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Steve Ongerth

Chapter 6 : If Somebody Kills Themselves, Just Blame it on Earth First!

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

Haul it to the sawmill, Got to make a buck,
Your blades are worn and dangerous, Better trust your luck,
Don’t stop for the workers’ safety, Never fear the worst,
‘Cause if somebody kills themselves, Just blame it on Earth First!,
L-P…

—Lyrics excerpted from L-P, by Judi Bari, 1990.

“Anybody who ever advocated tree spiking of course has to rethink their position.”

—Darryl Cherney, June 1987.[1]

Earth First! received much negative press for its advocacy of biocentrism, the notion that all species (including humans) were intrinsically valuable. Their slogan “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth!” was forceful and militant, and given the misanthropic leanings of some of its cofounders, it was often taken to mean that they valued the lives of nonhuman species above humans—even if it meant the suffering or death of the latter—which wasn’t actually the case. The situation was complicated further by Earth First!’s advocacy of monkeywrenching: industrial “ecotage” which included everything from deflagging roads to putting sugar in the fuel tanks of earth moving and/or logging equipment. Earth First! cofounder Dave Foreman described monkeywrenching thusly:

“It is resistance to insanity that is encapsu­lated in Monkeywrenching…(it) fits in with the bioregional concept. You go back to a place and you peacefully re-inhabit it. You learn about it. You become a part of the place. You develop an informal and al­ternative political and social struc­ture that is somehow apart from the sys­tem… it’s also a means of self-empowerment, of finding alternative means of relat­ing to other people, and other life forms…there is a funda­mental difference between ecodefense resistance and classic revolutionary or terrorist behavior.” [2]

Such a description, while informative, was hardly likely to silence critics on the right. The most controversial of these controversial tactics by far, was Earth First!’s advocacy of “tree spiking”, the act of driving large nails into standing trees in order to deter timber sales. [3]

Chapter 5 : No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth!

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

“One man, Charles Hurwitz, is going to destroy the largest remaining block of redwoods out of sheer arrogance. Only we the people can stop him.”

—Dave Foreman, October 22, 1986.[1]

Well I come from a long, long line of tree-fallin’ men,
And this company town was here before my grandpappy settled in,
We kept enough trees a-standin’ so our kids could toe the line,
But now a big corporation come and bought us out, got us working double time…

—lyrics excerpted from Where are We Gonna Work When the Trees are Gone?, by Darryl Cherney, 1986.

On the surface, very little seemed to have changed in Scotia for its more than 800 residents, but deep down, they all knew that the future was very much uncertain. Some seemed unconcerned, such as 18 year Pacific Lumber veteran Ted Hamilton, who declared, “We’re just going on as always,” or his more recently hired coworker, millworker Keith Miller, who had been at the company less than six years and who stated, “It doesn’t bother me much.”[2] Indeed, many of the workers seemed to welcome their newfound financial prosperity. [3] However, there were at least as many workers whose assessments were quite pessimistic, including millworker Ken Hollifield, a 19 year veteran who opined, “I’m sure this place won’t be here in five to seven years.” Former millworker and then-current owner of the Rendezvous Bar in Rio Dell, George Kelley, echoed these sentiments stating, “For 2½ years they’ve got a good thing going. After that they don’t know what’s happening.” Dave Galitz dismissed the naysayers’ concerns as typical fear of change, but careful estimates of the company’s harvesting rates bore out the pessimistic assessments. In the mills and the woods, however, production had increased substantially, to the point that many were working 50 and 60 hours per week. If there was to be any organized dissent, it would be difficult to keep it together, because the workers had little time to spare.[4] There seemed to be little they could do outside of a union campaign, and the IWA had neither been inspiring nor successful in their attempt.

Deep in the woods however, the changes were readily obvious. In 1985, the old P-L had received approval from the California Department of Forestry (CDF) to selectively log 5,000 acres.[5] With John Campbell at the helm, under the new regime, the company filed a record number of timber harvest plans (THPs) immediately following the sale, and all of them were approved by the CDF. There was more than a hint of a conflict of interest in the fact that the director of the agency, Jerry Pertain, had owned stock in the old Pacific Lumber and had cashed in mightily after the merger. [6] Since the takeover, the new P-L had received approval to log 11,000 acres, 10,000 of which were old growth, and there was every indication that these timber harvests would be accomplished through clearcutting.[7] Pacific Lumber spokesmen who had boasted about the company’s formerly benign forest practices now made the dubious declaration that clearcutting was the best method for ensuring both long term economic and environmental stability.

P-L forester Robert Stephens claimed that the old rate was unsustainable anyway, declaring, “About five years ago, it became apparent that there is going to be an end to old-growth. We simply cannot operate on a 2,000 year rotation.”

Public affairs manager David Galitz repeated what would soon become the new regime’s gospel, that clearcutting had actually been in the works for some time before the hint of a merger, even though in actual fact, this was untrue.

Pacific Lumber’s logging operations which had hitherto been idyllic by comparison now outpaced those of even Louisiana-Pacific and Georgia-Pacific. They tripled their logging crews, bringing in loggers from far away who had never known the old Pacific Lumber and had no particular loyalty to the fight to prevent Hurwitz’s plunder of the old company. [8] Most of the new hires were gyppos, and there were rumblings among the old timers that the quality of logging had decreased precipitously. In John Campbell’s mind, such inefficiencies were likely to be temporary and any small losses that occurred were more than offset by the much larger short term gain. The expense to the viability of the forest, however, was never entered into the ledger.[9] One resident who lived very close to the border of Pacific Lumber’s land relayed their impressions, writing:

“I live at the end of (the) road in Fortuna. Maxxam’s Pacific Lumber logging trucks drive by our house six days a week now. (It has) never been like this in the past. Ordinarily, logging was five days a week in summer…

“From Newberg Road you can look up and see the damage they are doing to the badly eroding hills, now bare of third growth. They are logging third growth from their graveled road now. As the trucks come by, it is amazing to see how small their (logs are), like flagpoles.

“What will be the value of their property when all of the trees are gone? Are they trying to eliminate all other competition—L-P, Simpson, etc.—as their long-range goal?”[10]

Environmentalists expressed alarm and outrage at the sweeping and regressive changes that had been instituted now that Hurwitz had assumed control of Pacific Lumber. John DeWitt, executive director of Save the Redwoods League, the organization that had been instrumental in coaxing the Murphy Dynasty to adopt sustainable logging practices in the first place, expressed these fears stating, “We thought they practiced excellent forestry over the past 125 years and deplore the fact they’ll double the cut. It may result in the ultimate unemployment of those who work at Pacific Lumber.”

Redefining Green Anarchism - That Dreaded "I" Word

By Steve Ongerth - December 31, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The IWW (and green syndicalists) want to replace capitalism with "One Big (earth destroying) Factory", or so the story goes among some self-described radicals who would so quickly dismiss us.

To say the IWW has an I-dentity crises would be the mother of all understatements. For half a century, we Wobblies have struggled to disabuse people of the widely believed--though completely erroneous--notion that the "I" in "IWW" stands for "International". No, we're not the "International Workers of the World," we're the Industrial Workers of the World.

It would be a major digression to explain how the "International" mislabeling came about. We're not really certain even we know, and that is not actually the heart of the matter I wish to address. Thanks to recent scholarship and a spate of really good books about the One Big Union, perhaps resulting from the IWW's centenary in 2005, people are finally getting the actual "I-dentity" of our first initial right (finally). Of course, this carries with it a new set of I-dentity problems.

For many people, The word "industrial" conjures up images of a factory, with scenes from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle or other exposés of satanic mills vividly dominating those visions. Along with that notion, the horrors of Fordist factory regimentation of the worst sort enter their minds, and not without good reason.

As someone who actually worked in a factory (a steel processing warehouse in Fremont, California to be precise) albeit briefly (five months during the late spring and summer of 1997), I can attest to the veracity of what it's like to work in one of them. It's anything but paradise--though of course--I was working under capitalist economic conditions and the business union that allegedly "represented" me was a more than willing collaborator to them.

The machines were loud and dusty--not to mention greasy (lubricated with whale fat, no less!), the facility fraught with dangers, and the work rules stiffly regimented. Although there was a good deal of safety training (in fact we had weekly, hour-long meetings), it was still very much a death trap. No doubt the union, in this case, ILWU Local 6, had much to do with the token safety measures, but in spite of the union, the place was a deeply alienating work environment.

The minds of my fellow workers had been deeply and thoroughly colonized. Most of them were quite reactionary, and--being a male dominated work environment, deeply sexist and homophobic. They saw the union as an outside agency, and (rightfully) criticized it for its class collaborationism (if the myriad examples of graffiti decrying "Local Sux" evident throughout the grounds was any indication). However, such sentiments were no doubt welcomed or even tacitly encouraged by the bosses, and a year or two after I was "laid off" under somewhat questionable grounds, the union was busted when the facility relocated to Stockton, California.

One needn't work in a factory to understand it, though. During the post war boom, enough working class people did work in factories, and their stories have been passed on through family lore. If that isn't enough, there are plenty of accounts of what factory life is like. Consider, for example, Judi Bari's expose of working conditions in the Louisiana-Pacific sawmills of Mendocino County based on the first hand accounts of at least two mill workers.

When some hear that the "I" stands for "industrial", they immediately flash on such nightmare visions and assume that we Wobblies envision that the new society that we hope to build within the shell of the old will look like that! (horrors!!!)

How to Turn the "Red" States Deep Green

By Steve Ongerth - Truthout, November 6, 2004

The following piece was written in reaction to the results of the 2004 US Presidential Election. Originals of this article seem to have disappeared from their websites (Truthout, ZMag, and Indybay), so this piece is copied from Resilience (the links at the end of the article have been deleted, since many are defunct now, though many new organizations have taken their place in much greater ways. The graphic, right, shows that the predictions made in this article have indeed partially come true. The predicted political transformation is still taking shape.

I am no fan of electoral politics. I think casting a ballot is one of the weakest forms of democratic, libertarian, collective actions that people can use in a functional democracy. America, however, is not a functional democracy. It would take more time than I have at the moment to explain why in great detail. It is sufficient to point out that the powers that be, rich corporations and the US Government use the results of national elections to claim a mandate on their privilege to wage wars for oil and continue to concentrate wealth in the hands of the very rich whether they actually have one or not. Elections merely represent a one-dimensional snap shot of the minds of those casting ballots at best.

That said, there is no denying that the powers that be will (and have) read the results of the 2004 Presidential election as a legitimization of George W. Bush and his neo-conservative imperialist puppet masters. They will spin this "election" as a positive referendum on the so-called war on terror and the Iraq invasion even as the latter continues to grow increasingly untenable for the American occupation. And, the already out-of-control American Taliban, the Christian Right will take the results of this election as a sign that their tactics work and they will continue to turn back the clock on social progress, social justice, and rational thought. During the second Bush term we may well see the beginning steps of a full-fledged theocracy in America. This is very scary to think about.

Forget for a minute that this election may well have been stolen as well as the 2000 election. In fact, the signs are that the theft of the 2004 election were worse than the 2000 fraud. Even if we succeed in proving it, it's not likely to result in a special election, because, to my knowledge, that would require an act of Congress, and seeing as how the Congress is controlled by the Republicans, I don't foresee them voiding the results (though we should continue to fight that fight of course).

I think we need to look at the future. I think the left needs to be completely honest with itself. Even if Kerry did win the presidency, he is not a leftist nor would he do much (if anything) to fundamentally alter the course that Bush and his clowns have set for us. The only positive thing that could be said of John Kerry is that he probably couldn't have done any worse than Bush.

How do we embrace the future?

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