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Martin Zehr

Green Unionism and the IWW

By Martin Zehr - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, October 14, 2014

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.

“Every union should have a vision of the future,” stated Jock Yablonski as he announced his candidacy for the UMWA presidency. “What good is a union that reduces coal dust in the mines only to have miners and their families breathe pollutants in the air, drink pollutants in the water, and eat contaminated commodities?”  

This presentation by Jock Yablonski presents a concise analysis of the relationship between the working class and the environment. Because the environmental issue has been dominated for so many years by NGOs and advocacy groups, there remains a fundamental schism in substance and politics between the working class and sound environmental and resource planning advocates. The much celebrated blue-green unity of Seattle is a fading memory. In the age of the increasing role of the AFL-CIO in promoting corporate profits for jobs, we have seen how unions like the Mineworkers, Boilermakers, Steelworkers and others have adopted a pro-corporate militarization stance. This significance of this collaboration goes beyond simply environmental issues. In fact, it threatens an independent class role for all unions, whether it's quality of life issues or shop floor issues.  

To date, the IWW’s reputation remains in geographical locales and in small retail or commercial local unions. Our presence within the labor movement remains marginal. The re-emergence of an active IWW presents a new stage for workers in the class stage. More than a revival of the sixties mass struggles and beyond the single issue advocacies of the late 20th century, the IWW can play an leadership role given our willingness to consciously analyze our role, our strategies  and our tactics. For example, the drive to organize in basic industry is a task that remains ahead of the IWW. The service economy will provide certain in-roads needed to establish our validity and are important in establishing real credentials that workers can see. But, the task ahead remains in steel, electrical, maritime, auto and other industries that have become open shops, or even non-union (such as auto). Likewise, organizers and political education of organizers need to be developed to a generation that has minimal experiences in the class struggle.  

Steel Jobs and Fracking

By Martin Zehr - Industrial Worker, July-August 2014

The issue of steel jobs in the Monongahela Valley has been an issue for decades. For the last 3-4 decades workers have seen mills shut down and threats of other closings held over the heads of those still working. Workers have seen the mill close in Homestead; USS mills in Duquesne and Clairton closed in 1984. In an eight-year span, from 1979 to 1987, the Pittsburgh region lost 133,000 manufacturing jobs. Today, there is new cry from the steel bosses--XL pipeline and fracking is a “USS right”. “Save Our Steel” jobs. Workers in orange flame resistant suits stand out at the rally in Munhall on May 19, where steel bosses, USW reps and local politicians share the stage and the message.

Some where in the crowd is the IWW. A worker passes by on the way to the rally says: “Good to see the Wobblies here.” Not much time for discussion. But workers remember Homestead 1397 Rank-and-File. They still know the name of 1397’s President Ron Wiesen, who fought the steel bosses and the closing of the Homestead mill. Even the speakers at the rally point to the site where steel workers fought the company’s Pinkerton’s for union recognition in 1892. No promises from the bosses back then, just the exercise of b rutal force.

Everything is packaged today: the bottled water brought to the rally, the bags of chips handed out to rally participants, the speeches from local politicians telling us all how hard they are working to save steel jobs and the promises from USW reps and the AFL-CIO of better days ahead. Speeches speak of US Steel as the source for dynamism in the years ahead. Make US Steel tubes for Keystone XL. Use US Steel in fracking neighboring communities. USW sings the praises of USS with the all too familiar guarantee that “...we’ve had our differences[with USS] in the past” but we’re all in this together. And the question becomes who is “we”? Do they mean our neighbors, friends and co-workers throughout Allegheny, Beaver and Butler Counties whose spring waters are being turned to black? Do they mean the people that our kids have gone to school with and their parents who are getting sick? Always with the USW it’s “Better them than us”, and the them grows, while the US decreases. They keep us in line for USS and they serve no free lunch.

The Fine Print I:

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The Fine Print II:

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