’ Till I Met Judi
Chapter 12 : The Day of the Living Dead Hurwitzes
Chapter 13 : They’re Closing Down the Mill in Potter Valley
Chapter 14 : Mother Jones at the Georgia Pacific Mill
Chapter 15 : Hang Down Your Head John Campbell
Chapter 16 : I Like Spotted Owls…Fried
Chapter 17 : Logging to Infinity
Chapter 18 : The Arizona Power Lines
Chapter 19 : Aristocracy Forever
Chapter 20 : Timberlyin’
Chapter 21 : You Fucking Commie Hippies!
Chapter 22 : I am the Lorax; I speak for the Trees
Chapter 23 : Forests Forever
Chapter 24 : El Pio
Chapter 25 : Sabo Tabby vs. Killa Godzilla
Chapter 26 : They Weren’t Gonna Have No Wobbly Runnin’ Their Logging Show
Chapter 27 : Murdered by Capitalism
Chapter 28 : Letting the Cat Out of the Bag
Chapter 29 : Swimmin’ Cross the Rio Grande
Chapter 30 : She Called for Redwood Summer
Chapter 31 : Spike a Tree for Jesus
Chapter 32 : Now They Have These Public Hearings…
Chapter 33 : The Ghosts of Mississippi Will be Watchin’
Chapter 34 : We’ll Have an Earth Night Action
Chapter 35 : “You Brought it On Yourself, Judi”
Chapter 36 : A Pipe Bomb Went Rippin’ Through Her Womb
Chapter 37 : Who Bombed Judi Bari?
Chapter 38 : Conclusion

This entire book and all of its chapters are also available for viewing at judibari.info.

Know the Union: Steve Ongerth

By Editorial Collective - Industrial Worker, Fall 2019; IWW leaflet hand drawn by Judi Bari, October 1989.

How would you like your name printed? (Options include first and last, first and last initial, first, X-number, etc. It’s completely up to you)

Steve Ongerth

What are your pronouns?

He/Him

What branch or local are you affiliated with?

Bay Area IWW GMB

Do you hold a local or national office? If so, what is it?

No

Why did you join the IWW?

I was inspired to join by reading the work of Judi Bari (“Timber Wars”) and greatly appreciating her green syndicalism (she was also an IWW member) in 1995.

Why have you stayed?

I believe in what the IWW stands for and its potential (in spite of its imperfections and limitations).

Is there a wobbly (current or historical) you most admire? 

Judi Bari (of course! And I actually was friends & comrades with her from the time I met her and joined the IWW in May 1995 until she passed away in 1997).

The revolution is over, the wage system is abolished, we installed whatever post-capitalist system you prefer. What are you doing Saturday?

Hiking in the woods or along the Bay (which hopefully isn’t drowning the SF Bay Area due to climate change and sea level rise)

What are you working on right now (union-wise)?

I am one of the cofounders of and active organizers of the IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus (I also maintain its webpage https://ecology.iww.org) I am also the Bay Area IWW Tabling Coordinator.

Eco Wobblies: Revolutionary Ecology and the Development of Earth First!-IWW Local #1

By Michael Gonzales - dissertation - May 19, 2017

Environmental historians have shown that the development of the modern environmental movement has been marked by a perceived tension between the interests and attitudes of workers and those of environmental activists. This paper details an important exception to that trend. In late 1989 members of the radical environmental group Earth First! joined with lumber workers in Northern California to form Earth First!-IWW Local #1.

In the words of Local #1 leader Judi Bari, this labor union acted as a “bridge between environmentalists and timber workers.” This essay examines the factors that brought workers and environmental activists together in this short-lived experiment in what some have termed “green syndicalism.” This essay utilizes archival documentary evidence and the accounts of movement activists to demonstrate a more complex relationship between Earth First! and the IWW (and between labor and environmentalism in general), with deeper historical roots than has been previously understood In doing so, this essay challenges the assumptions of the environment versus labor dichotomy and suggests the potential for solidarity and cooperation between environmentalists and workers.

Read the Report (PDF).

Rank-and-File Union Members Join Standing Rock Camp, As Crackdown on Opponents of Pipeline Escalates

By Micheal Letwin and Cliff Willmeng - Labor for Standing Rock, October 27, 2016

Editor's note: IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus cofounder, Steve Ongerth, is also a cofounder of Labor for Standing Rock.

On Saturday, October 29 at 10 AM, union members and supporters are assembling at Standing Rock Union Camp, north of Cannonball, North Dakota. Despite escalating police violence and AFL-CIO leadership support of the Dakota Access Pipeline, pipeline, a delegation of union members from around the U.S. are, at this moment, assembling with signs and banners for a labor procession at Standing Rock camp to join Sioux Water Protectors against Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL.) The procession will be followed by a lunchtime organizing meeting, and by afternoon outreach to pipeline workers, by a delegation from Labor For Standing Rock, comprised of rank-and-file union members and working people.

This effort is being spearheaded by Labor for Standing Rock co-founders Michael Letwin and Cliff Willmeng. Letwin, a former President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325 in New York City, and Co-Convener of Labor for Palestine, whose online petition in opposition to DAPL has garnered more than 12,000 signers and helped lay the basis for Labor for Standing Rock. In 1973, at age sixteen, he and others were by the Nixon-era FBI under the Rap Brown Act for participating in a relief caravan to the American Indian Movement occupation at Wounded Knee. Willmeng is a registered nurse with UFCW Local 7, and former member of United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 1 in Chicago. He is a leader in Colorado fight against fracking, a rank-and-file labor activist and organizer for the Colorado Community Rights Amendment. Cliff’s work against the oil and gas industry made national headlines when Lafayette, Colorado banned fracking in 2013. He and his daughter Sasha delivered water tanks to Standing Rock Camp after authorities removed the water supply in August.

Labor For Standing Rock was created by rank-and-file workers and union members to mobilize growing labor support for the First Nation's fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The response from working people around the country has been nothing short of staggering. It is clear that the labor movement is no longer content to sit aside while Native American sovereignty is violated, and while land and water are risked. No oil company profits are more important than our rights and environment.

"As a healthcare provider, as a father of two, and as a union member I will be heading up to Standing Rock, said Cliff Willmeng, union member and a co-founder of Labor for Standing Rock. "We will be supporting the First Nations fight against the Dakota access pipeline, to protect the environment for my kids, and as a rejection of the decision of the AFL-CIO support the pipeline."

"Workers' rights are inseparable from indigenous rights, said Michael Letwin, union member and a co-founder of Labor for Standing Rock. "We need decent union jobs that protect, rather than destroy, the Earth -- there are no jobs on a dead planet."

"We at Oceti Sakowin Camp welcome any and all support from our Union brothers and sisters," said Standing Rock Council in an October 13 message to Labor for Standing Rock. "This camp stands to protect our sacred water and support a new energy paradigm, jobs and work in green energy fields. We welcome your support in any ways you feel appropriate, join us in paving a new road to a sustainable future for many future generations."

Labor for Standing Rock and Union Camp are being hosted by Red Warrior Camp, which is made up of Dakota and Lakota people residing within the original Sacred Stone spirit camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Chapter 38 : Conclusion

In spite of the bombing, Bari had lived, which was a huge miracle by itself, and it is clear that whomever planted the bomb in her vehicle had not intended for her to have done so. The bomber had also not planned on Cherney’s presence in the vehicle (his decision to ride with Bari had been unplanned and made at the last possible moment). The bomb had been meant to kill Bari and her alone, and leave behind a mystery, a discredited leader, and fractured and broken movement. Cherney’s having also been there and having gone through the trauma had created the unintended consequence of providing Bari with a witness who could independently verify and corroborate her every word (which, as it turned out, he did) thus further undermining any case that could be made for her guilt. Nevertheless, the bombing was nothing short of a huge tragedy for Judi Bari, due to the physical and emotional trauma and the intense pain and suffering she endured afterwards. While it may be something of a stretch to say that the bombing ultimately led to Bari’s death (in March 1997 due to breast cancer) even that is not out of the question, and the loss of her life was a major setback to those who would challenge business as usual.

Bari’s and Cherney’s legal triumph was a victory, but not the final victory. The question of who bombed them still remains unsolved, but assuming that Bari and Cherney and their supporters (and to be certain the author is one) are correct, and the bombing was indeed a conspiracy involving both Corporate Timber and the FBI, the answer to the question, “Why?” bears little mystery at all.

Clearly someone was trying to disrupt, discredit, and misdirect the coalescing radical, populist opposition to Corporate Timber on the North Coast, whether they participated in the bombing or not. Certainly, the bombing was itself designed to do that, so it makes sense to conclude that the bombing and the disruption were part of a single, multifaceted effort. If asked, “cui bono?” the most likely answer is a combination of Corporate Timber (namely representatives from all three of the major corporations, Georgia-Pacific, Louisiana-Pacific, and Pacific Lumber) with the help of the FBI with the tacit (or perhaps approval) of the Bush (senior) Administration. The FBI had gone to great lengths to try and discredit Earth First! already in Arizona, and clearly the same telltale signs of a COINTELPRO operation are evident in the Bari and Cherney bombing. If G-P was involved somehow, there is no direct evidence, but evidence of L-P’s involvement is quite readily apparent. As for Pacific-Lumber, Bari and Cherney later discovered a cordial “chummy” letter to FBI Director William Sessions from a Maxxam board member. [1] There is ample indirect evidence and a clear motive linking all three to the bombing.

Chapter 37 : Who Bombed Judi Bari?

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Now Judi Bari is the mother of two children,
A pipe bomb went ripping through her womb,
She cries in pain at night time,
In her Willits cabin room;
FBI is back again with COINTELPRO,
Richard Held is the man they know they trust,
With Lieutenant Sims his henchman,
It’s a world of boom and bust;
But we’ll answer with non-violence,
For seeking justice is our plan,
And we’ll avenge our wounded comrade,
As we defend the ravaged land…

—lyrics excerpted from Who Bombed Judi Bari, by Darryl Cherney, 1990.

Redwood Summer began and moved forward more or less as planned—in spite of all that happened surrounding the bombing—and Bari and Cherney were not charged and eventually freed. Yet organizers and supporters of Redwood Summer were left wondering who the bomber was, and if they were part of a well organized plot, either by right wing fanatics, Corporate Timber, the FBI, or a combination of all of them. Gary Ball admonished everyone not to jump to conclusions about who planted the bomb, stating, “We’re not getting into conspiracy theories at this point. We’re saying that the police have made an obvious mistake and that they need to do a real investigation to find the criminal who planted that bomb and who is still on the loose.” [1] Although many supporters of Redwood Summer were convinced that the bombing was a conspiracy, there were enough people in Mendocino County reactionary and crazy enough to have acted alone, and the county had a long tradition of such lunatics. As Rob Anderson described it:

“What outsiders (and many insiders, for that matter)—members of the media, politicians, FBI agents, etc.—don’t understand about Mendocino County is its peculiar hothouse political atmosphere—a combination of poor law enforcement, obtuse political leadership, cowboy capitalism, and religious extremism. In this atmosphere, all kinds of twisted and malignant creatures flourish. In fact, at various times, Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Leonard Lake, Tree Frog Johnson, and Kenneth Parnell have all lived and flourished in Mendoland.” [2]

Judi Bari herself had agreed that “Mendocino County, as we all know, is known as the largest outpatient ward in America and we who live there are completely used to this stuff…” [3]

Indeed, one week after the bombing, an anonymous letter writer, calling himself (or herself) “The Lord’s Avenger” wrote a letter to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat full of Biblical quotations claiming credit for planting the bomb. [4] On the surface, it was entirely plausible that the bombing was motivated by Christian Fundamentalist anger towards Judi Bari, because of her stances on abortion. It is unlikely, however, that this issue was the primary reason for the bombing—since Bari had been far more vocal about timber and labor issues. [5] There was a strong Christian Fundamentalist streak particularly among the most reactionary representatives of the US Forest Service as well as the least enlightened (and most rapacious) gyppos. [6] Misogyny was no doubt embedded in the bundle of reasons for targeting Bari as well, evidenced by the fact that one of her death threats described her (and her fellow women) as “whores”, “lesbians”, and “members of NOW”. [7] Yet, as will be demonstrated, the Lord’s Avenger letter was more than likely a false lead.

There was also some wild speculation that Darryl Cherney might have planted the bomb himself (unbeknownst to Bari) out of resentment because of their recent breakup as romantic couple, but this theory falls to pieces on the prima facie evidence alone. [8] According to the FBI’s own ballistics evidence, the bomb had a switch, timer, and motion sensor, which meant that it was designed to detonate while the car was in motion during a specific time. It is just as ridiculous to think that Cherney would have knowingly consented to ride in a car containing a live bomb, which he had supposedly armed and positioned, for the purposes of revenge as it is to think that Bari and Cherney would have done so for the purposes of terrorism. In any case, Cherney, who was not mechanically inclined, was not capable of constructing such a device. [9] As Bari related to Bruce Anderson:

“Darryl, first of all, has some of the least mechanical skills of anyone I’ve ever known. I once tried to hire him to hang sheet rock and found him to be unemployable, because he didn’t know how to hammer. And, secondly, whatever else I know about Darryl—Darryl and I have been broken up as a romantic couple for several months now but I love Darryl and Darryl loves me, and there is no question in my mind that Darryl would never, ever do such a thing.” [10]

Veterans of the environmental movement who also had prior involvement with organizations that had been subject to COINTELPRO and COINTELPRO-like infiltration suspected foul play. [11] Dave Foreman, who spoke from first-hand experience, was convinced that it was, and noted the similarities between the bombing of Bari and Cherney and his own legal entanglement over the Arizona 5 case. [12] Certainly, the FBI and corporate timber had several motives. These included:

“Providing police an excuse to search homes and offices associated with the environmental movement in Mendocino County and the Bay Area, removing two of the most high-profile organizers challenging corporate power in California, and contaminating the public image—not only of Redwood Summer, but also of (Forest Forever) and the environmental movement in general with the stigma of violence and lawlessness.” [13]

Four attorneys from Humboldt and Mendocino Counties, Rodney Jones, David Nelson, Steven J. Antler, and Ron Sinoway, calling themselves Northern California Lawyers for an Unbiased Investigation accused the Oakland Police and FBI of incompetence and prejudice against Bari and Cherney. [14] They issued a white paper called “A Position Statement and Legal Evaluation of the Bari-Cherney Car Bombing, which exposed the countless weaknesses in the state’s case against the two. The statement made a convincing case that the bombing was, in fact, a sophisticated plan by the opponents of Redwood Summer to undermine it, perhaps with the complicity of law enforcement agencies. [15]

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