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movement politics

Reconnecting With the Radical Roots of Earth Day

By Johanna Chao Kreilick - Portside, April 22, 2022

Happy Earth Day! I was only four years old when the first Earth Day took place. But as I began to work on climate change, I found it inspiring to look back at the photos from April 1970 and learn about what motivated 20 million people to action—and the impact of public mobilization on policy and practice in the years that followed.

Many of my friends in the climate movement are understandably cynical about what Earth Day has become today—in many ways, it has been reduced to calls for small individual acts (like picking up trash or composting coffee grounds) over the larger systemic changes and solutions that require much harder choices and trade-offs. Some companies have co-opted the day to sell more “environmentally friendly” products, or worse, to provide polluters with an opportunity to greenwash their miserable track records. But as a lifelong student of history and an unbridled optimist, I still find hope and inspiration in its radical roots.

How movements can maintain their radical vision while winning practical reforms

By Mark Engler and Paul Engler - Waging Nonviolence, April 12, 2022

Forty years of struggle by Brazil's landless workers movement offers lessons on engaging the system without being co-opted.

Ever since it launched its first audacious land occupations in the mid-1980s, in which groups of impoverished farmers took over unused estates in Southern Brazil and turned them into cooperative farms, the Landless Workers Movement (known in Portuguese as the Movement dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST) has stood as one of the most innovative and inspiring social movements in the world. By 2016, its estimated 1.5 million members had established 2,000 permanent settlements throughout Brazil, with some 350,000 families winning land by organizing for their rights. By the start of the pandemic, the movement also maintained more than 170 community health clinics and 66 food processing facilities, which quickly became vital centers of mutual aid, as the group began giving out huge quantities of food to people in need.

In addition to using direct action to win land reform, the MST has pioneered a program of radical schooling for Brazilian youth and adults, especially those living in rural areas. As of 2018, the movement was operating in 2,000 schools — with thousands of MST-aligned teachers instructing upwards of 250,000 students. Remarkably, although state and local governments fund and administer many of these schools, the MST has been able to place its own teachers and implement a radical pedagogy. This includes study of agrarian reform and social justice movements, as well as the ideas behind agroecology — a model of sustainable agriculture that rejects corporate agribusiness.

For movements in the U.S. and beyond wondering how they can engage with the system without being co-opted, the MST offers a powerful example. Many social movement scholars believe that movements can institutionalize their wins over the long-term by having the state and mainstream political parties adopt their demands and programs. However, these scholars also contend that such institutionalization comes at a price: too often, as movement programs are incorporated into mainstream structures, grassroots forces become demobilized, dull their radical edge and lose their ability to exercise disruptive power.

Rebecca Tarlau, a professor of education at Penn State University, believes that it does not have to be this way. In her 2019 book “Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers’ Movement Transformed Brazilian Education,” Tarlau argues that the MST provides a model for how activists can use a strategy of “contentious co-governance” to win practical reforms from the state while also resisting cooptation.

We recently spoke with Tarlau to discuss this strategy — as well as the wider lessons we can learn from the 40-year struggle of Brazil’s landless workers. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Who Is Working-Class, and Why It Matters

By Van Gosse - Convergence, April 9, 2022

Many political analysts, including some on the Left, are positing a radically new configuration of class in the United States. Their argument, reduced to its essence, is that the traditional markers of class are no longer relevant, and now the great divide is between those who have graduated from college versus the rest. It is further argued that this new class structure is reshaping our political party system in dramatic ways:  the Democrats are becoming the party of the educated, in addition to traditional constituencies among African Americans and single women. Conversely, the Republicans are becoming a party of the working class—defined as the non-college-educated—across traditional racial and ethnic lines (for a cogent example of this analysis, see Matt Karp’s “The Politics of a Second Gilded Age”).

I think this analysis is wrong in all respects.  We need an analysis of how class functions in the U.S. that is based in our distinct history of stratification (and division) along ethno-racial lines.  Beyond that, we need an accurate reading of the Democratic Party in particular, if we are to advance the struggle for a multiracial democracy against white nationalism.

We WILL Fix Climate Change!

By staff - Kurzgesagt, April 5, 2022

Web Editor's Note: while there are a few debatable points made by this video (such as an overly rosy view of CCS, even though it's not a major focus of the presentation), its overall argument is entirely sound: doomism is the tool of the capitalist class. Already grassroots organizing (including union organizing) has made a difference. Wallowing in despair is not a solution; organizing is:

Our home is burning. Rapid climate change is destabilizing our world. It seems our emissions will not fall quickly enough to avoid runaway warming and we may soon hit tipping points that will lead to the collapse of ecosystems and our civilization.

While scientists, activists and much of the younger generation urge action, it appears most politicians are not committed to do anything meaningful while the fossil fuel industry still works actively against change. It seems humanity can’t overcome its greed and obsession with short term profit and personal gain to save itself.

And so for many the future looks grim and hopeless. Young people feel particularly anxious and depressed. Instead of looking ahead to a lifetime of opportunity they wonder if they will even have a future or if they should bring kids into this world. It’s an age of doom and hopelessness and giving up seems the only sensible thing to do.

But that’s not true. You are not doomed. Humanity is not doomed.

War in Ukraine: reflections and proposals for internationalist union action

By Simon Pirani - Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières, March 31, 2022

From the Solidaires Union web site. These notes from the Solidaires Union bureau set out its approach to building solidarity with Ukrainian working-class resistance to Russian military aggression. They are a useful starting point for discussion.

This statement is based on the assessment made during the Solidaires national board meeting in March, the contributions of our member organizations, the work of our international commission, and inter-union exchanges both nationally, through the inter-union CGT/FSU/Solidaires, and internationally, through the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggles. All of this has also been fuelled by the exchanges and reflections held within larger unitary frameworks in which we take part. [1]

Beyond producing assessments and analyses, union commitment is about action. The following proposals are based on the international work that Solidaires has been doing for years and are expressed in the initiatives, connections and publications of recent days. They aim to respond – on the basis of concrete actions and not useless polemics – to the sectarianism displayed by some statements from other trade union organisations, and especially to the hypocrisy of government and employers’ declarations.

The introductory statement to the debate of the national board the 9th March recalled the position of the Solidaires union from the first day of the war (actually even before the start of this war, since all that follows is part of the tradition and practice of internationalist unionism that we try to implement):

□ The immediate withdrawal of Russian troops – the right of peoples to self-determination – the need for an immediate ceasefire and for building a negotiated peace – supporting people fighting against war, especially in countries at war – the dignified and massive reception of all refugees, regardless of their origin, and the fight against all inequalities and discrimination – taking part, on our own terms, in mobilisations and demonstrations for peace – (joint) participation in the initiatives of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, such as the “union convoy” which aims to provide Ukrainian workers with relief supplies – denouncing nationalism and capitalism as the causes of war – internationalism, as an alternative to nationalism – fighting to end tax havens – the urgency of an ecological transition towards the end of the massive use of fossil fuels.

Understanding Sunrise, Part 2: Organizing Methods

By Dyanna Jaye and William Lawrence - Convergence, March 24, 2022

Sunrise melded mass protest, electoral work, and distributed organizing to great effect, but 2020 upended its plans and forced a reassessment.

Sunrise Movement grew from a labor of love by 12 young people, including the two of us, into the most prominent climate justice organization in the country. We put the Green New Deal on the map, strengthened the Left insurgency in the Democratic Party, and helped drive youth turnout to defeat Trump in 2020. Climate change became a political priority for the Democratic Party, and Sunrise directly influenced Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

In the last year, though, despite a few impactful protests demanding ambition and urgency from Congress, Sunrise members and observers alike have noted a loss of strategic clarity and organizing power compared to 2017 through 2020. And it’s not just Sunrise: the entire Left has struggled to make the jump from punching upwards in the Trump era to winning material reforms in the Biden era.

In this essay, we’ll pull back the layers of Sunrise’s organizing model: how we actually recruited young people and united them in a structure for collective action. We’ll first discuss the major influences on Sunrise’s organizing and run through how it all played out in practice, the good and the bad.

We share a diagnosis that a central shortcoming in Sunrise’s organizing model was the absence of a sustained method of mass organizing at a local level, which left us nowhere to go once we could no longer rely on the fast-but-shallow growth of distributed organizing methods. We’re proud of the movement’s accomplishments while humble about its shortcomings. We offer our reflection in the practice of learning together in public; we hope our transparency can empower the next generation of movement builders—in Sunrise and across movements—to lead transformative organizing for the next era.

TV Review: Workers of Deep Space Unite!

By Eric Dirnbach and Ksenia Fir - Labor Notes, March 24, 2022

This is part of an occasional series where we look back at the “labor episode” of a TV show. The Star Trek series Deep Space Nine has a great union episode with lessons about organizing in a customer service industry. Spoilers ahead for the fourth-season episode “Bar Association”!

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) is generally considered the most overtly political of the Star Trek franchise. Unlike other iterations of the show, it is set not on a Federation Starfleet ship, but a space station populated by individuals of diverse races whose cultures are often in stark contrast with the post-scarcity, post-capitalist Federation.

The fourth-season episode “Bar Association”—a must-watch for Trekkies interested in unions—depicts a labor struggle at the station’s prominent entertainment spot: Quark’s Bar, Grill, Gaming House and Holosuite Arcade. Bar owner Quark (played by Armin Shimerman) is a Ferengi—a member of a non-human species whose culture is very capitalistic and misogynistic. Their behavior is strictly controlled by The Rules of Acquisition, a set of tenets like “Employees are the rungs on the ladder of success—don’t hesitate to step on them.”

The workers at Quark’s Bar fall into two categories: Ferengi male waiters (Ferengi women are forbidden to work) and “Dabo girls”—a diverse group of beautiful women from non-Federation planets who act as eye candy and encourage guests to spend more at a roulette-style game. Dabo girls experience frequent sexual harassment from patrons and Quark himself.

End the addiction to fossil fuel- support the Ukrainian resistance

By Alan Thornett - Red Green Labour, March 24, 2022

Putin’s merciless invasion of Ukraine – which is his next step in the restoration of the Russian empire – has been stalled by the remarkable popular resistance that has been mounted against it. The southern port city of Mariupol is been flattened by Russian artillery and is facing a humanitarian catastrophe but has refused to surrender. On the other hand, the invaders have been pushed back on several fronts.

The Ukrainian resistance has relied heavily on both Western economic sanctions and Western military aid including hand-launched anti-tank and surface to air missiles without which Putin’s blitzkrieg might have been unstoppable. The economic sanctions have not just put Putin under pressure at home, but they have given the population the confidence to resist such an overwhelming force.

As the Russians have met much stronger resistance than they expected they have resorted to ever more indiscriminate, long-range bombardment of the civilian population with missiles launched from ships in the Black Sea and from Russia itself. The result of which has been a rapid escalation of civilian casualties. Putin has thousands of planes and missiles, of course, and could wipe Ukraine off the map. But whether that would be politically sustainable (or survivable for him at home) is another matter.

Russia is now a brutal kleptocracy, with Putin as the new Stalin. Anti-war demonstrators facing up to 16 years in jail and opposition politicians, who oppose war, driven into exile. Ten million people, a quarter of the population, are internally displaced and with almost five million already refugees abroad. Many thousands, mostly civilians, are dead. EU countries, to their credit, have opened their borders, suspended visa requirements, and taken in millions of people. This is in sharp contrast to Boris Johnson’s miserable Little Englander government that has been running around in circles in a (very successful) attempt to give refuge to as few people as possible.

How can the climate and anti‑war movements come together?

By Christian Zeller - Red Green Labour, March 23, 2022

Translated from the German- originally published here.

Exit from the fossil economy and rearmament, solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance

We live in a time of abrupt turns. [1]

Global warming is accelerating. The climate is changing faster than previously thought. The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is largely aimed at the territorialconquest of a neighbouring state, the destruction of its army and the overthrow of its government. [2] This is something that has not existed in Europe in this way since 1945.

Even before this assault, the NATO countries, Russia and China started an arms race. The antagonisms between the various imperialisms intensified enormously. [3]The wave of rearmament that was already being prepared and launched before the war in Ukraine is an expression of intensifying competion for access to scarce resources that are so urgently needed in connection with the energy transition.

Global warming, this war and the danger of wars to come are interconnected and should be understood in a common context.

Three years after the first global school strike, signs of the youth climate movement’s success are everywhere

By Nick Engelfried - Waging Nonviolence, March 17, 2022

Instead of succumbing to the challenges of the past few years, young climate activists are learning to adapt and build on their past actions.

Three years ago this week — on March 15, 2019 — an estimated 1.4 million young people and supporters in 128 countries skipped school or work for what was then the largest youth-led day of climate protests in history. That record was soon eclipsed by even larger demonstrations later that year, with 1.8 million joining a May 24 day of action, and 7.6 million protesting for the climate over the course of Sept. 20 and the week that followed. The school strikes for climate movement, launched by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden in late 2018, had reinvigorated the global climate movement and brought public participation to levels never seen before.

By early 2019, thousands of young people were already skipping school to protest for the climate each week in Europe, but the school strikes had only just begun to catch on in the United States. March 15 of that year was arguably when Thunberg’s campaign truly became a global phenomenon, with large demonstrations in cities all over the world. The youth-led strikes went on to revolutionize and grow the climate movement, helping to popularize concepts like the Green New Deal and grab the attention of policymakers and the media. Three years on, it’s a good time to assess what this flood of activism accomplished and how the youth climate movement has adapted to the challenges of the early 2020s.

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