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Earth Day

Earth Day, Labor, and Me

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 21, 2021

The approach of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 provides us an opportunity to reflect on the “long, strange trip” shared by the environmental movement and the labor movement over four decades here on Spaceship Earth.

A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world. But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!”

Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO. Walter Ruther, President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2000 to help kick the effort off ““ to be followed by much more. Hayes recalls:

“The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial. It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars. Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence. And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut.”

Some people may be surprised to learn that a labor union played such a significant role in the emergence of the modern environmental movement. When they think of organized labor, they think of things like support for coal and nuclear power plants and opposition to auto emissions standards.

When it comes to the environment, organized labor has two hearts beating within a single breast. On the one hand, the millions of union members are people and citizens like everybody else, threatened by air and water pollution, dependent of fossil fuels, and threatened by the devastating consequences of climate change. On the other hand, unions are responsible for protecting the jobs of their members, and efforts to protect the environment sometimes may threaten workers’ jobs. First as a working class kid and then as a labor official, I’ve been dealing with the two sides of this question my whole life.

Bristol Earth Strike: Action for Earth Day

By Earth Strike UK - Bristol Earth Strike, April 21, 2021

What is Earth Day?

Earth Day was started on 22nd April 1970 and has continued annually since then. Each year, on 22nd April, a wide range of events take place globally with the aims of enacting transformative changes to tackle environmental crises and build a sustainable future.

Why is this important?

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned us that we must cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, and reach carbon neutrality by 2050, or we risk the planet heating beyond 1.5 degrees. If we fail to curb our carbon emissions and the average global temperature continues to increase, we risk triggering a climate breakdown that we will have no hope of stopping, causing global devastation.

Despite this stark warning by the scientific community, many governments and employers continue to act as if there were no crisis at all.

To bring about the change needed will require holding all sectors of the global economy accountable for their role in the environmental crisis and calling for bold, creative, and impactful solutions. This will require action at all levels, and we as workers have a part to play in ensuring a global just transition, the sustainability of our workplaces, and the compliance of our industries with scientific climate targets.

Regardless of how important you feel the Climate and Ecological emergency is, changes to the economy to address these issues are already happening. We feel it is important that Workers are fully involved in how these changes happen so that they can secure the rights and livelihoods of themselves and future generations.

Statement by IWW Secretary, Russ Spring - Union calls for an end to the growing economy and the transformation of industry

Statement by IWW DEC Secretary, Russ Spring - Bristol IWW EUC, April 22, 2019

Statement delivered to Bristol IWW EUC, to be announced in solidarity with the Earth Strike climate protest on April 27th, 2019: https://www.facebook.com/events/777567979287005/

Regarding the passing of the IWW’s new environmental policy, calling for an end to the growing economy and the transformation of harmful industry.

“The threat of extinction is a very loud wake up call. Not just a wake up call to the needs of the planet but also a wake up call to the need for system change. Urgent and seismic action is needed for the immediate future and the long term survival of our planet.

The changes that are required are so substantial that capitalism cannot deliver them. System change not climate change is one of the placards and chants of the schools strikes.

That is largely due to the fact that it is a world driven by greed, self interest in the pursuit of private wealth, profit and privilege, that has brought us to the brink of extinction.

The best that a green capitalism can offer is a temporary truce in its war on the planet, before its insatiable appetite for more will push us again to the edge of catastrophe.

The terms of struggle have changed from the desire for a fairer world to the necessity of a fairer world and one that puts ecology before economy.

We are living at the most important time in human history. It is the time when the reality and consequences of human activity is laid bear like never before.

And whilst we are staring oblivion full in the face it is also a great time of possibility. A time for us to have the most radical shake up of our economics our culture and our relationships with each other and of course our planet.

BUT it is our last chance... screw this up and ...well it doesn't bear thinking about.

The climate change emergency is creating a vacuum throwing old politics to the sides and it is important that progressive ideas and actions fill that vacuum.

The small minded bigots of the right wing are already talking about the need to curb populations in Africa and Asia and pointing to other world economies such as China as the problem. We can expect to see climate change being used more and more to fuel racism, xenophobia and nationalism and the ideas of green fascism.

The school strikes, the XR occupations in London and events like this are a start but we must dramatically increase our efforts.

We must start to frame a clear vision of the future that we and the planet demand.

Sadly many on the left have dismissed ecological concerns in the past. Seeing environmental degradation as an inevitable consequence of the sacred cow of progress and the creation of jobs...at any cost.

All political parties, both mainstream and those on the fringes, are locked into the growing economy, standards of living and the right to consumption. The trade union movement following suit.

Quality of life, community and ecology have long been shoved off the agenda.

The question is does the left have the ability to heed the wake up call and adapt or are they due for extinction.

So the IWW, has since the 80s had in its constitution, sadly somewhat neglected, a line that says that we aim to build a world in which we can live in harmony with the planet.

We have now given new life to that desire by passing a long overdue environmental policy that calls for; an end to the growing economy and the transformation of harmful industries.

I think we will be the first trade union to do so. But we also commit that the IWW should seek to be a radical influence in politics and environmental debate and in particular the trade union movement which can be very protective of the most damaging industries.

So we aim to try and influence the trade unions that still have over 6million members.

We also acknowledge that this is not a time for political dogma. It is a time of political pragmatism.

So whilst we will keep our revolutionary aims we will work to bring about reforms to slow down climate change ….. by any means necessary.

The battle is on, and time is short. We need to be bold and draw on all our creative energies to bring about change in our individual lives but most importantly system change.

The time for squabbling among ourselves is over.

Lets get angry lets get passionate and direct it at those that are responsible.

Chapter 34 : We’ll Have an Earth Night Action

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

Now Earth Day 1990 was Dennis Hayes’ vision,
But instead of bringing us together it only caused division,
He said turn down your thermostat and recycle toilet paper,
And as long as they contribute don’t confront the corporate rapers.

—lyrics excerpted from Earth Night Action, by Darryl Cherney and Mike Roselle, 1990.

Amidst all of that was going on behind the Redwood Curtain, and the timber wars which were now raging nationally, the 20th anniversary of Earth Day was fast approaching, and even that was full of controversy. The hullabaloo wasn’t over the hype building over the twentieth Earth Day, but rather the growing corporate and state influence over the planning of the events commemorating it. Instead of rallies, demonstrations, speeches, and teach-ins addressing the increasing threats to the environment, in particular by the increasingly destructive evolution of capitalism, the day was shaping up to be a collection of “innocuous ‘feel-good’ festivals” designed by the corporations to “put a shine on the tarnished images of this planet’s despoilers.” The very “earth-raping” corporations whose records were most deserving of criticism had their hands on the purse strings. Worse still, control over organizing the events had been placed in the hands of the local city and county governments. In municipalities and counties where resource extraction or land speculation funded the campaigns of local politicians, there would be every incentive to soften criticism of such activities. As Earth First!er Jeffrey St. Clair put it, “If your issue is growth, how cleanly can you articulate that when the very people you’re fighting are sitting on the planning committee?” The foxes were once again seizing control of the henhouse. In city after city, corporate influence was “green-washing” the event, and some of the worst offenders were the timber corporations clearcutting on California’s North Coast. [1]

Capital Blight: Who’re You Calling “Immigrant”, Pilgrim?

By x344543, May 5, 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.

A recent article on thinkprogress.org details a jingoist anti-immigration group’s efforts to wrap itself in a green cloak and (once again) obfuscate the real cause of environmental destruction. The (inaccurately named) organization in question, “Californians for Population Stabilization” (CAPS) attempted to use Earth Day (April 22) to argue that the primary cause of ecological destruction is immigration (read: an influx of poor brown skinned people from south of the US-Mexican border, naturally).

This tired old dog has been asked to hunt so many times, it’s hard to see how anyone could imagine that it can, but sure as I write these words, there it is.

I’ll admit that this is a bit of a trigger for me. I am, by any standards you could imagine, the descendents of varying strains of white, central European and Mediterranean immigrants of several generations back (five or six in most cases), but my ancestors (Jews, Irish, and Hungarians) suffered greatly at the hands of more dominant empires among those regions, so perhaps it has imbued me with a stronger sense of empathy for the downtrodden peoples in what currently constitutes “America”. I don’t take too kindly to insulting racist propaganda—even if it tries to fly a green flag, and CAPS certainly fits that description.

Earth Day, Labor, and Me

By Joe Uehlein - Znet, April 19, 2010

The approach of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 provides us an opportunity to reflect on the “long, strange trip” shared by the environmental movement and the labor movement over four decades here on Spaceship Earth. 

A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world.  But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!”

Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO.  Walter Ruther, President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2000 to help kick the effort off – to be followed by much more.  Hayes recalls:

"The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial.  It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars.  Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence.  And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut."

Some people may be surprised to learn that a labor union played such a significant role in the emergence of the modern environmental movement.  When they think of organized labor, they think of things like support for coal and nuclear power plants and opposition to auto emissions standards.

The Fine Print I:

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The Fine Print II:

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