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capital blight

Are Refinery Workers Climate Enemies?

By an anonymous ex-member of the IWW (with a response by Steve Ongerth) - ecology.iww.org, April 28, 2022

Editor's Note: Since Monday, March 21, 2022, the workers at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, members of the United Steelworkers Local 5 have been on strike and picketing the facility after voting down the company’s latest contract offer, which workers say contained insufficient wage increases and demanded cuts in union staffing that focused on health and safety in the refinery. The bosses have responded by bringing in scabs (including managers from other Chevron facilities). Meanwhile, USW Local 5 members have been picketing the refinery 24-7, and have been, at times, joined by members of the local BIPOC and/or environmental justice community. After IWW EUC cofounder and long-time Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch member, Steve Ongerth, brought a call for solidarity with the striking workers to the April branch meeeting, a disgruntled member (who has since resigned from the organization), sent the following letter to the branch (name deleted for privacy reasons).

Message from a Disgruntled (former) Member:

I’m sorry to say how disappointed I am in the IWW. I’m a relatively new wobbly and although I believe in standing in solidarity with fellow workers it seems at some point lines must be drawn.

As I’ve read through these last emails about the USW Local 5 and the call to action for us to stand with them as they strike, many questions come to mind. The first one is what if fellow climate activists, many of whom are wobblies were to implement a protest blockade to stall production of this refinery in defense of the environment? I wonder if those refinery workers with whom we are picketing would come outside and join our protest line? I also wonder if they would be interested in the invitation to join the 2022 Global Climate Strike that you forwarded to us? In both cases I assume it is reasonable to conclude they would not.

As wobblies, where do we draw the line? What if oil pipeline workers go to strike for hazard pay because a tribal nation, whose land the pipeline is planned to cross blocks safe access to thier jobsite in protest of the poisoning of thier waterways? Would the IWW Environmental Caucus also put a call out to picket with those Union workers? We draw the line when it comes to police unions who’s membership is hellbent on beating and imprisoning people protesting civil injustices. Why are we supporting refinery workers? This makes no sense. Iunderstand that just about every industry is to some degree tainted with These workers primary job is to process and prepare for market the product that’s catapulted us into the current global warming apocalyptic meltdown!

Green Unionism on the Chevron Richmond Refinery Workers Picket Line

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, April 15, 2022

Since Monday, March 21, 2022, the workers at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, members of the United Steelworkers Local 5 have been on strike and picketing the facility after voting down the company’s latest contract offer, which workers say contained insufficient wage increases. The bosses have responded by bringing in scabs (including managers from other Chevron facilities). The strike has gotten a good deal of media coverage:

However, the capitalist (and progressive) media have mostly missed some important details.

First of all, the striking refinery workers and their elected union leaders continue to emphasize that their issues extend beyond narrow bread and butter issues, such as wages and benefits. A major concern that they continue to articulate is that Chevron continues to try and cut unionized safety jobs and refuses to hire sufficient workers to safely and adequately staff the facility. Workers have complained of 12-hour days and six-day workweeks. All of these deficiencies not only risk the health and safety of the workers, but the surrounding, mostly BIPOC communities as well. Worse still, they have adverse environmental effects, a problem that hasn't been lost on the striking workers. As stated by USW Local 5 representative, B.K White:

“If we had more people and could get a better pay rate, maybe our members wouldn’t feel obligated to come in and work as many as 70 hours a week to make ends meet. We don’t believe that is safe. (that and the use of replacement workers) is at the detriment of the city of Richmond and the environment.”

Even less noticed by the media has been the presence of environmental justice activists (including, but not limited to, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, Extinction Rebellion, Fossil Free California, Richmond Progressive Alliance, Sierra Club, Sunflower Alliance, Sunrise Movement, and 350), various socialist organizations (including DSA in particular), and members from the nearby front-line BIPOC communities, who have joined the pickets in solidarity with the workers, something the workers have also not hesitated to point out. Indeed, in spite of the fact that many environmental justice activists and community members are harshly critical of Chevron's role in turning the city of Richmond into a capital blight infested sacrifice zone, they recognize that the workers are not their enemies nor are the latter responsible for the damage done by the company. On the contrary, many recognize that the unionized workforce is one of the best mitigations against far worse capital blight (it bears mentioning that there has also been a good deal of support and picket line presence from rank and file workers and union officials from many other unions, including the AFSCME, IBEW, IWW, ILWU, SEIU, UFCW, and the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council).

Such seemingly unlikely bonds of solidarity, though delicate and, at times, fragile didn't arise out of thin air, but, in fact, have resulted from years of painstaking grassroots organizing.

Global Ecosocialist Network Statement on the Ukraine War

By John Molyneux - Global Ecosocialist Network, March 15, 2022

The Global Ecosocialist Network Steering Committee meeting on the 27 February adopted the following Emergency Statement on the War in Ukraine:

  1. We condemn unequivocally the Russian invasion of Ukraine and express our solidarity with the suffering people of Ukraine and anti-war protests in Russia.
  2. We oppose NATO escalation as disastrous for both the people of Ukraine and the people of Europe.
  3. Modern war and modern war machines run overwhelmingly on fossil fuels. They are major carbon emitters and catastrophic in terms of their impact on the environment as a whole including biodiversity and this war also reinforces the danger of continued dependence on oil and gas fossil-fuels.

This statement was ratified By a large majority by our International Members Meeting on 13 March and now becomes the statement of the Network. We recognize its limited ‘minimalist’ character but we wanted to make a statement that would command the support of the broad majority of our members.

We reproduce below a speech that was given by a FW at an anti-war demo in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, Russian anti-war protestors, and victims of imperialism globally

By ClydesideIWW - IWW Scotland, March 15, 2022

We organised this event so we could come together and categorically denounce the invasion of Ukraine by Russian imperialism and show our solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Today, we woke up to some promising news about a limited ceasefire, but this is not enough what is needed is a total ceasefire and for Russia to withdraw its troops immediately.

As someone who grew up in Lebanon, I know what it’s like to live in a country smack in the middle of two competing imperial powers. I’m familiar with the sounds of warplanes raining bombs. With hiding in hallways away from Windows just in case a bullet or rocket finds its way through them. I know what it’s like watching entire neighbourhoods bombed to ashes, with families trying to pull the mangled bodies of their relatives in the aftermath. These are experiences no one should have to go through and speak to the universal horrors of war.

Unfortunately, some reporters and politicians have resorted to racist comments to drum up more support for the Ukrainian people. They tell us we should care about Ukrainians because they are civilized, European, closer to home, or more like us. As if some lives are more valuable than others, or that war is natural and ok in certain parts of the world. But we care about the Ukrainian people not because we see them as closer to us, but because we oppose war no matter where it happens and no matter who is leading it.

We care about the Ukrainian people the same way we care about those in Russia bravely protesting against this war as they get beat and imprisoned. It’s the Russian worker who will feel the sting of our sanctions more than any oligarch or politician will. Because it’s always workers who suffer the most in war. They are the ones who cannot escape, who are sent to kill and die for their rulers. It’s them who are disposed of like pawns while being sold nationalist lies to enrich a few.

We should take our cue from those brave anti-war protestors in Russia and understand that the best way to fight against war is by fighting against it here at home. In the last week, we’ve heard our politicians talk a lot about sovereignty, democracy, and international law. But when have they really cared about that?

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 9: We Deserve Nothing Less

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 7: Buying Us Out

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 5: Asthma Club

The Gentrification of the Rural West

By Ryanne Pilgeram - In These Times, February 4, 2022

Most of the windows in the Dover, Idaho community hall face old Dover, still looking over the original mill workers’ houses and church that were transported upriver in 1922. Slipping into the kitchen and peering out the back window, however, is a reminder of how much Dover has changed. In the 1950s, it would have looked at a tangle of trees, then a deep meadow in the distance, and the community’s sandy beach just beyond that. Later, the view would include massive piles of woodchips, the birch trees providing some cover between the building and graying piles of sawdust.

Today, there’s a walking path that skirts the back of the community hall and, beyond that, brand-new homes. Dozens of buildings, from condominiums to bungalows to massive mansions, now sit in the fields where the mill once stood. Adorned with natural wood shingles and crisp white trim, the homes share a similar architectural style, meant to evoke the craftsman style that was popular when the buildings of old Dover were floating up the river. But the homes are unmistakably modern in their attempt to blend the ruggedness of the Pacific Northwest with the comforts of upper-middle-class living.

Lining freshly paved streets, the new homes nestle against the development’s headquarters, which features a fitness club and an upscale restaurant. The development was approved in 2004 after a lengthy and contentious struggle with the inhabitants of old Dover. Since then, new Dover has brought waves of new people to the community, drawn by the scenic beauty (and recreational potential) of the river and adjoining lake. 

When looking out the window of the old Dover community hall, the new homes are so close, it seems like you might be able to peer inside them. But the new homes are built with their backs to the community center so that they can face the lake and river. 

And so it is: old and new, back to back, a path winding between them. 

Alabama Miners Are Still on Strike After 8 Months

By Nora De La Cour - Jacobin, November 8, 2021

Last week, more than 500 coal mine workers picketed in New York City, joined by a diverse army of other labor movement members and supporters. The mine workers, who extract coal for steel production, are now in the eighth month of their strike against Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood, Alabama. Their aim is to force Warrior Met to restore the pay, benefits, and schedules they had before their previous employer, Walter Energy, declared bankruptcy and auctioned off its assets in 2016.

On Thursday, the mine workers marched to the headquarters of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager and Warrior Met’s biggest shareholder. After the rally, five United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) members and the union’s president, Cecil Roberts, sat down in the street and refused to move. The six were handcuffed by the New York Police Department and arrested for their act of civil disobedience.

The striking workers brought their picket to the middle of Manhattan because they have been barred from gathering outside the Brookwood mines. On October 27, a Tuscaloosa County circuit judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping all UMWA picket activity at Warrior Met. The injunction, which has been extended through November 15, blocks strikers from gathering within 300 yards of any mine entrance or exit.

That’s a huge restriction. As Haeden Wright, president of the UMWA auxiliary for two of the striking locals, explained to Jacobin, moving the pickets three football fields back from the mines “could put you on a completely separate road from Warrior Met property.” In in an interview with Jacobin, labor scholar Steve Striffler called the restraining order “an unconstitutional act that effectively takes away the miners’ right to free speech and assembly at the conflict’s most important sites.”

The injunction is the apparent product of an aggressive campaign by Warrior Met to spread the misleading narrative that UMWA members are engaging in violence and vandalism on the picket lines. Labor journalist Kim Kelly reported that Warrior Met hired the public relations firm Sitrick and Company to “neutralize the opposition” and “reframe the debate” around a strike that has garnered local and national support despite embarrassingly insufficient coverage from the corporate media.

“COP26 Is a Failure”: Greta Thunberg Condemns U.N. Climate Summit as a “Greenwash Festival”

By Amy Goodman and Greta Thunberg - Democracy Now!, November 8, 2021

Eighteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg called COP26 a “failure” when she addressed the Fridays for Future rally in Glasgow, which drew around 25,000 demonstrators. Her address comes after Thunberg dismissed climate leaders a month prior to the U.N. climate summit for political inaction. “The COP has turned into a PR event where leaders are giving beautiful speeches and announcing fancy commitments and targets, while behind the curtains the governments of the Global North countries are still refusing to take any drastic climate action,” said Thunberg on Friday. “This is not a conference. This is now a Global North greenwash festival.”

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