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Bay Area IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus: Three Years and Going Strong

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 3, 2016; image by Jon Flanders.

The Bay Area IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus was cofounded in February 2013 by three members of the Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch. The group also helped launch the IWW EUC proper shortly after that.

The Bay Area IWW EUC quickly launched ecology.iww.org as well as the EUC social media presence on Facebook & Twitter.

Initially, the group joined in anti-Keystone X-L protests in the Spring of 2013, but also played a minor role in helping organize a labor contingent at the August 6, 2013 "Summer Heat" protest against Chevron in Richmond, CA (on the one year anniversary of the refinery fire which injured several union workers and sent 15,000 residents to the hospital seeking medical care).

Following that event, members of the Bay Area EUC helped launch the Richmond based Sunflower Alliance with several other local working class climate justice and frontline community activists. That group focuses primarily on climate & environmental justice campaigns in the Contra Costa County (northeast Bay Area) refinery corridor, which is one of the most industrial communities in all of California. That group--thanks in part to the presence of IWW members (but also do to the contributions of others) remains very class conscious and continually reaches out to the workers in the fossil fuel projects that it targets, with some degree of success.

Likewise, the Bay Area EUC also helped found and remains active in the Bay Area chapter of System Change not Climate Change (SCnCC). Thanks to open and friendly dialog, that group which is predominantly Eco-socialist is still inclusive of and welcoming to green-syndicalists and remains nonsectarian and inclusive. That group has organized several climate justice marches and rallies (with the help of others) which have included substantial rank & file Union member participation.

In February 2015, the Bay Area EUC, along with the aforementioned groups, Communities for a Better Environment, Movement Generation, the California Nurses Association, and the local chapter of the Sierra Club organized community support for striking refinery workers at the Tesoro refinery in Avon, CA (near Martinez) in Contra Costa County. There was a substantial "green" solidarity presence on the picket lines due to these efforts.

While this was happening, Bay Area IWW EUC members, along with Railroad Workers United, 350, the Sunflower Alliance, and SCnCC helped organize three "Railroad Workers Safety Conferences" that included railroad workers, striking refinery workers, and climate justice activists dialoging on common issues. The conferences were held in Richmond, Olympia, and the Great Lakes region, and were very successful. The website railroadconference.org has the information. More conferences may follow.

Since the conclusion of the railroad conferences, members of the Bay Area EUC have been involved in the "No Coal in Oakland" campaign, which seeks to prevent coal from being exported from a new bulk exports terminal being developed in Oakland by anti-Occupy capitalist, Phil Tagami (that group doesn't oppose the terminal or export of other (non fossil fuel) commodities; just coal). That group has a very strong union member participation, and has managed to get 21 unions (including four ILWU locals, the SEIU port workers local, and Bay Area IWW) to oppose coal exports. These efforts led to the Alameda County AFL-CIO CLC passing a resolution against coal exports (in the face of Teamsters and Building Trades support for coal exports) and the subsequent creation of a "green caucus" of the CLC.

The Bay Area EUC has also participated in conferences organized by the group "Bay Localize" that seek to have unions and clean power advocates work together on Community Choice Aggregation campaigns that challenge the dominance of capitalist investor owned utilities (primarily PG&E).

Bay Area EUC members have also participated in campaigns to save Knowland Park (in the southeast Oakland hills) from creeping privatization); to prevent the eviction of a homeless encampment at the Albany Bulb on the east bay shore; and in the "Occupy the Farm" campaign in the Gill Tract of Albany (northwest of Berkeley).

With the support of Bay Area EUC members, Railroad Workers United passed a resolution on "Just Transition"; those same members are hoping to get the ILWU to pass a similar resolution.

Finally, our group has participated in or organized several showings of Darryl Cherney's film, "Who Bombed Judi Bari?"

Most of these groups, campaigns, and efforts have been well covered on ecology.iww.org.

Communities Unite to Fight Coal in Oakland

By Eric K. Arnold - Reimagine, March 2016

Coal, once the staple of American industrial production, may be on its last legs. With domestic production showing a long-term decline, the fossil fuel’s days appear to be numbered.

According to the most recent annual report [1] of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2013, U.S. coal production fell below two billion short tons for the first time in two decades; coal mining capacity decreased, as did the average number of coal mine employees, the average sales price of coal, and total U.S. coal stocks. In April of 2015, the EIA projected coal would hit a 28-year low, reflecting significant drops in domestic demand and exports. In August, Goldman Sachs divested itself of its coal holdings; a month later, it issued a gloomy forecast[2] for coal’s future, stating, “the industry does not require new investment,” dashing hopes for a miraculous upturn in the coal market. A report[3] by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) noted that 26 domestic coal companies have recently gone into bankruptcy proceedings; and coal’s value on the Dow Jones index dropped by 76 percent between 2009-14 (a period when the overall Dow index went up 69 percent).

According to CTI, domestic energy generation has remained flat for the past decade but energy sources have shifted: coal and oil are down, but natural gas and renewable energy are up. America’s largest coal producers are recording annual losses in the billions of dollars, while Chinese coal demand has slumped and new environmental regulations[4] aimed at significantly reducing air pollution and increasing wind and solar consumption are being phased in by the Chinese government. Additionally, all federal coal leasing is currently under moratorium until a comprehensive review can be completed. As the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) noted[5] in its online magazine, OnEarth, “it would be difficult to overstate the industry’s current distress.”

This is scary news for the coal industry, yet a welcome announcement for environmentalists who have waged national campaigns against coal for decades. These desperate times for coal producers have led to desperate measures. Their last hope, it would seem, is to increase coal’s export capacity by transporting the black gunk through West Coast ports. But even there the pro-coal forces have met with unexpected resistance, as city after city in Oregon and Washington have mounted grassroots campaigns to deliver an emphatic message: “Say no to coal.”

Solidarity is the new I love you

By Dano T Bob - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, December 15, 2015

Hey Kentucky, I’ve got good news for ya! The death of coal companies has been largely exaggerated, it turns out your coal companies are fine, they are just busy destroying Utah and Oakland now. Oh, and New Mexico and Colorado, too, just as they have destroyed the health and environment of Appalachia for decades. Now, after destroying Kentucky’s economy and abandoning communities via a vanishing act, and leaving that mess behind, we’ve figured out where they are and what they are up to, well at least one of them.

Bowie Resource Partners, a decidedly non union company, based in Louisville, Kentucky, has recently popped up in Oakland, California, with a plan to ship in their Utah coal via rail through working class communities of color in West Oakland to a proposed coal export terminal to be built for shipping coal to China, India, etc. Far from going out business, Bowie is currently expanding and buying new mines out west, while coal field communities in Appalachia are suffering devastating economic times.

I’ve previously blogged about this for OVEC back during the last Oakland City Council hearing, which was jam packed with hundreds of residents waiting hours to speak. It turns out that hot button environmental justice issues will do that. Yeah, it turns out that the health and environmental impacts of breathing toxic coal dust has a lot of West Oaklanders pretty damn pissed off. These same communities fighting against police violence to let the world know that #blacklivesmatter, now need to tell Bowie Natural Resource to respect black lives, black health and black neighborhoods as well. West Oakland was the birthplace of the Black Panther party, afterall.

Louisville, Kentucky, with the largest black population in the state, with many historically living in West Louisville, is no stranger to environmental injustice as well. The West End is not only home to most of the environmental hotspots in the city, there is also currently “a campaign to block recycling food waste into methane at a facility in western Louisville.” So, black lives are being disrespected in a lot of the same ways by similar corporate assholes from Louisville all the way to Oakland, and this has to stop.

Community Hosts Teach-In on Environmental Justice as Oakland City Council Delays Action on Coal Exports

By April Thomas and Virginia Reinhart - Sierra Club Press Release, December 10, 2015; video by Labor Video Project, December 9, 2015

Video: ILWU Local 10 Business Agent Derrick Muhammad spoke in Berkeley, California on December 6 about the role of the ILWU in opposed a coal terminal in the part of Oakland, California. This presentation was made on December 6, 2015.

Oakland, Calif. - Activists and community leaders from groups including No Coal in Oakland, Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter rallied today at Oakland City Hall. Along with SEIU Local 1021 they hosted a teach-in on the alignment of the campaign to block coal exports with struggles for social, economic, and racial justice. At its September hearing on the health and safety impacts of a proposal to export millions of tons of Utah coal through a new terminal at the former Army Base, the Oakland City Council committed to acting by December 8th. They have since delayed their action to February. Activists gathered at City Hall nonetheless, to make their voices heard and gather for a community teach-in that brought together a broad intersection of Oakland’s progressive activists.

“If Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal is allowed to store coal on City of Oakland-owned land, it will greatly impact the lives and lungs of people in the Oakland flatlands, who are the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Margaret Gordon, co-founder of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. “The developer never proposed coal as a commodity until after agreements were signed with the City. Even now, the developer doesn’t have the funding together to make this terminal a reality without the cooperation of state and local government. The City of Oakland should take the strongest possible stance in opposing the storage of coal at the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal.”

"Low-income communities of color disproportionately overburdened by pollution are on the front lines of potential train derailment in West and East Oakland,” said Ernesto Arevalo, East Oakland environmental justice and housing advocate. “The transportation of coal is another burden to these communities that are already facing other environmental risks and displacement."

"What does social justice look like?" said Shonda Roberts, activist with Fight for 15. "To me it looks like a livable wage, a clean environment and safe communities. The only way that would be attainable is
solidarity."

"We believe it is so important that there be no coal in Oakland because of profound health concerns of residents," said Dominic Ware and Chris Higgenbotham of Black Lives Matter Bay Area. "We've already seen the impacts of gentrification in West Oakland. Now we're being exploited in another way by coal companies who want to pollute our communities."

"Oakland should not be involved in shipping coal overseas, since this fossil fuel is the major contributor to climate change,” said Margaret Rossoff of the Sunflower Alliance. “Coal needs to be left in ground and replaced with renewable resources." 

“The City Council can delay all they like, but we’re not going anywhere,” said Brittany King of the SF Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club. “So much is at stake here, from our global climate to the health of the West Oakland community. Today concerned Oaklanders from many different struggles came together to speak with one voice: We say no to coal exports in Oakland.”
Background: A portion of the former Oakland Army Base is being developed as a bulk export facility, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT). CCIG, the developer, promised not include coal as a commodity handled by the terminal, but is now soliciting a partnership with four Utah counties that could allow the terminal to export up to 10 million tons of coal from their mines each year. A Utah funding body approved $53 million to buy space at Oakland Bulk Terminal for these exports. This deal is being conducted behind the backs of the Oakland City Council and the Port, both of which oppose coal as a commodity for shipping in Oakland. While the Mayor, members of the council and residents have demanded a stop to this backroom deal, the developer has yet to abandon the plans.

Those opposing the plan to export coal through Oakland have voiced concerns over how this decision will affect the community’s safety, the environment, and public health. According to a national train company, each open-top rail car of coal can lose up to one ton of dust between the mines and the port, resulting in the release of 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter in communities near the rails. Additionally, this deal will stifle California’s strong commitment to cutting carbon pollution, especially as the state continues to suffer from extreme drought, forest fires, and other signs of climate disruption.

Labor Rallies Against Fossil Fuel At Climate Rally In Oakland on November 21, 2015

By Steve Zeltser - Labor Video Project, November 21, 2015

Trade unionists from Northern California rallied and marched on November 21, 2015 against fossil fuel and further carbons in the planet. The march and rally was endorsed by the bay area labor councils. IBEW 595 officials also talk about the Zero Carbon building the union has built in San Leandro to train apprentices and their members on technology and energy efficiency.

Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, November 11, 2015

Author's Note: This article is a sequel of sorts to my previous piece, Unions and the Climate Justice Movement, which briefly mentions the No Coal in Oakland campaign. The image, depicted at the right, compares a pro-capitalist-logging poster (yellow, near right) ostensibly created by timber workers (but actually crafted by the employers) to mobilize support for a counter-demonstration to a rally and march, held in Fort Bragg in July 1990, organized by the Redwood Summer coalition (which included timber workers). The green poster (far right), represents the Redwood Summer coalition's response, and accurately summarizes their position on timber workers and timber jobs.

At first glance, the Oakland City Council meeting, held on September 21, 2015 looked much like many public hearings where public opposition had organized in response to the plans, practices, or proposals of capitalist interests that threatened the environment. For most of the evening, and well into the night, council members and the Mayor watched and listened as speaker after speaker (out of a total of over 500) either spoke in favor (or against) coal exports or ceded their time to their allies. On one side were a widely diverse group of activists, organized by a coalition known as No Coal in Oakland-- adorned in red (union made and printed) T-shirts--opposed to plans to export coal through a proposed Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), as part of the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center (or Oakland Global), and on the other were the project's supporters, dressed in business attire accompanied by several dozen union workers, many of them from the Laborers' Union, dressed in yellow.  As is often the case, the project's supporters tried to frame the opposition as being composed of insensitive outsiders, and themselves and the supporting "workers" as placing the economic interests of Oakland and its residents above all else. "We support good paying union jobs that will help the struggling, predominantly African-American residents of west Oakland" opined the supporters, trying to suggest that those in opposition didn't.

This is an old, and shopworn script, that has been trotted out numerous times in the past quarter century or more. Anyone who has experienced or studied the "Timber Wars" that took place in the Pacific Northwest during the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s will recall the armies of loggers and mill-workers decked out in yellow shirts, sporting yellow foam car radio antennae balls or yellow ribbons who would show up en massé (at the behest of their employers, often with pay) to oppose limits to clear-cutting or protections for the Northern Spotted Owl and to denounce (often) green shirted environmentalists as "unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs" and/or upper middle class "elitists" (or--defying logic--both). Sometimes, in drawn out campaigns, the employers have often furthered this illusion by creating false front "Astroturf" groups, ostensibly composed of workers, to distract attention away from themselves.

The truth is far much more complex and nuanced, of course. Usually the "jobs" promised by the projects' supporters often don't materialize (indeed, the opposite--namely automation, downsizing, and outsourcing--usually occurs). Those in opposition to environmentally destructive practices and proposals are usually composed of and led by locals, most of whom are, themselves, gainfully employed, and sympathetic to the needs and concerns of the affected workers (in fact, the opposition's counter proposals, if well thought out, do more to create "jobs" and job security than those in support of the project). Meanwhile, the actual level of support among the rank and file workers purportedly backing up the capitalists interests could accurately be described as a mile wide and an inch deep, at best. And the bosses? When they speak of jobs, they actually refer to profits. Nevertheless, in the past, the capitalist media has typically and dutifully reported that these projects are opposed by "green clad environmentalists" (or red in this particular case) and supported by "yellow clad workers" (often neglecting to draw any distinction between the workers and their employers).

Therefore, it is both surprising and refreshing, that in spite of the attempts by the employing class to replay that same script on September 21, 2015 in Oakland, the attempt backfired, due to the diligent and tireless organizing by their grassroots opposition. A closer examination of what happened, and how the opposition organized, will illustrate why this is so and how others can duplicate the organizers' efforts to defeat further attempts by capitalist interests to use divide and conquer tactics to push their climate and environment (not-to-mention job) destroying projects through.

Unions, Environmental Justice Advocates Say “No!” To Coal Transport through Oakland

By Staff - Emerald Cities Collaborative, October 21, 2015; image by Brooke Anderson

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.

The Alameda Labor Council was a key player in the nearly 100-member Coal-Free Oakland Coalition of unions, climate justice advocates and environmental groups that has halted the proposed transport of coal through Oakland in its tracks, pending a health impact study by the Oakland City Council.  The coalition includes unions representing nurses, teachers, longshoremen, city workers, recyclers, housekeepers, postal workers, bus drivers, custodians and security officers. City Council staff are to report to the council on their public health study and propose next steps by December.

As part of its strategy, the Labor Council passed a hard-hitting resolution opposing a coal export terminal in the new Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center. Not only was that document key to the coalition’s win, it also firmly aligned organized labor in Oakland with the city’s environmental justice and climate movements. It did so by acknowledging and commending labor’s growing commitment “to environmental justice issues that affect workers, communities and future generations. ”

According to Emerald Cities Oakland Director Tara Marchant, “This coalition and its victory reflect years of work building alliances along environmental justice and labor unions to reject old, polluting energy."

East Bay Labor Unions Say 'No' to Coal in Oakland

By Darwin BondGraham - East Bay Express, September 18, 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.

The official voice of the labor movement in the East Bay has come out against plans to export coal from Oakland. This morning, the Alameda Labor Council’s executive committee passed a resolution opposing the export of coal from the bulk commodity terminal planned for construction at the city’s former Army Base.

The resolution cites health hazards and environmental harms that are likely to result from shipping and storing coal in West Oakland — hazards that will impact both workers and Oakland residents.

“Jobs involving coal are unhealthy and unsafe due to dust emissions; coal is increasingly an anti-union industry,” states the resolution. “West Oakland residents are already twice as likely to visit the emergency room for asthma as the average Alameda County resident, and are also more likely to die of cancer, heart and lung disease… .”

Terminal Logistics Solutions, the company proposing coal exports from the terminal, has claimed that the facility will be served by covered rail cars to reduce the amount of coal dust that drifts into nearby neighborhoods. TLS recently unveiled sketches on its website depicting dome-covered silos and enclosed conveyor belts that will store and load the coal onto ships for export overseas.

Opponents of the coal plan have said, however, that covered rail cars, silos and chutes are not used anywhere in the United States today, and their efficacy hasn’t been studied.

The Labor Council’s resolution states that despite the unions’ “unified opposition to coal,” they believe that the project can move forward without coal. Their resolutions welcomes commodities such as steel, wood, grains, sand, gravel ,and other "non-hazardous materials."

A special meeting of the Oakland City Council is scheduled for Monday. The city clerk’s office has already received more than three hundred speaker cards from members of the public.

Press Conference: The True Cost of Chevron Is Too High

Warning from My Future Self (Jean Tepperman and Alfred Twu)

By Jean Tepperman and Alfred Twu - Sunflower Alliance, 2015

In this 34-page comic book for both youth and adults, 16-year-old Gabe Sanchez of East Oakland tells the story of how he and his grandfather time-travel 50 years into the future. His 60-year-old self tells him the story of how climate change has shaped his life: the superstorm that destroyed his home and livelihood, the collapse of California agriculture, and more. But 60-year-old Gabe also shows the many ways people today are fighting to stop fossil fuels and build a green economy. Gabe and Grandpa return to 2016 determined to join the movement for climate justice.

Read the report (PDF).

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The Fine Print I:

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The Fine Print II:

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