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Green Bans: How Building Workers Saved Sydney

By Neale Towart - Working Life, June 10, 2015

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 worldwide movement to put the environment at the centre of politics was given a huge push in the early-1970s by the actions of a most unlikely group – the NSW Builders’ Labourers’ Federation.

‘Green Bans’ was the term BLF secretary Jack Mundey gave to the actions of the workers in combination with residents in Sydney and elsewhere to challenge the prevailing ethos of development for development’s sake, at any cost to the environment or communities.

The first Green Ban, on Kelly’s Bush in Hunters Hill, set the agenda.

The suburb was and is a wealthy one. The developer AV Jennings was keen to turn the bushland into flats at great profit. The local residents opposed and opposed in every way they could, using the established forms of democratic action, all to no avail.

One of the ‘Battlers for Kelly’s Bush’ Christina Dawson put it well: “being politically naïve, [we]”. . . had infinite faith in the democratic process”.

Replace Hazelwood Primer

By David Spratt - Climate Action Moreland, June 2015

Hazelwood Power Station (HPS) was built between 1964 and 1971, and comprises 1542 megawatt (MW) of capacity over eight generators. It was privatised by the Victorian Liberal Party Kennett government in 1996 for $2.35 billion.If HPS had stayed in public hands, it would likely have been decommissioned in 2005, but in 2004 the Bracks Labor government extended its operations till 2031, allowing Hazelwood to move a road and a river to access 43 million tonnes of brown coal deposits in a realignment of the mining licence boundaries. The owners have a 30-year mining licence due for renewal in 2026.HPS and the land on which it operates are owned by the Hazelwood Power Partnership. Since 7 June 2013, the four partners have been subsidiaries of International Power (Australia) Holdings Pty Ltd. This company is in turn jointly owned by subsidiaries of Engie (formerly GDF Suez SA) (72 per cent ownership) and Mitsui & Co Ltd (28 per cent ownership). Engie is a global energy company with corporate headquarters in France. Mitsui & Co Ltd is a global trading company with corporate headquarters in Japan.Currently HPS produces more than 10,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of energy annually and is supplied with up to 18 million tonnes of coal each year from the adjacent Hazelwood mine, releasing around 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually. Today HPS provides approximately 21 per cent of Victoria’s baseline electricity supply.

The Victorian Government has expressed a desire (though it does not yet have a policy) for a significant expansion of renewable energy in Victoria. This has widespread community support and must be done quickly and at a large scale because climate change is already dangerous. Scientists warn that two degrees Celsius of warming could occur in just two decades, so preserving a safe climate and a healthy future requires rapid de-carbonisation.

Expanding renewable energy requires coal-generating capacity to be removed from the market because oversupply is crowding out and preventing new investment. The Australian energy market operator says there are about eight gigawatts of surplus generating capacity across the national market, equivalent to five Hazelwood power stations. This includes up to 2.2 gigawatts of brown coal generation that is no longer required in Victoria in 2015, which is greater than Hazelwood’s capacity. Power companies have been lobbying government for capacity to be reduced, and senior Victorian energy department bureaucrats are aware of the need to close coal power stations in order to roll out renewables.

The Victorian Government has committed to being a leader on climate change. Closing down excess coal generation is a key test of the government’s climate credentials. Coal-fired power stations are the world’s largest source of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions. Victoria cannot make the necessary emissions reductions without addressing the operations of Hazelwood and/or Yallourn power stations.

Hazelwood power station is old, unsafe and dirty. Based on emissions intensity, it is the third-dirtiest coal power station in the world and the dirtiest in Australia, releasing around 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually, almost three per cent of total Australian greenhouse emissions. The Hazelwood majority owner, Engie (formerly GDF Suez), owns the third-most polluting coal-power station fleet in the world. The full – health and carbon pollution – social costs of Hazelwood totalling $900 million per year are borne by the community, rather than the plant’s owners.

A steady stream of local jobs can be created in the Latrobe Valley with the rehabilitation of mines and decommissioning of plant, which will require a significant workforce stretching well over a decade. The Latrobe Valley needs a strong jobs package and an economic transition plan and new industries because the move from coal to clean wind and solar renewable energy is now both urgent and inevitable.

Hazelwood power station and mine are a health hazard to local residents, exemplified by the autumn 2014 mine fire. The owners of Hazelwood have abused their social licence and forfeited the right to profit from a power station that is now a major health hazard – both to local people and to all peoples who face the uncertainties of living in a hotter and more extreme climate.

In July 2010, the Victorian Labor government promised to start shutting Hazelwood and passed climate legislation providing the reserve power to regulate emissions from existing brown coal-fired generators. Restoring the government’s capacity to regulate emissions would be complementary to actions being taken by other governments, including in the United States and Europe.

Read the report (PDF).

Woman sacked for having a Coal Dust Free Brisbane sign in her car – what next in Queensland?

By Kate Dennehy - Lock the Gate Alliance, August 26, 2014

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.

10636594_741023029303100_2869331995961584311_o.jpgThings are seriously wrong in a state that allows a hard-working woman to be sacked for having a Coal Dust Free Brisbane sign in her car. But that’s happened to Wynnum West resident, Kym Garrick who was sacked from her security officer job at the Port of Brisbane.

Ms Garrick’s sign from the Clean Air Queensland (CAQ ) group says: “Coal Dust Free Brisbane. No extra coal trains. Lids on wagons. Cover stockpiles.”

She lives on the train line along which 150,000 uncovered coal train wagons pass every year travelling through Brisbane suburbs to the port near Wynnum.

“I had the sign in the car because of all the problems we have with coal dust and coal train noise living so close to the line,” she said. “My washing gets coal dust all over it, I and my animals must be breathing in the dust and I had to install water tanks because I need so much water to wash down my yard and vegetable garden.”

Her termination letter, issued on August 6 on Corporate Protection Australia Group letterhead, stated that her employment contract with the Port of Brisbane “has been terminated, effective immediately” because she refused to remove the sign from her car.

Apparently the Port of Brisbane is claiming the sign made Ms Garrick ‘a security risk’.

MUA threatens Gorgon supplies after Chevron launches lawsuit

Staff Report - abc.net.au, August 16, 2014

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 Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has threatened to disrupt supplies to the multi-billion-dollar Gorgon gas project in Western Australia's Pilbara over a legal suit mounted by Chevron.

Chevron has lodged a Federal Court damages claim for $20 million against the WA branch of the MUA over strike action in 2012.

The company has blamed the union for cost blowouts at its Gorgon gas project on Barrow Island, off the WA coast.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin has told the International Transport Worker's Federation congress in Bulgaria that the island could be declared a "port of convenience" if the union is excluded from it.

The union reportedly applies a "port of convenience" designation where health and safety standards or working conditions are below those considered acceptable by international transport unions.

This would lead to unions disrupting supplies for the Gorgon project.

In comments reported by Workplace Express, Mr Crumlin claimed Chevron was suing the MUA because workers on the job were ensuring occupational health and safety standards were met.

"Employers need to clearly decide whether they want to work with unions - and we'll be there - or against unions - and we'll be there as well," he reportedly said.

Chevron and the MUA declined to comment.

If You Don’t Know Where Minegolia is Now, You Will Soon

By Andrew Casey - Working Life, February 13, 2014

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.

AUSTRALIAN unions will lead a new global push against the big Australia-based multinational Rio Tinto with a focus on the mining giant’s poor behaviour in its worldwide activities.

Rio operates in 40 countries with more than 70,000 employees and is worth about $60 billion.

But the new global union campaign will put the spotlight on the bad behaviour of Rio Tinto in two key countries – Mongolia and Madagascar.

Global union campaigns are spreading.  Workers and their unions banding together to campaign as one, in a common fight against the same boss – whether they work in Sydney, Jakarta, Ulan Bator, Cape Town, Budapest, London, New York or Sao Paulo.

The aim?  To win global union agreements where multinationals:

•   accept and respect union organising;
•   maintain minimum global labour standards; and
•   agree to a fair collective agreement process.

After protests in South Africa last week mining unions expect to bring rallies to the streets of London and Melbourne in April and May this year – and onto the floor of Rio Tinto’s shareholders annual general meetings.

Australia in the badlands of resource investment

In Mongolia, Rio Tinto is the dominant mining giant – in a mineral-rich nation widely known in the resource world, only half jokingly, as Minegolia.

Minegolia is also the ‘badlands’ of resource investment.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative  reports that Rio Tinto’s big Oyu Tolgoi project will supply one third of Mongolia’s GDP by 2020. Ongoing disputes about the profit split between the government and Rio has hurt the jobs of Mongolians – thousands of whom were sacked last year.

Anger over misbehaviour of resource companies sees foreigners regularly entangled in an opaque legal system, used by populist politicians to assuage local anger.

Minegolia should be of special interest to Australians. We play a big role in foreign investment in this small nation stuck between the giants of Russia and China.

The poor behaviour of Rio Tinto, as well as other Australian resource companies, has given Australia a bad reputation, particularly among ordinary Mongolians.

Human rights organisations have in the past called on the Australian government to monitor Australian investors, to ensure they do not harm Mongolia’s local communities. As many of the world’s mining giants call Australia home, Oxfam Australia has also been a vocal critic.

Now, after a two-year lead up period to allow for corporate investment research, mapping of potential allies and the development of an effective strategy IndustriALL Global Union – representing more than 50 million workers – is ready to join the battle

Green Unionism in Theory and Practice

By Dan Jakopovich - Synthesis/Regeneration 43 (Spring 2007)

A new current in the global anti-capitalist movement has begun to develop in the last few decades. Rather than unfolding into a cohesive, self-assured and well received movement, it has largely existed on theoretical and practical margins, thwarted by dogmatic party-political, “affinity group” and NGO dominance, yet periodically reappearing as the “star of the day” wherever favorable socio-economic conditions or visionary initiatives gave it the broad attention and determination it needed to flourish.

The biggest hope for the greening of the labor movement lies in the revival of this decentralized, grassroots unionism. The parochialism, corruptibility and ingrained authoritarianism of the union officialdom have been shown time and time again, and only a bottom-up, rank-and-file approach to union work can seriously aid environmental protection and wider social change.

A basic tenet of green unionism is that labor struggles and ecological struggles are not necessarily separate, but have a potential to be mutually reinforcing. The basis for a working relationship between differing strands is the unity-in-diversity approach to organizing a mutually respectful and supportive alliance.

Especially since the late 60s and early 70s, partly as a response to working-class deradicalization and often an integration of traditional “workers’ organizations” — statist, bureaucratic political parties and business unions — there has been a massive practical and theoretical retreat from questions of class and especially class struggle, particularly in the “new social movements” which have gained in popularity after the second world war.

With the onset of neoliberal globalization, there has been a reversal to previously held positions, decomposition of people’s political “representation” (especially in social-democratic parties), a deterioration of workers’ rights and living conditions. A six-hour working day even seemed more plausible at the beginning of the 20th century (and indeed, some called for its implementation) than it does today.

Parallel to the de facto progressive deterioration of working conditions, depoliticization of the workplace has also continued, along with a general activist culture largely still hostile to labor issues (although this has partly been changing recently, especially due to the “new organizing model” exemplified by the Justice for Janitors campaign).

A dynamic understanding of people as workers and workers as activists is missing. For several decades now, there has occurred a shift of the concept of oppression from production relations (as the material basis for exploitation) to consumption, especially among many mainstream Greens who would have us confined to our roles as consumers, where we are inherently relatively powerless and almost always disorganized. This approach, as commonly understood and implemented, produces an individualistic and moralistic substitute for sustained political activity.

It is important to recognize the central importance of class and the revolutionary implications of class struggle at the point of production. People are in their materially most powerful role as producers of goods and services, capable of withholding labor, and also democratically taking over the means of production and distribution.

It is the material conditions of life which restrict and deform peoples’ humanity; therefore the struggle against those conditions also has to be concrete:

The constitution of new identities as expressive human beings in transcendence of alienated class identities implies a successful struggle over the very structures of domination, regimentation, hierarchy and discipline which exist concretely within the workplace. One cannot assume that the job site will simply wither away with the flowering of a new identity. [1]

Murray Bookchin discards the syndicalist strategy as narrow economism [2], and while it is true that the syndicalist movement has in fact often been guilty of “cultural workerism,” productivism and the idealization of the working class and its role in society, especially in the past, this has been widely challenged in and by the movement itself, and is only a secondary tendency now.

Not believing in the future of the workplace as an arena of political and social change, Bookchin calls instead for a sole focus on the “community” (as though communities exist without workplaces or classes). When talking about his libertarian municipalism, Bookchin conveniently forgets it is precisely the syndicalists who have the strongest and most successful tradition of community organizing among all explicitly libertarian currents and wider. [3]

However, democratic unionism from below is not inconsistent with the conversion to a bioregional structure consisting of self-governing, socialized units of producers and consumers, and in a system of production for need, not profit, rank-and-file unions might be able to provide the necessary councilist infrastructure necessary for decentralized decision-making and distribution, at least in the transitional period.

Green syndicalists insist that overcoming ecological devastation depends on shared responsibilities towards developing convivial ways of living in which relations of affinity, both within our own species and with other species, are nurtured (See Bari, 2001). They envision, for example, an association of workers committed to the dismantling of the factory system, its work discipline, hierarchies and regimentation — all of the things which Bookchin identifies (Kaufmann and Ditz, 1992; Purchase, 1994; 1997b). This involves both an actual destruction of some factories and their conversion towards “soft” forms of small, local production. [4]

Building the new society in the shell of the old entails changing who controls production, what is produced and how it is produced. This can be achieved only through democratizing the workplaces and empowering the communities. “The questions of ownership and control of the earth are nothing if not questions of class.” [5]

Video: ROCKING THE FOUNDATIONS - A HISTORY OF THE GREEN BANS MOVEMENT

Documentary Film - 1985

For the full documentary, please visit this page (YouTube).

The film "Rocking the Foundations" is about the Builders Labourers' Federation of Australia who fought victoriously for their rights as a union, the rights of indigenous people, against gentrification, and in defense of the environment. They did this by performing the first of what are now known as the "green bans" or an environmental strike.

Green Bans: Worker Control and the Urban Environment

By Mark Haskell - Industrial Relations, May 1977

Australian trade unions, have long made effective use of the “black ban,” that is, the tactic of boycotting employers and others in order to improve wages or working conditions or to implement political goals. During the Indonesian struggle for independence shortly after World War II, longshoremen placed bans on shipments to and from the Netherlands, More recently arms shipments to South Vietnam were boycotted and an Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) black ban was imposed on French shipping to protest nuclear weapons testing in the South Pacific.

In 1971, the black ban was transposed into the “green ban” when the New South Wales branch of the Builder’s Labourers Federation (BLF) agreed to boycott a construction project in Hunter’s hill, an upper-middle class area on the Paramatta River, an arm of Sydney Harbor. In September 1970, residents of that area had organized to oppose the construction of 25 luxury homes in Kelly’s Bush, an eight-acre bushland tract which had been preserved in its natural state. The tract had been zoned as “residential” just one year earlier despite widespread community opposition. After unsuccessful attempts to interest the state in purchasing the land for recreational purposes, the newly organized group, the “Battlers for Kelly’s Bush,” approached the New South Wales BLF to request that they not work on the construction site. Construction was halted and, despite the subsequent demise of the New South Wales branch in 1975, this green ban remains in force.

Thus emerged an unlikely collaboration between community groups struggling against drastic neighborhood changes and traditionally job oriented trade unionists - a merger which has often been labeled “unique” and may, in fact, have been the product of a special set of circumstances. On the other hand, the green bans do have the possibility of becoming an example for others. This paper is an attempt to analyze this movement for the purpose of providing an explanation for its appearance at a particular time and place. Part of that explanation may lie in the nature of the union which was most heavily involved, i.e., in the characteristics of its leaders, its members, and the way in which the union’s affairs were managed. Hence, the line of questioning will focus on the New South Wales BLF-i.e. why this union adopted this unconventional tactic to achieve this unconventional goal.

Read the entire document (PDF File).

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