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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.

'Coal Country' Mines Seam of Class Anger in West Virginia Explosion

By Alain Savard - Labor Notes, April 4, 2022

If Don Blankenship were a fictional character, critics would say he was a cartoon evil capitalist. Unfortunately, he’s real. One of his lesser crimes was to dump toxic coal slurry into disused mineshafts, poisoning the water of his neighbors, all to save $55,000. While they sickened, he piped his own water from the nearby town of Matewan. Yes, that Matewan. He has characterized strikes as “union terrorism.”

As chair and chief executive of Massey Energy, he received production reports from Upper Big Branch mine every half hour, including weekends. And no wonder, Blankenship’s compensation was tied to production, and UBB produced $600,000 worth of top-quality coal every day in a mile-deep operation near Whitesville, West Virginia.

That is, until it exploded in a completely preventable disaster that killed 29 miners on April 5, 2010.

The workers knew something bad was bound to happen. Methane readings were too high, the ventilation and air control systems were a shambles. One day the mine was sweltering, the next freezing cold. They operated in a fog of coal dust and exhaustion. Management threatened anyone who spoke up.

“Coal Country,” a play recently re-opened at Cherry Lane theater in New York, tells the story of the disaster through the words of the miners and their families. They are backed up by stunning original songs by Texas songwriter Steve Earle, who accompanies himself on guitar or banjo from the corner of the stage. “The devil put the coal in the ground,” he growls, and you can believe it. Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen created the play, and Blank directs it.

Performance Coal, the subsidiary of Massey that ran Upper Big Branch, was created specifically to exclude the union. Gary Quarles (played by Thomas Kopache), recalls that when he first hired into the mine, he couldn’t believe how management shouted at the men. That wasn’t tolerated on his union jobs. Unrelieved overtime was another difference.

Managers brought in experienced miners like Quarles for their knowledge about extracting coal, but dismissed their knowledge about how to run a safe mine. Union mines are safer according to Phil Smith of the United Mineworkers of America, "because workers elect their own safety committees and they know they can report hazards without fear of retribution.”

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

EPA union urges Minnesota Supreme Court to take up PolyMet case

By staff - Duluth News Tribune, March 10, 2022

DULUTH — The union representing many midwest employees of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to take up a PolyMet case challenging the proposed copper-nickel mine's water permit.

The American Federation of Government Employees Local 704 and other groups filed briefs urging the court to reconsider a January decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirming a 2020 decision by a State District Court judge who said the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency broke no laws or procedures by asking the EPA to keep comments on the permit private. It acknowledged such a move was made to prevent comments from reaching the public and leading to "bad press."

In 2019, AFGE Local 704 said it learned from a whistleblower that comments by the EPA Region 5 office in Chicago on a draft of PolyMet's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, were left out of the public record.

“Simply put, when a government agency acts in secret — or deliberately obscures its motives or reasoning — it becomes difficult to tell whether the agency’s actions were lawful or fair," the union wrote in its brief.

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 10: Imagine

Climate Solutions from the Frontlines of Environmental Justice

Fossil Fuel Phaseout–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2022

Protecting the climate requires rapidly reducing the extraction of fossil fuels. That’s a crucial part of the Green New Deal. While the federal government has done little so far to reduce fossil fuel production, people and governments all over the country are taking steps on their own to cut down the extraction of coal, oil, and gas.

Introduction

The U.S. needs to cut around 60% of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 to reach zero net emissions by 2050.[1] The world will need to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6% per year between 2022 and 2030 to reach the Paris goal of 1.5°C. Countries are instead planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2%, which by 2030 will result in more than double the production consistent with the 1.5°C limit.[2]

In the previous two commentaries in this series we have shown how initiatives from cities, states, and civil society organizations are expanding climate-safe energy production and reducing energy use through energy efficiency and conservation. These are essential aspects of reducing climate-destroying greenhouse gas emissions, but in themselves they will not halt the burning of fossil fuels. That requires action on the “supply side” – freezing new fossil fuel infrastructure and accelerating the closing of existing production facilities. That is often referred to as a “phaseout” or “managed decline” of fossil fuels.

Such a phaseout of fossil fuel production is necessary to meet the goals of the Green New Deal and President Joe Biden’s climate proposals. The original 2018 Green New Deal resolution submitted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for a national 10-year mobilization to achieve 100% of national power generation from renewable sources. Biden’s Build Back Better plan sought 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035 and net zero GHG emissions by 2050. These goals cannot be met without reducing the amount of fossil fuel that is actually extracted from the earth.[3]

While the US government and corporations are failing to effectively reduce the mining and drilling of fossil fuels, hundreds of efforts at a sub-national level are already cutting their extraction. 50 US cities are already powered entirely by clean and renewable sources of energy. 180 US cities are committed to 100% clean energy.[4] According to a report by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, Indigenous resistance has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions.[5] Such reductions are an essential part of a widespread but little-recognized movement we have dubbed the “Green New Deal from Below.”[6]

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

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