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People Power in the Coronavirus Depression

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, November 4, 2020

As we enter an era of constitutional crisis, contested government, intensifying pandemic, and mass economic disruption, the future of democracy will depend on popular mobilization. The earlier commentary “Fighting the Great Depression – From Below” described the grassroots unemployed, self-help, labor, and other movements of the early years of the Great Depression. “The Unemployed vs. the Coronavirus Depression,” “Self-Help in the Coronavirus Depression,” “Striking in the Coronavirus Depression,” and “Workers vs. the Coronavirus Depression” described the recent stirrings of grassroots action for health and economic protections in the coronavirus era. This commentary examines the grassroots response to the coronavirus as a whole. An upcoming commentary will examine the role of people power in the period of turmoil that lies ahead. The latest from Jeremy Brecher. To read this commentary, please visit this page.

States of Change: What the Green New Deal can learn from the New Deal In the states

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, November 2020

With the likelihood of a federal government sharply divided between Republicans and Democrats, states are likely to play an expanded role in shaping the American future. The aspirations for a Green New Deal may have support from the presidency and the House, but they are likely to be fiercely contested in the Senate and perhaps the Supreme Court. Bold action to address climate and inequality could emerge at the state level. Are there lessons we can learn from the original New Deal about the role of states in a highly conflicted era of reform?

The original New Deal of the 1930s was a national program led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But states played a critical role in developing the New Deal. The same could be true of tomorrow’s Green New Deal.

There is organizing for a Green New Deal in every one of the fifty states. But our federal system is often ambiguous about what can and can’t be done at a state level and how action at a state level can affect national policy and vice versa. The purpose of this discussion paper is to explore what we can learn about the role of states in the original New Deal that may shed light on the strategies, opportunities, and pitfalls for the Green New Deal of today and tomorrow.

Read the text (PDF).

Vale Jack Mundey: A Visionary Ecosocialist Unionist

By Jim McIlroy - Green Left, May 11, 2020

Jack Mundey, a path breaker in militant unionism and a pioneer of the Green Bans movement in Australia, died on May 10, aged 90.

Mundey, along with co-officials Joe Owens and Bob Pringle, led the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) in one of the most crucial periods of working-class militancy in Australia.

Born in north Queensland, Mundey came to Sydney to play Rugby League with Parramatta in the 1950s. He got a job as a builder’s labourer and eventually joined with other members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and other left militants to win leadership of the BLF in the late 1960s.

Greg Mallory quotes Mundey in his book Uncharted Waters: Social Responsibility in Australian Trade Unions about the BLF’s campaigns to win significant wages and conditions for its members being led by the union’s new, left-wing leadership: “If it wasn’t for that civilising of the building industry in the campaigns of 1970 and 1971, well then I’m sure we wouldn’t have had the luxury of the membership going along with us in what was considered by some as ‘avant-garde’, ‘way-out’ actions of supporting mainly middle-class people in environmental actions. I think that gave us the mandate to allow us to go into uncharted waters.”

However, Mundey, who was elected NSW BLF secretary in 1968, also stressed: “It is no point winning great wages and conditions if the world we build chokes us to death”.

Green Bans

The Green Bans story started in the 1960s when Sydney was being transformed by a huge building boom, pushed along by the corrupt, pro-developer Liberal Premier Robert Askin.

The first Green Ban supported a campaign by a group of North Shore women to save a small piece of undeveloped land called Kelly’s Bush. After that success, the BLF was besieged with similar requests for industrial action to protect the environment and social values. BLF support was conditional on proven merit and community involvement and soon some 40 Green Bans tied up billions of dollars worth of development projects in Sydney and nearby regions.

The movement captured the imagination of residents, urban planners, environmentalists and heritage activists. Bans were extended to express solidarity with the right of women to work in the industry, to support anti-freeways campaigns and for Aboriginal justice. In 1973, the BLF imposed a “pink ban” when Macquarie University discriminated against a gay student.

Mundey also pursued another central principle — union democracy. All decisions on industrial bans and actions were put to the BLF membership for a vote.

The militant NSW BLF was eventually defeated by an unholy alliance between factionally opposed union leaderships, the Master Builders Association and the state government.

However, the Green Bans saved large parts of Sydney and set down new heritage pathways as part of a more progressive attitude towards urban development.

Mundey continued to campaign for environmental and social justice, and was elected to Sydney City Council from 1984 to 1987. He also worked with the Australian Conservation Council for more than 10 years, and was chair of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.

Visionary

NSW Greens co-convenors Sylvia Hale and Rochelle Flood described Mundey as “a great visionary”.

“Under his leadership of the Builders Labourers Federation, for the first time we saw unity between the struggles of unions and environmentalists.

“The Green Bans born out of this unity reshaped Australian politics and delivered significant wins for heritage, urban bushland and public housing. The union stood shoulder to shoulder with the community in fighting developments whose sole purpose was to enrich the few at the expense of the many.

“Jack’s courage was phenomenal — taking on the corrupt Askin government and many ruthless developers. He and his union colleagues built a broad-based social movement with students and residents that won protection for The Rocks, Centennial Park, Kelly's Bush and Woolloomooloo.

“At the heart of Jack’s politics was a deep understanding that it is broad based social movements that are the drivers of progressive change. Jack was a great unifier.”

Lighting a spark: How to Blow Up a Pipeline

By Harry Holmes - Bright Green, December 14, 2020

How to Blow up A Pipeline starts with what will be a familiar image for many. It’s the yearly climate negotiations, activists have streamed towards the conference space, pleading with representatives to ratchet up their ambition to tackle the climate crisis. People block city traffic with banners, with activists dancing and playing music in the reclaimed streets. The next day brings a giant public theatre performance, with environmentalists pretending to be animals run over by cars whilst ‘negotiators’ walk around with signs saying ‘blah blah blah.’

Was this a collection of Extinction Rebellion activists performing and blocking traffic? Was it even earlier, in 2015 at the Paris negotiations? Maybe it’s 2009, during the economic crisis and the Copenhagen conference? No, this image comes all the way from COP1, the climate conference that started it all – in the lost world that was 1995.

Speaking straight from his experiences of this first COP, Andreas Malm’s recollection of these early climate protest indicates a wider malaise – a certain sluggishness of environmental strategy. Despite the growth in awareness around the climate crisis and the rapid increase in the number of people organising for environmental justice, there has been limited change in the actions climate groups are willing to take to defend life.

In How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Malm has written a short and gripping manifesto which aims to wrench the climate movement out of its complacency. By convincingly arguing against movements’ dogmatic attachment to milquetoast non-violence, Malm makes clear that as the climate crisis escalates so too must the tactics of those seeking to defend life. Not content simply dispelling the misguided understandings of pacifism environmentalists hold, How to Blow Up a Pipeline gives a balanced assessment of the conditions which make sabotage, vandalism, and other forms of strategic direct action necessary in a warming world. Coming out of the pandemic, with movements regrouping and attempting to navigate the mess that is the 2020s, this book is the shock to the system the world needs.

Extinction Rebellion – in or out?

By various - New Internationalist, December 5, 2019

In October 2018, Extinction Rebellion (XR) launched a series of protests that mobilized thousands of (many first-time) activists and caught the attention of the media.

The rebels had three key demands: that the UK government tell the truth about the climate devastation by declaring an emergency, the establishment of a citizen’s assembly to overview a repeal of climate-negligent laws and the enactment of new policies in line with climate science.

They injected a new sense of energy and urgency into the climate movement. Thousands joined non-violent actions; London bridges were blocked, hundreds arrested. But the group has also come under fire for neglecting more political questions of justice, power and racism.

One month since XR burst on to the UK climate scene, five climate-concerned campaigners – from both in and outside the movement – give their views:

WTO Shutdown: A Few Things From the WTO Shutdown I Carry Into the Future

By David Solnit - Common Dreams, December 4, 2019

WTO Shutdown 20-Year Anniversary Series: The Shutdown WTO Organizers History Project and Common Dreams have produced this series of ten people's history accounts and forward-looking lessons from organizers who were in the streets of Seattle in 1999—at the very end of last century. Articles in the series—including archival photos and videos—will be published over ten days to commemorate and reflect on the events that happened 20 years ago this month. Read all the articles in the series here.


“…two projects of globalization are in dispute. The one from above globalizes conformity, cynicism, stupidity, war, destruction, death and amnesia. And the one from below globalizes rebellion, hope, creativity, intelligence, imagination, life, memory and building a world where many worlds fit.”

-Subcomandante Marcos, during the 2003 WTO Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico 

I just spent a good few days with old and new friends in Seattle, reflecting back 20 years since we all shutdown the WTO, and looking forward in this moment of global uprising against economic and political injustice.  Over the fall I reconnected with a few other core organizers from the Direct Action Network—the network of local groups that organized the shutdown of the WTO 20 years ago. We put together the Shutdown WTO Organizers History Project and did some writing, talking and thinking together. 

Here are a few things about the organizing we did that seem important and I carry with  me as I organize into the coming 20 years:

  • 1) Globalization from Below  
  • 2)  Jail Solidarity
  • 3) Grassroots (vs Nonprofit) Leadership  
  • 4) Effective Mass Action Requires Organizing and Strategy. 
  • 5) Indymedia: Interrupting the Corporate Media Narrative
  • 6) Art is a Hammer

1) GLOBALIZATION FROM BELOW

We were “globalizing from below”-- connected to, working with and mutually aiding movements across the globe. When we shut down the WTO in Seattle, movements on every continent were taking action with us, and when hundreds were in jail for five days, solidarity actions took place from Mexico to India.  On Nov 30, 1999 in India thousands of farmers in Karnataka marched to Bangalore and over a thousand villagers from Anja (Narmada Valley) held a procession. Thousands took to the streets in the Philippines, Pakistan, France, UK, Portugal, across Europe, the United States and Canada. In 80 different French cities, 75,000 people took to the streets and 800 miners clashed with police.

We were part of the People’s Global Action network, which came out of a series of Zapatista-initiated “Encuentro"gatherings.  We used the phrase, “Our resistance will be as transnational as capital.” 

WTO Shutdown: "Shut It Down. Didn't We. Don’t Let Them Tell You That It Can’t Be Done."

By Jim Page - Common Dreams, November 26, 2019

WTO Shutdown 20-Year Anniversary Series: The Shutdown WTO Organizers History Project and Common Dreams have produced this series of ten people's history accounts and forward-looking lessons from organizers who were in the streets of Seattle in 1999—at the very end of last century. Articles in the series—including archival photos and videos—will be published over ten days to commemorate and reflect on the events that happened 20 years ago this month. Read all the articles in the series here.


As far as I’m concerned no political movement can be called "authentic" without music, theater, poetry, dance, the whole thing. Revolution is not just a mental exercise. For most of my life I have pursued a musical career that carries the details of reality with it. I’ve traveled and lived in places that became the songs I sing. I play acoustic guitar, which makes it easy. You can take it out anywhere, at any time. Music is the landscape, song is the form, and the guitar is the tool.

Before the WTO got to Seattle I had become cynical. I didn’t expect much. That was an obvious mistake on my part, and I should’ve known better. I had a friend from Oakland staying at my house for those days—she was doing a literature table at one of the convergent points downtown. I gave her a ride on Tuesday morning to where she was going to be working. I turned the radio on and they were talking about tear gas and people blocking the intersections and how whole streets were unusable. I dropped her off and immediately went to the Pike Place Market to park my car. I figured they had more to worry about than parking tickets. I crossed First Avenue on Pike Street right into the middle of everything. There was somebody climbing up the face of Nike Town, there was a burning dumpster at 3rd Ave, there was a police line facing off to a line of demonstrators with linked arms, there was an IMC under siege, there was a marching band—absolutely every square foot of the city center was occupied by somebody doing politics. It was the first time I heard the phrase, "This is what democracy looks like," and it made complete sense.

I made up my mind to spend the next three days swimming in over my head, soaking up as much as was humanly possible—mining for songs.

People say, “Why do you sing political songs?” And I say that’s the wrong question. The correct question is, “Why don’t you sing political songs?” Or, “Why don’t you sing more political songs?” Because, as an artist, you not only have the right but the obligation to address the world that you live in. That means all of it—sports, economics, love, war, political scandal, comedy, tragedy, fascism, religion. Everything. If you can talk about it you can sing about it.

So that’s what I did. I tried to be everywhere at once. I wore out my shoes and got no sleep. I was booked to play at the Showbox on Tuesday evening, but Bill Clinton was in town and they had declared a state of emergency. There was a lot of gas outside and the word had gotten around that there was an enforced curfew, so that the venue security people didn’t come to work and the owners were afraid they would lose their license if they went ahead with the show. So the gig was moved to Pioneer Square. The next day I played at a church on 5th Ave, in behind the no-go lines. They had said that nobody was allowed on the streets but I went around anyway, it was porous. I carried my guitar with me everywhere.

I felt fortunate to have been a part of those events, even in the limited capacity that I was. It was an actual political victory, and those don’t happen very often. My main takeaway lesson was that cooperation, variety of tactics, and unity of vision is what leads to success. And most importantly, “direct action gets the goods.” Whoever said that hit the nail right on the head.

AND—don’t let them tell you that it can’t be done.

WTO Shutdown: Remembering for the Future: Learning from the 1999 Seattle Shutdown

By Chris Dixon - Common Dreams, November 25, 2019

WTO Shutdown 20-Year Anniversary Series: The Shutdown WTO Organizers History Project and Common Dreams have produced this series of ten people's history accounts and forward-looking lessons from organizers who were in the streets of Seattle in 1999—at the very end of last century. Articles in the series—including archival photos and videos—will be published over ten days to commemorate and reflect on the events that happened 20 years ago this month. Read all the articles in the series here.


On Tuesday, November 30, 1999, I was standing in downtown Seattle on 6th Avenue between Pike and Union – an unremarkable place amidst remarkable circumstances. Directly in front of me stood a reinforced line of police officers in full body armor, carrying truncheons, rubber bullet guns, and grenade launchers. All around me, hundreds of protesters packed into a human wall taking up half a block. And directly behind us in the middle of an intersection, at least another hundred people protectively surrounded a large wooden platform underpinned by metal pipes. Locked inside each pipe was the arm of an activist. Resolute and defiant, we were all there to shut down the World Trade Organization Ministerial meetings that were scheduled to begin that day.

“This is the Seattle Police,” an authoritative voice crackled through a loudspeaker. The rest was drowned out by the loud discharge from a grenade launcher and the disarming hiss of tear gas, punctuated by the shots of rubber bullets. Suddenly, we were scrambling, coughing, gasping, and crying. The police advanced, flanked by an armored personnel carrier. Yet, just as quickly as we dispersed, we returned – this time with bandannas on our faces and water for our eyes. We weren’t going to be moved so easily. And again, the face-off began. Such was the rhythm of the day.

Alone, this scene was inspiring. But what was truly remarkable was that we at that particular intersection were not alone. For blocks around us – stretching out of view and snaking around buildings – were thousands more people. There were blockades at every single intersection in the twenty blocks surrounding the Washington State Trade and Convention Center. In addition, many local students and workers were on strike that day, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union had shut down the ports along the entire West Coast.

Who could have guessed that this was going to happen? Even those of us who had spent months planning to “shut it down” were stunned when our rhetoric became reality. On that Tuesday, the first day of WTO Ministerial meetings ever to take place in the U.S., most sessions were canceled because our blockades were so effective. The Seattle Times quoted one of the last WTO delegates to leave that afternoon: “That’s one for the bad guys.” We were the bad guys, and we clearly won.

In the years since, “Seattle 1999” has become a shorthand. People have produced articles, books, graphic art, music, documentaries, at least one oral history project, and even a Hollywood film about the protests. Police agencies and security analysts have closely studied “the battle of Seattle” in order to thwart similar efforts. Left intellectuals have used the Seattle protest experience to advance all sorts of theories about radical politics. The so-called “Seattle riots” have become an historical reference point for journalists covering U.S. protests. Not surprisingly, much is missing in these accounts.

With the twentieth anniversary of the Seattle protests, now is a good time to revisit the history from the perspective of those who were deeply involved in organizing the mass direct action. I was one among them – at that time, a 22-year-old activist living in Olympia, Washington. Along with dozens of others, I co-founded the Direct Action Network in the summer of 1999 and spent months organizing for the WTO shutdown. In what follows, I draw on accounts from other organizers and my own experiences to discuss the lead-up to Seattle, what actually happened, and what we can learn from it, all with an eye toward our current circumstances of struggle in North America.

A Look At the Miners’ Blockade Stopping Coal in its Tracks

By Earth First! Journal - It's Going Down, August 14, 2019

When I heard news of the coal miners’ railroad blockade in Harlan County, I knew it presented a real chance for growth, especially for movements like Earth First! who are at the intersection of various struggles, including eco-defense, anti-capitalism, climate justice, and prison abolition.

Though I spent most of my life in flat swampy Florida, stories of Harlan County, Kentucky, were burned into my head as a teenage anarchist in circles of Earth First!ers and IWW-types singing labor songs by fireside.

One of the most famous of union ballads, “Which Side Are You On?,” about miners’ resistance in the Kentucky coalfields, includes the line, “They say in Harlan County there are no neutrals there…” Even before the development of climate-focused mass movement, it has always been Big Coal vs. the rest of us.

Over the years, I must have heard dozens of knock-offs of that song for campaigns all across the country. We’d replace Harlan with whatever county we found ourselves in at the time, facing off with corporate raiders of all types.

And now the barricades have come full circle: back to Harlan, a locale of near-mythical significance for it’s legacy of resistance to corporate greed. The miners there have stopped a coal train operated by the company Blackjewel LLC, which filed for bankruptcy and secretly stopped paying the miners while they were still working.

I am Not a Criminal; The Air Polluters are the Criminals

By Allan Todd - London Green Left, January 28, 2019

In Milton Keynes, on Friday 25 January, I was one of 24 Greenpeace activists found guilty of ‘aggravated trespass’. All those (myself included) without any previous criminal convictions, were given 12-month conditional discharges, with damages and court costs of £105 each. Those who had got previous convictions were, in addition, fined £200 each.

Our case arose from a Greenpeace ‘air pollution’ action back in August 2018, which peacefully locked-down VoltsWagon's (VW) UK HQ in Milton Keynes for most of one day - according to VW, this prevented 960 employees from getting into work, costing the company £166,000.

After the verdicts, I was minded of what the Ancient Greek playwright, Euripides, wrote: 

‘Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.’

The background

Many companies - such as Volvo - have already committed to phasing out the production of diesel vehicles. However, the VW ‘stable’ - which is responsible for 1 in 5 of all new diesel vehicles being put on UK roads today - had refused, for over a year, all Greenpeace requests to discuss this issue.

But, on the very day of that Greenpeace action, VW finally agreed to discuss the issue; and, 3 months later, have announced they will phase out all diesel production by 2040.

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