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intersectionality

A national coalition demands transit justice

By Kacie Harlan - Socialist Worker, February 14, 2018

JUST OVER 62 years ago, Rosa Parks defied Jim Crow segregation that consigned Black passengers to sit in the back of the bus. Her act of resistance spurred the African American community to organize the 381-day-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the most important events of the civil rights movement.

Half a century later, Park's civil disobedience has inspired a national coalition of labor, civil rights and environmental groups to organize Transit Equity Day.

According to the Labor Network for Sustainability, Transit Equity Day "is a collaborative effort of several organizations and unions to promote public transit as a civil right and a strategy to combat climate change." The coalition chose Parks' birthday of February 4 for the day of action, but observed it on February 5 this year since it was a weekday.

While the coalition is small and the day of action made few headlines, Transit Equity Day is a good first step toward a badly needed public transit movement in the U.S.

Going on Offense During Challenging Times

By Marilyn Sneiderman and Secky Fascione - New Labor Forum, December 2017; image by Brooke Anderson

Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG) campaigns are expanding and spreading across the country. These campaigns offer important lessons on how unions, racial justice organizations, and other community groups can go on offense and win in these challenging times. The upcoming Janus decision at the Supreme Court, which threatens the membership and financial base of public-sector unions, makes this all the more crucial. In essence, BCG campaigns are when union and community groups together leverage contract negotiations for broader, shared gains.

Far from being new, much of BCG builds on what have been essential elements of building the labor movement from its earliest inception. The “mixed assemblies” of the Knights of Labor (founded in 1869) acted as community of unions working in conjunction with the organization’s trade assemblies. Unions and community groups have been partners in bargaining, budget, and political fights for years. Labor’s greatest battles—from the sit-down strikes of the 1930s to the United Farm Workers strikes in the 1960s, to the Memphis sanitation workers (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees [AFSCME]) strikes—all depended on deep community support that also reflected the values and needs of the whole community.

More recently, Jobs with Justice was founded in 1987 with the vision of lifting up workers’ rights struggles as part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice, particularly in the face of growing attacks on the right to organize and bargain. In 1996, the AFL-CIO through its Department of Field Mobilization launched its Union Cities strategy, working with key Central Labor Councils to reimagine labor’s relationship with community groups. This work included mapping corporate power structures, developing and building an infrastructure for political work, increasing diversity in leadership and activists, and supporting organizing of unrepresented workers in local communities.

Digging a little deeper, however, it is clear that the history of too many labor–community alliances were transactional in nature: “Support us on this campaign and we will support or fund you in some way.” When in fact what went unrecognized are the unified values and needs of community and labor, what’s good for a group of workers is generally also what’s good for the community, and, conversely, organized labor can exercise muscle and leverage access to power for broader shared community interests.

BCG aims to avoid transactional relationships between community and labor by building lasting alignments between unions and community groups, not merely temporary alliances of convenience.

Labor and climate groups support Transit Equity Day

By Bill Onasch - Socialist Action, February 1, 2018

On Feb. 5, civil rights, trade union, student, church, and environmental activists in communities across North America will come together in a variety of events to call attention to a looming crisis in public transit.

The diversity of these groups indicates that they recognize not only the urgent need to save what we have but also the potential crucial role transit expansion can play in providing affordable transportation that is accessible to all, that can reduce traffic fatalities and congestion—and that can curtail greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.

But today, New York City’s subways—moving a record 5 million passengers a day—are on the verge of collapse, a major line is being shut down for renovation lasting for more than a year, and their buses aren’t doing much better. Washington, D.C., has neglected even routine maintenance, leading to accidents and delays on the Metro.

Transit-union contract negotiations remain highly contentious in Washington and Chicago. Some public agencies continue to contract work out to non-union penny-pinching private outfits who can do it cheaper only by providing inferior service and paying substandard wages. Washington, D.C., is moving to privatize the Red Line subway. More of the same—and even worse—are in store.

This is not the first crisis for transit. After setting record ridership numbers during World War II, when there was full employment, no new cars were being built, and tires and gasoline were rationed, the ruling class took America into a very different postwar development scheme. From the end of World War II on, highly subsidized urban sprawl promoted a massive exodus of residents and jobs to new suburban areas. The streetcar and bus lines in the urban cores did not follow them.

In many cases, such as in Los Angeles and Kansas City, consortiums of auto, oil, and tire companies became silent owners of transit properties. They dismantled their impressive electrified streetcar and trolley bus networks—which would require many billions to replicate today—replacing them with diesel buses produced by General Motors, as they steadily slashed service. One result in Los Angeles was the introduction of a new word to our vocabulary—smog. Out of sprawl an important new division in the working class soon emerged—either car dependent or transit dependent.

Because a high percentage of the transit-dependent population remaining in the depleted urban cores are African Americans, transit has often been on the agenda of the Civil Rights movement. The chosen date in February marks the birthday of the late Rosa Parks, who became famous for an act of civil disobedience that launched the well-planned boycott campaign to end racial segregation on Montgomery, Ala., buses in 1955. This pivotal action, initiated by Black trade unionists led by E.D. Nixon, is credited with launching the revival of the mass Civil Rights Movement in the South—and propelling Dr Martin Luther King into national prominence.

Women and Climate Change Impacts and Action in Canada: Feminist, Indigenous, and Intersectional Perspectives

Written and researched by Lewis Williams with Amber Fletcher, Cindy Hanson, Jackie Neapole and Marion Pollack - Work and Climate Change Report - February 2018

Climate change is unequivocally occurring across the globe, impacting the conditions, experiences, and livelihoods of communities in multiple ways.2 Between 1948 and 2007 temperatures in Canada increased at a rate approximately twice the global average.3 Accelerated rates of global warming and dramatically increased temperatures are expected to occur in parts of Canada well into the future.4 Yet, Canada remains one of the world’s biggest per capita carbon polluters5 and is falling far short of meeting climate mitigation goals under the Paris Agreement, an international agreement for meeting climate change mitigation and adaptation targets.

Emerging research on the gendered impacts of climate change in Canada demonstrates how climate change is exacerbating inequalities between women and men. Women’s lower incomes relative to men, their gendered roles and social statuses, and the ways in which these interact with changing environments and related policies and programs affect women’s experiences of climate change. Despite these inequities, gender considerations are remarkably absent in climate plans and policies across the country.

Climate change is largely the result of the tightly interwoven forces of colonialism, patriarchy, and neoliberal forms of development.9 These conditions are constraining women’s knowledge, expertise, and unique agencies in addressing what is probably the most defining issue of our age. Yet women, including Indigenous women, have significant roles to play in the articulation of feminist and Indigenous worldviews, and aligned climate action strategies.

Read the Report (PDF).

Why Redneck Revolt Says Deal With Racism First, Then Economics

By Zenobia Jeffries - Yes! Magazine, November 29, 2017

Moved by the need for control, for an unchallenged top tier, the power elite in American history has thrived by placating the vulnerable and creating for them a false sense of identification—denying real class differences where possible.
—Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

There is no shortage of media commentary discrediting “identity politics,” particularly the focus on Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, and immigrant communities calling for justice and equity. Economics is our real problem, a counter argument goes, not race, sex, gender, citizenship. But as author Nancy Isenberg points out in White Trash, “identity has always been a part of politics.”

Laws have been written to oppress and exploit particular identities—Native Americans, Black Americans, Asians, homosexuals, transgender, and women—in a successful effort to maintain a system of White supremacy. Yet, members of these communities have worked for the rights and equality of everyone. In turn, White allies have joined in these anti-racism fights.

The Redneck Revolt is one such organization. The self-described anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-fascist group challenges working-class White people to stand against White supremacy.

I recently talked to Brett, one of the members who heads up the network’s Southeast Michigan Chapter. (Because of hostilities toward the organization, Redneck Revolt members use only their first names publicly.) There are about 40 chapters nationwide. He explained why the group focuses on anti-racism rather than economics even though it seeks out white working-class and poor people in economically struggling rural areas.

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it

By Ali Tamlit - Red Pepper, October 26, 2017

Today is the 30th birthday of the opening of London City Airport – but there isn’t much to celebrate. Since the airport’s opening in 1987, carbon dioxide levels have increased from 351 parts per million (ppm), around a ‘safe’ level in terms of climate change, to a dangerously high 409 ppm this year.

Politically, discussions around sustainability and climate change were just getting started then, and there was hope that world leaders might find a solution for us. This was 5 years before the landmark 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Now, two years on from the 2015 Paris climate agreement – an agreement that on the surface sets an ambitious target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees – there is little sign of action from any government. Top NASA scientist James Hansen described it as ‘worthless words’ with ‘no action’.

While officials prevaricate, we are increasingly seeing the devastating effects of climate change in more frequent extreme weather events: think of Hurricane Irma which hit the Caribbean last month, or the extreme flooding in Bangladesh, which left a third of the country under water.

But a lot of other things have changed since 1987. Firstly, we’ve learned as people and as a movement that although these numbers matter – parts per million and degrees centigrade – that’s not what climate change is actually about. Very recently, thanks largely to the action at London City Airport by BLMUK, the narrative that the ‘climate crisis is a racist crisis’ has been thrust into the mainstream.

Although extreme weather events are increasing, it’s important to examine who is being affected and who is causing it. London City Airport was a perfect target to highlight this argument. The UK has emitted the most CO2 cumulatively per capita since the industrial revolution, has built its wealth on colonialism and now is one of the centres of global capitalism that continues to extract resources and wealth from countries in the global South. All of this while globally 7 out of 10 of the countries most affected by climate change are in sub-Saharan Africa.

An Injury to One is an Injury to All? U.S. Labour’s Divergent Reactions to Trump

By Jonathan Rosenblum - The Bullet, August 13, 2017

Arshiya Chime is a union member helping to rescue the world from climate change. Once she gets her doctorate degree later this year from the University of Washington, she will become a highly prized mechanical engineer, helping economies become less dependent on oil while protecting the environment and creating jobs. But Chime, a leader in her graduate student employees union, United Auto Workers Local 4121, is not welcome in Donald Trump’s vision of America. As an Iranian immigrant, she’s denied the right to freely travel. If Trump’s Muslim travel ban orders ultimately are upheld, Chime would probably have to take her expertise to another country, because U.S. firms won’t want to hire someone unable to work on foreign projects and attend international conferences.

Chime is not alone. About 30 per cent of her fellow graduate student employees at the University of Washington are international students, many of them from countries included in the Trump travel ban. When the White House announced the ban in late January, Chime’s union rallied with other labour groups, immigrant rights organizations, faith allies and political activists, staging impromptu airport mass marches and shutdowns. Chime and other UAW 4121 leaders mobilized public opinion[1] by speaking out at press conferences, organizing teach-ins, and by joining the lawsuit that ultimately blocked Trump’s ban.

Other union leaders, unfortunately, seem to have forgotten the picket line refrain, “an injury to one is an injury to all.” The same month, but a political galaxy away from the boisterous airport demonstrations, construction union leaders exited an Oval Office meeting to rave about the new president’s pledge to boost infrastructure spending. “We have a common bond with the president,” gushed Sean McGarvey, head of North America’s Building Trade Unions.[2] AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised Trump for talking up jobs in his first joint congressional address[3] and could barely manage a milquetoast riposte[4] to Trump’s xenophobic attacks on people like Arshiya Chime.

Digging Free of Poverty

By Thea Riofrancos - Jacobin, August 15, 2017

On March 8, 2012, a few hundred marchers set out from Pangui, Ecuador, a town in the southeastern Amazon, near the construction site of the massive, open-pit Mirador Mine. Just days earlier, a consortium of Chinese state-owned companies had signed a contract to exploit the mine’s copper reserves, the first agreement of its kind in the country’s history.

The demonstrators zigzagged through the southern Andes, where more mines are planned throughout the highland wetlands, which supply water to rural farmers and urban consumers. Reinforcements from the northern Amazon joined the march along the way, intentionally traversing the route of crude oil that has for decades flowed through notoriously faulty pipelines. After a seven-hundred-kilometer trek, on foot and in unwieldy caravans, the two-week long March for Water, Life, and the Dignity of Peoples reached its end in Quito, where the state coffers, voters, and armed forces form the complex of economic incentives, democratic legitimacy, and military repression that activists contend keeps the country’s extractive model in motion.

In their words and imagery, marchers proposed an alternative model: a post-extractive vision in which the polity was not a machine that ran on fossil fuels but a plural collectivity of cultures and ecosystems.

By the time they arrived in the capital city, their numbers had swelled to twenty-five thousand.

Confronting the Whiteness of Environmentalism

By Rachel Levelle - 350.org PDX, June 29, 2017

Climate Justice means hard work.

It’s tempting to assign labels or catchphrases to movements. The concept of climate justice or environmental justice has caught massive traction in organizing groups, but as easy as it is to put on a banner, it’s even easier to lose sight of what it really means.

Growing up in Beaverton, it was very easy for me to view climate change as solely a crisis of nature. It never occurred to me that the burden of the crisis was being shouldered unevenly. I heard about the polar ice caps melting and polar bears dying, but not about the Pacific Islander and seaside communities that were losing their homes at the same time. People like the workers at fossil fuel plants that need a steady paycheck, indigenous communities whose land is poisoned by oil, and low-income communities neighboring train tracks or dumping sites are not responsible for climate change or harm to environment. Yet, when coal trains derailing, toxic waste dumps, pipelines, and horrific factory conditions are talked about, plants and animals receive empathy while the people affected by these tragedies are too often ignored by the climate and environmental movements.

Repeatedly, environmental crises are viewed in isolation from issues like economic and racial justice by mainstream organizers and media. But the links of whose health and safety are valued and whose are disposable are deeply tied to these problems. Would corporations have the power to dump however much toxic waste and garbage they wanted if those sites were in predominantly white, middle-upper class neighborhoods? If affluent white communities were dependent on the health of the oceans and rivers for daily survival, would the response to pollution be so moderate? The answer is, unfortunately, seen in movements such as “Not In My Backyard” and in the decision to move the Dakota Access Pipeline onto Lakota and Dakota land. When projects are based in wealthier, white neighborhoods, they’re shut down rapidly.

As I began organizing during college, I realized this wasn’t because only these neighborhoods were protesting the developments. It was that these people were given legitimacy and a platform because of their identities. I could explain here the roots and causes of environmental injustice, but there are many who have done it better than I could (see the links below!). But simply stated, the effects come from the toxic combinations of capitalism and white supremacy.

Again and again in organizing, I’ve encountered an mindset among white organizers that people of color and poor folks aren’t fighting climate change. Often it is done with a sort of sympathetic, condescending tilt. When predominantly white environmental groups are asked why their campaigns aren’t drawing the power of more peoples to speak on their own behalf, there are some common responses: people of color are too busy organizing against racism, or lower-income communities are occupied with organizing for fair wages and better housing… or earning a wage.

And yet, very term “environmental justice” was coined by poor, black, rural organizers in the 1980’s. People like Reverend Leon White, Reverend Ben Chavis, and Reverend Joseph Lowery fought in Warren County against a toxic landfill being placed in their town. Environmental justice isn’t a free-floating term. It had been used by Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian, and Pacific-Islander organizers to rebel against exploitative, unsustainable farming practices, fossil fuel plants, toxic waste dumps, destruction of natural landscapes they call home, and more. The harsh truth is, though, that these communities have been organizing against environmental degradation from the beginning—white environmentalists just didn’t notice because the campaign message wasn’t flagged as pro-environment.

Here’s the crux of the issue. Any solution, yes, ANY solution that remedies environmental injustice, and that does not center people of color and lower-income people in both formation and implementation is incomplete. Read that sentence again, and remember it. Because these false solutions fail to defend those most affected by climate change. There are issues and solutions that middle class, white organizers frankly cannot recognize and know the solutions to by themselves, because the problems aren’t theirs.

I’m not going to pretend I’m an authority on what this work entails or have unlearned all the internalized classism, misogyny, or whiteness (given that I am multiracial, I too have a lot of whiteness I need to acknowledge!) that interferes with me being able to do this work well. But that’s just it—none of us are ever done. We have to constantly be analyzing what platforms we might be taking from those who have been historically silenced. White people must acknowledge that their thought processes and false objectivity have been informed by whiteness and realize that they simply cannot have all the answers. They must become accept the tension in confronting their own biases, complacency, and role in allowing white supremacy to continue in the Pacific Northwest.

What is whiteness, and how is it different than having white skin, or than acting with white supremacist tendencies? Challenge the excuses that pop into your head to avoid the topic, and check out some of the resources below, that also show up on the environmental justice resources page. It’s really not that bad. 

Climate Movement to May Day Strikers: "We've Got Your Back"

By Deirdre Fulton - Common Dreams, April 27, 2017

Just as labor leaders are standing firmly behind this Saturday's national climate mobilization, the environmental movement has declared its support for workers who plan to strike as part of Monday's May Day demonstrations.

May 1st, International Workers Day, will see rallies, marches, and strikes around the country and the world; in the United States, acts of civil disobedience, work stoppages, and boycotts will target the Trump administration and support immigrants who have experienced an increase in raids and racist rhetoric since the election of President Donald Trump.

"May 1st is the first step in a series of strikes and boycotts that will change the conversation on immigration in the United States," said Maria Fernanda Cabello, a spokesperson from Movimiento Cosecha, which is part of a coalition organizing the actions. "We believe that when the country recognizes it depends on immigrant labor to function, we will win permanent protection from deportation for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, the right to travel freely to visit our loved ones abroad, and the right to be treated with dignity and respect."

An open letter signed this week by more than 80 environmental and climate justice groups recognizes that these demands and those of green groups have many points of intersection. 

"Today, workers face unprecedented attacks on wages, benefits, workplace safety, and the right to organize free from fear and retaliation," reads the letter, whose signatories include 350.org, Greenpeace, Rising Tide North America, and the Sierra Club. "But we know that we are all stronger when workers in our communities have safe, fair, and dignified employment with which they can support their families without fear of deportation or violence."

What's more, the letter continues:

The effects of our fossil fuel economy fall first and worst on working class communities, communities of color, immigrants, and Indigenous peoples who have not only contributed the least to climate disruption, but have the least resources to shoulder the burden of a transition to a new, climate-friendly economy. It is these frontline communities who are also at the forefront of change and whose solutions and leadership we most need.

[...] As environmental and climate justice organizations, we support workers who choose to walk off their jobs on May 1st because we know that the fight to protect land, water, air and soil is inseparable from the fight to protect the life and dignity of workers, migrants, and communities of color.

This language dovetails with that of Mary Kay Henry, international president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who declared Wednesday, "Every day SEIU members and our communities experience the impact of toxic pollution in our air and water and the catastrophic impacts from climate change that are made worse from this pollution."

Of Saturday's Peoples Climate March, Henry said: "We march because we are on the frontlines. As working people, people of color, and immigrants, we march because our families are disproportionately hardest hit by pollution and climate change's impacts. We march because as service and care workers we are on the frontlines of caring for and responding to impacted families and communities."

The letter from eco- and climate-justice groups calls on employers not to retaliate against workers who choose to go on strike, and pledges to defend workers who face retaliation.

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