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Defend and Transform: Mobilizing Workers for Climate Justice

By Jeremy Anderson - Global Labour Column, September 8, 2021

Mobilizing the global labour movement for climate justice and just transition is one of the defining challenges of our times. However, for workers in many sectors, it is unclear how climate issues will affect them specifically, and how they should respond. To date, much of the debate around just transition has focused on workers in industries that are facing job losses. These struggles are important. But in order to build a transformational vision that can mobilize workers in all sectors from the ground up, we need to understand a wider array of industry perspectives.

In this essay, I will discuss three issues. First, I will make the case for why climate justice and just transition are fundamental issues for the labour movement. Second, I will review debates around just transition, and particularly the contrast between worker focused and structural transformation approaches. I will argue that we need to build a bridge between the two perspectives, particularly in scenarios where it is important to engage workers about the future of their specific industries. Third, I will analyse three different scenarios from the transport sector that illustrate the various challenges that workers face: public transport as an example of industry expansion, aviation as an example of industry contraction, and shipping as an example of industry adaption.

Freight Automation: Dangers, Threats, and Opportunities for Health and Equity

By staff - RAMP, HIP, and Moving Forward Network, April 20, 2021

The freight transportation system in the United States is a fundamental part of our economy, infrastructure and environment, but many freight system frontline workers labor in arduous conditions yet receive low wages and limited benefits.

Freight Automation: Dangers, Threats, and Opportunities for Health and Equity explores how automation in the freight transportation system affects the health of workers, communities, and the environment—and also how these effects will be inequitably felt by people with low incomes and communities of color. Created PHI’s Regional Asthma Management and Prevention, Moving Forward Network, Human Impact Partners and community partners, the report also provides recommendations for policies and programs that promote health and equity for frontline workers and fence-line communities.

Read the text (PDF).

Suez opened: Questions around monster ships remain

By Patrick Mazza - The Raven, March 29, 2021

Helped by a high tide, MV Ever Given was freed from the Suez Canal shallows yesterday at 3pm local time after two heavy-pull tugs arrived and thousands of tons of material were dredged away. 

After a week in which the massive container ship was lodged between two banks and under maximum stress - with maritime experts worrying it could break at the sagging center - the stern was freed early Sunday and the bow later in the day. Finally coming on the scene Sunday were tugs capable of anchoring to the bottom and exerting pulling force four times or more greater than most of the tugs on site. By this morning the ship had arrived at Great Bitter Lake mid-canal where the hull could be examined for cracks. Bow and stern compartments had been taking on water.

Now the questions will come. Why did the Suez Canal Authority not have rescue tugs on station for incidents like this? How prepared were authorities for the emergence of the new mega-ships, capable of carrying 20,000 and more containers?

In a broader sense, the Suez crisis shines a light on what maritime historian Sal Mercagliano, a merchant marine veteran, calls “a hidden industry” and its impacts on waterways and ports as well as port communities and workers. A powerful shipping industry has been dictating terms, based on its own economic calculations, and shunting costs off to the public. Taxpayers have been paying for expensive dredging and port upgrades. Communities have been subject to increased pollution and accidents from drayage trucks hauling containers, with drivers working under brutal conditions. And the global economy just suffered $10 billion in blocked trade each day for the last seven. It’s a large topic beyond the scope of a single post, so I will try to hit the high points. 

Bows and Arrows: Indigenous Workers, IWW Local 526, and Syndicalism on the Vancouver Docks

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom.Org, February 17, 2021

Few may be aware that the first union on the waterfront of Vancouver was organized by Indigenous workers, mostly Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh. And it was organized on an explicitly syndicalist basis as Local 526 of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW group would become known as the Bows and Arrows, a name that spoke to their active and more politically militant perspective and commitment to Indigenous solidarity. The Bows and Arrows organized on a multicultural/multiracial foundation of class solidarity.

While the lifespan of IWW Local 526 was brief (formally only a year while informally for about seven years) it had a lasting impact on working class organizing on the waterfront, anti-racism and racial solidarity on the docks, and on political organizing in Indigenous communities. It also showed the pivotal role of organizing within the logistical chains of global capitalism in sabotaging resource extractive industries, while providing a model of work organization that sustained community relevant work and work cycles rather than the single career monoculture of industrial capitalism at the time.

As historian Andrew Parnaby suggests, the Bows and Arrows:

"Join[ed] in the broader upsurge of support for the Wobblies that took place among loggers, miners, railroad workers, and seafarers prior to the Great War…Reformers, rebels, and revolutionaries: collectively, they were responsible for a level of militancy on the waterfront that was unmatched by most other occupations, provincially or nationally. Vancouver waterfront workers went on strike at least sixteen times between 1889 and 1923; the four largest and most dramatic strikes were in 1909, 1918, 1919, and 1923." (2008, 9)

While Local 526 would finally be broken through battles with waterfront employers that have been described as titanic, these workers provided important and lasting examples of working class militance, workplace organizing tactics, racial solidarity and anti-racism, and cultural defense. They offer a critical model of syndicalism in diverse workforces and changing economic conditions within a context of settler colonial capitalism.

IBU blows whistle on big oil’s dangerous move in Alaska

By staff - ILWU Dispatcher, November 17, 2017

The Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU), ILWU’s Marine Division, is blowing the whistle on a dangerous plan to replace experienced union mariners who have successfully protected Alaska’s pristine Prince William Sound for almost three decades – with a cut-rate, nonunion company that has a poor safety record.

The shocking decision was made by oil company executives who own the Alyeska pipeline that carries oil from Alaska’s North Slope oilfield – which is the size of Indiana – across mountains and tundra to Prince William Sound, where it is pumped into giant tankers that carry the crude south to refineries in the lower 48. Low oil prices and falling production have left the Alyeska pipeline operating at only 25% of capacity, and may have been a factor in the oil companies’ decision to take a chance on a low-cost, cut-rate contractor with a dismal safety record.

It was 27 years ago that the Exxon Valdez, filled with North Slope crude, ran aground and dumped millions of gallons into the Prince William Sound, an event that shocked the nation and resulted in massive fines, staggering clean-up costs, and damage to the environment that required a lengthy recovery.

It also demonstrated the need for highly-trained and experienced cleanup crews and safety personnel, including tug operators. Instead of learning from that disaster and the importance of maintaining the highest quality emergency response teams, Exxon and other oil companies have decided to roll the dice by hiring a non-union outfit with a history of mistakes and near-disasters.

In Puerto Rico, Unions Lead in Hurricane Relief Efforts

By Stephanie Basile - Labor Notes, November 7, 2017

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, as Puerto Rico faces government neglect, unions’ relief efforts have been critical.

Teachers and students across the island have cleared debris off the roads and delivered medical supplies. On the outskirts of San Juan, communications and transport workers cooked and distributed hot meals. Union volunteers on Isla Verde drove door to door with water and supplies. And these are just a handful of stories among hundreds.

On September 26, less than a week after the storm barreled through the island, Puerto Rico’s storied teachers union, the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR), sprang into action. FMPR teamed up with the island’s labor federation (CGT) to set up “brigades.” Teams of teachers, retirees, and students were dispatched to remove fallen trees, clear roads, and put up tents in roofless houses.

Such large-scale efforts require cross-union coordination. The teachers have worked hand in hand with other Puerto Rican unions through the CGT, and with mainland unions such as the New York State Nurses.

Members of Transport Workers (TWU) Local 501—the union of ground service and baggage handling workers at American Airlines in New York and San Juan—and Communications Workers (CWA) Local 3140, which represents American Airlines passenger service workers in Puerto Rico and Florida, teamed up to cook and distribute 400 meals of rice, beans, and chicken in the outskirts of San Juan.

They chose neighborhoods that hadn’t received much attention. “These were the forgotten areas,” said Local 3140 Vice President Georgina Felix. “Everybody’s focusing on San Juan and forgetting everywhere else.”

“Without labor down there right now, half the things that are getting done wouldn’t be getting done,” said Local 501 Executive Vice President Angelo Cucuzza. “Besides being a feel good story, it’s an important story.”

Puerto Rico Labor Action By US Unionists & Jones Act

By Steve Zeltser - Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, October 26, 2017

KPFA WorkWeek Radio-Puerto Rico Labor Action By US Unionists & Jones Act
WW10-24-17 Puerto Rico Labor Action By US Unionists And Jones Act

https://soundcloud.com/workweek-radio/ww10-24-17-puerto-rico-labor-actio...
WorkWeek looks at the ongoing struggle in Puerto Rico for survival. We interview NNU CNA Alta Bates nurse Gregory Callison about his solidarity action and that of the NNU-CNA to help the people of Puerto Rico. The union sent a delegation of over 50 nurses. We also interview retired ILWU Local 10 longshoreman Jack Heyman. Heyman talks about the Jones Act and why it coming under attack.
Additional media:

Puerto Rico and the Jones Act Conundrum

By Jack Heyman - CounterPunch, October 23, 2017

When Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, the whole transportation and communication infrastructure went down- the power grid, bridges, roads, cell towers- devastating the entire island. Most people are still without the basic necessities of life, a month later. Emergency logistics are dysfunctional and telephone service barely exists.

FEMA’s bumbling for one month has looked like a rerun of a Keystone Cops movie. Although the marine terminals were loaded with commercial cargo since before the hurricane, there was no way for workers to reach the port facilities nor power to operate the port safely.  Day after day cargo sat idle as people’s desperation for water, food and life-saving medicine mounts. The early death toll was 48, but NPR has reported an additional 49 deaths since the storm and Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Reporting found 69 hospitals had morgue at  “capacity” as isolated towns and villages are reached the death toll will climb.

The Jones Act Under Attack……Anew 

Often when a major accident occurs the mainstream media are quick to blame workers. However, in the case of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, many liberals and leftists have joined in the union bashing charging the Jones Act, which is supported by maritime unions, with stopping vital shipments of aid. While it may be true that Jones Act cargo may cost more, it is not true that the Act (which requires that shipping between U.S. ports be in U.S.-registered vessels) is preventing necessary aid from reaching the people. However, no such protectionist U.S. laws, including the Jones Act, should be imposed on the colony of Puerto Rico, and that goes for the U.S. imperialist embargo on  trade with Cuba and trade sanctions on Venezuela and Russia as well.

The fact is there are plenty of U.S. bottoms to sail to the island. The Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the Department of Defense (DOD) manage 300 commercial vessels. And there are 4 Jones Act shipowners, Horizon, Sea Star, Crowley and Trailer Bridge that operate 5 container vessels and 12 barges on the Puerto Rico trade.

The blame for the lack of transportion and distribution of vital goods lies squarely with the U.S. government and its colonial oppression of Puerto Rico.

The Jones Act may pass on higher prices to an impoverished colonial people and that should not be, but there is another aspect to this question. Some of the most reactionary forces of the U.S. ruling class are trying to use the Puerto Rican hurricane relief crisis to get rid of the Jones Act, not because it would aid Puerto Rico but because it provides jobs for shipbuilders and seamen in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Much left opposition to the Jones Act comes from ignorance of the law and a knee jerk reaction to appear “anti-imperialist”. What it shows is their disconnect with the working class and blindness toward the capitalists’ machinations.

Capitalists and their news media often claim that good union wages cost the public higher prices.  That’s the mantra of Walmart and the non-union big box stores who extol their “virtues” of the profit system. The danger is that this cacophony, unwittingly supported by “progressives”, could lead to repeal of the entire U.S. Jones Act, a longtime campaign of the right wing, anti-union National Review, Senator John McCain and most of the Wall Street banksters.

The 1920 Merchant Marine Act or the Jones Act as it is known was promulgated to protect the American shipbuilding and seafaring industries.

The Jones Act does not include the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands nor should it include the colony of Puerto Rico. Both should be independent. However, it should remain intact for the continental U.S.  Calling to free Puerto Rico from the restrictions of this U.S. cabotage law is part of the struggle for independence, but to call for abolition of the Jones Act in the U.S would mean the destruction of maritime unions and the loss of hard-won union jobs.

Puerto Rico, Trump and the Jones Act

By Joel Schor - Facts for Working People, September 27, 2017

The recent extreme weather events effecting the Carribbean have made clear the humanitarian situation in Puerto Rico is dire and in stark contrast to Trump’s drab belittling comments about the National Football League opposing him on the conduct of the players during the national anthem.

As a merchant seaman for over 15 years I am very familiar with the law which protects both the rights of seaman while signed on American flagged Vessels and at the same time grants further monopoly powers to shipping companies that register and flag their vessels in the United States.

The Jones Act enacted shortly after WWI to resurrect what was thought of as a dying Merchant Fleet in the United States at the time, went along with a massive subsidy program whereby the overproduction of Navy bottoms were sold at fire sale prices to private shipping companies who had previously established themselves mostly in the highly monopolized and unregulated coastal trade.

As the era of anti-trust legislation was coming about, the big shipping lines needed a way to secure the lucrative coastal trade as foreign operators came in. The Jones Act basically provides that 1) A seaman is entitled to a certain portion of wages earned during a voyage (foreign or domestic ) whenever a vessel arrives at a U.S. port as well as the right to leave the ship, and also sue a shipping company for any injuries the seaman has incurred.

This first part of the Jones Act law pertaining to seaman's rights came about after a series of legislative efforts were made over two decades by the head of the West Coast section of the Seamans’ Union, a man by the name of Andrew Furuseth, who's cause was to take the seaman "out of slavery" or the conditions which were more akin to indentured servitude at one time.

EcoUnionist News #50

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 4, 2015

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.

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